It was a classic magic trick first performed in London in 1920 and later executed by Harry Blackstone, Doug Henning, David Copperfield, Criss Angel and a host of lesser knowns.
There are several variations on this illusion. The basic trick is one in which the lady lies down in a box. The box, with lady inside and head and arms sticking out one end and feet out the opposite end, is sawed into two halves.
Each half is on a dolly or wheeled table. The halves are separated, indeed showing the lady has been sawn into two parts. Then, with great fanfare, the two separated boxes are rejoined. With immense flourish and thunderous applause, the lady rises up out the box and stands beside the magician.
How is it done? The box is deeper and wider than it appears. The woman climbs in the box and folds her legs up into a fetal position. Her head sticks out one end of the rectangular box. Fake legs stick out the other end. Her entire body is actually in one half of the box. She can wriggle the legs with ropes. Some newer illusions use remote control radios and motors to operate the legs. Some versions use a second scrunched up girl on the other side of the box to provide the legs.
The magician, with loud music, much noise, fog, smoke, and wild gestures, “saws” through the lady with a large circular buzz saw or a chain saw. Metal plates are inserted into grooves, one on each side of the saw cut. The magician pulls the two halves apart and swirls them in circles. The lady smiles, waves her hands, and wiggles her feet. The two halves are joined together, the two metal plates are removed, and the agile young miss pops out of the box, waves again, and bows. The appreciative audience lets out a sigh of relief.
Some magicians actually saw through a piece of wood to enhance the effect and heighten believability. Some will station a doctor or nurse nearby. Goldin would have an ambulance parked outside or bring one onto the stage if the facilities could handle it.
Goldin made the mistake of taking out a patent on his illusion. In so doing, he revealed how he did the trick. Patents are public domain and open to anyone who wants to read them.
Some feminists have criticized the “sawing the lady in half” trick. A few magicians have responded by placing a male assistant in the box. Magician Dorothy Dietrich uses a male assistant and bills herself as the “First Woman to Saw a Man in Half”.
In India, the magician P.C. Sorcar used a buzzsaw to cut his wife in two during a televised show. Just as he finished the dastardly deed, the television host quickly signed off and the show ended. The shocked and horrified viewers thought she had accidently been killed. Actually, it was a live broadcast and the time had run out.