Three More Virtual Magic Shows That Really Delivered The Goods.

•December 16, 2020 • 1 Comment

In America, there is always a multitude of magic shows to attend over Halloween. However, just because live entertainment has ground to a rusty halt, it doesn’t mean that there wasn’t still a wide choice of magical shows to choose from. This year, over the holiday, we watched three different magical shows which is at least two more than any other Halloween in recent years. One good thing about Zoom shows is that they are mighty easy to attend, that and not having to shave to attend.

The virtual Zoom shows that Susan and I participated in over the holiday weekend were the AMA (Magic Castle) Halloween Show hosted by Todd Robbins, The Raven and Migz Halloween Zoom Magic Show, and Justin Willman’s Magic For Humans@Home Virtual Halloween Show. I’m going to break down the three events, and also give some of my thoughts about the strengths and potential weakness of Zoom style magic shows. I think it is apparent that this performance format is not going to be going away anytime soon. While the end of the worldwide COVID crisis will provide a welcome return to live entertainment, the seamless way virtual shows can cater to non-local audiences is a strong selling point. The ease and relatively low production budgets of Zoom shows are another reason that virtual shows should stick around for the foreseeable future.

Helder Guimarães’ The Present, gave a clear example of how financially successful the blend of close-up magic and theatrical presentation can be. During a limited run, the show brought in an estimated 700,000 dollars according to Geffen Executive Director Gil Cates Jr. This is a truly eye-opening figure. Of course, that number is not representative of the actual fee paid to Helder, who was essentially helping to support an entire theater/theater staff with his project. I have no idea how much money Justin Willman raised this Halloween with his three days of multiple shows, but I suspect it was a great deal. We caught one of the four shows he streamed on Friday, October 30th, and during this single show, 820 people were in virtual attendance. At 25 bucks a household, unless my arithmetic is too faulty, that is about 18,000 dollars for just this single performance. Yikes! No wonder Willman has already got multiple Thanksgiving shows lined up. A guest shot on The Ellen Show must have been a real boost to Justin’s numbers in addition to the fans of his Netflix magic show who also tuned in. 

Let me begin by saying that I enjoyed Justin’s show enormously. It was lively, funny, entertaining, and highly successful on every level. In particular, the virtual audience management was exemplary throughout the 75-minute event. The 30-minute pre-show Halloween costume/dance party that preceded the show was a delight all on its own. In the depth of the current pandemic, it was a tonic just to see so many families having such an uninhibitedly good time. Family is the keyword in describing the focus of Willman’s show. The magic was simple enough for youngsters to fully enjoy, and just as importantly no adult watching the show was made to feel they were attending a kid show. There was no attempt to present the show as a “theater event,” it was simply a compilation of fast-paced and visually interesting pieces of magic. On this level, it hit the bullseye big time.

A large part of the show’s success was the immensely likable personality of Justin Willman himself. Willman’s timing is immaculate, and his sense of pacing kept the show moving at a tempo that effortlessly carried the audience along for the ride.  Did any of the magic Willman performed in the show amaze me? Well, not really but then I am a magician. I did enjoy every single effect and was tickled by many of the subtle touches that Justin added to the routines. These tricks were treats, and commercial gems one and all.

Like Guimarães’ show, Willman’s production was geared to gather strength with its “filmed in the performer’s home” immediacy. I would be remiss if I failed to mention how much Justin’s interaction with his virtual assistants added to the audience’s enjoyment. He is a witty performer who thinks on his feet and mixes vulnerability with cheery confidence that quickly wins over his audience. If I sound like a fan, it’s because I am. A few years back we caught Justin performing a one-hour live show, and maybe what impressed me most with his virtual show was how deftly he re-created that live experience for his new Zoom market. This was a great family show and also a real bargain with its 25 dollar ticket.

On Halloween night, after the socially distanced dispensing of some candy to neighborhood kids, we settled down to watch our second Halloween show. The Academy of Magic Arts has made a stalwart attempt to present virtual events for its members while our legendary clubhouse has been shuttered. The Board of Directors and trustees have done a wonderful job of adding some extra bang for our membership bucks. As an out-of-town member, I am particularly appreciative of everything they have done in this area and want to give a special shout-out to Max Maven, Jonathan Levitt, and John Carney who have spearheaded this effort. Halloween is probably the most exciting of all Magic Castle holidays, and attempting to replace it with a virtual event is a pretty daunting undertaking. Todd Robbins and his band of friends gave it a darn good shot and deserve much credit for their achievement.

