Thursday, May 14, 2020
Harry Blackstone Jr. was the first big named magician I ever saw. I had just visited Al's Magic Shop a few months earlier and inside the first issue of Genii Magazine I ever bought, was a write-up on Harry's upcoming tour. Sure enough, he was going to be coming to Washington D.C. to the Warner Theatre. I mentioned it to my Dad and didn't hear another word. I must have forgotten. Well, as it turned out, my Dad didn't forget. He got us tickets for third row from the stage. I remember he took us all to a Chinese restaurant in Falls Church, which is now a bank, lol. And then we took the subway to the Warner Theatre.
Blackstone was touring with a huge show which included a live orchestra. Costumes, scenery, magic, big illusions, wow. This show had it all. He opened, as always with the Vanishing Bird Cage. What can you say? It was brilliant magic, perfectly done. He had various themed routines, many elaborate costumes. All the classics were there. The flower routine from his Dad's show. The Dancing Handkerchief, perhaps my favorite of the Blackstone routines. The Buzzsaw, where he cut his wife Gay in half with that super loud saw and you could smell the sawdust from my seat!
Fast forward many years and I find out that there is to be a Blackstone Auction. I ordered the catalog
and prepared for the bidding. This was a few years before Potter and Potter Auctions would be around. I bid on so many things, never really expected to get anything. I came away with a host of costumes worn by various dancers, including one wore by Gay Blackstone. I bid on many illusions, loosing all to other bidders. I bid on Harry's costumes, again, loosing all to other bidders. Then there was this giant book, the Book of Life Illusion. I bid on it. And I won. I never dreamed in a million years to win a real illusion from the show! But sure enough I won it. As it turned out, I paid more for shipping than the book cost me. But it was worth it.
Now, fast forward a few more years and Masters of Illusion is in town. They are playing at the same theatre that I first saw Harry Blackstone Jr. all those many years before. By sheer coincidence, my assistant Denise was doing a review of the show for an online review site and Gay Blackstone came up to talk to her. The three of us began to chat. I told her about seeing her and Harry at that very theatre so many years before. And THEN I said, OMG, AND I OWN the BOOK OF LIFE! She lit up like a christmas tree. Oh what a great conversation we had. She had no idea that Denise and I were also full time magicians. She requested my promo video in case I might be interested in touring with Masters. Sadly, never heard anything back on that, but I'm sure they receive tons of those and mine likely just got lumped in with the bunch. It did not diminish the wonderful time we had with her that day and the memories that came back of seeing Harry Blackstone Jr present his incredible show.
Had he not gotten sick in 1997, he would be 86 today and probably look the same, except with a full head of gray or white hair. He would be magic's elder statesman. And I'm sure he would still be sharing his remarkable mysteries even to this day. I sure do miss Harry Blackstone Jr.. He holds a special place in my life as a magician.
Harry did sadly pass away on May 14th, 1997. But he still lives in the hearts of those who were lucky enough to enjoy his magic!
Thursday, January 28, 2016
My Dad bought tickets for the whole family and we sat in the third row at the Warner Theatre to see
I never expected that years into the future I would own items from that very show. I purchased a number of costumes used in that show. I also bought one of the illusions they toured with, though it was not in the show I saw that first time.
Fast forward a number of years and I'm back at the Warner Theatre, this time to see Masters of Illusion, a touring show produced by Gay Blackstone, Harry's wife. What a thrill it was to meet Mrs. Blackstone after the show. I had actually met Gay, once before at the Magic Castle, but here we had an opportunity to speak with her. It was as if life was coming full circle. Actually, full circle would be Being IN The Masters of Illusion Show produced by Gay. (and we're working on that, trust me).
|Carnegie, Gay Blackstone, and my assistant Denise.
Just today I came across an audio interview of Harry Jr. that a gentleman named Bill Smith had preserved. I heard so many interviews of the years with Harry. I remember listening to an interview he did for the radio with Larry King and others. So this brought back a lot of memories. IF you would like to hear this interview, please click the link and enjoy 20+ minutes of Harry Blackstone Jr. talking Blackstone Magic History! http://www.linkingpage.com/magicnewsfeed/2012/7/6/mnw-332-harry-blackstone-jr.html
Sunday, November 22, 2015
There is a wonderful effect in magic that has found it's way into the acts of many performers called The Dancing Handkerchief. Probably the most iconic performer to present the effect was Harry Blackstone Sr., and then later his son Blackstone Jr.. Even David Copperfield made a hit out of this little wonder. But you might be surprised just how many well known performers and hundreds of lesser knowns performed this effect.
