The Thin Model was reputedly developed in the 1940s by Turkish illusionist Sati Zungur, although some credit Guy Jarrett with first devising the illusion in 1936. It was developed in response to reaction to the earlier Big Box sawing, the large box of which easily suggested the method used to the audience and made it clear that the assistant had more than enough room to curl up inside the upper part of the box in order to avoid the saw and blades.
The box used in the Thin Model version is much smaller and lower, and clearly does not provide enough room for the assistant to curl up inside the upper portion. Because they are unable to move out of the way of the saw, the Thin Model was the first version of the sawing in half in which the saw genuinely passes completely through the assistant within the box. Additionally, the fact that the assistant's head and feet remain in view all of the time, from when they first get into the box until their halves are separated, helps demonstrate to the audience that the assistant has indeed been divided in two.
The first confirmed public performance of the illusion took place in 1957 at the PCAM Convention at the Disneyland Hotel, performed by John Daniel with his then-wife Irene as the "sawee". Following its introduction, the Thin Model quickly superseded the older Big Box versions in most performances.
The performance begins with the magician presenting a low table supporting a low box which is slightly shorter than the table. The table and box has a narrow slot in the centre and is clearly able to separate in the middle, and is supported on either six or eight legs, three or four to each half. The ends of the box are open, while the top is formed by two hinged doors, and two additional narrow doors are provided in one side of the box, one per half.
The magician then introduces the assistant who is to be sawed in half and helps her up onto the table. The assistant reclines in the box with their head projecting from one end and their bare feet from the other, and the doors forming the top of the box are closed and locked. The table is then turned so that the assistant's feet are facing the audience, and the magician inserts a large wooden stock into slots on the end of the box. This fits very tightly over the assistant's ankles and is designed to restrain their feet so that they cannot pull them back into the box and so curl up out of the way of the saw. The box is then turned around so that the assistant's head is facing the audience and the magician inserts another stock over their neck, sealing the upper end of the box. The box is then turned back so that it is side-on to the audience and the assistant's head and feet are both visible to them.The magician then saws through the slot in the box using a large handsaw, cutting through thin wooden strips placed in the sides of the box to prove that the saw is real and capable of cutting. As the assistant's head and feet are both visible to the audience, this makes it clear to them that, in addition to sawing through the box, the magician is also sawing through the body of the assistant within, cutting her in half through her waist.
Having sawed through the box, the magician then removes the saw and inserts two metal divider blades into the slot in the centre of the box, dividing both it and the assistant within into two separate halves. Latches holding the table halves together are then released, and the two halves of table, box and assistant are pushed apart, allowing the magician to walk between them. The narrow doors in the sides of the box halves are then opened, allowing the assistant's legs and hips to be seen inside the lower section, and also allowing her to extend her arm out of the door in the upper section. With many assistants, this then allows them to wrap their fingers around the end of the box and feel the outer surface of the blade there.
Having demonstrated that the assistant has indeed been cut in half, the table halves are then pushed back together and secured by the latches and the side doors closed. The blades are then removed, followed by the neck and ankle stocks. Finally, the box lids are unlatched and opened, allowing the assistant to stand up within the box and show that they are safely back in one piece. The magician then helps the assistant down from the table, and they take their bow.
One of the most common variations is the omission of the wooden strips from the side. This means that, as the magician saws through the box, there is no sound of him also sawing through wood.
While some magicians use a large one-person saw to saw through the box, others use a larger two-person cross-cut saw.
To help reinforce the fact that the assistant is indeed being divided in two, some magicians have an audience member hold their feet in place to make sure they can't escape the saw.Although the traditional version of the illusion uses a handsaw, some more recent performances have used various types of power saw to do the division. Usually this is either a chainsaw or some form of circular saw. Some rare versions have even been performed using large industrial lasers in place of a saw.
Some magicians, especially those performing the illusion on children's TV, have omitted the saw altogether and instead used divider blades with sharpened edges to cut through the assistant - This is generally considered a safer option for children's TV, as it is felt that children watching will be less inclined to try and emulate the performance at home using tools to hand there.
