Magician Abb Dickson Passes

Image of Abb DicksonWe were sad to hear that Magician Abb Dickson passed away this week.

You can help defray his funeral and burial expenses by donating to the Go Fund Me page established by his friends.

When we were very, very young, we met Mr. Dickson at the Florida State Magician’s Convention in Winter Park, Florida.  He watched us perform in the Close-up contest and shared his thoughts on our act.  He was constructive, helpful and so kind.  We were just 14 years old and overwhelmed by his kindness.

Fast forward about a thousand years to an Abbott’s Magic Get-Together stage contest.  Mr. Dickson was there and again had kind and encouraging words.  He didn’t look as if he had aged a bit.  His warm and friendly persona brought back so many wonderful memories.

Mr. Dickson was an accomplished magician, actor, comedian, teacher and inventor.  But more importantly, he was a great man.  He was a familiar face at magic conventions and exemplified all that is good about our profession.

We heard last week that Mr. Dickson was gravely ill.   We received an email from John Luka, forwarding information from Gary Bartlett.  Mr. Bartlett wrote that doctors were going to amputate one of Mr. Dickson’s legs, but had decided against the surgery.   He was taken off of dialysis and, in Mr. Bartlett’s words, “Once dialysis ends it will only be a matter of days before the body shuts down. It’s now all in the hands of our maker.”

Our Maker called Mr. Dickson home just a day  later.

We heard Mr. Dickson was the victim of unscrupulous business associates that left him impoverished, without savings, magic or possessions.  He died without having the funds to even pay for his funeral.

Mr. Dickson’s friends (magician and non) have organized a Go Fund Me campaign to defray the cost of the funeral and burial.

Perhaps you knew Mr. Dickson or only knew of him as Past International President of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.  Or perhaps you knew him as a young fan and years later an older fan like us. Or perhaps you never met or heard of him but want to do something good in memory of someone who did so much for our art and the people who love it.  Visit the Go Fund Me page and consider making a donation.

Magic and Magicians Still Going Strong

Inside Magic Image of The Grim Game PosterMagic and Magicians endure.

Time and Life magazines paid homage to our noble profession’s gathering in Indianapolis this weekend by looking back at the 1947 Society of American Magicians held in Chicago in 1947.

If you follow the link to the Google books page of that original Life Magazine article you can see wonderful images of some of the greats performing for the Life cameras.  It could be that Dr. Harlan Tarbell did perform the Balancing an Egg on a Fan While Blindfolded trick as part of his nightclub act.  Maybe magicians did do Multiplying Golf Balls in a strip club and drew all eyes from the dancers gyrating on stage to their strained and stretched fingers. But is also just as likely that the convention attendees were doing what magicians do best at convention time – getting good press.

Time and Life’s website gives a link to the SAM 2016 registration page, a 2014 blurb on the ill-fated efforts to exhume Houdini’s remains to test for poisoning and a 1994 essay by Penn Jillette explaining why Vegas was the most logical place for magic to reside.  He has some snarky things to say about Siegfried & Roy and Melinda but that was the old, “bad-boys of magic” Penn.

From the post-war era, to the 1970s with Doug Henning’s The Magic Show raking in $60,000.00 each week on Broadway ($307,175.32 in today’s dollars), to David Copperfield’s globe-trotting success, and later David Blaine taking it to the streets with camera in tow, Magic has endured.

In that 1974 Time article reporting on that decade’s fascination in magic and magicians, James Randi  said the upsurge in interest is “a sign that our society is still healthy. When people stop being enthralled by a magician who can make a lady vanish, it will mean that the world has lost its most precious possession: its sense of wonder.”

Like the Dude, Magic endures.

Pop Haydn is a Guilty Pleasure

Pop Haydn - Photo by Billy BaqueWatching Pop Haydn is a guilty pleasure for us.

Unlike eating an entire pint of ice cream whilst binge watching previously unseen How It’s Made episodes, we are not left feeling too guilty or dotted with chocolate stains when we watch the master perform.

Recently we attended a private party at The Magic Castle and saw the incredible Pop Haydn own the crowds gathered in the Peller Theatre for four performances.  We legitimately attended the first show of the evening and then snuck in again for a later show.  It was wonderful.

Pop f/k/a Whit Haydn works a room better than anyone we have ever seen.  He interacts with the audience effortlessly and handles volunteers so well that each outing was like a lesson in advanced magic techniques.

He performed his iconic The Six Card Trick, Color Changing Silk, Mongolian Pop Knot and finished with his world-famous Four Ring Routine.