The AMA Halloween show was hosted by mega-talented Todd Robbins from his desk/office in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen region. Robbins’ lair managed to look more like a Zoom set than most Zoom backgrounds achieve. With his amiably distracted, and slightly sinister eccentricity, Todd performed some magic, told a true ghost story, and hosted the show in fine style. In what seemed to be mostly pre-recorded sets, the show featured segments by a talented cast of performers. Alex Boyce, Jeanette Andrews, Christian Cagigal, and Mark Calabrese all contributed fine magic to the festivities. From my personal viewpoint, the two major standouts in the show were the charmingly chilling vocal styling of Liberty Larsen singing Pirate Jenny and the excellent mentalism of Jason Suran. Both of these performers added a great deal of texture and variety to the production.

I understand the temptation of mixing pre-recorded segments into a live Zoom show, however, in my estimation, it is something of a double-ended stick. Part of the charm of a Zoom show is some of the rough edges and real-time feel. Like most virtual shows I feel the material could have been edited a little more tightly, as video minutes seem to play longer than they do during live performance. The show was a splendid consolation prize for those of us who didn’t get to perform a Halloween gig or visit the Castle. Thank you Todd for a fine show and enjoyable event, it was overwhelmingly enjoyed and appreciated by the AMA membership.

On the Sunday after Halloween, We got to eat some leftover candy while watching The Raven & Migz Halloween Zoom Show 2020. I was impressed by the sophistication that Richard (Raven) Lake brought to the technical aspect of his streaming broadcast. Many cool and effective video effects were on display during the 80-minute show, some jumped out and hit you in the face, while others were more subtle. The show is a nice example of how to apply some special effects and technical pizzazz to make your show stand out. Check the show out for yourself on YouTube at

 https://tinyurl.com/y3qhvt3b

Raven & Migz ( Richard Lake and Miguel Rangel) are a popular Los Angeles magic/mentalism duo that has a unique sense of timing and rhythm which results in a very entertaining two man team. Their performance personas gel in a very interesting manner, and I look forward to seeing where they take their magic show next. The show features guest stars Rich Hurley, Chris Herren as Faust, and veteran pro-performer Rick Gerber. All the magicians did a great job of creating and performing strong magic with some nice twists. The show would probably have been even stronger with some tighter editing of the material featured. In contemporary television, most guest slots are limited to a rapid-fire two-minute guest set, which is something all Zoom shows must become very aware of. However, a fine time was had by performers and viewers alike. If you want to catch Richard Lake’s ongoing Zoom shows you can find listings for them at https://tinyurl.com/yyassrvr I don’t think you will be sorry!

It is fascinating to see how magicians are adapting to the current phase of the worldwide pandemic. Zoom technology is now a very real part of every magician’s professional vocabulary, it seems amazing that back in January of 2020 almost no one had any idea of what it was! Always remember that Charles Darwin didn’t really talk about survival of the fittest, instead he actually referenced the survival of the most adaptable.   

Helder’s Present! Magic goes virtual, and hits the jackpot.

•December 13, 2020 • 3 Comments

On Saturday, October 17th, I was lucky enough to be one of the people attending the Grand Finale of Helder Guimarães’ virtual magic show The Present.

The show was presented in association with The Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles and Saturday was the final night of a sold-out 24-week engagement, and I caught it just in the nick of time. During its run the show brought in an estimated 700,000 dollars according to Geffen Executive Director Gil Cates Jr. During a time where conventional theater has all but disappeared, this Zoom show has been extended three times and attracted 6,000 viewers for its grand finale. This final performance was a dedicated fundraiser for COVID-related performer charities and raised more than 150,000 dollars in a single night. Not bad for a pandemic year!

What exactly is The Present? It was a 70-minute interactive magic show presented by Portuguese card master Helder Guimarães. Helder has been performing his one-man theatrical magic show about 13 times a week for an average ticket price of 95 dollars. For each performance, a neatly wrapped package was mailed out to the 25 households that participated in the performance. Inside the box was a selection of props that allowed the home audience to participate in real-time with the onscreen action. The production had a somewhat hokey autobiographical thread, involving Helder’s grandfather, which ties together the wafer-thin storyline that turned the magic show into a “theatrical event.” The show was directed by Hollywood heavyweight Frank Marshall who also functioned in this capacity for Guimarães’ 2019 live production Invisible Tango. Marshall was the producer of the Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, and Jurassic Park movie franchises.