One variation of the Thin Model uses an even thinner box, and is usually referred to as either the "Slimline Sawing" or the "Kovari Sawing". In this version of the illusion, the head end of the box often includes two additional holes positioned on each side of the neck hole, through which the assistant places their hands.
Recently, Australian magician Sam Powers has begun performing a version of the Thin Model in which the side doors are transparent rather than opaque. This allows the audience to see inside the box at all times during the performance of the illusion and helps to show them that the assistant is still stretched out full-length within it at all times.
As it is the most popular version of the sawing illusion, and has been around for some considerable time, quite a number of female celebrities have taken part in it as the assistant being sawed in half. Some of those to have taken part are listed below:
- In 1976, at a charity fundraising French-American amateur circus gala in Santa Monica, CA, actress Raquel Welch was sawed in half in a Thin Model by singer Charles Aznavour.
- On the February 6 2009 "Magic Week" episode of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, actress Kristen Bell was sawed in half by Ferguson, assisted by magician Ed Alonzo.
- While working as a magician's assistant both before and after her gender reassignment surgery, transsexual model and actress Caroline "Tula" Cossey was often sawed in half in this illusion, and has gone on record to say it was her favorite illusion to take part in.
- During the 1987 TV special Las Vegas: An All-Star 75th Anniversary, actress Mary Hart was sawed in half in their Thin Model illusion by magicians Siegfried & Roy, using a Buzz Saw to make the division.
- This is one of the many different versions of the sawing illusion that Cat Deeley took part in while presenting SMTV Live.
- Before finding fame as a singer, Faith Hill spent some time working as a magician's assistant, during which she was regularly sawed in half in a Thin Model.
- In early 1988, during her visit to the UK to promote her first hit single I Think We're Alone Now, 17-year-old singer Tiffany was sawed in half by a magician using a Thin Model during an appearance on the BBC Saturday morning children's show Going Live!.
- In 1992, while taking part in a charity show for a Hollywood children's charity, actress Christina Applegate was sawed in half by a local magician in his Thin Model illusion.
- In November 1993, David Copperfield performed the Thin Model sawing on a German talk show. His assistant for the illusion was German supermodel Claudia Schiffer, who he had first met a month previously when he invited her on stage at a Berlin charity show to take part in his "Flying" illusion. Assisted by the show's presenter, he sawed Claudia in half using a large two-person handsaw, and then refused to put her back together again until she agreed to go on a date with him.
- Several years previous to his German talk show appearance when he sawed Claudia Schiffer in half, David Copperfield also performed the Thin Model sawing on British singer Bonnie Tyler when she appeared as a guest on his 1984 TV special, The Magic of David Copperfield VI: Floating Over the Grand Canyon. In this performance, Copperfield used a large 3-foot diameter circular saw to make the initial division.
- In the version of the sawing performed by Dutch illusionist trio Magic Unlimited, the slimline-style box they use is designed so that no end stocks are required. Also, during the performance, the box remains side-on to the audience at all times, and is never turned head-on or feet-on to them. This means that the feet of the person within the box, usually trio member Mara, remain in view at all times. Additionally, rather than just having doors in one side, the box has doors in both sides, allowing Mara to extend her arms out of both sides of the upper section of the box at the same time. These features all help to reinforce the fact that, due to the small size of the box, she has not been able to curl up out of the way of the divider blades and, as a result, has indeed been cut in two.
- Carmen Electra worked as a magician's assistant at Kings Island theme park in Mason, Ohio in the 1990 show "It’s Magic", and assisted in the double sawing. During her 2005 stint promoting the Naked Women's Wrestling League, she was again sawn in half in the thin model sawing, this time by one of the wrestlers.
- When she made a guest appearance on a Dutch TV talk show to promote Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in 2007, actress Emma Watson joined Magic Unlimited for a performance of the illusion, taking Mara's place in the box to be sawed in half.
- In 1970, the iconic British model Twiggy made an appearance on David Nixon's Magic Box acting as his guest assistant, during which she was sawed in half in his Thin Model. Introducing the illusion, Nixon said that, as the illusion was called "the Thin Model sawing in half", he really needed a thin model who was prepared to be sawed in half and, at that point, introduced Twiggy as his guest assistant.
