A Fascinating Collection Of Mechanical Antiques And Magic

•March 23, 2019 • Leave a Comment

During my recent visit to Pigeon Forge, Tennesee to perform at the Winter Carnival of Magic, I had a rare treat! A private party was thrown by “collector extraordinaire” and mechanical wiz Steve Gronowski, and he allowed us to explore the incredible collection of mechanical wonders that he has built/repaired and assembled over the years. It was an evening that I will long remember.

Back in the ’70s, Steve was an underemployed electrician in Chicago, with a passion for collecting and restoring some awe-inspiring mechanical devices. Steve hit upon a powerful formula that turned his private collection into a gold mine, he realized that if he restored and sold an antique curio, then he could buy and restore three new items. forty odd years later he has what must be the finest collection of these fascinating devices.

The basement “man cave” that houses Steve’s collection is bigger in size than most homes and features a 60-foot bar that nestles in one section of his fascinating creation. Scattered around the area is a collection of antique devices including a Wurlitzer jukebox, slot machines, and many antique “penny devices” that one only gets to see in movies or photographs. Rather than try and describe the contents, I would suggest you take a look at some of the photographs below. In the unlikely event of becoming bored with this wonderful collection, a selection of gaming tables and a splendid pool table await your participation.

It would have taken a week to have done any justice to exploring his one of a kind collection, but the gracious host that he is Steve has a further delight in store for his guests. Attached to his house are the giant complex and Alladin’s cave of the workshops, warehouses, and storerooms where Gronowski houses and works on his latest projects. I am quite a fan of those glorious Zelda the Fortune Teller machines, it was fascinating to catch a glimpse of her various working at different stages of reconstruction. In some ways, just as astounding as the various devices was the meticulously assembled collection of tools and equipment used in their renovation. I am the kind of guy who can scarcely use a hammer, however, the combined collection of tools and equipment left me speechless.

I had a wonderful time exploring this amazing collection and wanted to share some of my pictures of the evening. If you want to see examples of Steve’s handicraft you can visit David Copperfield’s New York home where David has a fine display of these collectibles. Tokyo’s Disneyland is also home to a large amount of Steve’s amazing antique works of art. I want to thank Mr. Gronowski for allowing me this eye-opening glimpse of a world I scarcely knew existed.

Magic Mondays at the Tavern, in Austin TX.

•February 20, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I am really excited to announce our first intimate magic evening of magic right here in Austin. It is called Magical Mondays and it will take place on the last Monday of each month. The show is housed at the legendary Tavern, 922 West 12th Street (at LaMaar.) The Tavern has been around for about a century and allegedly it is haunted! The evening is a careful blend of magic, comedy, and music. Perfect for audiences of all ages, and a delightful way to spend an evening.

The second floor of The Tavern will contain the miniature theatre, dedicated to viewing cutting edge sleight of hand magic. With only 40 seats available there isn’t a bad seat in the house. There are even two large video screens to enhance some of the visual trickery and card magic. The evening will last about 90 minutes with doors opening at 7:30 and the formal show beginning at 8:00. Since it is Austin we even included a little good music in the mix.

On the 25th I will be performing part of the Las Vegas show I was performing last year at Harrah’s and was featured in my award-winning one-man show the Maxim Hotel in Vegas. I am lucky enough to frequently work with Little Jewford at the keyboards. Little Jewford is most often recognized from his longtime role as Pianist/Sidekick to the great Kinky Friedman.  Little Jewford will also perform some of his hilarious comedy/music specialty numbers. Jewford has been featured in many of the nations finest showrooms, and a couple of sleazy saloons too!

My good friend Gary Plants will be performing a formal close-up show, and what an amazing performer he is. Gary is a magical, author, advisor and performer whose magic prowess is legendary and totally awesome. Gary’s work will be enhanced with real-time video being projected onto two big screens. Gary is in the very top league of sleight of hand artists working in the United States.

Rounding out the bill will be the sleight of hand and busker style performing of San Antonio’s Rolando Medina. Rolando is also a noted expert on scams and carney magic. His meticulous magic will be used throughout the evening.

 

Tickets are nearly sold-out already for our initial gig, but if you act fast there may still be one or two at https://www.tavernaustin.com/magical-mondays

 

 

 

 

Magical Mondays at the Tavern.