The success of The Present had a great deal to do with the artful simplicity of the production. The event was staged in a corner of Helder’s Los Angeles apartment, with his girlfriend Catarina Marques’ providing simple and effective camerawork. Most of the Zoom magic I have experienced has been severely handicapped by the camera being unable to effectively shift focus in order to fully catch the magical action. The Present solved that visual problem in a way that never seemed showy but always natural. Frank Marshall’s direction was deceptively understated, and at no point distracted from the feeling of sitting down with a master magician within his own home. The lighting, props, and costuming similarly made no intrusion on the sense of casual discovery that I suspect intrigued many viewers. The fact that the show even credited a costume designer had me wondering to what degree the production was reaching to underscore its theatrical standing. However, after 251performances the potential to appear too slick or “showbiz” could have been an easy mistake to slip into. I suspect part of Marshall’s skill as a director was making sure that this didn’t happen.

The pre-show excitement of receiving the “Mystery Box” in the mail, which required opening during the show was quite an active factor in building up expectations for the actual Zoom show. Those of us attending the enlarged Grand Finale streaming of the show were able to purchase a scaled-down 15 dollar “Mystery Envelope.” We also paid a reduced 25 dollar fee to merely watch the proceedings in a non-interactive manner. The 25 actual participants in the show could be seen on screen individually during their participation in addition to adding effective human reactions to the proceedings en mass. The Zoom functions were smooth, efficient, and nicely executed. A special shout out to Mel whose initial Zoom greeting and briefing of the participants was friendly and added nicely to establishing a pleasant mood for the show. Her warm personality added a great deal to what could have been a fairly unexciting prelude to the evening’s actions.

One of the reasons that The Present has been such a huge success is that unlike a live magic production in the Geffen Playhouse the show benefited greatly from both national and international press. The Washington Post, New York Times, The Observer, and many other newspapers contributed to an avalanche of overwhelmingly positive reviews for the production. With the devastating effects of the COVID pandemic on the world of theater, it is only natural that friendly media wish to laud any project that bucks the negative trends. The Present certainly took the national zeitgeist and turned the limitations into a powerful marketing/performance tool. At one point 12,000 people were on a waiting list for one of those 25 coveted interactive spots that each performance offered. It is wonderful that Guimarães, Marshall, and the Geffen Playhouse (or as it has been whimsically renamed The Stayhouse) caught performance lightning in a bottle in such an amazing fashion.

Helder Guimarães has been a favorite of Los Angeles magicians since he first started teaming up with Derek DelGaudio at Hollywood’s world famous Magic Castle. In November 2012, these two young performers took their magical skills to the Geffen Playhouse with their magical performance piece Nothing to Hide, which was directed by the Magic Castle’s own Neal Patrick Harris. Helder’s ex-partner DelGaudio recently completed a lengthy and highly acclaimed New York run of his magical play In & Of Itself. The play was directed by legendary director Frank Oz, and Derek and Oz will soon be releasing a video version of the show. It is exciting to see the success of these hybrid magic/theater productions that follow in the footsteps of Ricky Jay’s various collaborations with David Mamet. It probably helps with theatrical ventures like these to have a well-established director onboard. Though in reality, it is more realistic to realize that the true starting point is primarily in having the kind of unique talent that attracts directors of this caliber.

At this point, it is appropriate to discuss the content of The Present, and see why it has appealed so much to audiences who were not necessarily predisposed to enjoy an evening of complex card tricks. The show has seen family audiences, hipsters, regular folk, and celebrities enjoying and participating in the kind of multi-phased lengthy routines that in many ways seem the antipathy of what many would consider “commercial” magic. Helder’s approach to most of these routines involves multiple climaxes that just keep layering impossibility upon impossibility until the spectator is buried in amazement and just has to gasp and applaud. While there is one non-card effect it is fair to say that playing cards are overwhelmingly the focus of the show. 

I sometimes wanted Helder’s effects to be just a little bit more concise and streamlined, but that is just my “less is more” taste. The lay audience absolutely loved what went down. Probably my personal opinions are somewhat tainted by being a magician. It is important to realize that magicians are not the key demographic for this production, if they were then Guimarães would probably still be performing in the Parlor at the Magic Castle!  Having heard and disagreed with many magic “experts” who proclaim that you can’t construct an appealing magic show just containing card tricks I am delighted to say this show proves you can. David Blaine’s most recent TV special proved this same point, and I think it is worthwhile for any ambitious magician to study both these performers and define why they can succeed at this endeavor.

I am not going to go deeply into what effects Helder used to ensnare his viewers, I would only use a lot of words and fail to fully paint the picture. Suffice to say I enjoyed all the individual effects and so did those vitally important 25 “live” participants who acted as our emotional conduits to the action. However, I would be remiss if I failed to mention Guimarães’ excellent handling of Woody Aragon’s Love Ritual routine. As an interactive piece of card magic, this routine is very tough to beat, which may explain why Penn & Teller have used it to close out their full evening show. This particular piece cuts to the heart of what made The Present such a powerful show. The effect embraces separate location interaction turning it into a vibrant shared experience. Those not familiar with Woody’s original effect should be prepared to be amazed.

