Johnny Thompson. The Incalculable Loss Of A Giant.

•April 19, 2019 • Leave a Comment

This was the tribute piece I wrote for Vanish Magic Magazine after the passing of magical icon and personal friend Johnny Thompson. I have added a few personal photos to the piece.

One of the toughest assignments that come my way as associate editor of Vanish Magic Magazine is that I usually get to write this kind of tribute upon the passing of legendary magical figures. As the oldest staff writer on the magazine, it makes sense as I have sometimes known these magicians for anything up to half a century. It is never easy, often painful, and especially difficult in the case of John Thompson. However, let me give it my best shot.

It is customary, under these circumstances, to focus on a piece that primarily lists dates and achievements, and in this instance, I am sure many tributes will do that more elegantly than I could. However, in some cases numbers, awards and achievements don’t really give the full scope of the situation. Johnny Thompson (AKA The Great Tomsoni) was born in Chicago on July 27th, 1934 and died on March 9th, 2019. In the 84 years between those dates, John may well have acquired, mastered, and shared more knowledge about every aspect of the magical arts than any other individual in the history of magic. 

To me, and so many other magicians, there was a pure visceral emotional jolt on receiving the sad announcement of Johnny’s death. I heard this news during a lecture I was presenting at a magic convention. Some of us had more knowledge of Johnny’s situation than others, but the moment the announcement was made, there was a palpable sense of grief and loss that hit everyone present. Thompson was a man who whether directly or through his body of work has touched magicians off every age across the entire magical ecosystem. Following the news of the death of Marshall Brodien the day before, it was a particularly harsh punch to the assembly of magicians. 

As was the case with Johnny’s dear friends Jay Marshall and Billy McComb it is just astounding to realize how much-concentrated knowledge suddenly disappeared from the world when each of these three left us. This larger than life trinity of teachers all continuously shared their wisdom and did so based on their powerful love of all things magical. None of them had much regard for bad or lazy magicians, but it didn’t stop them from relentlessly sharing their knowledge with an even hand to improve each and any magician and help raise him to the highest level they could achieve. It is also worth noting that all three of these titans shared and encompassed an expansive mastery of each and every branch of the magical arts. These men’s obsessive love of the art would have made a narrow focus on one specific area of magic an inconceivable limitation of their ability to absorb, synthesize and dispense their exceptional knowledge.  

Within minutes of the announcement about Thompson’s passing, the social media was inundated with heartfelt tributes, treasured pictures, and personal reminisces detailing the love and respect that John created within the magic community. As a performer, creator, teacher, and mentor; it was immediately apparent that Thompson was above all valued as a friend by those of us who were lucky enough to spend some time with him. John had a personal warmth and generosity of spirit that could make even casual acquaintances feel sufficiently embraced that after even a brief encounter with him they felt like close friends. It was an exceptional gift.

I first heard about Johnny Thompson from Ken Brooke in London back in the mid-sixties. Ken thought that Johnny was something very, very special, and Ken was not an easy man to impress. If I am strictly honest when I got to meet Thompson for the first time in the mid-seventies, I thought he was one of the scariest men I had ever met! Little did I know that I would be lucky enough to know him well enough eventually to become a close friend. I certainly don’t kid myself I was his best or closest friends, however, when Johnny greeted you with his signature bear hug and a sloppy kiss, you knew you were lucky enough to be part of an exceptional group.

When you write heartfelt final tributes such as this, one usually ends up falling back on a series of overused words like; legendary, iconic, irreplaceable, beloved, etc. I used two of them in the title and first paragraph. All of these words and many more are 100% applicable to the great Johnny Thompson, but go very little distance in actually reaching the vital relevance of the man himself. However, I don’t want to paint a falsely saintly and schmaltzy picture of John; he had definite (and often outspoken) views and a fiery temper that were vital elements in his personality. Thompson was a font of knowledge, but never in a musty or pedantic way, he was a lot of fun to be around. Whether onstage or offstage there was always an aura of laughter that enriched the environment when Johnny was on the scene. Even when he was being serious John never failed to spot the humor in a situation.

