Magic Castle Revisited. Part One.

“We sat around in front of the turreted Victorian styled building in rows of folding chairs, directly ahead was a makeshift stage underneath a canopy of black and white balloons. The occasion was the 50th Annual Founders Day Party at the world famous Magic Castle on the second of January 2013. There was the hustle and bustle of gossiping guests who were busy catching up with each other, seeing and being seen. The chance of mingling with the famous, not so famous, friends, and foes meant that the seats weren’t filled until the formal ceremonies commenced. I realized that I had never seen some of those present in sunlight before, and I’m not sure it improved all of them.

 As the speeches commenced I settled back and enjoyed listening to Milt and Princess Irene Larsen share their anniversary Magic Castle memories. The beloved duo talking were the two remaining founders of the world’s greatest magic clubhouse. I knew them both well enough, and had known them for long enough, that I was darn sure that there was little they would say that would surprise or profoundly enlighten me. Sitting under the California sunshine on that balmy January afternoon I allowed my mind to drift back to past eras and previous visits to this hallowed magical playground. There had been a decade when it had seemed like my second home.

 Most, but not all, of my memories of the Magic Castle were very happy. The prime source of any sadness about the Castle was connected with how many of my favorite people were no longer in their usual places within its red and golden walls. Waiting there in the shadow of the main entrance to the club, I found myself longing for a draft beer and shot of chilled Patron from the ice luge that had been installed in the Inner Circle especially for the event. However, there was still a little time before the formalities of the occasion morphed into the party that was destined to follow. Sitting on that increasingly uncomfortable folding chair, I allowed my thoughts to drift back to the days that were to me the halcyon era of the Castle. Come join me on my nostalgic trip back to the mid-seventies incarnation of this iconic institution.”

 I first joined the Magic Castle in February 1974, and like every other member before and since that time, I was assured that I had missed the really great years of the club. The Magic Castle has evolved and followed its own strange path over the years, and to call the Castle eccentric back in the ‘70s would be an understatement of monumental proportions. The Magic Castle was a wonderfully quirky little drinking club that marched to the curious beat of magic. It was filled with a vibrant bunch of magicians, celebrities, nobodies, and somebodies all rubbing shoulders in an awesome mix of incongruent elegance, and a general sense of vague disorder. Back in those days the Castle didn’t really follow a blueprint, it just happened, unfolding in a somewhat haphazard manner. This was a huge part of its charm.

On my first visit to the Magic Castle I really wasn’t too sure what to expect, although I did know it was considered my many to be the worldwide center of the magical arts. However, exactly what happened after you whispered “Open Sesame” to the golden owl, and walked through the sliding bookcase was a mystery to me. This was the perfect way to experience my induction into the mansion at 7001 Franklin Avenue; for isn’t mystery the natural ground zero to any magical experience?

On my first visit to the Castle I was lucky enough to be given a tour and introduced to the regulars by the inimitable Don Lawton. Don was one of the hosts at the club, and as I was to soon discover he was also one of the finest, kindest, and funniest members of its community. On a busy and overworked evening Don took the time to thoroughly welcome this 22-year-old newcomer to his world. In those years the Castle hosts were magical performers whose very presence added immeasurably to the joys, authority and authenticity of the club. These gentlemen didn’t just introduce a show they were a show.

In addition to Lawton the hosts included close-up of wiz Jack Hurlbert, and the trumpet playing Mickey O’Malley. Towards the end of each Castle evening Mickey would play “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” on his trumpet in the Irma room, somewhat to the bewilderment of unaware visitors. In a club filled with eccentrics Mickey stood second to none in this regard.

We will continue our virtual tour of the ’70s era Magic Castle in the next post.




~ by Nick Lewin on June 7, 2017.

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