The magic world has been awash with Zoom magic shows since COVID-19 divided and separated magicians from the audiences that their craft requires. Many of these shows are free but still sparsely attended, and I doubt there will be a huge demand for Zoom magic shows once the pandemic returns our audiences to their rightful spot in front of us. The Present, however, is a huge triumph of the right product at the right time. Guimarães and Marshall return to the Geffen Stayhouse in December 2020 with their next production The Future, and if you missed their last production I advise you to book your virtual place at the table early as I suspect it will be another smash!

The Legend Of The Night The Magic Castle Moved Into The Parking Structure.

•October 29, 2020 • 2 Comments

The older you get, the more you tend to repeat stories over and over again. Sometimes you know you are doing it, and sometimes you don’t. This is not a state of affairs that I see changing greatly for me in the near future. It really doesn’t worry me too much but must be pretty irritating for everyone else. Let me meditate on it for a moment and see if I can locate a major offender in the “to often told” story department. If I write it down maybe I can give it a rest for a while!

I suspect my go-to story would be one of my favorite Magic Castle stories, and believe me Castle stories are a major category all on their own in this particular area! Probably the number one story I tell and retell is about one particular week when I was performing at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. It was a cold, wet, and  wild Tuesday Night- well OK, it was a Tuesday night (it may not have been cold wet or wild, but you do tend to add color and unimportant  details when you tell a story enough times.) I was 22 years old and I was working in the Magic Cabaret, which was a small showroom in the basement of the Magic Castle. The performance area had been painstakingly converted from the mansion’s old wine cellars. The theater had about 40 delightful red plushy theater seats that almost filled the main floor of the auditorium. There was a small platform at the rear of the room where another 10 or 15 people could stand. Of course you wouldn’t want them standing if anyone from the fire department was present. There in lies the crux of the story……

That Tuesday night a fire department official visited the Magic Castle and the next day the Ax fell. I am actually not sure that this is exactly what happened, but it is the way it goes in my personal version of the story. Whatever the actual chain of events, at about mid-day on Wednesday the word came out that the Castle was going to have to be closed that night until various safety codes were updated, and other violations corrected. The Castle’s dining room was fully booked and Wednesday was a busy night in those days. Of course it might not actually have been a Wednesday night, but that is the way I remember it. No-one wanted the Castle to close its doors for the night so a plan was hatched that became a legendary and iconic event.

Our fearless leader, and President, Bill Larsen (or it could have been his brother Milt) decided to move the entire Castle proceedings into the parking structure behind the Magic Castle. A large semi circle of tables and chairs were assembled on the concrete floored structure. Potted palms, and service centers from the dining room were transported to the garage.  A variety of performers from the showrooms arrived dressed in their tuxedos ready to ply their trade in the new makeshift environment. Eventually the Castle’s guest for the evening arrived dressed in the Castle’s signature suit and tie/cocktail dress dresscode. As soon as the tables in the garage started to fill up a steady stream of service began to bring trays of drinks, and plates of food from the kitchen and bars within the Castle. It was business certainly NOT as usual. The air crackled with the urgency of the unexpected.

At a chosen moment, Bill Larsen stepped forward, in his elegant tuxedo, and introduced the various performers who comprised the show extrordinaire that had been assembled for the occasion.   It was a great show because not only did it feature performers like myself who had been scheduled to entertain, but also some big name guest stars who wanted to be part of the unique event. Marvyn “Mr. Electric” Roy was there, as was the great Harry Houdini or perhaps Houdini’s presence was an unfounded rumor thatwas later added to the collective memory of the event. The evening was a huge and triumphant success.

By the next day, the necessary safety changes had been implemented in the Magic Castle, and all the dining, drinking, and entertainment elements were moved back inside the four walls of the actual building . However, a new legend had been added to the unlikely success story that is our venerable magic clubhouse. On a more practical level within a few years that same parking structure had been converted into a seamless extention of the Castle and now it houses the new Palace of Mystery, Parlor of Prestidigitation, Peller Theater, library, and Inner Circle Bar. I was there and that is (pretty much) exactly the way it was.

As you may have noticed my post was as much about the fuzzy memories as the actual facts of the stories we treasure. I was delighted to receive a Facebook post from Dale Hindman who added greatly to the historic events in question. Here it is….

There is some additions to this story. Milt got the call that they had could not open up that night. He got the idea to move things to the parking structure. He called John Shrum, who as the Art Director at NBC for The Tonight Show. John was repsonsible for many of the changes and artistic touches already. John sent over trucks from NBC with the palms, chairs, tables, portable bars, etc. There was a big party already booked for that night, and they didn’t want to cancel them. Bill called Marvyn, as he and Carol were living practically next door. They packed the “act”, came over and performed along with some others. It’s all in Milt’s book as well. Thanks for the rememberance Nick.

