The Disembodied Princess is an illusion in which a woman is placed in a tall vertical cabinet. She is then divided into three pieces and her middle section is made to vanish.
A woman enters an upright cabinet, which when closed shows only her legs. Blades are then inserted through the cabinet, one through the neck area and the other through the knees, dividing her into three. The box containing her head is opened to show that her head is still in place. The centre and back of the cabinet is opened to show that her body has vanished. Only her legs and head are visible. The cabinet is closed and the blades removed. When the doors are reopened, the assistant emerges unharmed.
The Disembodied Princess was invented by P.T. Selbit, and debuted in 1925. It has been seen under many different names. It originally was produced as "The Man Without a Middle" and later performed as "The Man with a Gap". The reason is because Selbit used a man dressed as a Russian soldier because the apparatus itself looked like a sentry-box. Later performers used ladies, one of these being Maurice Rooklyn who used a lady wearing a soldier mask. The more modern version of the illusion was created by Carl Owen for Howard Thurston, Thurston having paid rights to Selbit and agreeing that he would only perform it in America. It was an immediate sensation; because while the previous illusions of the type had used stage traps or mirrors, Carl’s "Disembodied Princess" obviously did not. When Dante took over for Thurston, Dante performed the illusion in England (having made no such agreement with Selbit) and Selbit protested and threatened legal action. Dante suggested they meet when he came to Reading, but Selbit passed away before the meeting took place.
Many variations and improvements have been made since the original design. The main improvement has been to remove the door from the box containing the assistant's head, which remains in view throughout the entire effect.
- The illusion appeared in a 1973 episode of TV show The Magician with Bill Bixby.
- David Copperfield regularly performed this illusion as part of his 1990s stage shows. On occasion, he would perform it on his wife at the time, supermodel Claudia Schiffer.
- On his TV show A Kind of Magic, magician Wayne Dobson performed the illusion on regular guest assistant Linda Lusardi.
- During season 2 of Tricky TV, magician Stephen Mulhern performed the illusion on his regular guest assistant Holly Willoughby.