Houdini Month at University of Texas

Inside Magic Image of Houdini and DoyleThe 90th anniversary of Houdini’s passing will be commemorated this month at the Harry Ransom Center at the beautiful University of Texas in Austin.

Curators have assembled restraints, love letters, scripts, press kits and handwritten descriptions of magic tricks for the very special exhibit.

Eric Colleary, Cline curator of Theater and Performing Arts, said Houdini stood out because of how he identified himself.

“Houdini was different than many others during his time for a number of reasons,” Colleary said. “He considered himself an illusionist, rather than a magician.”

The exhibit will include pieces related to Houdini’s debunking of spiritualism with a special presentation by Austin-based theater company The Hidden Room titled,  Houdini Speaks to the Living. Based on correspondence, essays, diaries and photographs from the Ransom Center, the performance will pit Houdini against Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on the issue of spiritualism.

And there is even more.  The center will screen The Grim Game and a hold a cooking class based on the great performer’s favorite foods.

Magicians and chefs will learn to make chicken paprikash with fennel potatoes; Hungarian goulash with spatzel; and custard bread pudding with cherry sauce.  We knew we liked Houdini but now we realize we would have loved to eat dinner with him.  In fact, when we were younger, we were part of two person telepathy team known as Goulash and Spatzel.  We were trying to break into the niche market of Hungarian food lovers who enjoyed poorly rehearsed mentalism routines.  Surprisingly, it was not a success, but we ate well; so that was good.

From our perspective, it is heart-warming (in a good way, not like an organ transplant way) that Houdini continues to inspire and intrigue the general public.

“I’m very interested in illusionists’ performances and their ability to captivate and confuse audiences with acts that seem beyond the realm of possibility,” communication studies junior Alyssa Hollander said. “I even subscribed to a magic subreddit because I wanted to learn how to do card tricks.”

“Programs like these are not only fun and engaging, but they also help us to understand different facets of Houdini’s life and career that we may not have realized before,” Colleary said.

Check out the Ransom Center’s website for all of the details.

Criss Angel Tears into UFC Competitor

Paige VanZantMagician and Las Vegas Star Criss Angel tore asunder UFC strawweight fighter Paige VanZant as part of his upcoming October 12th television special.

We are not being metaphorical or figurative.  The images of the physical tearing of this petite powerhouse is startling and not appropriate for those with a faint constitution.  How intense are the images? A UFC website cautions its readers “WARNING: It gets a little graphic, but hey, it’s all fake, right?”  This from a site that must assume its readers are used to a full-color display of gore and body fluid.  We watched the tease video because we felt obliged to protect the sensitive eye(s) our loyal reader – we’re working on rebuilding our audience numbers.  We should not have been eating baked ziti at the time, though.  Perhaps it was the warm, flat red Kool-Aid or the bumpy ride over city streets, but our sensitive stomach did not react well to the imagery; neither did the Uber driver to what she saw in the back seat and the back of the seats of her otherwise spotless and odorless Prius.

Ms. VanZant has apparently done well in the UFC (like “KFC” but with people instead of poultry, we think) and is said to have a devastating kick attack.  Nonetheless, she weighs just 115 pounds and stands just under five foot four inches tall.  We can tell you from the video that she has a very flat stomach, straight spine and some sort of anemia in her abdomen.  She is brave and tough and has proven her ability by fighting competitors in the UFC as well as the perhaps more formidable Dancing with the Stars.

Criss Angel’s Trick’d Up will appear on A&E at 9:00 pm on Wednesday, October 12th.  We are told he will perform 30 illusions and will be joined by celebrity guests (in addition to Ms. VanZant) including: Gary Oldman, Paris Jackson, comedian Andrew Dice Clay, “Blackish” star Miles Brown, Latino pop superstar Belinda, DJ Steve Aoki, and UFC stars Frank Mir, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture.

You can check out the teaser video showing the vivisection of Ms. VanZant here.  It is very graphic and not suited for young people (under 30), older people (35 and up) or folks eating baked ziti in the back of a Prius.

Pop Haydn’s Shindig Set for Thursday!

Poster for Pop Haydn's Shindig August 18 2016Inside Magic Favorite Pop Haydn sent along word today that he and and his very talented friends have scheduled a true shindig this week.

We have tired of the incessant faux shindigs foisted upon an unsuspecting public or the half-hearted shindigs with inadequate ratios of shins to digging and so we welcome any bona fide shindig but even more, one from our favorite magical performers and jugglers plus a shindig presented with a steam-punk theme.

Performing with Pop will be Inside Magic Favorite Juggler Lindsay Benner, Bonnie Gordon, Andrew Goldenhersh, Liberty Larsen. Kevin Story, John Eddings and Patrick Culliton.

Pop advises that whilst “the entire family is welcome but some material may be over the heads of children under 12 years old.”

The fete will kick off at 5:00 pm, this Thursday, August 18th in the Caldwell Hall, Faith Presbyterian Church
5000 Colfax Ave, North Hollywood, CA 91601.

We have it on very good authority that there will be audience participation and involvement and that attendees of the shindig can dress in their favorite steam punk- inspired garb, if desired.

Check out the full details here.  We look forward to seeing everyone there.

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.

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.