What’s Next? (and I don’t mean the trick?)

•October 16, 2020 • 4 Comments

2020 is a year that will cast a long shadow. In America, and almost everywhere else, the entertainment industry nearly ground to a halt. From mid-March onwards, COVID-19 has trumped virtually every form of entertainment other than sitting at home watching Netflix and taking your computer online. Clubs and theaters closed their doors. Cruise ships are languishing in dockyards. Las Vegas showrooms went dark, and corporate entertainment vanished like a birdcage up a sleeve. Magic has taken a particularly critical hit due to the interactive nature that is at the core of its being. Wages and fees have disappeared, as bookings have cancelled with a devastating finality. Of course, you already know this.

Without a crystal ball or an Alexander-like ability to “Know,” we are at the mercy of the evolution of this new and capricious virus. The entertainment industry’s immediate future rests on the novel coronavirus’ subsequent waves, spikes, and recurrences. Anyone who tells you they know what is going to happen next is only fooling themselves. However, this does seem like a suitable forum to take stock of where we are, where we may be heading, and to identify some recent changes that are unlikely to go away too quickly. With fifty years of making a living as a magician in my rearview mirror, I feel as qualified as anyone to have a shot at this process.

One plus point about quarantining has been experiencing how the magic community has reinvented itself digitally with a mass of new meetings, lectures, podcasts, groups, and shows for magicians to enjoy. Most of them are free, which is a handy bonus in the current financial climate. Magicians have also learned a new skill, Zooming. The only time I encountered Zoom before March of this year was when I guested on one of McBride’s Mystery School Mondays. Now, almost everyone in the community has mastered this useful and relatively painless skill. I suspect that this new level of inter-magician communication will outlive the COVID crisis. Most magicians are enthusiastic about meeting up with their cohorts and with Zoom they now have an inexpensive and efficient means to do so.

The early days of the COVID crisis launched an assortment of magicians using Facebook to stream shows from their living rooms. Many of these shows were frankly poor, and technical limitations did nothing to improve the performances. Often these events seemed like a somewhat desperate plea for attention by acts that would otherwise pass under their fellow magician’s radar; however, the situation quickly improved. As things settled down, it became clear that a “Zoom Show” just might become a legitimate way for the average magician to earn a few bucks. However, with one major exception, I have serious doubts whether the merits of a Zoom show will outlast the end of our national quarantine by any significant length of time. Magic tends to work much better live than on video unless your name is David Blaine.

Magicians tend to love their high-tech show trimmings, and a group of magicians who might once have been swapping card moves, are now focusing on iPhone tripods, USB microphones, virtual backdrops, and living room lighting. Some of the virtual show production trimmings are getting better, but the intrinsic impact with magic is usually more focused on the human interactions. The sizzle is fun, but if you want to charge a fee, don’t underestimate the importance of the steak. The recent industry embrace of mentalism has been useful training for these kinds of shows, and a Zoom style presentation can serve this kind of magic excellently. Another strong option for video shows is nonparticipant close-up magic routines, just as long as the objects involved look crisp and in focus.

What doesn’t play particularly well in a Zoom style show? Illusions are a tough sell due to the changes in size involved in shrinking the output down to a computer screen. It takes careful direction and multiple cameras to make illusion look good on a television show. Another serious Zoom casualty is pure comedy magic. Without hearing other audience members laughing, comedy is a lot less contagious than the coronavirus. If you don’t want an audio zoo, then you need to mute the viewers during the performance, and that makes comedy magic a tougher prospect.

The one type of paid Zoom show that I believe will be around for a substantial time is corporate entertainment. It is going to be a while before corporations want to gather all their executives, salespeople, and clients in one big room eating, talking, and drinking. I suspect the Zoom shows that corporate clients will want to employ will require very high-level production skills. These buyers are used to superb audiovisuals, and they will expect their Zoom shows to share this level of expertise.

Most performers are just waiting for their old lives to kick back into place again, and eventually, with stops and starts it will. However, I think it unrealistic to believe that we will not need to tailor our work to these changing times. Audience participation, and interaction with physical props, is going to need to be very carefully restructured for a very long time. Even if the majority of the audience is unworried about these issues, if even ONE person comments, “Oh, you’re not going to touch that are you?” then the entire audience is going to become uncomfortable. The hecklers of the future may come disguised as health advisors.

