June 2017 Meeting and stories of Dr. Elliott and The Smileys

Ring Report Ring #170 “The Bev Bergeron Ring” SAM Assembly #99

June 2017  Meeting

President Craig Schwarz called the meeting to order with 30 present. Tom Parking was with us again and we welcomed Don Arthur, one of the founding members. Don had a long career as a magician with the Ringling show and wrote, “Illusions in the Round” and worked with Night Club great Tony Marks.

Our Day of Magic, a mini convention is coming up the first week of September.  Craig also showed the logo and T-Shirt design he came up with for the combined IBM-SAM Convention.

Bev Bergeron’s Teach-in featured all the fun you can have with the uncommon Two Dollar bill on waitresses.

Phil Schwartz presented Magic History Moment #85.  He spotlighted Dr. James William Elliott who was called the “Card Wonder of the 19th Century” by The Mahatma.  Born in 1874 he trained at Harvard and became a medical doctor. He preferred magic and worked for Servais LeRoy as Bosco and later for Felix Herrmann.  He left touring to perfect card manipulation and sold secrets to his effects for high prices. In September of 1898, he published a challenge in which any man in the world could dispute his claim to the title “Champion Card Manipulator of the World.” He offered big money prize, a challenge which was never accepted. The 1923 book “Elliott’s Last Legacy” was edited by Houdini three years after Elliott died of kidney disease.  Phil showed a nice original LeRoy Talma Bosco poster and drew a connection between Thayer and Elliott. He also brought and demonstrated the original 1933 Thayer Silk Cabby.

Dennis Phillips opened up the meeting show by showing the props in the Joe and Georgi Smiley Dove Act, Dove Catching, a fall apart box vanish and a paper frames reappearance. Joe and Georgie performed up until 1995  Dan Stapleton did one of his signature effects, Miraskill. Dan has taken the Stewart James card effect to greater heights. Dan apparently can weigh cards and know how many of each color are in the pack. Greg Solomon, ever in the lookout for inexpensive effects showed a clever math effect using cards with numbers and cut outs on them. He was able to know a selected number. Jams Bailey III showed a dollar bill mysteriously penetrating through rubber bands held by a spectator.

John Arroyo had a very polished Okito /Boston Box routine with coins vanishing out of the box and into the box. Jimmy Ichinana , card wiz, shuffled a deck of cards and somehow quickly got his fingers where each kind was in the deck. He then made the kings migrate through the deck and finish on top.

Dennis Phillips

 

 

 

 

Dennis Deliberations … Ring # 170

“The Bev Bergeron Ring”

July 2017

The Smileys

“Joe, Joe! the birds are out.”

“The birds are out? Well, let’s find them!”

 -Joe and Georgi Smiley introducing their Dove Act with Dove Catching-

 

 

 

In the photo with Kenny and me  is Joe and Georgi Smiley. I was 12 years old.

The above photo was made in July of 1961  at Seaside Park at Virginia Beach, Virginia.  My late brother, Kenneth, is on the left.

In the back ,on stage, you can see The Chinese Chopper, Houdini Pillory and on the floor is the duck cage for “Where do the Ducks Go”

This is a blast from the past!   My adventures from 56 years ago. Relive them with me.

My Dad was in the Navy and stationed at Dam Neck, Virginia and my family lived in Virginia Beach. I went to Linkhorn Park Elementary in Virginia Beach where one classmate was Julie Shepard, the daughter of Alan Shepard, our first man in space.

Langley Air Force Base in Virginia was the astronaut’s headquarters before Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston was built.  The day of Shepard’s flight, she stayed home from school. The whole school watched the short flight on a TV in the cafeteria.

Most weekends I begged my mother to take me to downtown Norfolk to Earl Edwards Magic Shop where I might see Bob McAllister behind the counter. Bob went on to star in Wonderama, the New York based kid’s TV show,. In 1961 he worked for WTAR TV.

