So Inspired: Why Brian Gillis and Sisuepahn Rock

 

 

Brian and Sisuepahn – A National Treasure

In my travels around North America, people ask me two questions more than any other: 1) why were you thrown off the 1960’s sitcom “Flipper”? and, 2) why do you enjoy watching the magic of Brian Gillis and Sisuepahn so much? 

 

If you would like to skip the endless meanderings of my essay and get to the point of the story, my admiration for Mr. Gillis and Sisuepahn, skip to the last two paragraphs.  If you have time on your hands and care about how the past formed my answers to these two very common questions, read on. 

 

The Flipper Story

 

The producers of Flipper were looking for a blond haired kid who could interact with the five dolphins who played “Flipper” on the show.  I began life on a coastal island off Venezuela where my family had a dolphin farm.  I acted in summer stock in our village (I was Jet #2 in West Side Story) and appeared in television commercials in the States and in South America.  That is me in the Qantas Airlines ad where the little kid clutches the koala doll given to him by the friendly stewardess as he awakens over Australia. 

 

When I auditioned for the role of Bud Ricks for Ivan Tors, the casting director told my legal guardian I would have the role if I could interact with three of the five dolphins they were going to use in the series.  Because I was so familiar with dolphins from my family’s farm, we got along famously.  In fact, the Second Unit Director was going to use the audition footage in the series and so we did several takes of us just playing around. 

 

I signed with Mr. Tors and his production company a week later and we began filming at the end of the month for the 1964 NBC Fall season.  We were seven episodes into the series when the network forced me…

 

 

Brian and Sisuepahn – A National Treasure

In my travels around North America, people ask me two questions more than any other: 1) why were you thrown off the 1960’s sitcom “Flipper”? and, 2) why do you enjoy watching the magic of Brian Gillis and Sisuepahn so much? 

 

If you would like to skip the endless meanderings of my essay and get to the point of the story, my admiration for Mr. Gillis and Sisuepahn, skip to the last two paragraphs.  If you have time on your hands and care about how the past formed my answers to these two very common questions, read on. 

 

The Flipper Story

 

The producers of Flipper were looking for a blond haired kid who could interact with the five dolphins who played “Flipper” on the show.  I began life on a coastal island off Venezuela where my family had a dolphin farm.  I acted in summer stock in our village (I was Jet #2 in West Side Story) and appeared in television commercials in the States and in South America.  That is me in the Qantas Airlines ad where the little kid clutches the koala doll given to him by the friendly stewardess as he awakens over Australia. 

 

When I auditioned for the role of Bud Ricks for Ivan Tors, the casting director told my legal guardian I would have the role if I could interact with three of the five dolphins they were going to use in the series.  Because I was so familiar with dolphins from my family’s farm, we got along famously.  In fact, the Second Unit Director was going to use the audition footage in the series and so we did several takes of us just playing around. 

 

I signed with Mr. Tors and his production company a week later and we began filming at the end of the month for the 1964 NBC Fall season.  We were seven episodes into the series when the network forced me off the set. They brought in the talented but New York accented Tommy Norden to take my place and the rest is history.

 

Here is what happened.  The Hollywood Trend tabloid published a story about my rapid rise to the attention of a nation right before the first episode aired.  It was an hour-long (the rest were half-hour shows) special that established how the Ricks family ended up at Coral Key Park without a wife or mom. 

 

I did not think anything of the story because I figured it was just publicity grindings.  I had seen plenty of copy out there about my background and my meteoric rise in Tinsel Town.  I should have read the article more closely.  The reporter had done some digging into my past involvement with dolphins and met some creditors of my parent’s farm.  (Once I did my first commercial in the States, I gained “emancipated minor” status and used my manager as a legal guardian when necessary).  The creditors were understandably angry that my folks had not paid for the dolphin supplies they bought on credit.  They disappeared in a suspicious boating accident two days before the Belize bankruptcy court took possession of the farm.  Their plan to sell dolphin steaks and dolphin ground meat lacked the financial backing they expected to receive and the whole farm went bust. 

 

By the way, if you have never had a dolphin steak, you have missed a true dining experience.  The farm was in shambles and the creditors were unable to recoup their losses from the sale of the tons of frozen dolphin meat and accoutrements such as dolphin skin purses, or dolphin tooth rings.  (It is interesting to note that dolphin skin is five times as strong as sharkskin once the hide is cured). 

 

I was at the Brown Derby with Marty Milner (Route 66 and later Adam 12), Ann Margaret (Bye-Bye Birdie), Rosemarie (Dick VanDyke Show), Lenny Bruce (misunderstood stand-up comic legend), and my date, Haley Mills.  The host brought over a phone and told me NBC was on the line.  I spoke with some flunky from the Burbank studios and learned the net was dumping me.

 

I threatened to sue but they countered with a threat to release the full-story of the dolphin farm and thus ruin my chances to make it onto another animal-themed show.  We ended up settling for a season’s worth of shows ($26,400.00) and no residuals for the episodes I did.  Haley left me that night after hearing the news ? I was not sure if she was upset about the dolphin farm or that I was unemployed. 

