Magic Castle Revisited. Part Four.

•June 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Are you ready to visit the 2nd and 3rd floor of the Magic Castle?

The third floor of the Castle contained the executive offices for the club and also, more importantly, its fine little library. The green baize table located in the center of the library was considerately placed there for magicians to baffle each other with their latest miracles. However, as every magician knew, the table’s real role was to house the never-ending hearts game between Vernon, Kuda Bux, Joe (The King of Cards) Cossari, and Joe Berg. The banter and bickering between these dear friends was always a delight to listen to. Many a young performer was happy to linger at the bookshelves pretending to study a complex book by Ed Marlo while actually eavesdropping on the Hearts game; trying to remember tidbits to casually impress their friends with at a later time. It was widely believed that any of players were free to cheat during the game, but faced extreme social disgrace from their contemporaries if caught doing so.

Coming down the little staircase from the third floor library, if you made a sharp right turn you arrived in the dining room at the Castle. During the ‘70s the Magic Castle didn’t feature quite the haute cuisine dining that has recently blossomed in our clubhouse, but even in those far away days it was a pretty impressive experience. The highlight of the menu was the delicious prime rib, or if you weren’t hungry enough for such hearty fare, you could dine scrumptiously on the Festal Board and the Castle’s award winning chili. A very significant part of each performer’s remuneration in those early days was receiving your dinner on the nights you officially entertained in the club. I would happily feast at the Festal Board and then return home with my prime rib (end cut) in a Bunny Bag; my wife Susan and I would share it for breakfast the next morning. Friday luncheon featured another special dining delight, when the kitchen would serve up all the delicious beef ribs that had accumulated during the week.

There were two other great reasons to visit the dining room at the Castle. The first was that whenever passing through the dining room I was able to enjoy a brief visit with Sandy Spillman, the resident host of the adjacent Houdini séance room. If there was a finer and kinder gentleman than Sandy in the magic world I am yet to meet him. As knowledgeable as he was modest, Sandy was a true prince of a human being.
We will continue our virtual tour of the ’70s era Magic Castle in the next post.


 

Magic Castle Revisited. Part Three.

•June 12, 2017 • 2 Comments

Get ready to explore the ’70s era Magic Castle a little further!

In the mid ‘70s the Castle was a demonstrably smaller space and contained just two show rooms: The Close-Up Gallery, and the Castle Cabaret. The Cabaret was a tiny theatre located in what had begun its life as the basement of the original building. It seated about 40 people in comfortable red velvet movie house chairs, and then another 15 or so people stood at the rear of the room. It was always referred to as the Big Room!

In my first week performing in the Castle Cabaret, sharing a bill with the delightfully enigmatic Kuda Bux, I had what remains to this day one of my headiest performing experiences. Prior to introducing the show, Don Lawton popped into my dressing room and with a twinkle in his eye casually informed me that Cary Grant was sitting with David Niven in the audience, and seated at the rear of the room were Ingrid Bergman and Goldie Hawn. Was I nervous? Oh yes…

After concluding a show in the Cabaret I would often make my way up to the Castle library to see what was happening there. There were two ways to navigate this particular journey; one was via the grand central staircase with its imposing grandfather clock. The clock was widely rumored to have stopped at the exact minute Jay Ose had shuffled off this mortal coil; actually I heard several names mentioned in this connection, but most frequently it was Mr. Ose. However, generally my preferred route upstairs was a detour that involved a short cut through the kitchen that allowed me a brief sojourn in the little room that housed Prof. Dave Bourne. Bourne was the genial bearded ragtime pianist who brought Irma to life on most nights. Dave was a Kenny Rogers look alike and the kind of man who improved any day just by spending a few minutes in his company. I spent many happy hours in Dave’s anonymous little hideaway eavesdropping on guests as they requested their favorite tunes.

Dave and I had become firm friends dating back to the period when he had accompanied the acts at Milt Larsen’s Mayfair Music Hall in Santa Monica. One evening while performing at the Mayfair my Zombie Ball had dropped to the ground in mid routine, and Bourne had been deeply impressed with the nonchalant manner in which I continued the routine using just the gimmick. I’m not sure if the audience saw me sweat during the incident but they certainly heard plenty of laughter emanating from the orchestra pit.

 

 

Next post we will explore the upstairs of the Castle!

 

Magic Castle Revisited. Part Two.

•June 9, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This is the continuation of my virtual tour of the ’70s era Magic Castle.

