One of my many interests is magic, so today and tomorrow I’m going to share some thoughts, particularly with regard to a few of my favorite magicians.
I titled this “Real Magic” because there is a quality to stage illusion that is just that. Magicians are story tellers. They weave a story punctuated by the illusion. The illusion is like the punch line to the joke – both the set up and the conclusion must be well presented and well timed. Some magicians like Harry Blackstone, Sr. told their stories without telling a word. Others, Like Carl Ballantine told the opposite story so that it seemed like every illusion had gone wrong, but –poof- something caught you by surprise anyway leaving you both impressed and laughing.
The Blackstones are an interesting story. In 1960, when I had my tonsillectomy (total hospital bill $77.80) my father gave me Harry Blackstone, Sr.’s Blackstone’s Modern Card Tricks, my first magic book. I still have it in what has grown into a small library of magic books. Harry Blackstone, Sr. ended up settling in the small town of Colon, Michigan and his illusion maker settled there as well. The illusion maker’s shop grew into “Abbott Magic” one of the hallmarks of the craft. Every magician does business with Abbott’s. In fact, the owners of Abbott’s are sometimes heralded as the world’s greatest magicians. Every year they hold a magic festival that attracts the top names in magic to a town with “no airport, no hotel and a restaurant that seats twenty.” It’s been a number of years since I’ve attended, so I can’t verify everything, but Google didn’t find a hotel (nearest one is in Sturgis – the Harley destination) and lists the nearest commercial airport is Kalamazoo.
I saw Harry Blackstone, Jr. perform once in a small dinner theatre and was able to talk with him afterwards. It was like talking with a neighbor after work – “And how was your day? I’ll be back doing a show in August, will you be coming to that show, too?” I asked for an autograph, and he told me that he’d get a picture from the dressing room. I waited. The stage crew kept carrying things out to the truck and I saw a stretch limo parked there. After a while the activity quieted down and I noticed the limo was gone. Muttering a few choice words under my breath, I headed for the parking lot. About half way across, I heard someone shouting and when I turned, there was Harry Blackstone, Jr. chasing after me.
I told him that when the limo disappeared I figured he’d left. He laughed and told me the limo was for his wife – he left with the crew when everything was packed. He explained that when he got to the dressing room, his daughter called with “boyfriend problems.” Doing dad duty took precedence in his world. I respect that.
Harry, Jr. would sometimes do his father’s illusions in a period style as a tribute. One illusion that they shared was the floating light bulb, and Harry Jr. donated his father’s floating light bulb, built by Thomas Edison, to the Smithsonian – the first magic item accepted by the Institute.
Harry Jr. died in 1997 at age 62. His wife stayed involved with the Magic Castle in Hollywood and served as president. Sadly his own son, Harry III died in an automobile accident when he was quite young so the legacy ended there. However, the Blackstones gave me an appreciation for a wonderful art.