Also familiar during those years was Charles “Chuck” Windley who had been at the local Western Theme town “Frontier City”. By 1961 he moved to New York. We magically connected again in the late 60s when Charles lived near me in Bowie, Maryland.

Years earlier, I had seen Harry Blackstone Sr. at the Center Theater in Norfolk. He did a very slimmed down routine and I think  that it he was just an act in a variety show. He was no longer touring the big show.

You can imagine the thrill that I got on hearing that Joe Smiley was bringing his illusion show to Seaside Park for two weeks.

 

In those days, Dudley Cooper owned Seaside Park and Oceanview, both were seaside boardwalks and amusement parks.  Each has an outdoor stage and Cooper would book in variety acts. He also used magician Frank Scalzo.

The Smileys were regulars playing there every year.  Joe and Georgi were from Lewistown, Pennsylvania and Joe’s brother was a circus clown and Joe also worked in little theater and at the local radio station.  He had a very deep mellow voice such as David Seebach, Harry Blackstone and David Chauvet’s. His diction was perfect and elegant.

Many of his props were Abbotts, but he used a Marshall Botania and Plumes. Joe  had made several of the props himself: The Buzz Saw was made  from an A.B. Brill Carnival equipment plan, The Woman from TV (combination mirror and shadow box) was his design as was the Dog House (Tip over box).

He used a P&L bowl of water vanish and a Thayer Houdini Pillory Escape and Devil’s Mailbox.

The day came for Joe to show up on the last week of June and I had to be there. My mother refused to drive me the 3 miles to the beach so I told her I would walk. Mind you this is before cell phones, so she gave me a pocket full of coins. She allowed me to do it because my elementary school was at the half way point but she was not really comfortable with me walking.  I got to the grandstand and Joe had pulled his step van up to the stage to unload props and was nearing completion. I walked up and said, “Wow, All that stuff is in the Abbott’s Catalog!”   He said, “Well young man, I can see you like magic and are probably good at it.” I said, “Yes and I even built a Dagger Head Chest, Square Circle and Chink Cans.” He said, “Very good! Meet Georgi.”  Suddenly he treated me like his Grandson. “Is your Mom or Dad here?”, “No, why don’t you call your Mom and tell her where you are and you met the magician and he gave you a job”. “Make sure you drink lots of water, it is hot outside”. I rode with him to park the van next to his travel trailer in a lot across the street. He had me sit in the back of the van (we used to call them a bread truck) and assemble the Chinese Chopper with all the screws, washers and wing nuts. He emerged in a few minutes from the trailer in a full-evening cutaway Tailcoat suit.  We walked back over to the grandstand. I carried the chopper. Georgi had used the office dressing room and was now in a stylish cocktail dress.

 

 

 

Joe had a reel to reel tape recorder and he explained that he recorded  the tapes at his radio station. He started the pre-show music and the park secretary came over to the side of the stage and took a microphone and did the introduction. “Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s show time! The Marvels of Mystery, Joe and Georgi Smiley….”

 

Joe came out and took total command of the stage.  “ Welcome Ladies and Gentleman. This afternoon we are going to make things appear and make things disappear and the boy sitting right over there ( he pointed to a random kid) may disappear just like that (He snapped his fingers).

But let’s get started. I have some amazing  magic. Let me show you!.”  A Walsh cane transformed into a silk and he went into an Abbotts Round-Circle production (method like the Square Circle)  silks appeared and then he did a clever steal and produced two large feather flower bouquets, a long streamer and ended with two giant flag staffs. Next was his Dove routine with Dove Catching, vanishing from a breakaway box and reappear in the paper frames. His first audience participation was 20th Century Silks. Followed by a sucker version of the Twin Die Boxes  and then his Chinese Death board with 3 volunteers. He then went into his finale with the haunted parasol, color changing plumes, blooming bouquet and finally the giant Marshall botania.

