Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the «Diamond Owl» intellectual game «What? Where? When?»
Liberal ArtsNomina
7 minutes for reading

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: DAVID KOTKIN (DAVID COPPERFIELD) from a family of Odessa (Ukraine) immigrants – the greatest illusionist of our time

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: DAVID KOTKIN (DAVID COPPERFIELD) from a family of Odessa (Ukraine) immigrants - the greatest illusionist of our time
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For this series, I wrote many articles about famous fellow countrymen – their number is already approaching a hundred. It’s hard to write, it’s not easier to choose characters, so I’m chiding myself – and this is not so for me, and that is not for me. It is easier to criticize than to do – what can they not accuse me of!

Am I choosing the right candidates for the rubric? Doesn’t local patriotism influence the choice – why are there so many Odessans? One should hardly be afraid of the statement that there are indeed a lot of talented citizens of Odessa who have become famous all over the world. But have I selected those, and is that expected of me?

Doctors, a physicist, a poet, a nobel biologist, a lawyer, an artist, a musician … I’m afraid some will be surprised. “Is this Odessa? They will say – Odessa is Sonya – the Golden Hand and Mishka Yaponchik! Fraudsters, crooks, thieves are needed – then it will be possible to believe that this is Odessa”.

I will not argue with such people – this is a senseless occupation, those who are waiting for this will certainly find it, and not only in Odessa. But somehow I сan agree – so as not to get involved. Now I’ll tell you about a famous person who deceives everyone as he wants – and that is famous.




The population of Odessa, which arose only at the end of the 18th century, consisted of nakedness, tumbleweeds, faces, or rather, physiognomies, in conflict with society – fugitives from the Ottoman Empire, beggars from the Italian principalities, Mediterranean pirates and other similar public.

For the first ten years, even the main working language in the city was – oh, horror! – not at all Ukrainian and not even Russian – Italian, as in the Turkish navy, where the masses were recruited willing not to get drunk for relative material well-being and the opportunity to have four wives.

Around the same time, Russia grabbed a large chunk of Poland and was horrified to find among its new subjects not so hot as pleasant Jews. Pushing them anywhere, she moved some of them to Odessa – to the village of Burdovka, where my great-grandfather lived (it still exists).

Since Odessa entered the so-called “Pale of Settlement” and Jews were allowed to live there, the Jewish population in the city, according to the 1897 census, was 30.5%. There were also those who were not very happy about this, and up to 500 people died in the pogrom that happened in October 1905.

It is not surprising that many Jews decided not to wait for the next pogrom and fled in all directions – including to the North American United States, which hosts indiscriminate emigrants. Hyman Kotkin’s dad and mom also moved overseas from Odessa.




Hyman Kotkin settled in the United States no worse than many, spoke not only Yiddish, but also English, opened his own business – a clothing store – and, as a decent Jew should be, married a young lady from Jerusalem named Rebekah, by profession an insurance agent.

As it should be in the family, on September 16, 1956, a son was born to Hyman and Rebekah, who was called the royal name of David. And it so happened that his Odessa grandfather began to entertain the kid not with songs and fairy tales, but with card tricks.

The grandfather could not believe his eyes – the four-year-old kid repeated the difficult trick shown to him without difficulty! Parents, instead of getting scared, told him: “Well done, that’s how it should be!”, And already at the age of 7 this child showed tricks to the parishioners of the synagogue, and they even were invented by him.

I suppose you think such a clever boy graduated from high school with honors? But no! Two types of people drop out of schools. The first is mediocrity, stupid and punks, but there is also the second – those who know everything that is taught in school. From the age of 12, David became a professional magician, the youngest member of the International Society of Illusionists. He could no longer study, but teach himself.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: DAVID KOTKIN (DAVID COPPERFIELD) from a family of Odessa (Ukraine) immigrants - the greatest illusionist of our time
David child magician/autogear.ru




The guy started working at the age of 16, teaching his craft at New York University, according to 2020, 11th in the United States and 35th worldwide. He tried to study at Fordham University himself, but soon left him – he had no time and did not understand why.

At the age of 18, he got the lead role in the musical The Wizard, which gave a record number of performances in Chicago. At first he performed under the pseudonym Davino, but while participating in this musical he changed his pseudonym and became David Copperfield.

