Tuesday, June 28, 2011
A few days ago Sidney Radner died at the age of 91 in Holyoke Mass. He was the foremost collector of Houdini props in the world. He received the bulk of his collection from Houdini's brother Dash Hardeen, (Theo Weiss). No doubt Sid is right now sitting with Houdini trying to explain WHY he didn't burn all the props as was specified in his Will. I'm sure Sid is trying to point a finger at Theo, shifting the blame, lol. But in all seriousness, who can blame him? It was a wonderful collection while it lasted. I think it was 2004 when he sold the collection at auction.
We've witnessed the end of an era really. Today, there is a new crop of Houdini collectors. As surprising as it might seem, the interest in Houdini continues to grow and grow each year. I'm constantly amazed at the number of new Houdini photos that show up. I'm still anxiously awaiting the day when a Houdini Vanishing Elephant Poster pops up out of no where. It's going to happen ( I HOPE).
Anyone know the status of The Official Houdini Seance? Is it 'officially' over now that Sid is gone?
On a similar note, Cannon's Great Escapes is closing it's door. Mark and Sheila are very much alive, thankfully. But they've chose to close things down and are selling off EVERYTHING, and I do mean everything! Want a Water Torture Cell? Mark has one for sale! Interesting times we live in. Prior to Cannon's it wasn't always so easy to get escape equipment. Mark made it much easier with his website and conventions. The customer service they provided was just fantastic. In two days that will be gone forever as well. I do wish Mark and Sheila the best of luck in all their future endeavors. They are super nice people!
Any thoughts who might fill the gap left by Cannon's Great Escapes closing?
Speaking of closing their doors, CreativeMagic.net, aka Brian Daniel and his wife have decided to close the doors on their business, but they've done it in a very interesting way. They are selling EVERYTHING, all their products to their customers in 'bundles'. Basically for one price, you get one of everything. The website says it's $10,000 worth of items for $3600.00. That frankly is a steal. I have a number of their products and they are great! In fact, I'm using one of them this summer in every show. Sorry to see them go, but I'm sure it's not the last you'll hear from them! Best of luck to Brian and Rebecca Daniel!
Sunday, June 19, 2011
A few weeks ago, I wrote about why Mom's are Awesome. Well today is Father's Day and I got to thinking about how Dad's bring a whole different set of qualities to the table. I have memories of my Dad working out at the Gym with the then Baltimore Colts Football players, among them Johnny Unitas. My Dad was like a super man, always very strong. Years later when we lived on the farm, I remember wrestling with him and he still was strong as an ox, and I was no weakling, but I couldn't pin him for nothing!
I also remember him dressing up like Santa Claus one Christmas and I knew it was him because of his shoes. I'm sure that burned him up at the time but it's sure funny looking back.
Anyway, there are like a gazillion things I learned from my Dad. And there are a few I didn't learn. I didn't get his mathematical abilities, I think my brother got those. I didn't get his musical abilities, again, I think maybe my brother got those. I didn't learn car repair. But I don't think he was big on car repair either, so can't blame him there. I did pick up the sports bug from my Dad for a while. He took me to my first Orioles game in Baltimore, in the old Memorial Stadium! Wow was that ever cool. We actually went there a number of times over the years. And we've been to a game there at the new stadium as well.
When we lived in N.H. my Dad was a big Boston Bruins fan, so guess what, so was I! I don't think he ever took me to a game, but I remember seeing a program he had with Bobby Or and Phil Esposito. Moving to VA, hockey kinda got lost in the warm weather sadly.
I mentioned a couple things I didn't get from my Dad, but for the couple things I didn't get, I sure learned a lot more. I learned how to build a house! I learned electrical work, painting, lumber work and wood working in general. I learned how to do plumbing and dry wall. I learned what tools were for and how to use them. I learned how to ride a horse and more importantly, how to fall off a horse and not get killed! (I fell off more than my share) I learned how to bail and pick up hay (ok, that one he could have back if he wants. Ever since then I get the worst bouts of hay fever in the spring) I learned how to navigate my way all over the country. I probably got his spirit of exploration and travel. And I sure acquired the same taste in movies. Hard to find two bigger John Wayne fans than me and my father.
My Dad also got me my first paying show. He was always supportive (he and Mom both) of my then hobby and eventual career. He helped me build my first illusion (that we never finished). It was a Zig Zag Illusion. We did take the wood from it and made other props with it though. He built my first show tables, while Mom made table drapes. Years later my Dad helped me build a Tip-Over Trunk, a Sub Trunk and also helped repair and refinish a countless worn out illusions. And Mom was always there to assist as well.
Oh and there were the smaller pieces that he either built or we did together. He built a cool prop to vanish rings and scarves, which I'm once again using THIS Summer. He and I built a tray that I needed for the recreation of a Doug Henning/Orsen Welles routine. Most recently, we built some non magic related items that are just as amazing as all the magic props.