Well that did it!  I was at every show that he did for the next two weeks. The following week my Mother and Father invited Joe and Georgie to come to the house for a home cooked spaghetti dinner.  Joe was more than kind to look at all my creations which included a fair number of oatmeal boxes covered with contact paper and painted tin cans.  He also loaded me up with samples of his advertising materials and brochures.

That began my friendship with Joe and the next summer of 1962, he was back for a repeat.

Between knowing Joe and being mentored by Bob McAllister and Troy Strait  and regularly watching The Magic Land of Allakazam  with Mark, Nani and Bev, I had a good start toward my own magic career. A little later in the 60s Charles Windley and I reconnected .

In this photo below I am on stage at Seaside Park at Virginia Beach in July of 1961. I am on the left of the photo with the two 20th century silks in my T-shirt. Joe is vanishing one in his P&L Change Bag.

In the photo behind Joe you can see his Dove Frame production, The Dog House to produce Sir Chumley , the St. Bernard and the TV set that Joe produced Georgi from. The color changing plumes are on top of the TV.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this photo, Joe is doing his Chinese Death Board (Grandma’s Neckless) with three audience volunteers. The blue draped table  used for his silk production is seen along with The very edge of the top frame of his Buzz Saw (Goldin Style open sawing a woman through)

 

 

Joe with his Abbotts Dove Catching.

“The birds are no longer out”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joe died in 1995. Georgi died November 18, 2005 in Lewistown, Pennsylvania.  She was 96 years old.

Georgi sawed through with a visible sawing that Joe made from an A.B. Brill Plan.

 

 

 

 

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Phil Schwartz remembers Maskelyne May 2017 Meeting

Ring Report Ring #170 “The Bev Bergeron Ring” SAM Assembly #99

May 2017  Meeting

 Craig Schwarz  called the May Meeting to order with 28 in attendance. Dan Stapleton gave a wrap up to the recent Magicpalooza 2017, Florida State Close Up  Contest Convention here in Orlando.  The “Day of Magic” Flea Market and lectures is September 9th. Admission is $25.

It will be at the Holiday Inn Resort, 13351 State Road 535, Orlando.  

Bev Bergeron’s Teach-in featured a bag of lapel buttons from a mid-1960s IBM Convention. He was spring cleaning and gave the buttons away during the meeting. He told a humorous story about the button-maker changing the print for “Rabbit in the the Hat” believing that Bev had made a mistake.

Phil Schwartz presented Magic History Moment #84  about John Nevil Maskelyne ( 1839-1917) John was later closely associated with his magic partner ,David Devant.   Born in Cheltenham, England John Nevil Maskelyne was fascinated with automata in his boyhood and became a watchmaker. With a friend George Cooke , he started a magic club that is said to be the origin of England’s Magic Circle.

Repairing a mechanism for a stranger led Maskelyne into understanding the mechanical tricks behind Spiritualism and he developed an act after he learned how the famous Davenport Brothers did their Spirit Cabinet.  Maskelyne and Cooke performed before the British Royalty and began a long engagement at St. James Hall in 1873. He moved to The Egyptian Hall and in 1904 to St. George’s Hall, the year that George Cooke died. The following year he partnered with David Devant and retired in 1911.  Phil also showed a rare poster and some great ephemera.

James F. Bailey  III  began the monthly show by having a person select a famous person and movie and he magically read his mind. Dennis Phillips showed a Chinese Water Bowl production that he made 50 years ago in High School and demonstrated a mind reading effect using the binary card method. He explained the math behind the method.  Jimmy Ichinana presented his card miracles. Selected cards appeared at places requested and magically appeared in his wallet.

