If you're the star of a one-man specialty act, particularly in the traveling show days before TV, you have to be a little ruthless to remain number one. So it was with magicians who competed for audiences, or who just didn't like each other for one reason or another. Some of these rivalries went down in history, although it's a somewhat obscure history. For example, Ching Ling Foo was enraged that an imposter was trying to steal his thunder.
Renowned Chinese magician Ching Ling Foo had success traveling the world with his act, but was surprised to find that his arrival in England in 1904 had been preceded by an imposter: "Chung Ling Soo" was the stage name of William Robinson, an American who had audaciously pretended to be Asian. While both were performing in London, Foo challenged Soo to a magic duel where Soo would have to successfully perform at least 10 of 20 chosen tricks. Soo (a.k.a. Robinson) performed the following day for newspapermen, but Foo declined to appear, insisting Soo first provide proof of his Chinese heritage. Most of Foo’s protests went unheard: Soo had been there first, and his persona was so convincing that many believed it was Foo who was the inauthentic one.
The American upstart’s career was derailed for good in 1918, when he died while unsuccessfully performing the “bullet catch” trick on stage.
Read about six other rivalries between magicians at mental_floss.