Probably more than anything my Dad taught me how to think on my feet and to think for myself. He's one of a kind and the best father a guy could ask for. As for parents, my brother and I won the lottery.
HAPPY FATHERS DAY!!! Love you Dad, you're the best!
Sunday, June 12, 2011
About a year or so ago I really became intrigued with Robert Houdin. Understand, I've always been fascinated by him, but for some reason, it took hold extra strong about, well maybe two years now. At any rate, I was reading everything I could get my hands on. I was just devouring the existing literature on Robert Houdin. And then I had this crazy idea of putting together a small act AS Robert Houdin. It was going to be something I did for the local magic club.
Because I have no automaton and couldn't get my hands on any, those would be out. Sadly, automatons were a big part of his act and I needed to do something to mimic an automaton if not really present one.
I also went through the the literature to see if there were any modern effects I could use that dated back to his time and sure enough there were.
I don't speak a word of french, but I did try to incorporate a few french words as well as french music and a french accent and costume. I have to say the finished act, which was about 15 or 20 minutes long was really fun to do. I presented an unusual version of Cards Across, The Cabalistic Clock, The barehanded Vanishing Scarf, and a rather strange rendition of the Orange Tree Illusion.
The Orange Tree was the automaton but not an automaton. I told the story of how I, as Robert Houdin, came upon the idea of the tree. Kind of like a 'back-story' to the trick, which formed the presentation for the routine. A box that looked like the box that Robert Houdin's Orange Tree sat on was displayed and showed that it was without any mechanical parts. But a key inserted into the side was still able to wind up the invisible clockworks. And it did end with oranges appearing, and with a chosen scarf appearing inside an orange, though without the butterflies which are in the Robert Houdin version.
All in all the short act was very well received. I thought seriously about putting together an entire show AS Robert Houdin. I even found a couple automaton that I could borrow. But in the end, I decided that I'd do better to focus on my own act, and leave the Robert Houdin idea for another time.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
It's with a heavy heart that I write this piece about my friend Eugene Johnson. Eugene and his wife and sister in law were killed by a drunk driver this past Sunday evening. The shock is a bit overwhelming. Eugene was a magician and a very special guy. I never heard Eugene ever say a bad word about anyone and he always had a smile on his face. He was the first one to laugh when someone told a joke.
Back around 1995 I was giving Eugene magic lessons. He had taken lessons from someone else but was not totally happy and I volunteered to help him. We had quite a few laughs during those times. I remember him telling me that he had this idea for a magic character called 'Eugene the Magician, or Eugenie The Magician'. I suggested he call himself 'The Magical Genie' and sure enough he did and that would remain his moniker for the rest of his performing career.
One of my favorite memories of Eugene was during a show we did together called "The Super Show of Magic". Eugene had a dove act and we offered him the opening spot in the show. Sure enough, he came out and thrilled the audience with his fast paced dove productions. When the dove act was over he spoke for the first time and said "Hello I am The Magical Genie" in some kind of foreign like accent. And then a moment later he dropped the accent and said "I think I'm going to stay out here, I like it out here!" This was because he was having such a fun time on stage and he was doing such a great job. You couldn't help but like Eugene, he was such a kind-hearted guy.
I remember my friend Adam would always crack Eugene up whenever they saw each other and he would always say "you're so crazy", referring to Adam's wild sense of humor. The other guy who would just totally crack up Eugene was Denny Haney of Denny and Lees Magic Studio. I know Eugene admired and loved Denny. He considered him his mentor and Denny shared many valuable pieces of show business advice with him. It was nice to see the Washington Post interview Denny about Eugene. In the article, Denny mentions what a great magician Eugene was and points out his unique character. He also brought up the time when Eugene was first working with his 'magic turban' and accidentally burned his eyebrows when a burst of flame shot from the turban!
When Eugene did his dove act, the early version, he would come out with the turban and a burst of flame would come out and a bird would appear. Later though he added a large genie lamp that he would rub and a smoke would billow out and a bird was seen in the middle of the smoke. I have to say, that fooled the crap out of me and I was so proud of Eugene for his accomplishment.
I hadn't seen a lot of Eugene in the last couple years though we would talk on the phone from time to time. I just heard the news of his death a few hours ago and I'm still not even sure how to handle it. I just want to pick up the phone and say "hey Magical Genie, whats up?" but he won't be there. I'll miss him. He was one of the good guys. My thoughts and prayers are with the family during this difficult time. RIP Eugene.
UPDATE: Services for Eugene and his wife and sister in law will take place on Saturday June 11. Services will be held tomorrow (wake at 10, funeral at noon)
Flowers can be sent to the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Manassas, VA: 10313 South Grant Avenue Manassas, VA 20110.
Here is a link to the article in the Washington Post.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
|Houdini (right) in Chicago|