Dennis Phillips

 

 

 

 

 

Dennis Deliberations … Ring # 170

June 2017

“I just put an act together of all self-working tricks. Now when I book a gig, I don’t even have to go”

-Charles Windley-

I thoroughly enjoyed Jim Vines routine at Magicpalooza. After he finished I mentioned that I could see touches of the great Bob Fitch in his act and he agreed and said Bob was a big help in putting together his act.  I have known some fabulous consultants: Johnny Thompson, Paul Osborne, Bob Fitch, Joanie Spina, Don Wayne, Jeff McBride, Eugene Berger, Max Maven and others. Regretfully the current trend in magic is to call yourself or strive for being called a ‘magic consultant’. People who make a living creating tricks for, or advising other magicians. Truthfully there are only so many professional performers to consult for, but MANY claiming to have ‘consulted’.

That is a  false narrative (a lie). The truth is that most are not paid consultants, even though you assume they must be. Naming no names, some have been caught out in their deceit. Selling their lectures as “consultant for Dynamo and Criss Angel” – neither hired them as such. I have known at least 6 “consultants” for David Copperfield. He used their effect and suggestions but never paid them. Jet-setting here and skype session there. The online image draws in admirers who seek to replicate those rewards for themselves. Impressionable young magi tell their parents it’s a guaranteed career path. Dream jobs are real jobs, but there’s an inverted pyramid of interests in the magic business that ensure you are MASSIVELY unlikely to achieve it. Believe me.

The majority express their interests in being a creator. The minority express their interests in being popular performers. There isn’t room for everyone. “More people perform in magic than create” I hear you cry. Correct, but Wedding/Event Magicians don’t require consultants for their acts. They’re responsible for their own output and rarely hire help. The disparity is between the number of people who want to be the kind of performer who would require a consultant, and the number of people who want to be a consultant. This over-abundance creates a ‘race to the bottom’. Let me explain…

Put simply, in business you’re either:

  • The First
  • The Best
  • The Cheapest

When you’re the first you have a monopoly on the industry. When you’re the best, your reputation speaks for itself and you’re called upon by a number of artists for your expertise. When someone decides to be the cheapest, it immediately opens the door for someone to be cheaper. Then someone who’s slightly cheaper. Then someone who is FREE. It is another race to the bottom.

You can’t get cheaper than FREE, and now only ‘the first’ and ‘best’ are the ones likely to make a good living.

So forget consulting, you’re going to make yourself rich by selling magic to the masses of magicians? WRONG. Talk to Steve Duchek , Bev Bergeron or John Cornelius. I’m not looking to squash your dreams. I’m looking to turn them into a certainty by shining a light on the darkest parts of our industry and allowing you to create a realistic action plan. Outliers exist in any field. Some push the envelope and seem to succeed despite the odds, but that chosen few doesn’t represent the majority of amazingly creative people in Magic. Sustainable success for the masses in this industry isn’t found by being a consultant who’s required twice per year, or a creator who has one good release per year. The reality is far more mundane and your career depends on more than luck. (Portions of this came from ideas from England’s Geraint Clarke) http://geraintclarke.com/free-stuff/

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Every once in a while all of us wand wielders sit through a magic show that is so awful, so revolting and so stomach turning that we leave the performance and want to rush home and burn our equipment.  At best, we have to spend all the drive back home with our spouse explaining how the show wasn’t really all that bad.

One of my most memorable stories was when I lived in the Carolinas in the early 70s.  Back then; a person could make a fair living doing school shows, service club shows, Cub Scout meetings and birthday parties. The hills of Western North Carolina were filled with little mill towns and each town had a company and community spirit.

One such enterprising performer was a bit of a local legend in that area.  For purposes of this story let me call him Luke Porter. That is not his real name but I have every desire to let the dead rest in peace. His wife was Opal.   Luke was a rather rotund character with thinning gray hair on the sides and patches of hair in the middle.   His face was deeply wrinkled and resembled fifty miles of bad road ahead.  He had a pencil thin moustache.  His massive hands looked like they belonged to a plumber. In fact, his whole personage resembled a country plumber and that would be complete with a big potbelly and a belt that allowed it to hang over.   Luke wore a tailcoat outfit that had been homemade by Opal. The store-bought black pants did not match the shade of black on the tailcoat!   The tailcoat had actually been constructed by cutting down a black suit coat and merely tacking on tails made from black cloth. Are you getting the idea that this was not your class act?

