What a great honor, receiving the Robert-Houdin Award!

•August 22, 2016 • Leave a Comment

troph1brevI was recently proud, thrilled and delighted to be the 2016 recipient of The Robert-Houdin Award for my work as a performing magician. The award is presented annually by Stevens Magic and I am the third magician to be honored in this manner, the first recipients being Paul Romhany and Jeff McBride. It makes the award even sweeter being in the company of these two fine performers. Both Paul and Jeff are not only good friends but inspirations to me in many ways.

I am particularly proud to receive an award that bears the name of Robert-Houdin as he has been one of my greatest magical “heroes” from a very early age, when I first heard of this sophisticated and mysterious French Conjurer from whomHoudini stole his name! The great story of Robert-Houdin presenting his “Light/Heavy chest and quelling a native uprising in Algeria has long been a major part of my lecture for lay people.

Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin (December 7, 1805 – June 13, 1871) has long been considered the MTE5NDg0MDU1MDAyNTE0OTU5father of modern magic and was largely responsible for bringing in the new style of magic. I would heartily recommend anyone unfamiliar with this master magician to read the Wikipedia biography about him https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Eugène_Robert-Houdin  His is an amazing story about when mechanical wizardry was most successfully blended with sleight of hand.

I performed a show for five years at the Maxim Hotel in Las Vegas and in a curious way it was something of a personal tribute to Robert-Houdin’s famous Parisienne show “Soirées Fantastiques.” The showroom that I appeared at in Las Vegas was a 200 seat room just like Robert-Houdin’s and allowed an intimate production of parlor effects in much the same manner. My show premiered on July 3rd 1995 exactly (to the day!) 150 years after Robert-Houdin’s show did.

I want to thank Joe and Mark Stevens and everyone else at Steven’s Magic for this great honor. It really meant a great deal to me on many levels.


 

The Professional Magicians Magic Convention.

•July 20, 2016 • Leave a Comment


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THE FIRST AND ONLY MAGIC CONVENTION DESIGNED JUST FOR THE PRO MAGICIAN.

4467This specially designed convention is the first of a kind— designed especially for the full time pro-magician. It is going to be taking place next summer when corporate work is at a minimum and the cruise companies are trying to book primarily long dates at short money. We are not going to be announcing the exact date closer to the event, but also adapting the traditions of so many cruise dates and just giving you a few days notice to plan on joining in the fun. The convention will be held possibly in Miami, Belize, Jamaica, San Jose, Singapore or Barcelona.  When it comes to travel we have another innovative feature, since the performer is not being paid for the event and chooses to attend ALL airline tickets will have to be purchased using the attendees own frequent flyer miles. The hotel will have very expensive room service and be located at a minimum distance of a 80 dollar taxi ride from the airport.

SPECIAL FEATURES….

*There will be absolutely NO lectures or contests of ANY kind. Guaranteed*234_Playing Cards Sculpture-2

*Anyone performing a card trick in public will be required to buy a round of drinks for the full convention*

*All functions will take place in the hotel coffee shop. Purchase of one cup of coffee (unlimited re-fills) will be required every four hours. Tipping is allowed but only in the currency of the last location you visited*

*The only magic dealers in attendance will be Staples, Office Max, Home Depot and The Dollar General Store*

*Unsubstantiated rumors and unkind stories about performers not in attendance are encouraged and a prize awarded to the least accurate or most untruthful*

*Nightly cocktail parties will be held in attendee’s rooms and all drinks served from their mini-bar. Liquor consumption however will be restricted to the mini-bottle containing clear alcohol so they may be replaced with water prior to departure from the hotel*

SPECIAL EVENTS….

52cards*There will be a special award for the performer who travels with the lightest suitcase*

*There will be a spirited and heated panel discussion on the topic of “Bev Bergeron or Billy McComb–who invented it first?”

*Velcro or Duct Tape, which is the best?”

*Who has the oldest and least recognizable working photo—a featured debate*

*Any geeky young magician, that sneaks in who has posted a “how to” video of a marketed effect on YouTube, will be forced to perform the spike in Styrofoam cup trick at least 3 times — or until he seriously injures himself, which ever comes first. Small additional fee to attend.”*

*The only formal event will be the “Memorial Billy McComb Breakfast” which will take place at approximately 3.00 pm and consist of a scrambled egg and English muffin. (additional fee required.)

*“THE MEGYN KELLY APPRECIATION HOUR” for dedicated Road Warriors*

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SPECIAL NOTE…

All attendees must be properly attired in old pants and a tee-shirt from a previous gig. No-one will be admitted who is dressed entirely in black, is wearing a fedora hat or ANY item of jewelry that has a question mark visible anywhere on it.