We are in a brief window of time which magicians should use to re-evaluate the direction of their magic repertoire. While it is correct to anticipate the return of live bookings, I think it is only realistic to re-tune our performance for the new normal. I am currently filming a series of new downloads for our online magic retail company that will feature classic “display” close-up routines that are Covid-19 and Zoom friendly. It is entirely unrealistic to believe that attention to these presentational details are not paramount in re-establishing one’s commercial presence. I am amazed how often I read posts from magicians on Facebook who seem to think that a firm allegiance to their old repertoire and performance style will be acceptable as the pandemic begins to fade. Clients will be impressed by the performer who appears to respect the health and interests of their guests, and will book accordingly. 

One area of employment that has totally ceased this year is the Cruise Ship market. Cruise work is one of the most extensive and highest paying gigs for magicians throughout the world and is going to resume functioning the very day that the cruise lines think they can get away with it. The money that is hemorrhaging from cruise lines is profound. Realistically I believe that re-booting this particular market is going to be extremely difficult. Every time a passenger comes down with COVID-19, the entire industry will face a potentially “close it down” chorus from the media. However, things will get back to normal eventually, and when they do, it will present a new and exciting employment opportunity for a great many entertainers.

With the colossal financial losses sustained by the entire cruise industry, some obvious and predictable changes will occur. Salaries will go down, and longer bookings are inevitable. Performers will also need to present more shows during their engagement, and pre/post show home quarantining may become standard. These changes will create a working situation that will cause many of the more established performers to exit this particular kind of booking rather than take that cut in salary and change in accustomed working conditions. The upside of these developments is that the industry will open up to a great many performers who were not previously working this lucrative and enjoyable market. There are not many opportunities to book a year’s worth of work with a single phone call in magic, but this is one of them. If a performer hasn’t worked on a ship before, he will not experience a wage cut, and will probably be very comfortable doing that extra twenty-minute show. He might even relish a six-month contract. I predict that this will be a “gold rush” for a new booking opportunities. Move quickly though because the fresh blood will soon absorb the overflow of bookings.

I hope you found a few useful angles in this post about What’s Next after our lives get back a little closer to normal. The time to think carefully about your magic is now. Things will improve, so stay safe and healthy!  

 

 

My friend Channing.

•September 3, 2020 • Leave a Comment

One very unusual friendship I have enjoyed was with the great magician Channing Pollack. Channing was one of the most influential magicians that America has ever added to the magic community. Channing was the man who pretty much invented the “dove act” as we know it. Dressed in a perfect tail suit, Pollack performed immaculate card manipulations punctuated by the gasp out loud production of beautiful white doves. As a finale he made an entire cage of doves disappear in thin air. However,  it wasn’t just what Channing did but the style with which he did it that made him so special.

David Copperfield described Pollack as “The James Bond of Magic,’ and that gets to the heart of the matter. He was extremely good looking (frequently described by the press as the best looking man in America) and had a serious and intense manner when he performed, only after the finale of his act did Channing flash a 50 megabit smile at the very close of his show when that cage of doves disappeared. It was great entertainment and even greater theater.

At the very height of his professional success, Channing made the easy jump into being a movie star and made a series of films designed to show off his matinee idol looks. Before too long he disappeared from the big screen and began a highly successful career at just being Channing. He spent his time in Beverly Hills, Half Moon Bay, and finally Las Vegas, he became an inspiration, friend, teacher, and mentor to generations of magicians. As show business stories go, this was an almost perfect one.

In the late 1970s, I met Channing for the first time at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. We hit it off immediately and spent the next few hours talking metaphysics in a smokey van.  We were both very involved in A Course In Miracles and were delighted to have a chance to discuss it in detail. On this, and all future occasions, we were both much to busy talking about spiritual matters to discuss magic!

Over the next few decades periodically I would bump into Channing and I would always greet him with, “What’s happening for you with the Course?” We would then pick up our conversation almost exactly where we left off the last time we met. It was rather a ritual. The last time I saw Channing was at one of Mac King’s annual Kentucky Derby parties in Las Vegas. When I asked him how the “Course” was going, his face clouded over a little and he said, “I have hit a block…” I responded immediately, “You might want to check out the work of Nisargadatta Maharaj.”  “Where should I look?” He replied. We chatted briefly, and when he parted Channing said, “I will phone you tomorrow to write down the name of those two books.”

I was slightly surprised the next day when Pollack phoned me, I had previously realized that he didn’t have my phone number! We chatted a while and I told him that Sri Nisargadatta’s magnum opus was I Am That. I added that I was particularly fond of the short book containing his final teaching called Consciousness and the Absolute. This second book was transcribed from Maharaj’s talks in the last six months of his life after he had been diagnosed with throat cancer. The diamond-like clarity, directness, and depth of his words are quite extraordinary. Channing thanked me and said goodbye. It was the last time we spoke, six months later Channing died from complications of cancer. I felt a little strange about my last communications with him were to recommend a book by someone in the exact life position that he was in.