Opal was very grandmotherly. Her gown was homemade out of lavender satin and she barely fit into it. It was sleeveless and allowed a generous hanging slab of arm flesh to flop around.  She wore loads of powder that accented her wrinkles and bright red lipstick that was the popular shade in 1954.

Luke had a bit of a speech defect and could not say the sound of “r” very well. He also had a curious shaking in his hands.  He moved like an elephant.  To his credit he did have a warm smile and enjoyed what he was doing even though he was clueless as to how he looked and acted to the audience.

Luke and Opal traveled to shows with their son-in-law, Theodore.   “Theo” was very thin country fellow about 40 years old. He had a receding chin and a bit of an overbite. His eyes were droopy and nose long.  He wore a blue velvet sport coat that was two sizes too big and white pants and shoes and a long paisley necktie.  Theodore was a frustrated Pentecostal evangelist. He had all the hand motions and staccato speech pattern with a deep breath between every 3 words. Theo carried props on and off stage and did his own specialty act in the show. Luke paused the show for a special word about each person’s soul and where they would spend eternity. Evangelist Theodore came out with an easel and some flannel pictures and preached a down home sermon.

The team rode and carried their props in a converted step van, better known to most as a bread truck. It had been painted white and Luke had free hand lettered the name of his show on the side.  It said, “Luke and Opal Magic Shows. The best in magic shows. Call 704- xxxx” (The number ran down hill, as did the whole lettering)

Luke made almost every prop in the show.  He must not have known about such things as sandpaper or a square or putting an undercoat on plywood before he painted.  He made an attempt at creating a fabric backdrop by using plumber’s pipe.  The backdrop fabric had huge gashes in it. After the show I asked him about the gashes and he said, “It allows the wind to go through it so it doesn’t blow over when we do outside shows”.  His stage lighting was a pair of outdoor floodlights mounted on a square of plywood that sat on the flood.

The show opened with a very scratchy instrumental playing on a phonograph record. Luke plodded out and tried to do the gloves to spring flowers. He tossed the gloves into the air and they fell to the floor as he was trying to get the spring flower packet to open.  Bautier DeKolta, the inventor of spring flowers, would have had a stroke watching this. During the course of the evening Luke burned himself doing Grant’s Devil Canister. He dropped the can. The borrowed ring did reappear. He nearly strangled an audience volunteer doing the Grandma’s Neckless rope trick around the boy’s neck. His Square Circle Production finale used silks which had not been ironed since Thomas Edison invention the electric flat iron.

My wife commented on the way home that as low-class as we thought the show was, the audience enjoyed it !   I had to agree. I was laughing during the show for a different reason.  It really does not take a lot to please an audience if they can connect with you. Luke and Opal knew their audience and who am I to criticize them?

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How is life like a magic trick…..?

1) Life is like a Zombie Ball. The problems of the world can seem heavy and burdensome, but with the right attitude/faith they can float away and be light as a feather!

2) Life is like Professor’s Nightmare. Although people may appear to be different, when you look deeper we all are pretty much the same!

3) Life is like a Die Box. Just when you think you got it figured out, you don’t

4) Life is like a double lift. The important things are just below the surface.

5)  Life is like a thumb tip.. You are usually the most effective when no one notices you.