I tried to track down the origins of the mystery, originally known as The Spirit Handkerchief. Magicpedia lists Nevil Maskelyene as the creator. I can find no reference in magic literature to Nevil Maskelyne having been the creator of the trick.
|Anna Eva Fay
However, here is what I do know. In the 1870s, Anna Eva Fay was in England presenting her seances. She had encountered John Nevil Maskelyne, who was busy exposing all spirit mediums. There is a brief account of their altercation in White Magic by Jasper Maskelyne. Shortly after this Anna Eva Fay returned to America and for a time was thought to be English, though she was actually from Ohio.
So who created the Spirit Dancing Hank? Looks like the winner is Anna Eva Fay*. But I think I know why Maskelyne's name is connected to it. The Dancing Hank was often presented in conjunction with another effect which was sort of a mini-Spirit Cabinet. Two chairs were placed on stage. A sheet of glass was balanced upon the two chairs and then a small cabinet was placed upon the glass. Inside was a bell and a slate. This effect was the creation of Maskelyne. And it may have been Frederick Eugene Powell who first presented these two together in the United States. This information comes from Magic: A Pictorial History of Conjurers In The Theatre by David Price.
I do know that Harry Kellar began presenting these two effects together in 1894. He called it The
I found an interesting article in The Linking Ring Vol 40 #8, on a lesser known magician, John Grdina. In the article it says that Grdina taught none other than Harry Blackstone Sr. the Dancing Hank and whenever Blackstone was in Cleveland, he would mention it to his audiences. Grdina, as a youth apparently saw Harry Kellar first present the effect. He later would create some kind of version of his own.
Blackstone Sr. presented the Dancing Hank so well, that he is associated with the effect. His son, Harry Jr. also made a showpiece out of the routine. Others have presented the original version including Harry Willard, John Calvert and Howard Thurston. But no one made as big a mark with it as did Harry Blackstone Sr.. Below is the video of Harry Jr. presenting the hank, exactly as his father before him had presented it. (The person who uploaded the video fast-forwards through a bit of the early section, so just ignore that.)
In the 1950s, along came Ralph Adams. He created a more elaborate version of the Dancing Hank that was different from the Blackstone version. Doug Henning later used the Ralph Adam's version in his shows for many years. Though it was still a piece of cloth becoming animated, it was a different routine from the earlier versions. Below is a shorter version of the Henning routine. Usually, Doug presented it onstage with one of his dancers.
Then in the late 1970s David Copperfield debuted a new take on this classic effect. His version was the creation of Don Wayne and it combined aspects of the original with a sort of animated 'zombie' like effect. The Don Wayne version became all the rage for a number of years. Incidentally, the Don Wayne version may have been an updated version of the Joe Karson version known as Voodoo. One reason I think the Copperfield routine became so iconic was that he created a story based routine or a vignette. The magic was an important aspect of telling the overall story.
And speaking of updating versions, the latest and most advanced version of the effect started with the Don Wayne method and flew out to the stratosphere thanks to magic creator Sean Bogunia. Sean has taken the basic effect, added multiple methods and truly brought the animated handkerchief to life in ways that no one ever thought possible. Because of his innovations, many performers present the Dancing Hank in their shows today.
I'm not certain that anyone has really gotten the notoriety with the effect that the Blackstone's did. Though Sean is sure known as Mr. Hanky these days. This is by far a complete history of the effect but it does give you a good overview of the dancing hank through the years. Others have had innovations along the way as well, like Karrel Fox and Steve Dusheck. And a multitude of performers have presented this great effect. One thing is for certain, over 100 years later the effect of causing a bit of cloth or handkerchief to come to life and animate and dance is still an amazing and popular illusion.
*Barry Wiley, author of The Indescribable Phenomenon, a biography of Anna Eva Fay, believes that in fact it was Maskelyne who created the Dancing Hank effect. His book is extremely well researched so now I'm leaning towards Maskelyne over Anna Eva Fay.
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
We have all heard the term Golden Age of Magic. I'm not really sure if there is a true beginning and ending to the Golden Age, but my guess would be 1890-1930. This is when magic really took off. Kellar, Houdini, Thurston, Blackstone, Dante and others ruled the stages. After 1930s, magic certainly continued but with the death of Vaudeville and the advent of movies and TV magic lost it's once mighty place in the world of showbiz.
Magicians know that magic continued and saw the rise of different kinds of magic, the manipulators, like Cardini worked nightclubs. Illusionists like Jack Gwynne changed their acts so they could work in the round on dance floors. And of course, there was the rise of the close-up magicians with men like Dai Vernon, Charlie Miller, Ross Bertram and others. Magic was forced to adapt and it did, but with the death of the traveling illusion show, magic faded from the eyes of the general public for the most part.