When I attended The Tribute to Mr. Pollack after his death I was surprised when several of Channing’s friends came up to me and greeted me warmly as if they knew me. As I discovered my final interaction with Channing had been very appropriate and he had immediately ordered the two books I had recommended, and they had meant a great deal to him. In fact, he had sent copies of the books to many of his friends. When he died the three books beside his bed were A Course in Miracles, I Am That, and Consciousness and the Absolute. It was certainly a strange feeling to discover this. I am astounded looking back over the years, how few times Channing and I met. However the intensity of our mutual interests was very profound, and the friendship we had was a very rare and special one. There are other magicians, and then there was Channing Pollack.

 

 

 

Lance Burton on The Entertainment Files.

•August 29, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Lance Burton was one of our favorite guests on The Entertainment Files! He stopped by our studio for the interview and even performed a really cool close up trick. Lance really deserved the Master Magician title, his various shows were all incredibly enjoyable. While his show at the Monte Carlo Hotel was the biggest and most elaborate I have very fond memories of his show at the Hacienda!

 

 

Rhonda Shear and Bobby Kelton on The Entertainment Files.

•August 21, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Rhonda Shear was the gorgeous star of the USA Network’s highly successful Up All Night. We were delighted when Rhonda and comedian Bobby Kelton dropped by the Entertainment File’s studio to talk about movies and comedy.

Ted V. Mikels on The Entertainment Files.

•August 20, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Ted V. Mikels was a “one of a kind” low budget, indie filmmaker. He had a lot of personal style and charisma. We were delighted to invite him to appear on The Entertainment Files to discuss his movies. 

Mike Weatherford on The Entertainment Files

•August 17, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Mike Weatherford was one of the two Mikes (along with Mike Paskevich) who were the key reviewers for the Las Vegas Review-Journal back in the ’90s. They were both very supportive of my show at the Maxim and were a great help in making it such a success. Thank you, guys! Mike Weatherford dropped by the studio for this Entertainment Files interview. Mike wrote a great book Cult Las Vegas which is well worth finding and reading!

Farewell To The Great Marvyn Roy

•August 17, 2020 • 2 Comments

On July 1, 2020, we lost one of the great magicians of our time with the passing of Marvyn “Mr. Electric” Roy, at the age of 95. Marvyn Roy was a star of magic for most of his life, and his passing has closed the curtain on an entire era of magic. Marvyn’s distinguished career included performing in just about every TV show and live venue that mattered. Marvyn Roy played the kind of gigs that most magicians merely dream about. Even more importantly, Roy has been a source of inspiration to many generations of magicians.

In the magic community, Roy was as famous for his generosity of spirit, as he was for his classic “Artistry of Light” magic act. Spending time with Marvyn was to be uplifted by his excitement and pure love of magic. He had an almost limitless knowledge and understanding of every aspect of the magical arts and shared it freely with his fellow magicians.  It was impossible to spend any time around “Mr. Electric” without becoming a better and more passionate magician.

Born in Los Angeles on April 1, 1925, Roy was the king of the themed magic show. In his teens, Marvyn developed an award-winning act of silk magic called “Marvyn the Silk Merchant.” In 1950 with help from Alan Wakeling and Ray Muse, he introduced the prototype of his Mr. Electric show.  Later in his career, Marvyn launched two more themed shows billed as Mr. Puzzle and The Magic Jeweler. However, it is as Mr. Electric that Marvyn Roy is remembered the most fondly.

During World War Two, Roy was among the second wave of soldiers that landed on Normandy in 1944. After being wounded and receiving the Purple Heart, he was attached to Special Services and performed in a variety show entertaining the troops. Upon returning to civilian life, Marvyn studied theater at UCLA to more fully develop the act. However, there was one more thing needed to propel his life and career to the next level. 

In the early fifties, Marvyn learned to ice skate to perform his act in ice shows. It was a fortuitous decision.  At The Conrad hotel in Chicago, he met Carol Williams, an ice skater and rope spinner. The young couple fell in love and were married in 1956. In Carol, Marvyn now had the perfect professional partner and life mate. For 50 years, they shared the stage and traveled the world, dazzling audiences with their iconic teamwork. Both onstage and off, “Mr. Electric & Carol,” were a perfect dyadic, and had a dynamic relationship that delighted both audiences and their eclectic collection of friends.