 

Dennis Phillips

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Monthly Newsletter | Comments Off on Phil Schwartz remembers Maskelyne May 2017 Meeting

Tom Frank Lectures at April 2017 Meeting

Ring Report Ring #170 “The Bev Bergeron Ring” SAM Assembly #99

April 2017  Meeting

 President Craig Schwarz gaveled the meeting to order with over 30 present. The entire meeting was devoted to the Tom Frank Lecture. Tom Frank is the one of the least talked about, but most respected street magician with those who know. He was a student of Cellini . For over 30 years he has been performing and is a favorite at the Magic Castle in California. Tom presented his revered the Cups and Balls and a poetic version of the  Linking Rings. It has been said that classics are classics for a reason. Tom’s presentation and personal touches of the masters like Dai Vernon and the late Daryl kept these classics alive. Tom’s passion was clear. He offered his presentation of the Stripper Deck and then explained how he pitched them for sale on the streets for many years. He has some great coin manipulations and a rare  five coin star. Another one of his innovations was a signed card in a wallet that was continuously seen by the spectator. He even had a great tip on a using a powerful Blue Tooth speaker with music for  his street act.  Tom is on a limited lecture tour and we were thrilled to be a part of his route.

Dennis Phillips

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Frank with his Linking Rings done in poetry!

 

Dennis Deliberations … Ring # 170

“The Bev Bergeron Ring”

May 2017

 

 

 

 

When a man is wrapped up in himself, he makes a pretty small package.
(John Ruskin, 1819 – 1900)

I have known a number of strange failed magicians in my five decades of being around this art. Each story is very sad. Each is the story of  lost dreams of making it to the “big time” in magic. This month I will feature two from the 70s and early 80s. Perhaps these examples will explain why my wife, Cindy, is not too warm to all of the people I know who are into magic. We have had sad and tragic encounters with magicians during our 45 years of marriage.

His stage name was his last name, Booker, spelled backwards (“Rekoob”). He called himself “Rekoob the Magnificent”.

Booker was a locksmith in the Southern town where I was employed on local TV in the early 70s. He was one of the best locksmiths in the business with 15 employees, a fleet of step-vans and contracts with all the major businesses, but he had a passion for magic and illusions. His locksmith business provided him with a fabulous income. But the drive to be a touring magician drove him crazy. He sold his profitable business to go into magic “fulltime”. He spent many thousands of dollars trying to get into magic fulltime.

Sadly he was a real Redneck…Horrible Southern twang in his language, high raspy voice, zero originality. He was as they said about the Hapsburg Dynasty in Europe in the late 1800s, “He never learned anything and he never forgot anything!”

Hi major talent was that he could sling the bull to a client and buyer when he was selling a show (“people pass out when I do my Cremation!”) He bugged the Devil out of me, when I lived in his town, wanting to be on my local TV show and have me promote him over the air.

He divorced his first wife. Although she got a sizable portion of the proceeds from his locksmith business, it was probably a good move if he wanted a stage assistant. She looked like Rosanne Barr on a bad hair-day.

He married some really young bone-thin woman. Mack was late 40s; she was in her late 20s. They had 2 kids in a row. She had no figure (But what nature had forgotten, they stuffed with cotton)  and an overbite that would have been an orthodontist’s challenge and joy to fix. She looked like something someone had just dragged out of the Carolina backwoods.

Booker did a few fairs (much like Harry Albacker) and finally ended up losing everything he had in life except his ancient Concord Motor home and a small utility trailer with magic props.

He traveled with his wife and 2 young kids doing Polaroid photos and a little magic (“Your picture with the bunny!). They mostly appeared in the old JM Fields discount stores and K-Marts. The stores just gave him a small space near the entrance and whatever he could clear from the photos was his income. Sometimes 4 photos sold was a good day.

Anyway… he traced me down to Orlando after I moved there in the fall of 1975 (drat you Phil Morris for telling him!)

In December of 1975 he parked his motor home in front of the house I rented on Harmon Avenue in Winter Park. It backed right up to Interstate-4. Car noise was horrible! Vaarrrooom! It was solid 24 hours a day, but it only cost us $250 a month to rent back then.