- David Nixon also performed the illusion a number of other times with guest assistants on various TV shows and live on stage. His guest assistants in the illusion included actresses Anita Harris, who acted as his regular guest assistant on his TV shows between 1972 and 1977, Sally Geeson and Penny Meredith, and singer Lynsey De Paul.
- In August 2009, model Alessandra Ambrosio appeared at the Autumn/Winter 2009 Fashion Fest show for Mexican department store chain Liverpool. The theme of the show was "My Magic: Secretos Por Descubrir", and the promotional photographs of the event featured Ambrosio both posing with and taking part in a number of magic illusions, including being sawed in half in a Thin Model sawing.
- In August 2011, model Lily Donaldson appeared in a magic-themed promotional campaign for Aldo Shoes, which included her appearing in a promotional video being sawed in half in a Thin Model.
- TV presenter Liz Bonnin has been sawed in half in a Thin Model on two occasions. The first was while reporting on the Showgirls of Magic show in Las Vegas for Channel 4 morning show RI:SE, when her report included her being sawed in half by the girls in their Thin Model. The report finished with her still in two pieces, promising to "be back soon - If I can pull myself together!" The second occasion was while presenting an episode of the BBC science show Bang Goes the Theory on magic and illusion. At the end of the show, she was sawed in half by her co-presenters Dallas Campbell and Jem Stansfield and, once again, the show finished with her left in two pieces hoping to be put back together again.
- Magician Doug Henning featured the illusion in his stage musical The Magic Show, in which the part of the assistant was played by Anita Morris.
- In 2003 Glamour model Katie Price, aka Jordan took part in an advertising campaign for the supermarket chain Kwik Save. To publicise the chain's promotion to cut the prices of their leading lines in half, Price was sawn in half by magician Peter McCahon, first with camera tricks for a promotional photograph, and then in the thin model sawing.
- While presenting an episode of the 1970s entertainment news show Special Edition on magicians, actress Barbara Feldon found herself being sawed in half in a Thin Model by her guest, magician Mark Wilson.
- The Charmed season 6 episode My Three Witches featured a scene where Paige, played by Rose McGowan, is a magician's assistant being sawed in half in a Thin Model. This scene was apparently included at McGowan's suggestion, as she had always had an ambition to take part in the illusion.
- Although she regularly assisted her husband Jonathan with Clearly Impossible, Charlotte Pendragon was also sawn in half in the thin model by Melinda Saxe on World's Greatest Magic I.
- While presenting the BBC children's TV show Blue Peter, presenter Lesley Judd was sawed in half in a Thin Model by a visiting magician.
- In 1997, Brazilian singer and TV presenter Xuxa took part in a Thin Model sawing while presenting her TV show Xuxa Park, in which she was sawed in half by a magician using a large circular saw.
- In 1995, while presenting Saturday morning TV show Massive!, Denise van Outen took part in a horror-themed version of the Slimline Sawing, in which she was sawed in half by magician Simon Drake. The use of large amounts of fake blood, plus the fact that she apparently passed out while being sawed and was not restored before the show went to a commercial break, led to a number of viewer complaints.
- While making a guest appearance on the Italian TV show Zelig Circus, Italian actress and model Vanessa Incontrada was sawed in half in a Thin Model. The performance ended with her being wheeled off-stage still divided.
- At the end of a report on a new magic stage show in London for ITV breakfast TV show This Morning, the show's entertainment reporter, Claudia Winkleman, found herself being sawed in half in the magician's Thin Model.
- The final episode in season 2 of Stephen Mulhern's CITV show Tricky TV featured an illusion that combined the Thin Model sawing with the Girl Through Glass illusion. Having pushed Holly Willoughby halfway through a solid sheet of glass, Stephen then covered her with Thin Model-style boxes into which he then inserted divider blades. This allowed him to separate Holly's halves and show that the glass was still solid, before pushing her halves back together again on either side of the glass, removing the blades and boxes, and pushing her the rest of the way through the glass.
