John Mulholland (magician)

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John Mulholland
John Mulholland magician.png
Born 9 June 1898
Died 25 February 1970 (1970-02-26) (aged 71)
Occupation Magician

John Mulholland (9 June 1898 in Chicago, Illinois – 25 February 1970 in New York City) was an American magician, author, publisher and intelligence agent.

Life and work[edit]

Mulholland learned the art of magic as a teenager with John William Sargent, President of the Society of American Magicians. Mulholland was a professional magician for two decades, working in small companies and large stage shows. He ran one of the first magic workshops and was from 1930 the editor of the magical trade magazine The Sphinx. He published many books on magic and its history.

Mulholland was a close friend of Harry Houdini.[1] Mulholland asserted that "Houdini once told me that he considered no man to be a magician until he was able skillfully to perform the cups and balls."[2]

During World War II, he wrote a spellbook for soldiers. His impressive collection is now owned by David Copperfield. He left The Sphinx in 1953, officially due to health problems but actually to work for the CIA.

During the Cold War, Mulholland was paid by the CIA to write a manual on deception and misdirection. Copies of the document were believed to have been destroyed in 1973, however, copies later resurfaced and were published as "The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception".[3]

In 2008, magician Ben Robinson authored The Magician: John Mulholland's Secret Life which documented his work with the CIA.[4]


Mulholland had exposed the tricks of fraudulent spiritualist mediums. His book Beware Familiar Spirits (1938) revealed many of these tricks.[5][6]

A review which highly praised the book, stated that Mulholland had "been sworn at, threatened, and even shot at while acquiring the information".[5]

In 1952 for Popular Science, he published a skeptical article on flying saucers and UFOs.


Advert for Mulholland



  • Magic in the Making (1925)
  • Quicker than the Eye (1932)
  • The Magic and Magicians of the World (1932)
  • The Story of Magic (1935)
  • Beware Familiar Spirits (1938)
  • The Girl in the Cage (1939)
  • The Art of Illusion (1944)
  • The Early Magic Shows (1945)
  • The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception (1953)
  • Practical Puppetry (1961)
  • John Mulholland’s Book of Magic (1963)
  • Magic of the World (1965)
  • The Magical Mind -- Key to Successful Communication (1967)


  1. ^ Basbanes, Nicholas A. (1995). A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books. Henry Holt and Company. p. 419
  2. ^ Osborne, Thomas James. (1937). Cups and Balls Magic. Kanter's Magic Shop. p. 8
  3. ^ "CIA's Lost Magic Manual Resurfaces". Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  4. ^ "Secret CIA 'Magic' Manual Reveals Cold War Spy Tricks". Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  5. ^ a b The New Books. Review of Beware Familiar Spirits. The Saturday Review. November 26, 1938. p. 24
  6. ^ Coleman, Earle Jerome. (1987). Magic: A Reference Guide. Greenwood Press. p. 120

External links[edit]