Where this name came from is understandable – this is the hero of the popular novel by Dickens, who suffered from the intrigues of the cruel stepfather of Mardston and the hypocritical lawyer Uriah Heep (Romashov from the Two Captains looked like him, and the group of Uriah Heep was named after him), but in the end overcome everything. It seems that it was then that there was a popular TV series based on this novel …

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: DAVID KOTKIN (DAVID COPPERFIELD) from a family of Odessa (Ukraine) immigrants - the greatest illusionist of our time
David Copperfield, illustration from Charles Dickens’ Character Sketches, c. 1890/meisterdrucke.ru

At just 22 years old, he is introduced to another art form that he has learned to use perfectly – television. He becomes the host of the television program Magic ABC – keep in mind that ABC is not a simple channel, but a federal one, there are only five of them in America!




Copperfield became a popular TV presenter, acted a little in films, playing a supporting role in the horror film The Train of Terror. But the main thing that happened to him was the change in the scale of his plans. The possibilities of television pushed him to the grandeur of illusions.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: DAVID KOTKIN (DAVID COPPERFIELD) from a family of Odessa (Ukraine) immigrants - the greatest illusionist of our time
Young David Copperfield/newsland.com

Another federal channel, CBS, began to air his new show – The Magic of David Copperfield. He was only 22 years old when this program went on the air, and its release ended when he was already 45 – more than two decades, this is a lot for television!

The first of his large-scale illusions was the disappearance of the actual 7-ton aircraft. It, of course, did not happen in a closed room, but on the concrete field of the airport – there were 50 people around, but Copperfield turned some kind of handle, and the plane disappeared! You can watch exactly how.


The next object to disappear was supposed to be larger than a seven-ton plane – and he found it! The Statue of Liberty: 93 meters high, 31 tons of copper and 125 tons of steel on a concrete base weighing 27,000 tons, shoe size 893 – and it disappeared: if you’re interested, watch how.


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Then one amazing show by David Copperfield followed another. Some of them are comparable to what he has already done, and are less surprising – well, he made the car of the famous “Orient Express” disappear, but is it much larger than an airplane?

A greater effect is produced by the disappearance of a smaller mass – Copperfield himself: here he is hiding in a transparent cabin on one side of the Great Wall of China, passes through its thickness and comes out on the other side – if you don’t believe, watch it.


However, Copperfield is not limited to disappearances. He once said that as a child he was quite lonely and dreamed of all sorts of unrealizable things – for example, how to learn to fly. One of his illusions is the realization of this dream – look, he really flies, here you are!


He flew not only in the hall, but also over the Grand Canyon. He fell into Niagara Falls, escaped from the famous Alcatraz prison, cut himself into two halves with a laser, which then fused together – in general, solid Odessa things, and it is absolutely clear where his grandfather came from …

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: DAVID KOTKIN (DAVID COPPERFIELD) from a family of Odessa (Ukraine) immigrants - the greatest illusionist of our time
Alcatraz – he fled from here/scenacriminis.com




We must pay tribute to him – he never passed himself off as a sorcerer and a wizard, like Uri Geller, seriously talking about teleportation and psychokinesis, so that later magicians could easily repeat his tricks and explain how they are done with the help of ordinary sleight of hand.

But how Copperfield pulls off his amazing tricks, he simply doesn’t tell anyone – never, under any circumstances. Several of his tricks are said to have figured out how he does it. He does not confirm or deny these rumors. Miracles are meant for something else.

It is possible that Copperfield actually uses something like the system described in John Gohen’s 1994 patent to demonstrate levitation, and in some frames, you can see glare from the thinnest cables that keep him in the air. So what? Is it that important?

A whole team of illusionists is engaged in the development of his tricks – of course, with his active participation. The results of their work were nominated 38 times for an Emmy Award, which is for television like an Oscar is for cinema, and he received this award 21 times out of 38.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: DAVID KOTKIN (DAVID COPPERFIELD) from a family of Odessa (Ukraine) immigrants - the greatest illusionist of our time
Emmy Award/w-n.com.ua

In the years of his maximum popularity, when Copperfield gave 50 performances a month, huge trucks with his props and a huge team of more than 300 people crossed the border with special passes without inspection in order to preserve his secrets.




