The Art of the Nielsens.
When writing about Norm Nielsen you automatically get a great two for one package because of the amazing dyadic created by Norm and his lovely wife Lupe. Anyone who has seen Norm’s iconic act knows that there are very, very few performers who can aspire to his degree of perfection. However he doesn’t stop there.
In the early 80s I was producing a series of shows for AMD and was putting together a special event in the heart of Silicon Valley. I assembled a crack team of close-up performers and invited Norm to join me on the after-dinner entertainment. I had been very impressed watching Norm on television back in England and was excited to have the opportunity to work with him.
The banquet room we performed in was a typical banquet room (i.e. it was very unsuited to presenting a magic show) and this particular room proved to be way to long for the width. An intimate show became much more visually challenging from the rear of the room. I was confident of the impact Norm’s signature violin would have on the crowd but wanted to check the visibility of his Miser’s Dream routine.
As I stood at the back of the room I was astounded by the reaction of each and every coin as it was produced and then jangled it’s way down the musical ladder it was dropped into. It is amazing how often in magic the visible is augmented significantly by the audible and this was a perfect example of that principle. It was a joy that night to watch Norm performing and to realize I had the chance to share a bill with one of the true greats in magic.
As a magician I think of Norm fondly every time I perform, as there is never a show when I do not use one of his props. I am always grateful that his expertise and high standards are extended to his manufacturing and retailing of magical props. I have opened my show with the production of a rubber dove for several decades. That takes me back to the dark and dismal days of doves that looked nothing like any bird seen this side of hell! The “Ooh” that accompanies the production of a N.N. dove is the gold standard mark of authentic fakery. My second show features a routine made possible by Norm’s rubber Coca Cola bottle and it allows me to add a great ending to a favorite effect. Once again the total authenticity of the prop takes the effect into a different league. If only all props were made this well!
I remember with joy my first visit to the Nielsen’s beautiful home, museum, art gallery and birthplace of all my doves! One step beyond the doormat and you are into one of the most exquisitely designed monuments to a performer that I have ever seen. It is an awesome sight. Everything inside is part of a theme that celebrates the great Chung Ling Soo. There are posters, photos, memorabilia and props, even a curious auto harp that Chung Ling Soo that was contributed by Billy McComb.
What adds to the instant attraction of their house is that it doesn’t look like some old, dusty magic museum. The Nielsen’s home is white, light and filled with sunshine. After you stop yourself from gaping at the priceless collection the room contains, the next thing you notice is the quiet pride and enjoyment that Norm and Lupe have in sharing their collection.
We took a brief pause in drooling over the art work while Norm showed us the amazing feats of training that their outsize poodle can demonstrate for guests. This puppy is even better trained than Norm’s violin and won our hearts in a matter of minutes. Even as I watched it balance a biscuit on its nose before eating it. In my heart of heart’s I knew my beloved pup Georgi could be reincarnated in more lives than a cat and still fail to demonstrate this kind of restraint.
We then made our way to the specially constructed building in the rear of the property that houses Norm’s world famous collection of magic posters. What a collection it is. One gets to appreciate magic posters that are legendary and historic in the history of our art. One is so accustomed to seeing reproductions of some of these posters it just takes your breath away to see how vibrant and vivid they are in their original form.
The simple elegance and practicality with which the posters are housed and displayed is another source of amazement. Each poster has been carefully displayed in the perfect way to be seen in the most effective manner possible. When you first walk into the gallery you have no idea of quite how much art and history has been gathered within these four walls. I suspect Norm used principles from his unequaled vanishing birdcage to make it a reality!
We spent about an hour viewing this breathtaking collection accompanied by one of the only men in the world who could do verbal justice to the collection. Norm stood quietly back after showing you each piece and allowed you to absorb the work. When you had a question about something Norm was right there with the answer. It was a very special window into the history of magic the like of which I have never experienced. I loved every second and was scarcely able to tear myself away from the experience.
As I left their home Lupe had a rubber dove waiting for me on the dining room table. When I opened up the dove and removed it from it’s packaging I realized for the first time the esthetic behind my most consistently used prop. The attention to detail in the carefully molded prop, the crystal eyes, the packaging that was (like a product from Apple) as pleasing to the eye as it was practical. I removed the dove from its sealed plastic bag, removed the excess talcum powder and as I placed the custom cardboard box aside I remembered my visit. I reflected, not for the first time, that when it comes to class acts in magic that the Nielsens are amazingly high on the list!