The registration fee will be due immediately after the winter season, when cash is tight. For full details visit our website adrydayinalaska.com

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Political Correctness is not a momentary phase. Get used to it.

•June 29, 2016 • 11 Comments

BC5D4288I was recently reading a thread on a magic themed FaceBook page that was triggered by a complaint about a female audience member who complained about the use of the term “You guys…” when addressing an audience of men and women. I was more than a little shocked to hear her described as dumb. While this particular case is obviously a “tip of the iceberg” example, I am continually amazed at the myopic viewpoint the magic world tends to display in its inability to keep up with current trends. What are we—a bunch of ’50s Borscht Belt comedians caught in a Twilight Zone time warp?

The American scene has become VERY politically correct. My youngest daughter used to be incredibly apt to correct my errors in this area. She is now an English professor at UC Irvine and is amazed by the level of political correctness in her students. The world has changed and if you don’t want to be left behind, considered inappropriate, or just old–grasp this fact.AcornWorkflow-2015.01.08 13.12.40

If you don’t want to be considered old, rude, or maybe even irrelevant, then take careful note of some of these factors and perhaps re-think some of the phrases you use. Saying, “I have always said/done this,” is a pretty sad and sorry excuse for not evaluating the way you communicate. Think about how many words and phrases were used when you were younger that you would NEVER think of saying now! Jerry Seinfeld wrote a great article, well worth Googling, about this topic that is well worth reading at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/08/jerry-seinfeld-college-politically-correct-racism-sexism_n_7534978.html and now he will no longer perform in colleges because of the level of political correctness now demanded by the audience. He, of course, has enough money and fame to walk away from ANY kind of work he doesn’t want to do. Do you? Just as well worth reading is a letter that was printed in response at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anthony-berteaux/jerry-seinfeld-politcally-correct-college-student_b_7540878.html

Comedy magic has a well deserved reputation for being sexist and politically incorrect, we each need to take a long, hard look at what we are saying and doing. I recently did, and made a few changes that were painless and appropriate. I am very glad I did and it has improved my work considerably. I’m lucky enough to still be getting “A level” gigs at great money, I want to keep it that way. If you still feel $_1that being onstage and pretending to steal a woman’s bra, while she assists you in a routine, is so worth the cheap laugh it gets you—you may be seriously out of touch. There are plenty of other ways to get a replacement laugh that are more in line with contemporary thinking, “It gets a laugh…” is not a valid response, neither is “But I do it with a guy onstage….”

For every one person who complains about politically incorrect remarks in a show, there are many more in the audience who probably feel the same way. I do a magical version of the old vaudevillian “Doctor Sketch” in my show that I have left untouched in it’s full politically incorrect glory, as a tip of the hat to a roots element in our work—however, it is a very obvious choice/decision that is nothing to do with any “ostrich head in the sand” form of failing to observe current trends.

Do you want a large (and pretty darn sophisticated) segment of your audience to think you are out of touch or offensive? Just my personal opinion, but I am a pretty savvy entertainer who has made a good living for a lot of years and plans to continue doing so until I decide to stop. Magic is pretty damn dated at best — just look at how many props look like they were designed in the Victorian era. A conscious decision to keep up with the times politically is a smart move that loses you nothing but gains a lot commercially.


 

The correct use of baggies! (just eat the damn sandwich…..)

•June 20, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I remember vividly the time that I saw Billy McComb at his most animated and excited; he had just been to the supermarket and bought a box full of clear plastic, zip lock, baggies. He was practically shaking with delight as he showed them to me.It seemed, even for Billy, rather eccentric to get this excited over little clear sandwich containers, but as usual when I gotthe actual drift of his thinking I started to share his enthusiasm. He wasn’t planning on taking along a ham and cheese sandwich to his next gig but had a loftier vision. Before long Billy had all the items from his vast working repertoire contained in different sized, heavy weight baggies.Each trick

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was carefully packed inside its own baggie, with every item needed for the performance contained within it.On the outside of each bag was written in felt-tip pen the name of the trick inside the bag.The main advantage of this method was of course that you didn’t arrive at your gig and find that a reel, pen, thumb tip or handkerchief that was vital to the effect was missing. In fact better still you could survey the contents of each bag without even opening it and double check that all the replaceable items, for example; thread, flashpaper, envelopes etc. had in fact been replaced.