Magicians know that Pop has been performing these effects for many years but he brought each alive for his enthusiastic lay crowds last night as if it was the first time.  He has a tremendous ability to take what the audience gives him and work it to the further betterment of his routine.  He never drops his character or varies from the spirit of his persona.

We checked with our friends who attended the shows last night and to a one, each thought Pop was absolutely incredible, the highlight of the evening.  That is saying a lot considering they had the entire Magic Castle filled with performers with whom to compare.

If we could have, we would have watched all four of his performances.  Some would say that is obsessive and they would usually be correct but not in this case.  Unlike fattening ice cream, excessive watching of Pop Haydn cannot clog one’s arteries, stain clothing or rot teeth.  It can lead to bewilderment and disorientation but we are willing to take those risks for the benefits received.

Inside Magic Review: Five Out of Five – Our Highest!

Photo Credit: Billy Baque

Head Lice Puts a Crimp on Magicians

Head lice is problem for most of us working in the hat exchange underground that is West Hollywood, California.  No one wants to talk about it but it is time to change the silent acquiescence that allows these parasites to take away our fun and profit.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, lice is becoming a serious national problem.  There is a new breed of “super lice,” able to resist modern drug treatments and spread their way from person to person with impunity.

Like most performers, we no longer wear a top hat off-stage.  It used to be, a magician would not be caught dead without a top hat somewhere on his or her person.  We cannot trace this unfortunate trend to head lice – perhaps it is a question of fashion – but head lice is not helping.

[Serious students of magic no doubt recall those immortal words being uttered by Houdini during a challenge escape in Kansas City, Missouri.  A local hat maker dared the great Houdini to be sewn into a huge silk hat and escape within a half hour.  Houdini did the feat in just 15 minutes but was heard to exclaim to his on-stage assistant that the escape was progressing well “but the head lice is not helping.”]

We used to pass our hat at the end of our performance and, often, audience members would become confused and try to wear the hat rather than donate money.  Back in our carefree – and money-free – days, we would don the empty hat and stroll off to the next ward in the hospital to again perform.  We never gave a thought to the dangers of head lice.

After a day of performing, we would go to the local hat exchange pub and do what hat exchangers do.  This was back in Michigan where folks were not so enlightened.  People didn’t exchange hats in Michigan.  Your hat was for your head and that’s it.  Consequently, we had to seek out the hat-x club in a neighboring town to do what we enjoyed with people we would not later admit to knowing.

West Hollywood – like most of California – is much more accepting of hat exchanging.  People seem to accept, understand and embrace those who want to try different hats if for no other reason than it is fun.  We were at a local hat-x, The Fez, just off Santa Monica the other night and noticed a different feel to the room.

Yes, it was just as crowded.  The usual group of lawyers, doctors, day laborers, academics, anemics, anti-emetics and ambulatory specialists were in attendance.  But there was a different sense.  Gone was the joie de vivre that once infused the group.  As we watched re-runs of the 1980s classic children’s television show, Lidsville, we looked around.  No one was exchanging hats.

We offered our fedora to a professional golfer and she started, instinctively, to reach for her fine Titleist snap-back cap but then stopped.  She looked at us carefully and turned away.  We looked down at the newspaper she was clutching in her well-manicured and perfectly calloused hands to see the headline about the “super lice.”

Suddenly our head began to itch.

Irene Larsen, Co-Founder of the Academy of Magical Arts & the Magic Castle, Dies at 79

Irene Larsen & Neil Patrick Harris at AMA 50th Anniversary Event (1-2-2013)Irene Larsen, Co-Founder of the Academy of Magical Arts & the Magic Castle, Dies at 79

Irene Larsen, 79, unexpectedly passed away Feb. 25 at her home in Los Angeles. Irene co-founded the Academy of Magical Arts (AMA) and its private clubhouse, the Magic Castle – one of Hollywood’s most iconic landmarks and one of the world’s most renowned nightclubs – along with her husband, the late William “Bill” Larsen, Jr., and his brother, Milton “Milt” Larsen. It was Irene’s graciousness and her dedication to the role of ambassador of magic that helped elevate the AMA to an internationally renowned and respected organization within the art’s community.

Irene was also an ardent and outspoken animal rights activist, who policed the wellbeing of animals in the acts of magicians and banned anyone who mistreated them from performing at the Magic Castle.

Members of the Larsen family have been performing magic continuously since the mid ’20s, with the fourth generation now on stage.

