Happy 82nd Birthday to Magic Milt Larsen.

Nick & MiltOn the occasion of his 82nd birthday, I want to make it publicly known that I feel cheated at only having known Milt for the last 39 of them! Here is a blog entry based on a column I wrote about Milt quite a few years ago. My respect and high regard for Milt have only grown since!

When I first arrived in Los Angeles it was 1974. I had exactly $50 to my name and a bunch more energy and drive than I have now! For various reasons my wife Susan and I spent our first night staying in one of her friends houses in Santa Monica. I was anxious to see my new homeland and while my wife went to sleep I took a long walk around Santa Monica. I just couldn’t wait to explore.

Much to my amazement one of the first things I saw was a building that looked like a beautifully recreated Old English Music Hall. The marquee proclaiming that my powers of observation were smack on and read, ‘The Mayfair Music Hall.’ I was very excited and the next morning told Susan that I had already found a place where I could work. I just knew it. I visited the ‘Mayfair’ later that week and met its creator, a highly pleasant and friendly chap called Milt Larsen. He took the time to have a couple of drinks with me and I discovered that this was the same person who had created the ‘Magic Castle.’ well I certainly knew all about the Castle by reputation and definitely wanted to visit and to work there as soon as I could.

However, I got my first job at the ‘Mayfair,’ I was very excited, an actual wage! It wasn’t much, but coupled with a very short career selling men’s clothing in the Northridge Mall it allowed me to join the Castle! My work continued with various weeks at the ‘Mayfair’ and then branched out also into weeks at the Castle. It was the foundation of my career in America and the greatest training ground a young performer could wish for.

Over the next few years I met Milt often and he was always friendly, courteous and best of all encouraging. He always bought me a drink, I remember with a pang of horror the night I asked him what he was drinking and he replied, “Aquavit.” I said, “I’ll try one too.” They just don’t make hangovers like that anymore.

The more I got to know Milt, the more I discovered that he had truly created my two hubs of work. I mean actually created, with a hammer in one hand, a glass of Miltwine in the other and most important of all a vision in his mind that could create something unique and tangible from abstract ideas. I developed an enormous respect for this slightly crazed creator, carpenter and T.V. writer and it is a respect that has only grown through the years.

Suddenly, there was talk of a new venture  ‘a society for the preservation of the variety arts,’ it was very vague initially but I paid fifty dollars to become a member of a club, that existed mostly in one man’s head and didn’t even have a clubhouse where members could meet. That didn’t worry me, and I was right not to worry, because that germ of an idea turned into a four-story building with a full sized theatre, a nightclub, a restaurant and the look and feel of an old fashioned and larger than life venue, it was just another of Milt’s ‘Castles in the air’ that arrived firmly on the ground.

The ‘Magic Castle,’ however was always Milt’s masterpiece and a glorious tribute to the ideas of his father William Larsen Sr. It has employed more magicians and encouraged, nurtured and given them a perfect ‘Jewel Box’ to showcase what was a quickly declining form of entertainment. In fact, I think it is fair to say that in the ’70s the Magic Castle, along with Siegfried & Roy and Doug Henning gave magic a re-birth. The Art of Close-Up Magic would certainly never have developed as it has without the Castle.

One interesting thing was the way the Castle never quite remained physically the same, not only subtle changes but some very major expansions too, Milt couldn’t resist his instincts to improve what most people would have considered a fully completed masterpiece. The one constant was that magic always remained as the heart, soul and core of his creation. Milt never seemed that concerned with the day to day running of the Castle, while obviously having an extremely shrewd business sense, he stepped back to let his brother Bill take care of the day to day affairs. Milt may have had the mind of a good businessman but his soul remained that of a highly creative artist. A pretty smart call!

The joy of getting to spend an hour or so gossiping with Milt when I visit the Castle is a very real one. Well worth the yearly dues to be a member of the club that exists because of his amazing ‘clubhouse’. I always learn something……..I always laugh…….I always enjoy a cocktail! A perfect combination in my book.


~ by Nick Lewin on April 9, 2013.

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