He and his wife and kids sort of moved onto our lot. Most of the days they would drive over to the old JM Fields at the corner of Lee Road and 17-92 to do magic and photos. The pickings were slim because Orlando was in a housing collapse and local depression in 1975 following the initial Disney build-out and the gas shortages. In the evening they were back in front of my house, with their motor home, for the night.

To this day, Cindy detests “Dinty Moore” stew because at night they would eat with us and every other night we all had stew and rice. I think a few times we had Hamburger Helper with precious little hamburger and lots of off-brand cheese macaroni. (Cindy bought all of this, of course) After a week of running an extension cord and water hose to the motor home, his dump tank filled and he could never figure out a way to tap into my home sewer clean-out plug so he moved on to a campground in Wachulla. He tried dumping a couple of times into my sewer connection, leaving a pool of human feces in my front yard.

Evening conversations were filled with a half pack of Camels and grandiose dreams of big illusion shows and going to Broadway. Promptly at 9PM the Corby’s Whiskey came out. All the frustration would then be liberated and the pent up anger and rage would spill over into an hour tirade about how the world had screwed him and what a great illusionist he was. I vividly recall him sucking on a cigarette that he had stuck in the gap of a front missing tooth. He could smoke almost an entire cigarette with no hands. His props were mostly Abbott’s illusions that he had he picked up from other dreamers whose dreams had faded away into disillusionment.

Mack died a few years later…Phil said it was heart trouble. It may have been. My guess would be that years of drinking had also corroded away his liver and his lungs were worn out from chain smoking. He ended up leaving his Abbott’s Cremation in my driveway because the utility trailer he was towing had sprung a leak and it was ruining his props.

That Cremation was the only prop left where the plywood had not warped. It was the same Cremation Illusion that I used in the 1976 Lake Eola Halloween Show that Dan Stapleton produced!

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A few months later in early 1976 a young, thin, clean-cut preacher’s-kid, JD, whose father could be described as a rabid, snot-slinging, pulpit pounding , preacher in Kissimmee ,stopped into the shop. At first, JD vaguely reminded me of a short-haired preppy version of Doug Henning. JD was very talented and a creative thinker.

JD was into Gospel magic and his Gospel applications ( message) with the tricks were very good. He worshipped Andre Kole, the traveling Gospel Illusionist, who has traveled for many years  for Campus Crusade for Christ.

JD dreamed of being a Gospel magician-illusionist.

He left shortly after that to go to a Bible College in Kentucky to major in ministry. He got through college but near the end he fell into booze, even though drinking was absolutely forbidden by any of the students. He told me that he had never tasted alcohol in any form until he was away at the Bible School and his senior year. He was off campus and sneaked a drink just to see what it was like. He said he was addicted after one drink. He had finally found something that made him feel good and secure  and silenced all the chattering monkeys in his head. I often wonder if he just transferred his religious addiction into a chemical addiction based on alcohol and sex. Insecure people need something to make them feel secure.

After he graduated, with a degree in Christian Ministry and an internship as a Youth pastor, he could not make enough money to live and was struggling to stay off the sauce, so he soon ended up working as an emcee in topless bars in Northern Kentucky. He returned to Orlando and once in a drunken stupor , he told me that he had a “ministry:” to the people who worked in bars. His rationalization was that “Jesus made wine” and they accused Jesus of being a drunkard and Jesus was also friends with prostitutes!” He followed up each statement by rattling off a list of Bible verses to prove his point. His pious family disowned him for being a sinner , but he stayed in Orlando and worked in my costume shop for a few months at Halloween before going to work as a DJ/Announcer at one of the old South Orange Blossom Trail Topless Dancer Clubs.

Since his church insisted he “get rid of his sins” before they would help him, he had no close connection to any religious group. He thought that all other Christian denominations were evil and apostate except his, but his would not have him!  I tried to get him into AA and for a month or two he attended their meetings. I was the only religious church-going friend that he had. Being from a his rigid denominational background, he could never accept my mainstream Christian approach as being valid. In fact, he used to call me a “sinner” for even associating with him!  I remember him being stinking drunk-as-a-skunk and still trying to convert me over to his denomination.

