Johnny Platt: is there a small Hindu boy in the audience?
I would be the first to admit that the late Johnny Platt wasn’t a magician’s magician. I never saw him do a card trick or any fancy moves however he was a real favorite of mine to watch. He was a thoroughly entertaining performer who kept right on performing and working up until an age at which the Duracell Bunny would be begging for a rest.
I don’t actually remember ever seeing Johnny perform any trick that wasn’t in his show. He was one of those performers whose show seemed carved in stone. Amongst other gems he performed a nifty Cups and Balls routine and the rarely seen Himber Vanishing Bottles routine. My favorite moment was when he stood in the center of the stage wearing his signature red fez and unrolled a length of sturdy rope. He then explained to the audience that he was going to perform the famous Indian Rope Trick. “In this effect” He explained; “A sturdy rope stands upright and a small Hindu book climbs to the top of the rope and vanishes in mid air!”
Johnny then looked around the showroom with a glare and said; “Is there a small Hindu boy in the audience tonight?” He would then throw the rope into the wings and growl in his Chicago accent “Well that takes care of that.” O.K. it doesn’t sound too funny in print but when Johnny Platt performed it onstage it was a hoot. There was something about his grizzled voice and the way he gazed around the room that cracked me up every time.
After he had finished performing his Magic Castle shows, Johnny would stop by a little bar on the corner of Hollywood Blvd and Highland called the Power House and have a couple of beers before walking back to his little apartment on Franklin Avenue. He seemed gloriously unaware that at the time it was a notoriously tough biker’s bar and manifestly unsuitable for an elderly and frail magician in an old fashioned tuxedo. Actually maybe he did know and just didn’t care!
Nobody made too much of a fuss about Johnny at the Castle and he certainly didn’t get the ‘Dai Vernon & Charlie Miller’ treatment. I remember on Johnny’s 80th birthday my wife Susan insisted we give him a birthday present so we gave him 80 dollars. At the time I suspect we had quite a job scraping it together. Susan also decided that we should throw a birthday party for Johnny to celebrate his birthday. At this time Billy McComb was staying with us and he was delighted at the thought of our apartment being filled with magicians so he gleefully assisted us in putting together the guest list.
I arranged to pick up Johnny from his small apartment to transport him to the event and he asked me if his girl friend could also attend. 80 years old and he still had a girl friend; this guy was a real comedy magician! I picked them up at the pre-arranged time and transported them to our second floor apartment in Sherman Oaks for his party.
The difficulty that Johnny & Betty had in getting up the steep steps to our apartment made me a very concerned as I really didn’t want to have to move the party down into the courtyard! However, after several pauses along the route all went well and a highly enjoyable afternoon complete with a birthday cake followed.
We then returned Johnny and girlfriend to Hollywood and maybe they had a nightcap at the Power House! Platt might not have been quite as frail as I thought either. After this column was first published I had a bunch of emailed stories about Johnny and discovered that I shouldn’t have been too surprised about his girlfriend as he had been quite a ladies man his entire life and in Chicago was known as ‘The Human Tripod!’ Who knew………….
Johnny Platt was a real old school performer and he did what I admire most of all in any performer; he went right on performing. I do kind of wish I had been able to smuggle a small Hindu boy into his audience one day though!