Another iconic resident of the Castle was the legendary “Senator” Clarke Crandall. My first meeting with “Senator” Crandall was in his capacity as host. No sooner had we been introduced than he began to recite a quasi-biblical story about God instructing mankind on how to make a profit on the selling of polo shirts by sewing an alligator on the front of them. As he spoke he puffed on one of his signature spiral shaped cigars that definitely looked a great deal better than it smelt. After Crandall finished his recitation, I politely mentioned how much I enjoyed the writings of Woody Allen. The tale he told had been taken word for word from Woody’s first book, but fared even better for being translated into the spoken word. After I made this observation, the Senator gave me a sideways glance, a slight scowl and said, “A magician who reads actual books. I will have to keep an eye on you.” I am not sure if he really did keep an eye on me, but if the truth is told Crandall always scared me just the tiniest bit. I wish I had got to know him a little bit better.

Upon entering the Castle, once you had passed through the sliding bookcase, the first thing most magicians would do was turn their gaze to the left and see if Dai Vernon was in his regular seat on the little couch in front of the Close-Up Gallery. Most nights would find him holding court there, with a cigar in one hand, a deck of cards in the other, and a snifter of brandy on the table in front of him. Seated around “The Professor” would be a crowd of the very best of the current crop of Young Turks hanging on his every word. They were waiting for him to casually impart the “moves” and gems of card handling in person that had escaped being immortalized in his written work. They were seldom disappointed.

Vernon was gracious and generous in these impromptu demonstrations of his mastery as he imparted his endless wisdom. After a while one began to realize how shrewdly he calculated the ability of his students to grasp the lessons he dispensed. One quickly realized that like every true master Dai was fully aware that no information passed on to lesser minds was truly worthwhile if those receiving it were unable to put the information into application. The Professor was exceedingly careful to teach each particular student exactly what it was that they needed to learn. It was also instantly apparent that nothing gave Vernon more pleasure than seeing a young magician perform a sleight or trick that added to his own inestimable knowledge. The purest form of teaching is always a two-way street between those involved in the process.

Some nights The Professor was joined in his corner by master magicians such as Bruce Cervon, Larry Jennings, Mike Skinner, or Tony Giorgio–it was truly a sight to behold as they traded their tricks. I loved to watch these mind-bending sessions.

Over the years Vernon became quite a fan of my comedy magic act, but could never quite understand my need to inject comedy into my sleight of hand work. My very favorite memories of Dai were the nights when I would drive him back to his little apartment, stopping at the local supermarket for a few groceries. Pushing a rickety shopping cart around the Hughes Market while a demonstrably inebriated Professor selected items for his refrigerator was an honor I remember fondly. Usually Vernon would take these opportunities to good naturedly assure me it wasn’t too late to forsake the jokes and concentrate fully on my card work.

The third part of my tour will be in the next blog post!

 

 


 

Magic Castle Revisited. Part One.

•June 7, 2017 • Leave a Comment

“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.

 



 

 

Still Linking Finger Rings After All These Years……….

•June 5, 2017 • Leave a Comment

You might enjoy checking out this trailer of my Ultimate Linking Finger Routine. It gives really nice taste of some of the things that make the routine so special.

I am celebrating my 40-year anniversary of linking finger rings together for audiences’, and I thought it would be fun to write a blog post about my history with this great trick. It has been the most powerful secret weapon in my performing repertoire, and my most important trick, for almost my entire career so I want to tell you the evolution of this effect in my show.

The first person I saw perform the Himber Linking Rings was the great Al Koran back in my early years in England. I bought the routine that Koran marketed and instantly discarded it due to the really crude looking props supplied! In 1975 I worked a club date with Marvyn Roy (Mr. Electric) who, with his natural enthusiasm, designed an entire act devoted to linking items together. Always the king of themed magic Marvyn even decided that I was to change my name to ‘Link’ Lewin! The very next day I went to Joe Berg’s magic store on Hollywood Blvd. and placed a down payment on a Himber Ring. My journey had begun.

The biggest problem initially to including the trick in my show was the incredible lack of published routines. I immediately went to my ‘bible’ McComb’s Magic, but for once I was less than excited by Billy’s handling. It seemed totally wrong to link borrowed finger rings in a chain of three and then not really allow the owner of the center ring to examine (Or even see!) his ring. I went back to look at the Koran, and other available routines, and was really none to impressed with what I found. Almost all of them involved making switches just when the heat was on the performer and his hands. I decided I needed to devise a routine from the ground up.

