Showing posts with label Harry Blackstone. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Harry Blackstone. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Tommy Smothers Has Died


Tommy Smothers, one half of the famous comedy duo, The Smothers Brothers, passed away on Dec 26th, 2023 at the age of 86. He passed after a battle with cancer. Though Tommy was not a magician perse, the duo does have a couple really special connections to the world of magic.

First, one of the writers on The Smothers Brothers Show that ran on CBS in the late 1960s was magician/comedian Steve Martin. In fact, Steve appeared on one of the episodes and did presented his comedy magic act. See below.

But the second and lesser known connection to magic was Mr. Harry Blackstone Jr.. Harry was an associate producer on the Smothers Brothers Hour TV show. This was before Harry would decide to devote his career to magic like his father. He would also make three appearances ON the show doing his magic. I've not been able to find any of that footage however.

And there is a third connection to magic. Later when the Smothers Brothers returned to TV in the 80s, they had on the fantastic comedy magic, Ed Alonzo! 

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Ted Banks From the Music Halls of England To Behind the Scenes with Blackstone


Ted Banks is on the far right.

Ted Banks was from England. His real name was Edward William Coppin. He was a member of Fred Karno’s Army of British Music Hall Comedians. Karno was a British Theater impresario and really he was a comedian creator. In 1911, Fred Karno sent some of his players over to the United States to appear in a play called A Night In An English Music Hall. Among the ‘players’ sent over to be in this production, Charles Chaplin, Stan Laurel and Ted Banks. Charles soon struck out on his own to become famous in the flickers, or early silent movie motion pictures. 

It is here, that I must clear up some mis-information. Several magical periodicals, and also newspapers have that Ted then started The Keystone Trio with Stan Laurel and another woman. That is not the case. The Keystone Trio was started by Edgar Hurley and his wife Ethel.

Edgar and his wife were also former Karno performers. Stan Laurel joined with them for a time until the group split up. Stan Laurel went off to team up with Oliver Hardy to become the famous comedy duo, Laurel and Hardy.

What happened to Ted Banks/William Coppin?. He did not go off into the movies like Chaplin and Laurel did. One reference said he went to work backstage for Thurston for a time and then eventually landed in the Blackstone show. I know he started with Blackstone in 1923. In 1927, he married a member of the cast, Della Cowell. She became known by the stage name Sally Banks, so they were Ted and Sally Banks.

There is a surprising article in Billboard Magazine April 17th, 1937. It mentions that Banks has worked for Blackstone for 14 years, but while in Wheeling WV, he left the show. He returned to Colon Mich and was set to take up work on the west coast.

Blackstone & Banks

On Sept 11, 1937, Billboard says that Ted has joined the Percy Abbott staff in Colon. In 1937, 38, 39 and more, Ted was involved as stage manager for the Abbotts Get Together and the IBM National Convention in 1939. On Nov 22, 1941, Ted Banks returns to the Blackstone Show. Why did he leave in the first place. I believe he got diagnosed with a heart condition and life on the road became difficult. When he returned to the Blackstone show, he was given lighter duties because of his heart ailment. 

On Sept 2, 1942, the Blackstone crew was in Decatur ILL to perform at the Lincoln Theater. While preparing for the show, actually during the showing of the matinee movie before the live stage show, a fire was discovered next door in the Drug Store. To learn more about the fire and the conditions you can listen to my podcast Ep 78

The sad part of the story, Ted Banks died of a heart attack that evening after the stressful day of dealing with the fire and moving the show hurriedly out of the theater. He was only 50 years old.

Banks and Blackstone looking at the fire.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Blackstone Auction by Potter and Potter

photo used with permission

On Oct 28, 2017, Potter and Potter will have another auction, this time The Blackstone Auction. The bulk of this auction comes from Dan Waldron's collection. And I should add, what a collection it is! Looking over the catalog, there are things here I didn't know still existed. I remember, the Blackstone Jr. Auction from a few years ago. There were a few Harry Sr. items in that auction. But this auction is mostly Harry Sr. with only a few things from Harry Jr. and then a whole lot of other historical  magic items as well.

Some of the highlights for me are the costumes. Wow! The Harry Blackstone Sr. tuxedo is remarkable because it looks JUST LIKE Harry Sr! You could make no mistake of who owned and wore this tuxedo. Much like Harry Jr who had very signature looking tuxedo jackets, this one has a particular cut to it that just screams BLACKSTONE!

There are many costumes from the female assistants too and they are incredible. One small let down, there are none of Adele Friel Rhindress's costumes. She was the Elusive Moth in the Blackstone show. But still the fact that these other costumes survive is amazing.