Illusions are not all that David Copperfield is interested in in life. He co-authored several books with a number of famous science fiction writers. He also collected a whole library of works written by famous illusionists, and not only for professional reasons.

His interest in his own work prompted him to create a very interesting museum of the props of great colleagues in the profession. It houses over 80,000 objects used to create illusions, including the world’s largest collection of props by Harry Houdini.

The museum is closed to the public; tours are intended for “colleagues, fellow magicians and serious collectors”. “It shouldn’t be a secret, it should be respected,” Copperfield once said. “If a scientist or a journalist wants a piece of magical history, it’s there”.

Another very worthy of his personal project is “Healing Magic”. It is a program that operates in hundreds of hospitals around the world. Patients with various disorders learn tricks, and this really helps them to restore motor functions and coordination.




Not everything in the Copperfield profession is so simple. Once, while showing the trick of freeing from chains in a container of water, he got tangled and almost choked. Only after 1 minute and 20 seconds they could pull him out, but for some time after that he rode in a wheelchair.

Another of his problems is suspicion of a person who can do so much. There was talk of his services to authoritarian dictators, but the court rejected these charges. People who are capable of the extraordinary are often told about the extraordinary, but this is not always true …

In 2007, Copperfield’s office was ransacked by the FBI. It was said that $ 2,000,000 and memory cards were seized from CCTV cameras. But later the FBI said that the money had not been seized, no charges had been brought against Copperfield, and various nonsense were written in the media. Sometimes it happens…

There are other risks for celebrities – Copperfield was accused of sexual harassment of the former “Miss Washington”. But his lawyers proved that it was not harassment, but extortion, and the young lady sued another businessman and fell for outright lies. It’s good that such situation happened more than 10 years ago – now I would not vouch for the outcome …




Okay, the harassment charges were denied, but what really happened? Since 1993, the entire press of the world has been writing about Copperfield’s romance with one of the most popular models on the planet, Claudia Schiffer. For six years they were shown together, and the media were full of their photos.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: DAVID KOTKIN (DAVID COPPERFIELD) from a family of Odessa (Ukraine) immigrants - the greatest illusionist of our time
Copperfield and Claudia Schiffer/people.su

And then a copy of the agreement got into the press, according to which Schiffer simply undertook to portray Copperfield’s bride – for the sake of PR, for constant payment plus gifts. David was outraged and threatened with court for libel, but their engagement was announced to be terminated.

After Schiffer, Copperfield, in turn, maintained relations with different models: from 1999 to 2000 – with Terry Holladay, from 2000 to 2002 – with Ambre Friske, from 2002 to 2004 – with Merily Journey, in 2005 – with Maria Petlichkova. And then he realized that he did not need models …

Designer Chloe Gosselin, apparently, turned out to be not a model, but a real woman. Copperfield met her at a fashion show in 2006, and so far they have not parted. In 2011, Chloe gave birth to a daughter, David, who received the beautiful name Sky from her parents.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: DAVID KOTKIN (DAVID COPPERFIELD) from a family of Odessa (Ukraine) immigrants - the greatest illusionist of our time
Copperfield and Chloe Gosselin/aceshowbiz.com




In 2012, Copperfield moved with the whole family to one of the islands he bought in the Bahamas. True, the former owner tried to sue, saying that the islands were bought through an intermediary, and he would not have sold Copperfield (or would have sold, but at a higher price), but refused the trial.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: DAVID KOTKIN (DAVID COPPERFIELD) from a family of Odessa (Ukraine) immigrants - the greatest illusionist of our time
Copperfield’s private island/uznayvse.ru

The Bahamas is far from Odessa. How do you remember Copperfield in his grandfather’s homeland? They know, of course, but somehow it is not specifically noted anywhere – not to erect a monument to a living person, for this you need to be Zhvanetsky, but this is still a slightly different level …

But his profession is still respected in Odessa – something always disappears with us, and not so small. Either an architectural monument suddenly disappears, then a building permit in the funniest place suddenly appears completely out of nowhere, then a public beach will become private …

Maybe it was worth bringing in David Copperfield to explain all these miracles? It’s just, they say, the city is such, there is a darkness of talents, the grandfather of David Copperfield himself is from here – hocus-pocus, and something disappeared! Or are they such miracles that Copperfield is unable to explain them?

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