Magic 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.
Although not strictly about magic, we do listen to Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast every week. His humor is not for everyone – like minors, people with normal emotional values, the sensitive among us – but he is funny to us.
This week’s episode features Lewis Black and a short discussion about David Copperfield and Doug Henning.
We were listening whilst walking to the busy editorial office of Inside Magic and getting strange looks from the folks we were passing in the street, along the sidewalks, through narrow crevices, around bends and over small mounds of what appeared to be clothing or people wearing clothing but not moving. We are accustomed to being stared at. We chalk it up to our boyish good looks, effervescent charm, efficient use of tartar control toothpaste, naturally curly nose hair and willingness to take adventures in clothing choices.
For instance, today, we wore contrasting animals from the Garanimals collection. We went with a Tiger “Top” and a Giraffe “Lower.” That says “Wild Human” in any language.
We know, crazy, right?!
We thought people were staring because we were laughing so much. We thought maybe they were sharing in our glee and not staring derisively but when one elderly woman was nearly struck by an auto as she tried to scurry across Santa Monica Boulevard to avoid our path, we figured out that the people of West Hollywood just have not seen unadulterated joy. Chances are that if they haven’t seen it enough, they haven’t experienced it either.
So we offered to share our podcast listening experience with those we encountered. We even cleaned the ear bud of the unsightly wax build-up (our own — we think) before trying to stick it into the ears of our fellow pedestrians. We were not aggressive in our ear bud offering and were certainly not, as was written in an “incident” report “trying to stab victims in the head with an implement.”
Long story short, people were staring at us because we apparently accidentally sat in a chocolate cream pie at some point and our Giraffe pants needed dry cleaning stat. We were pretty sure it was chocolate cream pie residue and that certainly explained why we left stains everywhere we sat in the last few days.
Tonight, we return to the Magic Castle with our new routine – freshly choreographed and scripted. We will change our clothes before visiting the amateur rooms downstairs at the Magic Castle. If you are in the neighborhood, stop by and say hello. Just don’t stare and point.
Magician, inventor and Inside Magic Favorite writer, Jim Steinmeyer has signed with Princess Cruises to create the magical effects in a new show, Magic to Do.
Mr. Steinmeyer is famous for so many things, including his work with Doug Henning, Siegfried & Roy and David Copperfield, his books on the history of magic and his own performances.
If the title of the show sounds familiar, it is likely because you recall the opening number from Stephen Schwartz’ Broadway smash, Pippin. We recall it fondly for the great music and use of Grant’s Flying Carpet illusion. Mr. Schwartz was also responsible for the music in our favorite Broadway play of all time, The Magic Show starring Doug Henning.
Mr. Schwartz is slated to create four shows for the cruise line and has assembled coterie of top talent to help including producers, writers and lighting folks with multiple awards and great shows to their credit.
We need no encouragement to go on a cruise or to see anything Mr. Steinmeyer so if you put the two factors together, we should be on the next boat out of West Hollywood.
Learn more from Princess Cruises here.
Magician and endurance maven David Blaine takes to the air this evening in the United States through ABC television to ask Real or Magic? He is joined in this endeavor by Will Smith, Olivia Wilde, Woody Allen, Stephen Hawking and other celebrities who, we are informed, will react to his tricks.
We like David Blaine and believe he has done much to revitalize our wonderful craft and feel badly that we want him to be different than the way he is. He is not Doug Henning or David Copperfield or Harry Blackstone Jr. but he is very talented and, in his own way, charismatic and captivating.
Still, we miss Doug Henning performing the Water Torture Tank live on national television. We miss David Copperfield’s well produced escapes and illusions performed on tape but with the assurance the home audience was seeing the events unfold in real time without camera tricks. We miss Harry Blackstone Jr. for many, many reasons; not the least of which was his wonderful persona – so serious and light-hearted at the same time and able to convince even the most jaded teenager that he could really perform magic.
But David Blaine is bringing magic to the audience of the times where camera trickery is expected and even celebrated. Attention spans are short and expectations are high. Each generation of magic faces a similar challenge. Jim Steinmeyer’s outstanding book, The Last Greatest Magician in the World tells of Howard Thurston making the transition from vaudeville to the traveling, full-evening show and the ultimate demise of that elaborate show type. We know of Thurston today because he survived and conquered the new formats and met his audience where they sat. They were no longer in vaudeville halls watching one of eight shows in a day’s time. They came to see a full-length show and he had the props and chops to show them what they wanted to see – year after year.
We like David Blaine and wish him the best with his newest take on a classic art. If there is anyone that can again move magic in a new direction, it is David Blaine.
We received the May edition of Genii today and were delighted to read Jim Steinmeyer’s incredible recollection of the logistics, politics and creative process that went to bring Doug Henning’s second Broadway show to life.
Mr. Steinmeyer’s “The Merlin Crusade” (subtitled, “Doug Henning’s Infamous Magical Musical Appeared 30 Years Ago. Onstage It Was a Magic Show. Offstage It Was a Holy War”) is a compelling read. We could not stop reading once we began.
Yes, we had to apologize to those waiting to use the restroom, but to be fair, providing just two lavatories for a full coach section of a cross-country flight is hardly our fault.
We have two great loves: magic and logistics. You give us an article about the logistical challenges of creating great illusions for a Broadway show and we give you our undivided attention. It is an incredibly detailed account of a 24-year-old Mr. Steinmeyer as both participant and observer. You should subscribe to Genii as a matter of principle but if you have not, get to your local magic shop or the Genii website to get the May edition.
Mr. Steinmeyer was part of the “magic department” brought to Broadway to seamlessly integrate Mr. Henning’s magic into a complex and challenging musical.
Because the magic was integrated with everything in the show, there wasn’t a repair, a change, or a piece of scenery that didn’t have something to do with a trick. Each of our changes on the work list was worded, “fix,” or “add,” or “align.” Because no other department cared to understand the magic, it was the magic department that had to work with everyone else, watching what the painters were doing, seeing if the new pieces of scenery would foul on our illusions. Each one of these jobs involved standing in front of the prop, scratching your head, experimenting, figuring out how the dancers were doing the routine, and then devising some solution.
You can read about the endless tuning of the show’s story, style and magic right up to its official opening. The depiction of Mr. Henning is true to our memory of the great magician and truly gentle man.
Continue reading How Broadway Works: Magic Author Steinmeyer Recalls “The Merlin Crusade”