I suspect Johnny would have had zero time for any lengthy or mawkish tribute dedicated to his memory. In 2006 I sat near him at the final tribute, and wand breaking ceremony, for Channing Pollack in Las Vegas. When things were getting a little too “syrupy” in nature, John announced in a beautifully articulated stage whisper, “This is about the time when Channing would have said, ‘I think this is the moment to go outside and smoke a joint!’ ” With one sentence he created a laugh and brought the event back to the ground zero of the man we were celebrating. John was a master of making a moment real; in fact, John was just a master, end of story

On behalf of myself and all my colleges at Vanish Magic Magazine, let me express our sadness at the loss of the irreplaceable Johnny Thompson. No one as unique as John lives in a vacuum and we wish to extend our love and sincerest condolences to Johnny’s wife, and partner Pamela Hayes. As the irrepressible other half of “The Great Tomsoni and Company,” Pam along with Johnny have kept audiences applauding and laughing for many years, and along with Pam, the magic world mourns the loss of one of the magic world’s most beloved figures. 

Michael Finney Lecturing and Performing in Texas!

•March 31, 2019 • Leave a Comment


“I am a huge fan of Michael Finney’s Hilarious Comedy and great Magic. If you have a chance to catch one of his upcoming lectures then I know you are in for a treat.”

MAGICIANS in San Antonio and Austin. Michael Finney is coming to town and we want to give him a big Texas welcome. Finney’s lecture is in San Antonio on Thursday, April 4 at 7:00PM and in Austin on Saturday, April 6 at 1:00 PM. Your local clubs will have the information. Please Share this info with your magic friends.

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Thursday, April 4 — 7:00 pm — Michael Finney Lecture
Our Lady Of Sorrows Church (Chavez Center)
3107 North St. Mary’s St
San Antonio, TX 78212
210-732-6295

Be sure and park in the parking lot BEHIND the church.
Do NOT PARK in The Lawyers Private Parking Lot.
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Saturday, April 6 — 1:00 pm — Michael Finney Lecture
Heroes Night Out
1150 S Bell Blvd, Cedar Park, TX 78613
Phone: (512) 986-7660

A Fascinating Collection Of Mechanical Antiques And Magic

•March 23, 2019 • Leave a Comment

During my recent visit to Pigeon Forge, Tennesee to perform at the Winter Carnival of Magic, I had a rare treat! A private party was thrown by “collector extraordinaire” and mechanical wiz Steve Gronowski, and he allowed us to explore the incredible collection of mechanical wonders that he has built/repaired and assembled over the years. It was an evening that I will long remember.

Back in the ’70s, Steve was an underemployed electrician in Chicago, with a passion for collecting and restoring some awe-inspiring mechanical devices. Steve hit upon a powerful formula that turned his private collection into a gold mine, he realized that if he restored and sold an antique curio, then he could buy and restore three new items. forty odd years later he has what must be the finest collection of these fascinating devices.

The basement “man cave” that houses Steve’s collection is bigger in size than most homes and features a 60-foot bar that nestles in one section of his fascinating creation. Scattered around the area is a collection of antique devices including a Wurlitzer jukebox, slot machines, and many antique “penny devices” that one only gets to see in movies or photographs. Rather than try and describe the contents, I would suggest you take a look at some of the photographs below. In the unlikely event of becoming bored with this wonderful collection, a selection of gaming tables and a splendid pool table await your participation.

It would have taken a week to have done any justice to exploring his one of a kind collection, but the gracious host that he is Steve has a further delight in store for his guests. Attached to his house are the giant complex and Alladin’s cave of the workshops, warehouses, and storerooms where Gronowski houses and works on his latest projects. I am quite a fan of those glorious Zelda the Fortune Teller machines, it was fascinating to catch a glimpse of her various working at different stages of reconstruction. In some ways, just as astounding as the various devices was the meticulously assembled collection of tools and equipment used in their renovation. I am the kind of guy who can scarcely use a hammer, however, the combined collection of tools and equipment left me speechless.