 

I kicked around for a while and shared a Hollywood pad with Dick York who played Darrin on Bewitched until health problems forced him to relinquish the role to his replacement Dick Sargent before the 1969 season.  We would run with the other actors and actresses replaced mid-season by the networks.  It turned into one big pity party and I cut out.  Eventually, I ended up back in my old village and was able to sell oil-drilling options on the property sufficient to pay off my folks’ creditors.    

 

So that’s the Flipper story. 

 

So why do I like watching Brian Gillis and Sisuepahn so much?

 

When I was very young, I was a sideshow barker with a carnival later acquired by Thorsen Midways of Apopka, Florida.  I had learned to speak in public from my pre-teen career as a evangelistic minister.  The hook for my tent crusade was that I was allegedly the youngest preacher on the circuit.  I don’t think that was true, actually.  I have heard that Jimmy Swaggert and Marjo Gortner were both out under canvas when they were five or six.  That beat me by four years. 

 

As I hit puberty, I realized I couldn?t keep up my preaching because I no longer had the novelty of being a young boy preacher working for me.  My voice was changing and although I still felt a deep commitment to my ministry, I was not talented enough to draw a week’s worth of crowd to my crusades.  The till dropped off as the attendance lagged and while I was not in it for money ? in that way I was different than Mr. Gortner and Rev. Swaggert, I had to pay the upkeep on our trucks, the staff and our tent.  I sold it all to a young couple in 1967 and moved on to join the carnival circuit. 

 

At first I barked for another show but decided that the money was really only available when you owned the deck.  Unlike my ministry, I was in sideshow work for the cash.  I started my own show, was the barker, the magician, the lecturer, and sold the blow-off.  It was profitable and fun.  When we were in Macon, Georgia, I heard from some folks about a so-called Georgia Wonder, Miss Lulu Hurst.  Her act, later performed by others including Anna Abbott, demonstrated mind over matter.  She would challenge the strongest of the men in the audience to try to lift her or push her.  Although she was a slight woman, the strongest men were unable to lift her. 

 

The Georgia Wonder act died out eventually.  I never had a chance to see it performed but was intrigued.  I thought it would have made a fine addition to my sideshow and so I worked with slight women in each town to figure out a method of making this fabled power appear on my stage.  I failed often.  Police twice charged me for trying to lift a woman under the age of 18 more than two-feet in the air.  (This is still a misdemeanor ? unless you are married to the woman ? in Tennessee and Georgia).  I gave up my hopes of ever seeing the famous Georgia Wonder routine. 

 

One night I was in Los Angeles for a reunion of the original Good Humor Men.  One of the activities I organized was a trip to the Magic Castle for a wonderful dinner, great magic and an ice cream social featuring delicious Good Humor ice cream.  I never joined my fellow white-coated “Cream Kids” (the affectionate term for the original 35 Good Humor Men) for ice cream.  I spent the whole night watching Brian Gillis and Sisuepahn perform in the Palace of Mystery (the theater for the larger shows).  I saw them three times that night and was blown away.

 

I use the expression “blown away” blithely too often.  I do not mean I was impressed.  I do not mean I thought it was an interesting act.  I am not suggesting that it was just better than average.  I mean my entire brain was literally petrified and then shattered by what I saw on stage.  The duo did an outstanding two-person telepathy routine with the timing and skill about which I have only read.  They ended the routine with the very beautiful Sisuepahn discerning the serial number of a bill held by a spectator some 60 feet away from her blindfolded eyes. 

 

But as great as the two-person telepathy routine was ? and it was ? their performance of the Georgia Wonder was one of the most impressive events I have witnessed.  Sisuepahn weighs, I am guessing, just under 100 lbs.  The fair Sisuepahn invited two strapping men to the stage and their combined strength was insufficient to lift her high heels even an inch from the stage.  She then changed her mental powers to allow the men to lift her and each was able to do so, alone. 

 

A part of me thought I loved this act because it brought back two of the classics of our high art.  However, this was not a nostalgia show.  The couple performs the routine flawlessly and with their own style.   The audience of magicians and their guests were stunned.  You do not see this magic anywhere else.  It seemed real. 

 

As we took the shuttle van back to the Airport Hyatt at LAX, we all talked about our favorite part of the Good Humor Men Reunion.  The Palace of Mystery show was tops.  Most Good Humor Men are not magicians and so they saw the act with the eyes of a layperson.  I saw the act through the appreciative but hazy focus created by my love for magic history, and my ceaseless desire to see the Georgia Wonder act performed.  From their perspective and mine, it was the perfect act. 

 

Do Not Miss Your Chance to See Mr. Gillis and Sisuepahn

 

If you are in the Redondo Beach area of California, you too will have a chance to see the perfect magic act.  Mr. Gillis and Sisuepahn will perform each week at the famous Redondo Beach Castle just a few blocks of the even more famous Pacific Coast Highway.  Their friends and musical guests Andy and Renee join them. 

 

While I may have exaggerated stories of my youth in this too long piece of prose, I have not exaggerated either my admiration for Mr. Gillis and Sisuepahn’s work or my recommendation that you see their show at the Redondo Beach Castle.  If you are a magician or just like magic, you deserve the treat that is watching this incredible duo.  Easily, this act is what makes magic fun. 

 

Check out Mr. Gillis and Sisuepahn’s website here.

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