Within the magic world, things were red hot. Close-up was the big craze and it was moving leaps and bounds over all the other types of magic. Folks like Paul Harris, Michael Ammar, John Carney, David Williamson, David Roth and others were now the big stars. Just when we thought there would be no more magic on TV, some kid named David Blaine showed up and rewrote the book on magic. David Blaine, like Henning before him, ushered in a whole new style and type of magic, Street Magic. Granted it was really close-up magic, but it was close-up stripped of the bells and whistles. It was highly visual magic that was often 'in your face'. No more tuxedos, no more big boxes, no more rabbits, magic was going in a new direction.
It was during this time, I would read on blogs and in magic magazines how some thought magic was dead. Some writers felt that magic was probably on it's last legs and because of the way technology was changing, we would soon all be gone. For the record, I've been hearing the doom and gloom scenario from magicians for years.
That brings me to now, 2014-2016. I think we have hit the Platinum Age of Magic. No more Golden
On TV, The Carbenero Effect, Wizard Wars, Penn & Teller Fool-Us, Masters of Illusion, Steve Cohen's History Channel Special Lost Secrets of Magic, and the recent HOUDINI Miniseries. That was just last year! There were even MORE TV Magic Shows in England and Europe! The MAGICIANS was huge show in England, Derren Brown's TV Specials are big hits, Dynamo is a household name in Europe because of his TV show. I understand there is a lot more magic in the works for 2015.
The Platinum Age of Magic is here my friends. Ride The Wave and let's hope it lasts for a quite a while!
Tomorrow, I will be attending The Illusionists Show at The Kennedy Center, so expect a review in a few days.
Monday, October 20, 2014
Once Upon A Time…….You could go to a theatre regularly and see a magician or several magicians perform LIVE. That was called the Golden Age of Magic and the Golden Age of Vaudeville. Then along came Movies and then Television and all that stopped. The field shrunk down to only a few big time traveling illusion shows, Blackstone Sr. was the main one. But even Blackstone had difficulty as time went on.
Then, there was a time when there were none. At least, none of the big traveling shows. Until, Doug Henning came along, followed by David Copperfield and around that same time Harry Blackstone Jr.. Each one of them had great runs. Two of those great artists died before their time, Henning and Blackstone Jr.. After David Copperfield stopped touring, that seemed to be it. There were no big traveling magic shows.
All that has changed, again. For the past few years a little touring show has been moving across the country called Masters of Illusion. This was followed by a summer TV Series on the CW Network, also called Masters of Illusion, this past summer (2014). The TV show featured different magicians each week demonstrating their various talents. The LIVE show has a revolving cast and I assume all of them have appeared on the TV show at some point.
I saw the show at the Warner Theatre in Washington D.C. this past week. I am happy to say there was a very big crowd. I am unhappy to say, there should have been a bigger crowd, because it seemed one segment of society was missing from the audience, the magic community. I think I spotted two other magicians in the audience and that was all. There could have been more, but I remember the days when the magicians would flood out to see a show like this. WE as the magic community have a responsibility to support our fellow artists. (ok, I’m off my soapbox now)
I'm not 100% on this order, but I think Titou from France was up next. Here is a very likeable and funny performer who had some great one-liners in his set. He did the first audience participation routine and it was very well received. Look forward to seeing more from this fellow in the future.
Greg Gleason was up next and his first set started with a very unusual Broom Suspension Illusion using a chair and a feather boa. I can't recall seeing anything like this before and really liked it. His assistant was superb and has a million dollar smile. Greg did several routines which I won't reveal because I don't want to spoil the surefire surprises for anyone who has yet to see the show.
Farrell Dillon was up doing his first set of manipulation. I like Farrell, I think he is extremely clever and very talented. He is basically doing Chavez style manipulations but he is doing them with very funny patter. He has taken a tired old 'seen it a million times' type of magic act and made it fresh and fun.
Rick Thomas was also on hand. Rick is well known for being one of the big Tiger/Animal acts in magic. But on this show, no animals at all. Rather it was Rick and minimal props and a lot of personality. His first routine was a Chair Suspension that looked like a Zany Blaney Ladder Levitation. He did the routine with a boy from the audience and just brought the house down. Great stuff.
There was a short intermission allowing folks to get something to drink or buy something from the Masters of Illusion Traveling Store. It looked like they did quite well with back of the room sales, which is great for any show.
I totally enjoyed the first half of the show. But let me say, the second half of the show was about as good as it gets in the world of magic. The energy level went up and up after each act. The audience, who had been very receptive to the show from the start, was now moving towards a fevers pitch. Each act was hitting a home run. I'm not revealing any of the routines from the second half except for one.