I had a wonderful time exploring this amazing collection and wanted to share some of my pictures of the evening. If you want to see examples of Steve’s handicraft you can visit David Copperfield’s New York home where David has a fine display of these collectibles. Tokyo’s Disneyland is also home to a large amount of Steve’s amazing antique works of art. I want to thank Mr. Gronowski for allowing me this eye-opening glimpse of a world I scarcely knew existed.

Magic Mondays at the Tavern, in Austin TX.

•February 20, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I am really excited to announce our first intimate magic evening of magic right here in Austin. It is called Magical Mondays and it will take place on the last Monday of each month. The show is housed at the legendary Tavern, 922 West 12th Street (at LaMaar.) The Tavern has been around for about a century and allegedly it is haunted! The evening is a careful blend of magic, comedy, and music. Perfect for audiences of all ages, and a delightful way to spend an evening.

The second floor of The Tavern will contain the miniature theatre, dedicated to viewing cutting edge sleight of hand magic. With only 40 seats available there isn’t a bad seat in the house. There are even two large video screens to enhance some of the visual trickery and card magic. The evening will last about 90 minutes with doors opening at 7:30 and the formal show beginning at 8:00. Since it is Austin we even included a little good music in the mix.

On the 25th I will be performing part of the Las Vegas show I was performing last year at Harrah’s and was featured in my award-winning one-man show the Maxim Hotel in Vegas. I am lucky enough to frequently work with Little Jewford at the keyboards. Little Jewford is most often recognized from his longtime role as Pianist/Sidekick to the great Kinky Friedman.  Little Jewford will also perform some of his hilarious comedy/music specialty numbers. Jewford has been featured in many of the nations finest showrooms, and a couple of sleazy saloons too!

My good friend Gary Plants will be performing a formal close-up show, and what an amazing performer he is. Gary is a magical, author, advisor and performer whose magic prowess is legendary and totally awesome. Gary’s work will be enhanced with real-time video being projected onto two big screens. Gary is in the very top league of sleight of hand artists working in the United States.

Rounding out the bill will be the sleight of hand and busker style performing of San Antonio’s Rolando Medina. Rolando is also a noted expert on scams and carney magic. His meticulous magic will be used throughout the evening.

 

Tickets are nearly sold-out already for our initial gig, but if you act fast there may still be one or two at https://www.tavernaustin.com/magical-mondays

 

 

 

 

Magical Mondays at the Tavern.

•February 8, 2019 • Leave a Comment

We are very pleased to announce a very exciting new magic project here in Austin. On February 25th, “Magical Mondays” will begin a series of magical events at the legendary (and haunted!) Tavern. A combination of close -up, stand up and parlor magic will feature both me and various other magicians performing in this great intimate venue. I believe it will become a very popular part of Austin’s vibrant nightlife. 

On the launch/opening party for “Magical Mondays,” the bill will feature, Nick Lewin’s award-winning comedy sleight of hand magic and the close-up wizardry of Gary Plants. Adding some additional laughs and a dash of music is the inimitable Little Jewford. Seating for the event is limited so if you plan on attending our premiere event contact the Tavern box office at https://tinyurl.com/y9fegh8z

Gary Plants is a truly amazing, and awesome close-up performer whose legendary skills with a deck of cards will amaze and astound any audience. A featured performer on “Crystal Cruises,” Gary will be performing in your face close up magic. Nick will be performing his comedy and magic show that was featured in his one-man Las Vegas show. Little Jewford is often recognized as Kinky Friedman’s pianist and right-hand man and will add his unique talents to the blend.

Tickets to the event cost 20 Dollars and are available from the Tavern Website www.tavernaustin.com

Denny Haney. Farewell to a Legend.

•February 6, 2019 • 1 Comment

Denny Haney was born on December 26th 1945 and passed away on January 23rd 2019. In those 74 years he performed some great magic, influenced a bunch of magicians and truly earned the title of legend. Born and raised in Maryland, Haney began his magical career at the age of 15 and as he developed in magic became a graduate of the famous Chavez School of Magic. While initially becoming a manipulative magician, by the height of his performing career, Denny had mastered close-up, illusions and every other kind of magic that that you care to name.