•February 8, 2019 • Leave a Comment

We are very pleased to announce a very exciting new magic project here in Austin. On February 25th, “Magical Mondays” will begin a series of magical events at the legendary (and haunted!) Tavern. A combination of close -up, stand up and parlor magic will feature both me and various other magicians performing in this great intimate venue. I believe it will become a very popular part of Austin’s vibrant nightlife. 

On the launch/opening party for “Magical Mondays,” the bill will feature, Nick Lewin’s award-winning comedy sleight of hand magic and the close-up wizardry of Gary Plants. Adding some additional laughs and a dash of music is the inimitable Little Jewford. Seating for the event is limited so if you plan on attending our premiere event contact the Tavern box office at https://tinyurl.com/y9fegh8z

Gary Plants is a truly amazing, and awesome close-up performer whose legendary skills with a deck of cards will amaze and astound any audience. A featured performer on “Crystal Cruises,” Gary will be performing in your face close up magic. Nick will be performing his comedy and magic show that was featured in his one-man Las Vegas show. Little Jewford is often recognized as Kinky Friedman’s pianist and right-hand man and will add his unique talents to the blend.

Tickets to the event cost 20 Dollars and are available from the Tavern Website www.tavernaustin.com

Denny Haney. Farewell to a Legend.

•February 6, 2019 • 1 Comment

Denny Haney was born on December 26th 1945 and passed away on January 23rd 2019. In those 74 years he performed some great magic, influenced a bunch of magicians and truly earned the title of legend. Born and raised in Maryland, Haney began his magical career at the age of 15 and as he developed in magic became a graduate of the famous Chavez School of Magic. While initially becoming a manipulative magician, by the height of his performing career, Denny had mastered close-up, illusions and every other kind of magic that that you care to name.

For the latter years of his magical career, Haney was to become one of most beloved and influential teachers that the magic world has seen. From his legendary, magic store in Baltimore, Denny was to influence the steady stream of magical novices, hobbyists and professionals that stopped in to learn from the master. His passing has left a huge void in the heart and fabric of  the magic fraternity. Denny’s passion for magic was perfectly expressed by his somewhat romantic, but totally practical dream of an old fashioned magic store that was filled with books, tricks and wisdom.

During the Vietnam War, Haney was based in Pielku, where he functioned by day as an interpreter questioning North Vietnamese prisoners, and at night as a magician entertaining the troops. During this time he met and began working with the great Johnny Alladin. Denny also fell in love with Doan Thi Trung-Du, nicknamed Lee, and after their marriage his professional and business ventures were always under the name of Denny and Lee. While their marriage may not have survived the craziness of the years they spent performing on the road, Lee was always a part of Denny’s official moniker.

Once Denny and Lee began performing in the United States they quickly achieved success in every sphere of the entertainment industry from nightclubs to corporate shows. Haney was a vast fund of magical knowledge not just because of his non-stop performances but also his insatiable desire to read and learn everything about magic that was available. He was a devout believer in the benefits that a performer could gain by the written word and the ability of a true magical mentor to bring those words to life and put them into application.

The magic world has lost an alarming amount great practitioners in the last year. Denny Haney had a vibrant, joyous warmth that deeply touched the hearts of magicians around the globe. Performers of Denny’s status, and teachers of his calibre are a rare breed, and it is a sad thing to have to see the business diminished with his passing. I am truly sorry for the generations of future magicians who will not be able to stand in Denny’s crazy, chaotic, “old school” magic store, and enjoy the company of this brilliant, eccentric, and lovable genius. The magic world is greatly diminished with his passing.

All these pictures were taken either by me or my friend Richard Eddings on September 20th, 2017 when we visited Denny and Scott in the store.I am so glad I had that last afternoon joking and laughing with Denny in his beloved store.

 


 

Aloha to Pete Biro.

•December 28, 2018 • Leave a Comment

It was very sad news to hear yesterday about the passing of Pete Biro. Pete was a funny magician with a fund of knowledge and was one of the real movers and shakers in magic. I first met Pete in London in the 1960’s in the magic studio of Ken Brooke in London’s West End. Biro got serious respect while visiting 145, Wardour Street because he drank English style tea rather than coffee.  Pete was a firm friend of Brooke and they had enormous respect for each other. Ken had purchased a curiously twisted thimble routine from Pete and released it as  “Pete’s Peeper.” I just met Biro the once at Ken Brooke’s Magic Place, however, Pete was the kind of guy you met once and felt you had known for years.