Born Irene Stolz in Stühlingen, Germany, on Sept. 25, 1936, to Ludwig and Meta Stolz, her career in magic began by chance when she attended a magic show in 1955 and was asked on stage by

American magician John Daniel, who became her husband two years later.

Joining her new husband in America, the couple owned a magic retail store in Pasadena and toured two “spook shows” – Dr. Doom’s Dungeon of Death and Daniel’s Magic Circus – late-night magic shows of a supernatural or eerie nature that preceded the showing of a horror film. The Daniels also purchased and ran Owen Magic Supreme, a renowned manufacturer of magic products. Irene was the first woman to perform the famed “Thin Model Sawing” illusion, which they developed and performed on a school show circuit across the country. They divorced amicably in the early ’60s.

Irene soon began dating Bill, Jr., a member of one of magic’s most famed family dynasties. Bill’s parents, William Larsen, Sr. (1904-1953), and Geraldine “Geri” Larsen (1906-1998), are revered as pioneers in the field of magic. Bill, Sr., gave up a successful Pasadena law practice as a criminal attorney to pursue his love of magic and to be an entertainer and Geri was one of the rare female magicians of the day, when women were magician’s assistants being sawed in half, not magicians themselves.

In 1936, the elder Larsens launched Genii magazine, now the longest, continually running magic magazine in the world (and the circulation of which later became the AMA/Magic Castle’s initial membership). Beginning during the Depression in the late ’30s (the Vaudeville era), the family – now including Bill, Jr., and Milt – began touring as the “Larsen Family of Magicians,” playing upscale, resort hotels in San Diego, Carmel and Palm Springs.

Irene assisted Bill, Jr., in his various magic acts and worked tirelessly to help launch the Magic Castle, which opened its doors in January 1963—marrying him in the fall of that year. In addition to appearing alongside her husband at their club, she also appeared on such popular series as the Dean Martin Show, assisting megastars like Orson Welles (a long-time magic fan and an early member of the AMA). From 1963-1999, Irene served as the editor or co-editor of Genii magazine

Although Bill, Jr., passed away in 1993, Irene lived the remainder of her life at the Brookledge estate in Hancock Park, which was purchased by her husband’s parents in 1942. The historic estate was built in 1933 by Floyd Thayer, a master woodworker who founded the Thayer Magic Company (which the senior Larsens also purchased), renowned for high-quality magic apparatus.

Virtually every famous name in magic visited the estate – often referred to as the “forerunner to the Magic Castle” – frequently performing on a small stage there. Retired from life on the road and managing the Thayer Magic Company, Bill, Sr. dreamed of opening an elegant, private clubhouse for magicians in Los Angeles, but died at just 48.

Six years ago, Irene’s daughter, Erika Larsen, who currently serves as president of the board of directors of the AMA, revived The Brookledge Follies, a “contemporary Vaudeville” variety-and-magic show performed once a month (April-November) in the small theater behind the home, which holds just 60 people.

Attendance is by invitation only, but the free show has become one of the hottest tickets in town – the wait list can be long – and is frequently attended by a who’s who of Hollywood like Moby, Sophia Vergara, Joe Manganiello, Ryan Gosling, Jason Alexander, Christina Hendricks, Matthew Gubler, Randy Newman, Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman) and director John Landis, to name a few.

Regarding her childhood, Erika recalls that famous magicians like Siegfried Fischbacher & Roy Horn, Doug Henning, Dai Vernon, Channing Pollock, Charlie Miller, The Shimadas, The Great Tomsoni & Co. and others were familiar faces around the Larsen home. “We did see the best of the best in magic, but I grew up in a bubble,” she says. “My siblings and I just thought that’s what people did—Make things disappear and carry a deck of cards everywhere.”

A frequent figure around the Magic Castle, Irene – affectionately known by magicians around the world as “Princess Irene,” a stage name she was given by her first husband – will remain best known as a beloved, ever-gracious hostess of the magic community, a role she actively continued until the time of her death.

In addition to Erika, who also lives on the Brookledge estate, Irene is survived by daughter Heidi Larsen, Los Angeles; her son with her first husband, Dante Larsen and his wife, Blaire, Los Angeles; and her stepdaughter Wendy Larsen-Olsen, Oregon (Bill, Jr.’s child from his first marriage). She is also survived by four grandchildren, Liberty, Lily and Liam Larsen and Jessica Hopkins.

The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Tippi Hedren’s Shambala Preserve or another animal welfare organization.