- When he appeared on her 1979 TV special, magician Doug Henning performed the Thin Model sawing on country singer Crystal Gayle.
- During an appearance on The John Davidson Show in 1980, Doug Henning performed the Thin Model sawing on fellow show guest actress Erin Gray. During this performance, he had show host Davidson hold on to Erin's feet right through the sawing to help prove they were real.
- In the mid-1970s, singer and actress Cher was sawed in half in a Thin Model by magician Mark Wilson during one of his guest appearances on her TV show, Cher.
- In October 2011, artist Glenn Kaino and magician Derek DelGaudio presented a piece of performance art at The Laxart Annex Gallery in Los Angeles and The Kitchen in New York called A Walk Through China. The finale of this was the Thin Model sawing of actress and TV presenter China Chow and, after her halves had been pushed apart, the audience were invited to "take a walk through China" and walk between her halves in order to get a drink from the bar. After she had been reassembled, China then emerged from the box wearing a different outfit.
- In the 1987 movie Dirty Dancing, the character of Baby, played by Jennifer Grey, is sawed in half in a Thin Model.
- Actress Kristen Johnston was sawed in half in a Thin Model in the 3rd Rock from the Sun episode There's No Business Like Dick Business.
- When ABBA appeared on the March 4th 1978 edition of long-running Swedish TV talk show Hylands hörna, both Frida and Agnetha assisted local magician Ken Hardy with illusions. While Frida was levitated, Agnetha was sawed in half in a Thin Model.
- In the 1998 movie Stepmom, the character of Ben, played by Liam Aiken, is a child magician. In one scene, he can be seen in the background performing a Thin Model sawing on the family babysitter, Alise. In another deleted scene, he also performs a Thin Model sawing on his step-mother Isabel, played by Julia Roberts.
- In the May 2005 un-aired pilot for Graham Norton's Variety Allstars, Spice Girl Mel C was sawed in half in a Thin Model by magician Paul Daniels.
- While competing in the reality TV show Celebracadabra, former Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt found herself being sawed in half in a Thin Model by her "magic coach" Murray Sawchuck.
- In the 1983 TV series Manimal, the second episode, Illusion, featured a scene in which the character of Detective Brooke McKenzie, played by Melody Anderson, is invited up on stage by two magicians and sawed in half in a Thin Model. She is then left on stage in two pieces when the magicians vanish, leaving the lead character of Jonathan Chase, played by Simon MacCorkindale, to try and restore her back into one piece.
- The music video for the 2002 single The Land of Make Believe by AllSTARS* featured a number of illusions, including band member Thalia Zucchi being sawed in half in a Thin Model.
- In one episode of the early 1980s TV series Bosom Buddies, actress Donna Dixon was sawed in half in a Thin Model.
- When she was 18, TV presenter Kate Humble spent several months working as a magician's assistant in South Africa, taking part in a number of illusions including being sawed in half in a Thin Model.
- In the 2002 Olsen sisters movie Now You See Him, Now You Don't, Ashley Olsen is sawed in half in a Thin Model for a local magic show.
- In the mid-1970s, actress Jane Seymour appeared on a British TV talk show where another of the guests was magician Doug Henning. At the end of the show, the show's host helped Doug as he sawed Jane in half in his Thin Model.
- While presenting the 1998 Italian TV special Sanremo Magica, model and actress Anna Falchi was sawed in half in a Thin Model by her co-presenter, Italian magician Silvan.
- Actress Mischa Barton has been sawed in half in a Thin Model several times by a number of different magicians that she is friends with.
- In the CSI:NY episode Sleight Out of Hand, the character of Vienna Hyatt, played by Kelly Connolly, is murdered by being sawed in half in a Thin Model.
- In early March 2012, during a publicity appearance for the Australian leg of the Heartbeat tour in support of her album Who You Are, singer Jessie J was sawed in half by magician Sam Powers in his "clear doors" version of the Thin Model sawing.
- At the 19th Annual InterContinental Miami Make-A-Wish Ball, which took place at The Forge Restaurant and Wine Bar in Miami on November 2, 2013, actress Gabrielle Anwar was sawed in half in a Thin Model by her boyfriend, club owner Shareef Malnik.