The next times Pete came into my life was in the mid-1970s when I was working at the Magic Cellar in San Francisco. Pete would stop by and we would gossip and talk magic, Pete always had an idea for a gag or joke to add to the show. Biro had a mind like a magnet and a wonderful sense of what material would work for a fellow performer. He was always very generous with his time and knowledge. It was at this time I realized what a very talented person Pete was as a photographer.

I continued to bump into Pete over the years and we always enjoyed a lively conversation and he was one of those friends with whom you could pick up a conversation exactly where you left of a year or so before. Always the mark of a good friend. I have followed Pete’s writings over the years and have always been impressed by his ability to get right to the commercial heart of a routine. I will miss bumping into him at the Friday luncheon at the Castle, and our occasional exchange of notes over the Internet.

Sadly with Pete Biro’s passing, we have lost another of Magic’s real characters. 2018 took a heavy toll on the magic world. I will just sigh a little and wish Aloha to Pete. If there is some form of heaven I hope that Ken, Pete, Harry and Ricky are all there together catching up……..

 

Aloha to Ricky Jay

•November 25, 2018 • 4 Comments

It was very sad news yesterday to hear of the passing of Ricky Jay. Ricky was a pretty amazing character and his death is a severe blow in the American Magic scene. As Sandy Marshall recently corrected me —you can’t add much to the word unique by way of defining or qualifying it. Ricky Jay was UNIQUE.

I first heard about Ricky from Ken Brooke when I was still in London in the early ’70s. Ken was amazed, delighted and totally captivated by Ricky the moment he met him. Quite an unusual combination when it comes down to it. Ken was totally convinced that Ricky would become a big star. Well, he certainly did and I think even Ken would have been astounded by the degree and scope of his success.

When I arrived in Los Angeles in the early part of 1974 Ricky was already established as something rather special and different. He did all the best TV shows, opened for Rock bands, had a serious agency/management and generally breathed rather rarified air. He was always really at the place where other performers thought they were at. Ricky turned into a talented writer and a very gifted actor. Damn, he even got to play a villain in a James Bond movie. That was always a key item on my bucket list!

I first met Ricky in about ’76 when I worked at the Ice House in Pasadena. The bill was me, Ricky Jay and Billy Crystal. Later that same year a group of us magician types where flying up from Los Angeles to Calgary to film a CBN television show. On a journey down the aisle, Ricky noticed I was reading a fairly esoteric commentary on Carlos Casteneda’s Tales Of Power. Ricky commented, “Hmmmm, a commentary on Casteneda…” and nodded in what looked like an approving manner. I met Ricky quite a few more times over the years and while we always had a very friendly and affable interaction, I never would have taken the leap to describe it as a friendship. Mr. Jay always maintained a slight personal distance with most people. It was one of the things that made his acting so powerful.

The success of Ricky Jay over the years is a gratifying and inspirational. His collaborations with the magnificent writer David Mamet have redefined the parameters of what is possible with a deck of cards! The documentary about Ricky, Deceptive Practices was a delightful peek into his world and needs to be seen by every fan of great magic. Maybe what I really admired the most about Ricky was the way he reminded me of one of the Golden Era magicians. He was larger and smarter than life and integrated a sense of mystery, manners, and theatre into his simply glorious card tricks!

I like the rest of the magic world will really miss this quirky giant.

The Magic Castle Cabaret. Get ready for something special!

•October 27, 2018 • Leave a Comment

A Magical Jewel Box In The Making.

It was my very great pleasure on a recent Los Angeles visit to drive down the coast with Steve Mitchell to Santa Barbara and get an early peek at the soon to be opened Magic Castle Cabaret. The Magic Castle Cabaret is not yet fully opened but membership is already thriving including celebrities such as Steve Martin. I fully expect it to be quite sensational when it is completed. The location is perfect and this stunning microcosm of the original Castle is going to be the hottest ticket in town!

I always regret that I was not around when the Magic Castle was in its infancy (I joined in 1974) and it was very kind of Milt and Arlene Larsen to give me a sneak peek at their latest creation. The Cabaret was not set up and was an exciting melange of those glorious oddities and antiques that Milt seems to be able to materialize from somewhere. The Cabaret has been opened up for a few test runs and is on the path for a full-scale opening later this year. I will write a  full story in Vanish Magazine about the club upon its opening, until then here is a glimpse of a wonderful work in progress. The Magic Castle Cabaret has plenty of surprises in store for its guests but there will be no spoilers here!

 

 
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