I was working very steadily at the Magic Castle in those days, and it was within it’s walls that I created my ‘Ultimate Linking Finger Ring Routine. I had several goals in mind that I wanted to achieve,

1      I wanted to link more than three rings. With the customary ‘three ring link’ there was just too much heat on the center ring.

2     I wanted to include a ladies ring into the chain amongst the customary men’s rings utilized.

3      I wanted to eliminate the use of switches or stooges. I wanted no set-up for the trick.

4      I wanted to come up with a routine that could play in larger venues than was usual for this particular effect.

5      I wanted it to be funny without loosing the incredible power of the magic involved.

Eventually with much trial and error I achieved all these goals and many more. I was excited when Dai Vernon followed the evolution of the routine closely and I was unbelievably proud when Dai told me that if had to make a living performing magic then he would come to me and offer to buy the routine as the centerpiece of his show. This was heady praise to a kid still in his twenties. One of my favorite performance videos is of me performing the Linking Finger Rings in the Parlor of Mysteries at the Castle with Vernon sitting in the front row and beaming throughout!

The Linking Finger Rings lead to my first booking on a major TV show when in 1980 I performed it (along with my Chinese Linking Ring routine) on the Merv Griffin Show. The show was filmed live at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas in front of a 2000 person audience. That tape became the centerpiece of my video promo-tape and kept me working throughout the remained of the decade. In my live shows that particular effect resulted in numerous repeat bookings and referral bookings. I became very aware of the powerful emotional impact that the effect of linking borrowed finger rings held with a lay audience. It is very close to real magic and holds enough existential mystery that many mentalists have chosen to feature it in their show. It is a really special trick that needs to be performed in order to be fully understood.

Another highlight of my personal history with the Linking Finger Rings was when I was selected to perform that specific effect at The Hollywood Foreign Press’ star studded tribute to Orson Welles at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills. As a huge fan of Mr. Welles it was a huge personal honor. Featured at that tribute were Orson Welles, Peter O’Toole, Roger Corman, Jack Nicholson, Jane Fonda and a host of other Hollywood A-list stars— plus little old me! Why was I there? It was strictly due to the impact of that one specific routine.

During the ‘90s I linked finger rings in Comedy Clubs, Corporate gigs and Casinos across the country. It was my ‘go to’ trick, it required no set up, got huge reactions and fitted in the ticket pocket of my jacket. Eventually after 35 years of performance I decided to release a deluxe, numbered, limited edition package that contained my entire routine exactly as I perform it. The package consists of a DVD, a book, a CD, a half hour Skype session and full TV performance rights—I couldn’t find a way to release it correctly without all these elements. As I enter a semi retired phase of my career as a performer it is a great feeling to know that this routine has been passed on to other performers and will not be lost.

The best way to learn more about this routine is by  CLICKING HERE  No, it isn’t cheap to buy—but I can honestly say it has been a priceless routine to me and the folks I have shared it with. If you are looking to add a reputation making, high impact trick to your show you may want to give it some serious though.


 

Some reflections back on the David Blaine phenomena.

•May 20, 2017 • 1 Comment

Here are a few thoughts on David Blaine on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of his initial television special. This summer I am looking forward to catching David live at the Moody Theater here in Austin.

I was very skeptical about the potential merits of David Blaine when his first television special was being promoted. The fact that Spike Lee was being brought in to edit the promo did nothing to impress me. I did video tape the special though.In point of fact there wasn’t too much in his special that did impress me. However, after a few moments though I arrived at the conclusion that I wasn’t the intended demographic for the show. Not only was I the wrong age but even worse than that I was a magician. Ah, there is the rub. One thing I did realize instantly was that the special was a very cool concept and a definite breakthrough in television magic. It was a hip extension of what was then a relatively new concept ‘reality programming.’ A form of television I have resolutely hated since it appeared on the scene.

The lack of excitement I felt about the magic Blaine performed didn’t stop me from being highly intrigued by his persona and curiously low key approach to doing sensational things. It was like a correction in the market. I felt instinctively (and still do) that he had come up with something innovative and fresh that would do nothing but good for the image of magic. The impact that Blaine’s special had on his actual intended demographic audience was astounding though. It was what every non-magician wanted to talk about. He instantly became a topic of conversation across the country. While this didn’t totally surprise me I was amazed at how quickly he made his mark.

