Reprinted from April 2008.
David Kaye is featured in this month's Genii magazine; with a cover story and two chapters from his upcoming book to be published by Genii's publisher Richard Kaufman. The two chapters from Mr. Kaye's new book are interesting reads: one is about the history of magic for children; and, the other seeks to define the origin and path of a child's need for power.
There is a question and answer interview in which Mr. Kaye discusses his start in the magic business and particularly his beginnings as a children's performer.
You already know Mr. Kaye's most famous persona, Silly Billy and through the Genii article you meet his two new characters. Og is a Jewish Caveman from New York and Dr. Blood is a sadistic mutilator and amputation specialist. Og is designed for the tradeshow circuit, and Dr. Blood is for six and seven year-olds. The six year olds get a toned-down version of the act; with less blood and gore.
We saw Mr. Kaye's lecture and his Silly Billy performance at the Abbott's Get-Together a couple of years back. We understand from his lecture as well as the Genii articles that he is the highest paid children's performer working today.
But this article isn't about Mr. Kaye at all. Actually, it is about the opposite of Mr. Kaye, if that makes sense.
When researching the article we intended to write, Mr. Kaye came up in some Google searches for children's magicians arrested or convicted for molestation or abuse of kids.
We were surprised to read the story of how his father and brother had been convicted of child sexual abuse and were imprisoned. We were even more surprised to learn that Mr. Kaye had videotaped his family as they faced what had to be an incredibly arduous time and that those films an videotapes had to be an incredibly arduous time and that those films an videotapes had been turned into a documentary.
The name of the movie is Capturing the Friedmans. It won awards in the Best Documentary category and received outstanding critical reviews. Mr. Kaye (formerly 'David Friedman') was originally told the documentary's focus was his career and his elite position in the world of children entertainers. When the director learned about Mr. Kaye's secret, he immediately demanded that the focus be turned towards the events chronicled on family film and Mr. Kaye's videotape.
Mr. Kaye said in an interview later, "I hadn't told any of my friends in all these years about my brother and father because people hold children's entertainers to a standard different from any other career. When I socialize with my magic friends, even other magicians, and I curse, they all look at me and say, `Wow, a children's magician cursed.'"
It must have been a difficult time for Mr. Kaye. People even read into the reasons why, coming from a situation where his brother and father were convicted and imprisoned for child molestation, he would become a kids' show performer.
In a Long Island Press article, Laura Ahearn, founder of Parents for Megan's Law, a Stony Brook-based child advocacy group, said she was not surprised by Mr. Kaye's profession.
"There are two sides to this. One is that it could be a person trying their best to cleanse the family name." She told the Press, "[t]o make things right with the family and the community of children." On the other hand, though, she warns, "it could be a giant red flag, indicating that something is not right."
There has always been speculation that the Friedman children might have been abused by their father as well. And the abused often abuse. Ahearn suggests, "You can't assume guilt by affiliation, by being part of the same family, but it should put people on more heightened alert."
We know of nothing that would indicate, even remotely, that Mr. Kaye is or has the potential to be a pedophile; nothing, not a rumor or even speculation.
But Ms. Ahearn's job is not to properly judge one's heart or psyche; she is responsible for helping prevent child sexual abuse. She believes the best prevention is to take no chances even if that means people are judged on the basis of their family's sins.
But let's set aside Mr. Kaye and his career for a moment.
The reason we were searching on Google and researching this article was because of a new twist in one of the too frequent magician/pedophile cases. We learned today that Eric Blackledge a/k/a Eric Black had been formally charged in the Cardiff (UK) criminal courts of 'indecently assaulting a 14-year- old girl.
Specifically, the 62 year-old, married magician was charged with activity including using long magic wands to touch and spank his female assistant. She was under 14 years of age at the time. Eventually, after her 14th birthday, the magician had sexual intercourse with her.
Initially, Mr. Blackledge had denied the allegations (at least his representatives had denied the allegations in the press) but he has now admitted that he had intercourse with his young assistant but that she was over 16. He continues to deny the five counts of indecent assault.
Mr. Blackledge and his wife performed children's shows throughout the Cardiff region. He ran "Eric Black's Junior Magic Club" for children in Cardiff as well. The defense offered ' that the girl was over 16 when the assault happened ' seems bizarre and almost missing the point. This was his assistant, his charge, his trusting pupil that he mentally and physically molested and raped.
The young 'girl ' now a young woman at the age of 25 told the prosecutor how the incident occurred. When he would molest her with his magic wand in their workshop, and apparently discuss going further, she insisted that she wanted to wait until she was 14. She developed what she described as a 'crush' on the magician and on her 14th birthday told him that she wanted to have sex with him.
They then arranged to have sex but after she removed her top, she decided she did not want to go any further. Rather than understanding why a 14 year-old girl might not want to have her first sexual encounter with a man 40 years older than her, he told her that she should not have come to his house that day if she wasn't going to go through with it.
At every turn, the victim was made to feel like the evil-doer. Eventually, Mr. Blackledge had his way and raped the girl after her 14th or 16th birthday. It is not a happy ending for anyone.