He booked a few Gospel magic shows in distant churches, with preachers who did not know him well, and kept his dream alive that he would be a big-named Gospel illusionist one day. I hired him and his girlfriend (a biker chick turned topless dancer) a few times on some of my magic road-tours. She frequently confided her own demons to my wife Cindy.

The Flying Carpet Illusion that I own today was a gift from him for picking him up from jail after a DUI arrest.

He permanently lost his driver’s license after a couple more DUIs. He was forced to use the public bus system. He married his biker chick girlfriend when she told him that she was pregnant. Her ex-husband came by and beat the tar out of him when he found out that his ex-wife was expecting. She divorced JD shortly after the baby was born. He emotionally went downhill and died of acute alcohol poisoning at far too young an age…

A short time later, I pulled up into my driveway at my house in Audubon Park and found pieces of old illusions were littering my carport. I knew whose they were but I had no idea how they got there.

His widow had gone back to her ex-husband and they both wanted to get rid of all the memories of JD but for some reason they did not just trash his props so they loaded them all in the back of his mud truck and dumped them in my carport! Maybe it was her final statement to me; maybe it was a gesture of thanks to my wife Cindy and me for helping them, or maybe she just wanted Cindy’s attention. She did call up Cindy a short time later to explain that her baby was not JD’s but her ex-husband’s. She provided explicit details as why that was the fact. She told Cindy that she wanted to set the record straight with the only real friends that JD had who were left on earth. I walked into the kitchen just as that phone call was ending. Cindy turned, clutched me and buried her face in my chest and sobbed like a baby.

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I am sorry to convey some sad stories of entertainers who I have known. Show business is tough.

I need to  conclude on an “up” note:

Many magicians underestimate the Indian Sword Basket. It is said to be one of the oldest illusions and was ubiquitous in India. Along with the Indian Rope trick is almost approaches magic mythological status. The plot is simple. Boy goes into large wicker basket, several swords are shoved through and removed and then the magician steps into the basket filling it. The boy apparently has vanished. The magician steps out and the boy emerges from the basket unharmed. It is ideally a “street trick” where the audience can see there are no traps under it. My stage version sits on a low platform so the audience can see underneath. I have mostly used it as part of a pirate scene in my illusion show.

Several other good versions and more involved routines that I have seen. Lee Germain & Judi did a comedy version that began with him stepping in the basket and looking lonely so he stepped out and put a blow-up doll wearing a Genii costume inside. The inserted swords deflated it. He looked dejected at holding a now limp doll, so he put in back inside and put the hose of a tire pump in the top hole and pumped the handle to the beat of the music and out came Judi all inflated in the same Genii costume. The bit was not as Freudian it could be viewed as  but there was an bit of sexual subtlety in it. Another good version that I saw was Ferry Forst’s from the Ringling and later Beatty Circus. He put one of his gorgeous daughters inside and at the end his other gorgeous daughter emerged. It got a great response from the crowd. Forst moved like a German Field Marshall in the Kalanag style but commanded the ring and attention in a classy and stately way. With his equally attractive wife, he had his own chorus line. Denny Haney also does a great job with the basket, I loved the girl’s hand coming out of the top hole motioning him to come over. He comes over and swats the “hand” with the sword and knocks it off! (You realize that it is a rubber hand but you and the audience gasp and then laugh that they have been taken in)

Here I am performing my Pirate version of Indian Basket illusion from my 1990 illusion show tour.  I made the basket ( from Celastic) and all the props, as well as the set and costumes in the show.

Brandi (Luana Fasulkey) was my long time assistant(1981-1991).  The photos have been frame captured from my archive DVD of the show.

Dennis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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