It was such a simple and effective idea that only a genius like McComb could have developed it. Of course, being Billy, he did get a Nick,Dad,Billy_2little carried away and he extended the idea to coffee shop items. He almost always had a baggie full of miniature containers of sugar, creamer, tea bags etc. in his pocket somewhere.

On one of my very first meetings with Billy at a very youthful age, he showed me the old trick where you appear to stick a coin on your forehead and when you remove it and hand it to the spectator to duplicate your action, there is a blood red nail sticking out the back. It wasn’t the trick that Billy seemed to enjoy so much as the fact that he had fashioned a cork with a hole in it that fitted the gimmicked half crown and made it a considerably easier and safer prop to carry around in your pocket. He gave me the faked coin in its cork as a present. I didn’t realize it at the time but this was to be one of my first lessons in the art and science of packing and handling props.

I remember being highly impressed when I observed how legendary magician Piet Paulo managed to keep his working shoes ‘unscuffed’ and polished on the road by keeping theminside old socks. Simple and easy and something I do every time I pack my suitcase. The shoes packed out with black socks and delicate props from the show.

I have taken these two ideas and combined them into my current system, which involves keeping all my props inside Crown Royale bags. Of course everything looks like everything else and it isn’t half as practical as the baggie system—-however I do love those purple bags!

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Young Sparky meets Mr and Mrs Electric.

•June 14, 2016 • Leave a Comment

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There is a tiny group of people in the magic world that just make you feel better just by knowing them. Right at the top of this select list of truly special people were Marvyn and Carol Roy. I really don’t believe you could find two nicer people and better ambassadors for magic than Mr. & Mrs. Electric.

My earliest memories of seeing this dynamic duo was watching them on the family television set when I was a kid growing up in England. As a budding magician I remember watching in amazement at that seemingly never-ending string of lit bulbs emerged from Marvyn’s mouth. It was one of the coolest pieces of magic I had ever seen.

Years later my very first club date in America was at the Elks club in Long Beach, California. This particular booking coup was a stroke of good luck that was going to add a whole eighty bucks to my worldly wealth. I was very excited and ready to take the ‘Elks’ by storm.

The day of the show arrived and after a one-hour drive to the city of Long Beach I made myself known to the powers that be when I arrived at the club. I was directed backstage to meet up with the other acts on that evening’s bill.

It is astounding how often the bookers for these kinds of organization make irrational decisions as they go about their duties. Thisroybio3 particular booking, however, was in a class of it’s own. The entertainment committee had determined that four acts would be an appropriate line-up to entertain the members for this particular event. The booker had then inexplicably decided that the perfect selection for the occasion would be two magic acts and two jugglers.

Furthermore the committee had determined that the ideal running order would be to have the two magic acts perform in the first half of the show and after a brief break, to conclude the event with the two jugglers. Maybe they were drinking too much and instead of seeing double they were thinking double. Of course, there is no payment for the job of booking entertainment at a service club and perhaps it is bookings like this that are the reason.

Upon arriving in the dressing room I discovered that my fellow magic act to be featured on the bill was none other than the iconic Mr. Electric and Carol. I was very impressed and also somewhat astounded when Marvyn (for that is indeed Mr. Electric’s first name) suggested that he opened the bill and leave me to close the first half. I giddily felt my stock in the magic world must be on the rise. Hmmmmmm.

MarvynRoy2To cut a painful story short, Marvyn and Carol opened the show with a dynamic set that featured brilliantly constructed and highly customized versions of every single trick I was about to perform. These routines were all carefully adapted to the electrical theme of their show. My heart sank into my boots as I watched them.

Marvyn and Carol destroyed the audience with their performance. I followed and while I didn’t die on stage I was certainly quite sick! I did the floating ball; Marvyn had floated a lit light bulb. I cut and restored a rope while he cut and restored an electric cord; attached to a line of light bulbs. I performed my ‘electric chair’ and Marvyn did the Electric Chair! It was truly a nightmare for a young magician who lacked the ability to substitute anything much in his act.

After the show we went to grab a late night meal at a local ‘Bob’s Big Boy.’ Nothing in my magical experience had prepared me for the pure adrenalin rush of a post-show Marvyn Roy. His enthusiasm and expertise were all focused on helping this newcomer to see a vision and future for his show. It was a delightful avalanche of advice and magical wisdom.

Marvyn was very kind and he especially praised my version of the classic Chinese Linking Rings. Possibly this was because it was the only trick from the Electric’s show that I hadn’t duplicated. In fact, in what I later discovered was pure Marvyn he planned an entire act for me based on the theme of linking things together.