- When magician Pete Firman appeared as a guest on the BBC TV show The Sarah Millican Television Programme, the show ended with him sawing the show's host, comedienne Sarah Millican, in half in a Thin Model sawing.
- Lindsay Lohan's 2010 appearance as a guest headliner at Crazy Horse in Las Vegas included her acting as the assistant for the thin model sawing, dressed in a sequinned showgirl's costume.
- In February 2014, actress Sofia Vergara appeared in a TV advert for furniture company Rooms To Go in which she was sawed in half in a Thin Model sawing.
- The 2007 movie Death Defying Acts features a historically-inaccurate scene in which Harry Houdini, played by Guy Pearce, performs a Thin Model sawing on fake psychic Mary McGarvie, played by Catherine Zeta Jones. As the movie is set in 1926, it should have been either an original Selbit sawing or a Gouldin Big Box sawing.
- At the June 2015 launch party for the Marc Jacobs fragrance Decadance, the entertainment included a magic act in which the public face of the advertising campaign, model Adriana Lima, was sawed in half in a Thin Model sawing.
- In early 2020, footwear designer Roger Vivier revealed an advert, "Abracashoes", in which actress Christina Ricci plays a magician who saws fellow actress Dianna Agron in half in a Thin Model sawing in order to steal her shoes.
Due to the low height of the box compared to the older Big Box sawing, this version places some limitations on choice of assistant, as breast size can become a factor. The exact limits vary from box to box but, as a general rule, this version is unsuitable for use with assistants or celebrity guests with significantly larger than average breasts.
As with all division illusions, the Thin Model is not without risk and, if incorrectly performed, can be highly dangerous or even deadly. Like the other major division illusions such as the Buzz Saw and Impossible Sawing, the main dangers are those associated with the act of actually cutting through and separating the human body. A number of assistants have been seriously hurt or killed during failed performances of the illusion.
Having taken part in the illusion, a number of celebrities have commented on the experience.
- "The first time David sawed me in half, I did feel quite nervous. But it was a lot of fun to do, and I didn't feel a thing as he sawed through me and pulled me apart." - Claudia Schiffer.
- "Climbing into the box for the first time was both exciting and scary at the same time. One the one hand, its every girl's dream to be up there on stage as a glamorous magician's assistant in her sparkly costume, and that's really exciting. But, on the other hand, I was about to be sawed in half, and that's a scary thought, because you're wondering what its going to feel like as the saw goes through you and if its going to hurt. Fortunately, I didn't have to worry, as it didn't hurt at all as he sawed through me, just tickled a little, and I quite enjoyed being in two pieces." - Caroline Cossey.
- "It was a bit like that scene in Dirty Dancing where Baby gets sawed in half by the magician. One minute I'm sat there in the audience, and the next, I'm lying there in the box and can hear the magician sawing through it - and me! It didn't hurt, but it was certainly weird when he spun my halves around and I could see my feet sticking out of the other half of the box and moving as I wiggled them." - Kaley Cuoco.
- "It was hard work, but a lot of fun - Especially being sawed in half. It was always an interesting experience to feel the saw go through me, and then look over and see the box with my bottom half in it fifteen feet away on the other side of the stage!" - Kate Humble.
- "I was shaking — it’s the first time that I’ve done that! I had no idea he was going to do it, so I felt really nervous as I climbed into the box. But, before I really knew it, he'd sawed through the box and I'd been divided into two halves. The weirdest part of it all was that, even though I knew my legs were not attached to the rest of my body, I could still feel it when he tickled my feet!" - Adriana Lima.
- ↑ People, Time magazine, 29 November 1976.
- ↑ Duray, Dan, China Chow Sawed in Half at the Kitchen. GalleristNY, October 6 2011.
- ↑ 19th Annual InterContinental® Miami Make-A-Wish Ball, Haute Living.com, November 6 2013.
- ↑ Sofia Vergara's perfectly proportioned body is chopped in HALF for her latest Rooms To Go endorsement Daily Mail, 10 February 2014.