For the latter years of his magical career, Haney was to become one of most beloved and influential teachers that the magic world has seen. From his legendary, magic store in Baltimore, Denny was to influence the steady stream of magical novices, hobbyists and professionals that stopped in to learn from the master. His passing has left a huge void in the heart and fabric of  the magic fraternity. Denny’s passion for magic was perfectly expressed by his somewhat romantic, but totally practical dream of an old fashioned magic store that was filled with books, tricks and wisdom.

During the Vietnam War, Haney was based in Pielku, where he functioned by day as an interpreter questioning North Vietnamese prisoners, and at night as a magician entertaining the troops. During this time he met and began working with the great Johnny Alladin. Denny also fell in love with Doan Thi Trung-Du, nicknamed Lee, and after their marriage his professional and business ventures were always under the name of Denny and Lee. While their marriage may not have survived the craziness of the years they spent performing on the road, Lee was always a part of Denny’s official moniker.

Once Denny and Lee began performing in the United States they quickly achieved success in every sphere of the entertainment industry from nightclubs to corporate shows. Haney was a vast fund of magical knowledge not just because of his non-stop performances but also his insatiable desire to read and learn everything about magic that was available. He was a devout believer in the benefits that a performer could gain by the written word and the ability of a true magical mentor to bring those words to life and put them into application.

The magic world has lost an alarming amount great practitioners in the last year. Denny Haney had a vibrant, joyous warmth that deeply touched the hearts of magicians around the globe. Performers of Denny’s status, and teachers of his calibre are a rare breed, and it is a sad thing to have to see the business diminished with his passing. I am truly sorry for the generations of future magicians who will not be able to stand in Denny’s crazy, chaotic, “old school” magic store, and enjoy the company of this brilliant, eccentric, and lovable genius. The magic world is greatly diminished with his passing.

All these pictures were taken either by me or my friend Richard Eddings on September 20th, 2017 when we visited Denny and Scott in the store.I am so glad I had that last afternoon joking and laughing with Denny in his beloved store.

 


 

Aloha to Pete Biro.

•December 28, 2018 • Leave a Comment

It was very sad news to hear yesterday about the passing of Pete Biro. Pete was a funny magician with a fund of knowledge and was one of the real movers and shakers in magic. I first met Pete in London in the 1960’s in the magic studio of Ken Brooke in London’s West End. Biro got serious respect while visiting 145, Wardour Street because he drank English style tea rather than coffee.  Pete was a firm friend of Brooke and they had enormous respect for each other. Ken had purchased a curiously twisted thimble routine from Pete and released it as  “Pete’s Peeper.” I just met Biro the once at Ken Brooke’s Magic Place, however, Pete was the kind of guy you met once and felt you had known for years.

The next times Pete came into my life was in the mid-1970s when I was working at the Magic Cellar in San Francisco. Pete would stop by and we would gossip and talk magic, Pete always had an idea for a gag or joke to add to the show. Biro had a mind like a magnet and a wonderful sense of what material would work for a fellow performer. He was always very generous with his time and knowledge. It was at this time I realized what a very talented person Pete was as a photographer.

I continued to bump into Pete over the years and we always enjoyed a lively conversation and he was one of those friends with whom you could pick up a conversation exactly where you left of a year or so before. Always the mark of a good friend. I have followed Pete’s writings over the years and have always been impressed by his ability to get right to the commercial heart of a routine. I will miss bumping into him at the Friday luncheon at the Castle, and our occasional exchange of notes over the Internet.

Sadly with Pete Biro’s passing, we have lost another of Magic’s real characters. 2018 took a heavy toll on the magic world. I will just sigh a little and wish Aloha to Pete. If there is some form of heaven I hope that Ken, Pete, Harry and Ricky are all there together catching up……..

 

 
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