There are also two male tuxedo jackets that belongs to the male assistants. These come with a photograph with Harry and two gentlmen wearing the very same jackets. These would look amazing in a museum display recreating the image in the photograph!

My favorite costume here other than the Blackstone tux is the Lantern Jacket, worn during the Lantern Trick. This also comes with a photo of the costume as it appeared in the show.

I've got to admit, I'm also quite enamored with the artwork contained in the auction. There are a
number of really wonderful drawings and paintings. The standout painting I think would be the one which is featured on the cover of the auction catalog, by artist Salvatore Salla. Mr. Salla had a number of magic related paintings over the years and this one is wonderful.

I also really like the painting that former assistant and famous in his own right, George Johnstone painted (see image right). There are also two paintings by one of Blackstone's former wives, Inez Blackstone which are really amazing. I think those would have an even more collectable appeal because one depicts Blackstone and was painted by his wife!

Another one of the true gems of the auction are the Blackstone Scrapbooks. There is one that is listed as 'Pre-Frederick and Pre-Blackstone'. WOW! This was when Harry was still Harry Bouton, and performing with his brother in the act known as Straight & Crooked Magic. There are other scrapbooks as well, some from the 20s, some from the 40s, some from Blackstone assistants. Countless unpublished photos within.

You'll find photos, posters, personal belongings, props, like Blackstone Sr's birdcage and much much more. Then you'll also find a few items from Harry Jr., like Harry Jr's birdcage, a signed handkerchief,  and even a special Casadega Cabinet built by Bill Smith. There are 6 pages of Blackstone Jr. items.

Then we come to the section on apparatus. There are many great pieces, but hidden among them is a Houdini item. A pair of Houdini's Lily Irons, known as King Breakers. I'm going to have an article about 'King Breakers' on the blog in October, so I'm not going to say a lot about them, other than you should check them out.

For the Houdini fan, you'll find a few Houdini items in the books section. But when you get to the Ephemera section, you'll see a photo of Harry, that I sure don't recall, though maybe it is familiar to other folks. This photo is inscribed to Professor Hoffmann, of Modern Magic, Later Magic and More Magic fame.  There are a number of Houdini items including letters, other photos and something that solves a mystery that I had been working on. Again, there will be something on that next month. (Yes, expect a lot from me in October)

Also, of note in the Ephemera section are three works of art by Okito, called Marquetry panels which are inlaid wood used to create a picture. They are incredible.

Just when you think you've gotten to the end of the catalog, there is one more section, the final one is the Poster section. There are eleven pages of vintage magic posters. Some of the highlights here include Carter-Sawing in Half, Thurston Million Dollar Mystery, and Thurston Whippet, and a Chung Ling Soo/Suee Seen poster among many others.

All in all, another impressive catalog and will no doubt be another exciting auction by Potter and Potter. The auction takes place October 28th, 2017. Please visit their site for more information and to order the catalog or download it.

All the photos above come from the Blackstone Auction Catalog and are used with permission of Potter and Potter Auctions.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Other Blackstone Book Review

Back in 1999 Daniel Waldron wrote a book called Blackstone A Magician's Life. It was a fantastic biography of one of the true greats in our business. If you've never read it. find it and read it! You'll be glad you did. One of the great things about the book are the first hand accounts by George Johnstone and Nick Ruggiero, both who worked on the Blackstone Sr. Show.

In 2016, a new book was written by Daniel Waldron called The Other Blackstone. Though not as extensive as the first book, it's still an enjoyable recollection of the the other Blackstone. This book is about Alfred Peter Boughton, who was born March 1st 1887. He was the younger brother of Harry. Yes, the name was originally spelled Boughton.  The book has 6 chapters and a epilogue, plus a lot of photos. It's only 40 pages long, so it's a quick read, but it's a fun one. There are some great stories in the book, and as I mentioned, great photos to match.

And the great thing about the book is the co-author, Adele Friel Rhindress, who also worked on the Blackstone Show.  She has her own great book on her adventures with Blackstone called 'Memoirs of An Elusive Moth'. The recollections of her time with Pete really help the reader to see him as a living breathing human being, and give a rare glimpse behind the scenes of a famous touring show.

I remember the first time I saw a photo of Pete. I was confused as to what I was seeing. I thought it might be some double exposure photo that Harry had produced. But then I found out that Harry had a brother. According to Adele, it was Pete who really RAN the Blackstone Show. Harry was the star, but Pete handled everything backstage.

I purchased this book at the Yankee Gathering from David Haversat. I'll be honest, I don't know how many were produced. But I would check with him to see if there any left.