The first thing that must be done was to change my name to Link Lewin. “What you should do,” said Marvyn, warming to his jackie beat (330)theme, is purchase the Himber Ring Trick. This amazing piece of magic would allow me to link genuine finger rings borrowed from the digits of audience members.

The very next day I drove into Hollywood to Joe Berg’s magic store and made a fifty dollars deposit on the prop needed to accomplish this very trick. Thank you Marvyn, it was the best investment I have ever made in magic. Every magician needs one special trick to make his own and thanks to Mr. Electric I had found mine.

I never did change my first name to Link, but due to my encounter with this gracious and friendly master magician I had taken a huge step forward in my career as a magician. I also learned something else that has stood me in good stead over the years. I never again felt flattered at being asked to close a variety bill and like any true pro I would just say; “You know, it might just be better for the show if I open.”

I recently read the wonderful memoir that Marvyn penned called ‘Mr. Electric: Unplugged.’ I can’t say enough about what an inspiring and enjoyable book this is. Not many magic books grab your interest and hold your attention like this one.

This book is so good that you begin reading at a feverish pace, until you realize you are half way through it and then you slow down so as to treasure every story. Thank you Mike Caveney for publishing this gem. Sadly Carol is no longer with us but Marvyn is still very much part of our magic community affecting youngsters with his generosity and knowledge.

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Visiting with William. Happy Days….

•June 5, 2016 • 2 Comments

ROLL2DX-32One of my greatest joys in magic used to be visiting with Billy McComb in his various ‘Mad Magician’ residences. I have more happy memories about Billy than one would believe possible, however it was always a special joy to see the deranged magic museums he liked to call home. What follows is just a peep at two of his residences. Maybe I will expand on the list in a future article.

Billy’s apartment house in Tuffnell Park, London, was a classic example of the controlled chaos that was so large a part of the charm of the residential McComb. I have my sneaky doubts that some of his actual tenants might have had slightly more ambiguous feelings though. However with a gentleman landlord with the charm and wit of Billy I’m sure they never dwelled on the negatives.

I remember visiting Billy in the rather quirky and rambling old building once with my wifeIMG_1519 Susan. Billy had lived with us in Los Angeles for a while and so we were prepared for a certain level of confusion. What we weren’t prepared for was the visceral excitement that exuded from Billy as we entered his basement domain.

Billy had just visited the ‘Ideal Home’ expo and bought the ‘next and greatest new thing’ and couldn’t wait to tell us about it. “It is very simple, old thing” He said, “Perfect for the smaller apartments; it’s a combination wash hand basin and shower!”   The strange part was that it really kind of made sense, in a crazy way. It consisted of a wash hand basin that could slide down to floor level and a faucet that slid upwards to make a showerhead. Only Billy, with his tireless Irish optimism could have looked at this device without foreseeing IMG_1527terrible disaster.

The instillation of these devices was just prior to the flood that enveloped his apartment building and caused priceless damage to his wonderful magic collection. One thing that survived the ‘second’ great flood was the ‘Door.’ This wasn’t any door but the door to the ‘Jay Marshall Suite’ in his building. I have posted a copy of this photo on my Facebook page where you can examine it in detail and revel in the assortment of signatures that adorned it. They are a who’s who of magic.

Any visiting magician in London was casually invited to stay in the ‘suite’ and many did. Not just the famous and the infamous but the regular guys too. Everyone signed their name on the door and it became a wooden artifact equivalent in value to the Philosophers Stone, to a card-carrying alchemist. I am delighted to share a photo of it taken by my good friend, great comedy magician and all round Kiwi good-guy Mike Easterbrook. I took the rest of the photos in Billy’s condominium in Los Angeles.

Billy’s Hollywood Condo was a magic explosion in the nicest sense of the word. Piles of magic books, props, photos, priceless relics and awards were piled in dangerously teetering piles and columns throughout the condo. A small refrigerator in the kitchen was filled with the English candy bars, cookies and muffins that seemed to be the sole food that Billy existed on—other than the occasional scrambled eggs that he ate on the magic summits he held at every ‘Denny’s’ coffee shop in Los Angeles.

One thing about Billy that people might not be aware of was his total dedication to the cleanliness of the eating (and tea-stirring) utensils in his day-to-day environment. There was a part of Billy that never quite forgot his first incarnation as a fully trained but never practicing doctor. You might not want to look too closely at some of the other elements, but by God, in his establishment you wouldn’t find a fork with a potentially germ containing ridge in it.IMG_1545

This condominium was owned by Billy, however the day-to- day running of things was left to his beloved dogs. They were friendly, loving and on the wall was a sign Billy had placed that said it all. ‘I just want to live up to my Dog’s opinion of me.” As soon as Billy sat down in his comfy chair the two dogs would run at the chair and simultaneously climb to their places on the back of the chair, with each resting it’s chin on Billy’s shoulder.