What did surprise me, however, was the way that the magic world not only failed to embrace him but moved in such a unified manner to denounce and express their disapproval of him. Maybe they just didn’t get the fact that his demographic didn’t include them. Maybe it was because he made many magicians, even some very prominent ones, look old fashioned and irrelevant. Even Billy McComb who seldom had an unkind word to say about anyone who performed magic used to describe Blaine as some sort of stunt man who had bought a copy of ‘The Royal Road To Card Magic.’

Possibly the major factor in the division between the magic world and Blaine’s true demographic was the fact that he dared to hint at something truly mysterious and possibly unexplainable in his feats and stunts. For a community that still finds it acceptable to use a magic wand when they need to conceal items during the ‘Cups and Balls’ I find this rather strange. What is our goal as magicians? It isn’t just to fool but to supply a sense of mystery. I know the standard enlightened response is to say; “We are supposed to entertain.” However there is a heck of a lot of magic being performed that not only doesn’t entertain but which only just manages to fool. No, I think there is truly a need to allow a little mystery into our art and we can’t leave it all to Jeff and Eugene.

If you don’t want to do it yourself then step aside and watch as someone else does. What we shouldn’t do is stand on the sidelines with a knowing smirk and say; “Of course, he’s a fake.” We are ALL fakes: that is the nature of what we do. Worst of all let’s not descend to dismissing something new because it excites the imagination of the non-magicianMagic can’t move forward by standing still. Let’s be happy when someone finds a way to create something new under the magical sun. All of the close up performers who now feature ‘Street Magic’ are moving into new territory due to David Blaine. Rather than look for negatives we should be trying to analyze the things he did that were right.

Five MORE Things That Will Improve Your Show….

•May 1, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This is the seventh and final part of this particular series of posts.

1       Always remember the magic mantra “If they can’t see it or hear it they won’t enjoy it.” Your first duty as a performer is to be seen and heard. Billy McComb had a wonderful philosophy in this regard, “Tell them what you are going to do, tell them what is happening as you do it, and then tell them exactly what happened after you have done it.” There is a wealth of real world wisdom in Billy’s words.

2       When you are giving an assistant instructions about what to do during a trick make sure you do so in a very clear and concise manner. Let him know exactly what to do and how to do it. This shows respect for them and also makes it much more likely that things will go smoothly in the effect. Many onstage assistants are a little surprised or dazed when they find they are under the spotlight, so take the time to show them exactly what you expect them to do.

3      Always have back ups available of every prop you use onstage that may break or get lost. You should also have suitable outs available for any occasion that might need them during your show. If you are doing any kind of card trick then an Invisible Deck in a sealed envelope on your table can extract you from a great many problems. Hope for the very best but be prepared for the very worst. Have that round the neck microphone holder ready in case your headset gives up the ghost or starts to pick up the local taxi company!

4      Sorry but the Politically Correct movement does exist and is ignored at your peril. Every single comedian will tell you the same thing; we hate the PC police and political correctness is death to comedy. However, it behoves a comedy magician to be very careful about who he potentially offends when performing his show. Magic is considered a family friendly entertainment and that should include the “20 somethings” who tend to be the most sensitive to politically incorrect statements, jokes and actions.  I am not going to put up much of a defense for the PC movement—hey I’m an older, white, alpha male, and we are the biggest area of complaints! I will point out that the age range most upset by politically incorrect actions are the most sought after demographic in the television audience. One of the biggest problems is that if we don’t consider this matter sufficiently we run the risk of looking out of touch and irrelevant—a really bad state of affairs. If it is just a matter of a few jokes or effects that are the problem it is usually easier just to cut, change or replace them. The deathwatch beetle in this matter is if you find you are saying, “I have always said that…” Times change and with them acceptable statements, you are not making some grand statement by insisting on continuing using a line that is now considered questionable; all you are doing is creating a potential barrier with an important demographic in your audience.

5    Make every part of the routine you are performing as entertaining as possible. There are many effects that spend a great deal of time building up to a very fast finale/reveal. Keep the entertainment value going for the four minutes that it might take to build up to that 15-second finale, or your viewers might not come along for the journey with you. Add booster laughs and effects scattered throughout the trip. The average attention span of an audience is a lot shorter today than it was a decade ago so it pays to be careful in avoiding dead time.

If you have stuck with me for the last seven blog posts in this series, THANK YOU! Here is a little Easter Egg for you. It is the Pre-show video that I put together for my one-man show Comedy Maxim at the Maxim Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. There are clips and photos from my very earliest years plus tips of the hats to my mentors and heroes.

 
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