By the way, we use the strong verb 'rape' rather than 'consensual sex' for a couple of reasons.
Under British criminal law, it is illegal to have sexual relations or to molest a 'girl' who is under the age of 16 regardless of her consent or lack of consent.
The only exception to this Statutory Rape provision (which we in Michigan and most states have adopted in various forms) is if the man is under 24, or the couple is married, or he has never been charged with a similar offense and had a reasonable belief that the girl was over 16; and 2) from the description of the events leading up to and including the act of intercourse, it is apparent that the victim was coerced psychologically into submitting to the act.)
Not long ago we had the story of another children's magician abusing his assistant and other boys under the pretext of teaching them magic. The victims of this very popular magician in Sri Lanka were 15 and 16 years old. While the maximum penalty for sexual assault on a minor in the UK may be only two years per count (or act), in Sri Lanka, the maximum penalty ranges between 10 to 20 years per count.
So, there we have the two ends of the spectrum. On one side, David Kaye goes public with information that could have torpedoed his career. He worried that clients would assume he is guilty because of his father and brother's crimes and because he chose to entertain children. On the other side, we have cases of magicians abusing or raping their own assistants or audience members.
On one side we have those would argue on behalf of those wrongly suspected of being child molesters because of their associations or family relations and on the other side we have child protection organizations saying the best prevention to this type of crime is to take no chances.
What are we to do? As parents, what are we to do? As magicians who perform for kids, what should we do?
In Wisconsin recently, a prominent magician and party disk jockey, Brian Stolzman a/k/a Brian West, was instructed to remove his website where he promoted his kid shows. Mr. West had been previously convicted of criminal sexual assault on a 3 year old girl ' one of his relatives. Under the laws of Wisconsin, he was not permitted to engage in a profession that brought him in contact with children. His website ' now taken down ' advertised his shows for kids and had pictures showing him working children's shows.
Mr. West entered what is called an Alford plea, named after the 1970 Supreme Court decision in North Carolina v. Alford. The defendant may admit guilt while denying the facts that support the elements of the crime. It is up to the trial judge to accept or reject this type of plea. Many judges will not allow defendants to plea in this manner because it allows them to avoid admitting that they did the very acts that gave rise to the prosecution.
The Alford plea does not provide any protection for the defendant ' he can still be sentenced as if he were found guilty of the crime as charged.
In the case of Mr. West, while he is not contesting the validity of his Alford plea, he does want to have the conviction overturned. He alleges that the confession he gave police was coerced and that his ex-wife's testimony was false.
Those are the facts in his case. Do you hire him to be around your children or do you allow him to take your son or daughter under his wing to learn as his assistant'
The prosecutor who brought Mr. West's case to court was quoted as saying, 'I don't know how successful and how compliant he was with his treatment, but I would have reservations and concerns about him working with children. But it isn't that you can absolutely say that once someone has done something like this that they are cursed and can never be trusted. But you do have to be cautious, and the law certainly provides the view that the risk is just too great to allow it."
The forensic psychologists and psychiatrists tell us that prejudices we may have do not indicate to a tendency towards pedophilia. Being homosexual, heterosexual, a victim of molestation, an alcoholic or other substance abuser, being young, old or any particular ethnic race does not make more or less likely to be a pedophile. There is a preponderance of males in the ranks of pedophiles (some studies say 90 percent are male) but there is little else that gives indicia of the criminal intent.
So we cannot guess and our clients cannot guess who is likely to be a threat to their children or with whom they should not allow their children to study magic. But that will not stop our clients from trying to discern who is a threat.
As magicians, we are invited into clients' homes to entertain. Parents feel safe in asking us to visit and spend time with their children because ' on the whole ' we are considered safe. Granted, the clients also know we will only be in the house for an hour or two but I doubt they would invite a drifter or felon in or allow them to be with their children.
Priests and clergy no longer feel safe being alone with children not because they will do anything or even be tempted to do something untoward but because the risk of false accusation or a misunderstanding is heightened by the unfortunate headlines. The headlines that dog priests and clergy have not yet included magicians. We can only hope that they will never include our profession.
We have a duty to our clients and to our brethren to keep our profession's image intact. The answer is not to suspect everyone or to stop performing anywhere. I think the answer is to be vigilant. If we know one of our fellow magicians is committing a crime, it is our duty to bring it to the attention of the authorities. If we suspect a magician may have a problem that could lead to criminal acts, maybe we need to talk with that person and help them find the help they need.
Mr. Kaye has nobly navigated through horrible personal tragedies and has emerged on the other side. He is successful because he has been able to get the ordeal that destroyed his family behind him 'at least publicly ' and because his clients continue to recommend him to others. These are the same clients who no doubt saw the documentary Capturing the Friedmans. If he had been a less talented magician, a less astute businessman, a less motivated person, I doubt we would know his name today.
On the other hand, Mr. Blackledge benefited from the public's willingness to give magicians the benefit of the doubt. He was able to use the persona of a harmless entertainer, a married man and a gentleman to take advantage of the young girl who wanted to be his assistant.
It will not take many like Mr. Blackledge to ruin it for all of us. Mr. Kaye's perseverance would not be sufficient to redeem our reputation.