A brief recap of Marvyn and Carol’s career would have to mention their regular appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show, and numerous other domestic and international television shows. The couple also played The London Palladium, The Lido de Paris, and Radio City Music Hall as well as the best Las Vegas venues. The couple toured Russia with Ed Sullivan and opened for Liberace for over five years. Along the line, Marvyn picked up every major award that magic has to give. An excellent first-hand reminiscence of Roy’s career is available in his 2005 book “Mr. Electric Unplugged,” it is a great read and highly recommended.

I am just one of many magicians whose life was quietly and profoundly changed by a meeting with Mr. Electric. I had watched Marvyn & Carol on various British television shows and was deeply in awe of their showmanship and high energy magic show. I particularly enjoyed the dramatic moment in their act when Marvyn donned goggles and illuminated a 10,000-watt lighthouse bulb in his bare hands. It was the powerful heart of a spectacular show. The duo seemed like inhabitants of a different universe to this teenage Brit magician. Watching them on our tiny TV set performing live from the London Palladium, I could never have dared to guess that they would become dear friends one day.

I arrived in America in 1974 at the age of 22 and began to unravel a career for myself doing what I loved best—performing magic. My first real gig was an 80 dollar “club date” at the Long Beach Elks Club. When I arrived at the venue, I was astonished to discover I was working with Marvyn and Carol Roy. There had been a hitch in the booking procedure resulting in a bill that featured two magicians and two jugglers. Even more alarmingly, the entertainment committee had decided to put both the magicians in the first half of the show, with the two jugglers comprising the second half. No-one has ever accused many Elks Club entertainment committees of having a lot of showbiz acumen! Marvyn explained the situation to me, and much to my surprise told me that he would be opening the bill, and I would follow him and close out the first half of the show. For a while, I was pretty darn excited that Mr. Electric was going to be my opening act. How little we know in those early performing days! As a gnarled old veteran, I am now firmly aware that unless it affects your fee, go on as early as you can in any bill. I learned this lesson very clearly that night in Long Beach. Almost everything I performed in my show that night had just been presented far better by Marvyn within his themed format.

My show featured a floating ball, Marvyn had floated a light bulb, I cut and restored a piece of rope while he cut and restored a microphone cord. Even my killer effect, featuring an electric chair routine, was eclipsed by being proceeded by Marvyn & Carol presenting their spectacular version 25 minutes earlier. The audience was pretty darn kind to me, which I appreciated. Still, I felt somewhat foolish, and crestfallen as my wife Susan and I were packing up my props after the show.

At the very end of the evening, I was getting ready to slink back home with my magical tail between my legs, Marvyn materialized next to me. “Would you both like to come out and join us getting some breakfast at “Denny’s?” He said. Amazed and delighted, I replied, “Of course!” I couldn’t have been more excited at this rare opportunity to act like a genuine magic professional. We followed Marvyn and Carol to the nearby coffee shop, and the four of us quickly settled into a corner booth.

After ordering our breakfast, I was to experience that signature enthusiasm and generosity that made Marvyn Roy such a prince among men. Marvyn told me how much he had enjoyed my show, especially my Chinese Linking Ring routine. This effect had undoubtedly been one of my better-received pieces, if only because Marvyn hadn’t performed it! Marvyn then spent the rest of our breakfast, educating me on the importance of having a themed act with a name that people would remember. Before we finished our pancakes, he had devised an entire act that involved me linking different items together. “What you can do,” he enthused, “is change your name to Link Lewin!” By the time we left the restaurant, I was halfway ready to do it.

One of Marvyn’s many suggestions was that I immediately purchase a Himber Linking Finger Ring to develop my linking prowess further. The next day still on a rush from being treated, totally unrealistically, as an equal by such an esteemed performer, I drove to Joe Berg’s Magic Shop in Hollywood and placed a deposit on a Himber Ring. While I never developed an entire show linking objects, I certainly got my money’s worth from that finger ring. It became a signature effect that opened many doors for me. It was the trick that I performed on my first TV appearance in 1979 on The Merv Griffin Show filmed in the enormous Caesars Palace showroom in Las Vegas.

Over the years, I worked with Marvyn and Carol many times, and we became good friends. We often recalled that first show, and I was able to thank him for his kindness to a young and nervous rookie performer. The last time I saw Mr. Roy was in October of 2019 when I was performing at the opening night of Marvyn’s namesake magic theater in La Quinta. I got to tell this little story onstage during my show and enjoyed seeing Marvyn’s laughter as he sat in the audience. After the show concluded, we did what all performers do on these occasions—we went out with a group of magicians to have breakfast. Some traditions never change.

Marvyn is already sorely missed in our community. He was the best of the best, both onstage and off. I am proud to have known him.

 

 


 

 

 
%d bloggers like this: