The (delightful) Ghosts of Hosts past at the Magic Castle.

Castle GhostOne of the greatest joys of visiting the Magic Castle in the 70s were the fabulous bunch of eccentric characters who acted as hosts and introduced the acts. They added an enormous amount of charm and authenticity to your evening. I’m not saying that our current crop of hosts aren’t nice guys but they seem a little faceless compared with some of the ghosts of hosts past.

The very first person I met at the Castle was Don Lawton. Don was as charming as he was funny. Over the years that I watched Don performing and introducing performers he always made me laugh. He would lean in through the curtain in the Close Up Gallery with a slightly bemused expression and say; “Oh, Porter…..” and even though I had never been a passenger onboard a Pullman train I would be in stitches. In the old Palace of Mysteries, Don would produce a six-foot straw and try to get a taste of a drink from a lady in the back row. In the Parlour we were treated to his hysterical memorizing of an entire deck in a routine that never got old.

It was at the Castle where I first met Senator Clarke Crandall, in his capacity of host. No sooner had we met than he began to recite a quasi-Senator Crandallbiblical story about God instructing mankind on how to make a profit on the selling of polo shirts by sewing an alligator on the front of them. When Crandall finished his recitation I mentioned how much I enjoyed the writings of Woody Allen. The piece was word for word from Woody’s first book and all the better for being spoken. After I said this, the Senator gave me a sideways glance and said, “A magician who reads actual books. I will have to keep an eye on you.”

You couldn’t start to describe these weird and wonderful folks without a very special nod to Mickey O’Malley. To say that Mickey was an eccentric is to vastly understate the case. When the evening was winding down at the Castle, Mickey would produce his rather battered trumpet and play various jazz classics.

Years later after Mickey had died I was attending a swap meet at the Castle and bought a spring rat that had belonged to him. It is without doubt the most disgusting looking prop I have ever seen. I love it. I picked it up from the table and held out a handful of dollars just seconds before Harry Anderson was able to do the same. Timing.

Another key player in those fun filled days was Jack Hurlbut. Jack was a master of Ring Flight and had a huge collection of different versions. One month the 80 dollars that was our share of the rent on the ramshackle house we lived in looked like it would not arrive. I sold Jack my Jim Hooper Nemo Ring Flight—the one that could be examined.

I regretted the sale later, but in this business you lose a key case here and find a spring rat somewhere else. Of course you can’t really examine a spring rat (with Mickey O’Malley’s no one would want to—my wife is still scared of it) but then again there is really no need to ever have your Ring Flight key case examined either!

~ by Nick Lewin on February 27, 2013.

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