Shimada. The Passing of a Master

On April 30, 2022 with the passing of Shimada, the magic world lost one of the true masters of our artform. His legacy is remarkable and the impact of his skills as both magician and showman changed the magic world forever. It is impossible to detailing his many achievements in a short tribute, but I will try to cover some. There are many personal stories and memories I would like to share, however, in this formal tribute I will restrict myself to his basic life story, which even in a skeletal form is as amazing as the man himself. 

I would encourage any of our readers who were not lucky enough to have seen Shimada perform to carefully study the videos of his work. There has never been a magician who could achieve quite so much with a stare, or a momentary freeze of their actions the way Shimada could. He would create tension with his eyes and then dissolve it with a brief smile flashing across his face. There are mountains of knowledge to be gleaned by watching his presentation even before one begins to dissect his phenomenal magical skills.

Haruo Shimada was born on December 19th, 1940, in Tokyo, Japan. It was the Year of the Dragon. By the time Shimada was 15, he was already eyeing a future in magic. It was at this age, young Haruo discovered the Tenyo Magic Corner at a department store in Tokyo. He started visiting the store every day, finally buying a thumb tip, before moving on to learn the multiplying billiard balls. The young Shimada was now officially on his way to becoming a magician.

Shimada was then hired to demonstrate in all six of the Tenyo Magic Corners at various department stores. This is where Haruo learned the core of close-up magic skills that always remained hidden, just a tiny distance, beneath the dove and manipulative magic that became his trademark style of magical performance. Those of us who were lucky enough to see Haruo perform close-up sleight of hand were unanimous in our awe at his talent in this area.

Soon Shimada was traveling with Tenkō Hikita, who had also been a demonstrator at the Tenyo Magic Corners, and was acting as an assistant in his illusion show. In the show Haruo also performing his 35 Billiard Ball routine and a card routine. In 1957 the Grand Master of Japanese magic Tenkai Ishida came back to Japan after an extended absence and Haruo began taking lessons from him. In this way he began his magical path by mixing elements of Tenkai, Tenkō, and Tenyo and fusing them with his personal style. In 1960, along with Tenkō, he performed at the Kanreki (a very special 60th birthday party in Japanese tradition) for Emperor Hirohito. His solo career, however, was not yet launched until the arrival of Channing Pollock.

It was when Shimada created his dove act that his solo magic took off commercially. This clicked into place when Shimada was 19 years old and saw Channing Pollock in the movie European Nights. What he saw entranced him. Haruo watched the movie many times and decided on two key goals; firstly, he wanted to learn the art of dove magic, and secondly, he wanted to explore the intense romantic charisma that Channing had introduced into the art form. Working independently from Pollock’s magical methods, Shimada began re-inventing the structure of dove magic. He developed his bare hand production of a dove on a cane, his dove on a fan of cards, and the splitting of a dove in two. Shimada’s dove magic was original, groundbreaking, and beautiful to watch.

In the early 1960s, while still developing his dove and manipulation act, Shimada got a big break during the XV11 Olympiad.  Shimada’s performance was seen by an Australian producer who hired him to tour Australia with a large-scale production show. The tour was a great success. Haruo preferred the more demonstrative Australian audiences to their quieter Japanese counterparts and decided to start his quest for stardom in Australia, while always seeing America as his ultimate destination. 

Shimada returned to Australia in 1965 and quickly formed a working relationship with the beautiful Deanna Perkins who was to become an integral part of his work as his onstage partner. In October 1965 they became husband and wife and created an onstage team that many people consider one of the finest that the magic world has known. Shimada became a highly respected performer in Australia, performing on numerous TV shows and live venues. In 1966 Haruo and Deanna’s marriage was blessed with the birth of a daughter Lisa. Born into such a magical background it is little wonder that Lisa (who grew up to become Luna) has become a highly respected magician in her own right and continues the Shimada legacy. In 1979 the Shimada family was completed with the birth of their son Jason.

Shimada & Deanna worked together for three years performing shows throughout Australia before setting off for Mexico. Arriving in Mexico, the duo was hired to appear in the Teatro Blanquette which was home to most of Mexico’s top performers. They also took detours to appear in London and Japan, but Shimada had his eyes firmly set on the American market. Advice from Tony Slydini and Jack Goldfinger set Haruo on the trail to booking the annual Los Angeles magic production It’s Magic! It would prove to be the very steppingstone he needed to achieve his vision and become a magical star in the United States.

Shimada made his first appearance in the America in 1971 in Milt Larsen’s It’s Magic! show performing the debut of his recently devised parasol act. His early hero Channing Pollock saw his act and approached him about becoming his personal manager. Over the years Haruo would receive much sage advice and counsel from Channing.

After It’s Magic! Shimada became something of an artistic fixture performing at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. It was here that he developed the somewhat mysterious and intense “samurai style” that became synonymous with his future image and persona. Bill Larsen was amazed and delighted when he first discovered that in addition to the parasol act, Shimada performed what he described as, “the greatest dove act I have ever seen.”

Larsen was not alone in this opinion and later in 1971, Shimada made the first of four appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Many international and national gigs were to follow, with Shimada eventually becoming a major Las Vegas attraction in the celebrated Casino de Paris Show at the Dunes HotelIn 1975 Shimada put the finishing touch to his popular parasol act when he added a spectacular 60-foot fire-breathing dragon transposition as the finale to his show.

Shimada was given a contract in 1981 to be the featured specialty act in Liberace’s spectacular Las Vegas show. After this Shimada toured Europe and continued to appear in major Las Vegas shows, including replacing Siegfried & Roy in the Lido de Paris show at the Stardust Hotel. In 1988 Shimada started a five-year run in the show Splash at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. Shimada had well and truly arrived and was in the very top tier of magicians around the world. Four television specials in Japan were filmed around him in 1989; coupled with his numerous other television appearances, Shimada had achieved multi-medium star status in the entertainment world.

In 1993, exhausted from these lengthy Vegas contracts, Shimada decided to return to his roots in Japan. Leaving his family in Las Vegas, Haruo returned to Tokyo to continue the tradition and mentor several young performers in presenting the performances he had created. In 1998 Shimada returned to America performing the Parasol/Dragon and Dove Act with his new wife Keiley and proved that the master had not lost his touch. Shimada’s immaculate performances once more delighted and entertained magicians across the United States and Europe. Every award that magic could offer was bestowed upon Shimada over the years and he deserved them all. 

I first met Shimada in 1974, when I saw him perform in the tiny Magic Cabaret theater at the Magic Castle. I was knocked out by this magnificent entertainer and was lucky enough to get to know him a little and work with him throughout the years. He was one of the true grandmasters of our art, It is a privilege to have known such a giant of magic. The loss to our magic community with Shimada’s passing is a profound one. Shimada leaves behind his wife Keiley Shimada, daughter Luna Shimada, son Jason Shimada, and his grandchildren Tara, Adam, and Iona Losander Shimada.

~ by Nick Lewin on June 18, 2022.

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