Rick Thomas presented a mini illusion called Liquid Glass. It's a routine created by Jim Steinmeyer and based on an effect of Peter Warlocks. Basically, it's a needle through glass trick done on a larger scale. I have seen it done before. I ALMOST bought one a couple times. Well, when Rick Thomas and his assistant Tara came out, they killed with this prop. In fact, it was so strong, so entertaining, so dumbfounding that all I could think was, "Rick Thomas needs to do a lecture on THIS!" His presentation was brilliant. It had everything you could ask for, it was visually interesting, it was fun to watch, it was energetic, it was funny, it was dramatic, it had movement, class, style and importantly, it was easy to follow, it was crazy good. It's a good trick to begin with, but he brought it to the level of fantastic.
The Liquid Glass routine was not the closer to the show, there was much more to come following that routine, but it was such a stand out piece to me, I wanted to make a special notation of it. From an audience stand point, it’s hard to say what their favorite routine might have been. Maybe the Wakeling Sawing where Rick Thomas allowed 20 people to join him onstage. Perhaps it was the breathtaking closer to the show, or the hilarious Straight Jacket Escape by Farrell Dillon. It’s just hard to say.
Here is what I can tell you about the show. I watched the spectators, the lay people, from the moment they came in the door. I was really quite surprised at the number of couples that attended, what a great sign. There were children and families who came, but not as many as I would have thought (it was a school night, so that might play into it). The age range was all over the board, people from their 20s right up to Seniors. This was a very ethnically diverse audience. I’d say it was equally split between males and females. The one thing they all had in common, they were having a great time! They got to see top notch magic, excellent comedy, and some really beautiful moments of illusion.
This production is Gay Blackstone's baby. I know there are other people involved, but Gay brings decades of experience to this production and it can be seen in every aspect of the show. She deserves the credit for finding the great talent and structuring a show that allows each act to shine equally. I’m sure if you looked closely you would see her fingerprints on almost every aspect of the production. This is a show to be proud of for sure.
I want to share a bit of personal history. I saw my first professional magic show as a kid at the Warner Theatre many years before. I sat with my parents and brother in the third row from the stage. I was seeing Harry Blackstone Jr. for the first time. He toured with a big production, a live orchestra, and a big cast. I remember vividly when he walked out on stage and made that birdcage vanish. I remember him stepping backstage to get a second cage and repeating the trick, this time with audience members touching the sides of the cage. I remember later in the show the Floating Light bulb, which floated down into the audience only a few feet from where we were sitting. I remember a Patriotic Drum routine where hundreds of flags were produced out of it and eventually a person. I remember the Flower Garden routine. Hey, it was my first real live magic show and I can remember almost all of it.
Seeing the Masters of Illusion Show at the Warner was a continuation of this incredible Blackstone tradition. For the audience, it was an evening of wonder and laughter and the very best kind of family friendly entertainment!
PLEASE Be sure to support this show if it comes to your area. Tell your friends, your family, your co-workers about the show and where to get tickets. Trust me, they’ll be happy you did!
By the way, be sure to check out the October 2014 Issue of Genii Magazine with the Masters of Illusion LIVE TV Show on the cover!
Monday, June 30, 2014
The SAM Facebook Page posted that today, June 30th was Harry Blackstone Jrs 80th Birthday. I can hardly wrap my head around that. Wow. I still remember when Harry passed away suddenly and that was shock enough. But to think he would have been 80 today is amazing.
I sure miss that guy. He was the first professional big name magician I ever saw live. I still remember that day as if it just happened. He was an amazing performer and from what I've heard he was quite a fine human being as well. I wish I had known him.
Happy Birthday Harry!
Thursday, May 15, 2014
17 Years Ago, on May 14th, I was at Dulles Airport with my friend Adam Ace. We were about to take a plane to Mexico for shows. Before the flight I stepped into one of the gift shops and saw the USA Today Newspaper. There on the cover, a photo of Harry Blackstone Jr. and the words 'Has Died'. WHAT? How could this be? Sad, but true.
I never got to meet Mr. Blackstone. I was on an elevator with him once but other 'fans' were kind of crowding him so I didn't join the pack. I also sat in front of him at a conference once, but he was deep conversation with his wife, so again, I didn't intrude.
Needless to say, his passing was somewhat of a shock to the magic world. I only added 'somewhat' because we all new he had been ill. He had what seemed like a sudden and drastic loss of weight and he didn't look well. I remember seeing him on the Miss America Pageant producing Regis Philbin from a tip-over trunk. It was the last time I'd see him on TV. He was gone a short time later.
Harry Blackstone Jr. was one of the GREATS! I'll write about him more at another time. But for now, we remember his passing 17 years ago.