When Billy had an idea, or thought of something he needed to print out for you, he would make a dash for his desk and rummage through the contents looking for something in particular. The amazing part was——he usually found it! I have tried to photograph as many magicians seated at their desks as I possibly can and the photo of Billy at his desk with this article is my very favorite. It just seems to say it all.

The printer next to Billy’s desk wasn’t your average, ‘Buy it Monday—broke by Wednesday’ kind that you buy to go with your laptop computer. It was a heavy duty and top of the line model that was one of the apples of Billy’s eye. Nothing gave him greater pleasure than to make note of a topic you were interested in and then to mail you copious photocopies of invaluable information on the subject. I have boxes full of them that I 1896961_10152834943458460_2039070401720692221_nprize.

Oh, I could write for hours about the many joys of counting Billy as a friend, but the simple joy of sitting in his condo and sipping tea as you talked magic would count high on the list. There may be something more fun to do in the magic world but I am yet to find it. I wanted to use this opportunity to share some visual reminders of these special moments.

Favorite après Castle Haunts and Hangouts from the earlier years!

•April 7, 2016 • 4 Comments

RN-138-1I received an email from Steve Valenti in which he described his late night/early morning visits to the Snow White coffee shop with Johnny Platt. This particular greasy spoon probably holds many a magical memory. The clientele were as bizarre a bunch of misfits as you were ever likely to meet. Believe me the magicians who visited were the least weird!

The Snow White was (I think it still is!) located on the end of Hollywood Boulevard nearest Highland and just around the corner was the Power House Bar, which was something of a spiritual partner to the Snow White. Johnny had patronizing the Power House Bar for many decades and somehow failed to notice that it had turned into a biker bar. Steve recalls him and Johnny being the only two people in the bar without tattoos.

It was often the case that the very best Magic Castle moments weren’t actually in the Castle at all. When the final drink was served, the front door locked and your car retrieved the next decision was where to go for coffee. There was quite a selection of suitable establishments in the vicinity and I think I explored them all.

If you were lucky enough to have McComb in the group then you tended to head to the ‘Rock & Roll’ Denny’s on Sunset, which is power-housenot to be confused with the ‘Riot’ Hiatt also on Sunset. Billy would drink cup after cup of java and tell tales of magic that kept you awake just as surely as the strong coffee. Billy’s usual meal was an English muffin and scrambled eggs and when the time came to refill his coffee cup he would often balance the empty cup on his head to attract the waitress’ attention.

For Billy telling stories and drinking coffee required nicotine and the biggest battle was usually over how he obtained his nicotine fix in these various non-smoking establishments. As in most things in life Billy had a system. He would pull out his pipe and start puffing away at the Old Bruno ready rubbed shag with which it was filled. He carried his lighter in a small pouch around his neck to speed up the whole process.

Within a few minutes a waitress or manager would arrive and point out that smoking was not allowed. With the uttermost charm Billy would apologize and then as soon as they walked away would carry right on smoking his pipe. When they returned to repeat the request Billy would apologize profusely and as soon as they walked away he would light up a cigarette. Usually the cigarette went unnoticed for a while due to the pungent odor of his ‘Old Bruno’ still wafting in the air in blue clouds. When the management returned to complain about the cigarette Billy would innocently reply that he thought it was just pipe smoking that was forbidden.

RN-044-1My other favorite afterhours coffee shop was the Copper Penny on Hollywood Blvd. where I would often spend the wee hours chatting with my dear friend Jules Lenier. I would always run Jules home from the Castle and we never could quite finish our conversation before the end of the brief journey. We would end up at the Copper Penny talking magic and eating English muffins covered in butter and liberally sprinkled with salt. Jules would perform close-up mindreading effects to impress the waitress and sometimes threaten to demonstrate his hypnotic abilities. I never actually saw Jules hypnotize anyone but he always swore he could and I almost believed him.

Well, this is just a couple of my favorite places and people from the past. Don Lawton, Jack Hurlbut and Mickey O’Malley were other fabulous late night raconteurs who enlivened the post Castle early hours. Don’t even get me started on late night hot dogs from the amazing Pink’s stand in Hollywood. They are a tale to themselves.

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