Visiting with William. Happy Days….
One of my greatest joys in magic used to be visiting with Billy McComb in his various ‘Mad Magician’ residences. I have more happy memories about Billy than one would believe possible, however it was always a special joy to see the deranged magic museums he liked to call home. What follows is just a peep at two of his residences. Maybe I will expand on the list in a future article.
Billy’s apartment house in Tuffnell Park, London, was a classic example of the controlled chaos that was so large a part of the charm of the residential McComb. I have my sneaky doubts that some of his actual tenants might have had slightly more ambiguous feelings though. However with a gentleman landlord with the charm and wit of Billy I’m sure they never dwelled on the negatives.
I remember visiting Billy in the rather quirky and rambling old building once with my wife Susan. Billy had lived with us in Los Angeles for a while and so we were prepared for a certain level of confusion. What we weren’t prepared for was the visceral excitement that exuded from Billy as we entered his basement domain.
Billy had just visited the ‘Ideal Home’ expo and bought the ‘next and greatest new thing’ and couldn’t wait to tell us about it. “It is very simple, old thing” He said, “Perfect for the smaller apartments; it’s a combination wash hand basin and shower!” The strange part was that it really kind of made sense, in a crazy way. It consisted of a wash hand basin that could slide down to floor level and a faucet that slid upwards to make a showerhead. Only Billy, with his tireless Irish optimism could have looked at this device without foreseeing terrible disaster.
The instillation of these devices was just prior to the flood that enveloped his apartment building and caused priceless damage to his wonderful magic collection. One thing that survived the ‘second’ great flood was the ‘Door.’ This wasn’t any door but the door to the ‘Jay Marshall Suite’ in his building. I have posted a copy of this photo on my Facebook page where you can examine it in detail and revel in the assortment of signatures that adorned it. They are a who’s who of magic.
Any visiting magician in London was casually invited to stay in the ‘suite’ and many did. Not just the famous and the infamous but the regular guys too. Everyone signed their name on the door and it became a wooden artifact equivalent in value to the Philosophers Stone, to a card-carrying alchemist. I am delighted to share a photo of it taken by my good friend, great comedy magician and all round Kiwi good-guy Mike Easterbrook. I took the rest of the photos in Billy’s condominium in Los Angeles.
Billy’s Hollywood Condo was a magic explosion in the nicest sense of the word. Piles of magic books, props, photos, priceless relics and awards were piled in dangerously teetering piles and columns throughout the condo. A small refrigerator in the kitchen was filled with the English candy bars, cookies and muffins that seemed to be the sole food that Billy existed on—other than the occasional scrambled eggs that he ate on the magic summits he held at every ‘Denny’s’ coffee shop in Los Angeles.
One thing about Billy that people might not be aware of was his total dedication to the cleanliness of the eating (and tea-stirring) utensils in his day-to-day environment. There was a part of Billy that never quite forgot his first incarnation as a fully trained but never practicing doctor. You might not want to look too closely at some of the other elements, but by God, in his establishment you wouldn’t find a fork with a potentially germ containing ridge in it.
This condominium was owned by Billy, however the day-to- day running of things was left to his beloved dogs. They were friendly, loving and on the wall was a sign Billy had placed that said it all. ‘I just want to live up to my Dog’s opinion of me.” As soon as Billy sat down in his comfy chair the two dogs would run at the chair and simultaneously climb to their places on the back of the chair, with each resting it’s chin on Billy’s shoulder.
When Billy had an idea, or thought of something he needed to print out for you, he would make a dash for his desk and rummage through the contents looking for something in particular. The amazing part was——he usually found it! I have tried to photograph as many magicians seated at their desks as I possibly can and the photo of Billy at his desk with this article is my very favorite. It just seems to say it all.
The printer next to Billy’s desk wasn’t your average, ‘Buy it Monday—broke by Wednesday’ kind that you buy to go with your laptop computer. It was a heavy duty and top of the line model that was one of the apples of Billy’s eye. Nothing gave him greater pleasure than to make note of a topic you were interested in and then to mail you copious photocopies of invaluable information on the subject. I have boxes full of them that I prize.
Oh, I could write for hours about the many joys of counting Billy as a friend, but the simple joy of sitting in his condo and sipping tea as you talked magic would count high on the list. There may be something more fun to do in the magic world but I am yet to find it. I wanted to use this opportunity to share some visual reminders of these special moments.