Yesterday I focused on the story telling aspects of stage magic and the Blackstones. Today I’m going to focus on the primary magicians of my generation (more or less.) There are thousands of people who perform magic in some shape or form, but I’ve chosen several who should be familiar to readers who approximate my age. Besides, they’re the ones I find interesting.
David Copperfield – If you want big illusions, David Copperfield is your magician. Forbes magazine recognized him as the most commercially successful magician, and with his TV specials, it’s no wonder. He owns eleven islands in the Bahamas which are popular among the most elite of the elite.
I saw Copperfield perform in Cleveland and his show was LARGE writ large. Big illusions and big effects. Afterward he autographed memorabilia purchased at the performance but did not speak or otherwise interact with the audience. My thought at the time was not that he was arrogant, but instead shy – able to play the role so long as the footlights are between him and the audience. Story is that he was shy when he was younger, so this fits.
When I say BIG magic, I mean it. Have an airliner – Copperfield will make it disappear. Statue of Liberty blocking your view of scenic New Jersey – gone. Need to get through the Great Wall of China – Copperfield’s your man. He also maintains a museum of the most significant magic materials in Las Vegas, but don’t try to get a ticket – it’s only open to serious magicians and researchers – as well it should be.
James Randi – You may suspect me of hedging on “The Amazing Randi” since he’s almost my parents’ age, but I have my reasons. (You knew I would.)
If you ever saw Alice Cooper perform with the flames coming from his fingers, that was the work of James Randi – same with Alice being guillotined. He appeared on stage in several support character roles, but mainly was there as the brains behind the illusions.
Probably the most interesting thing about The Amazing Randi is his work to separate the real from the fantasy. As I recall he used to carry a check in his pocket for something like $10,000 for anyone who could successfully do something – virtually anything – that he couldn’t replicate by trickery. Mind reading, the ability to bend silverware, levitation, or séances. The check was never awarded and today his educational foundation has increased the prize to one million dollars.
Doug Henning – Probably the most fun of magicians in my young adulthood was Doug Henning. Long hair, bushy moustache and perpetual grin and a face described as “a smiling chipmunk.” Henning had studied psychology, and maybe that helped him deliver a “come along with me” style.
I saw Doug in Milwaukee and the show was phenomenal. He started off literally in the front row doing “up close” magic that was strictly sleight of hand with a camera displaying the display to the rest of the theatre. It was flawless. Then he went to the full stage show and did some great illusions including levitation, and an awesome rendition of Houdini’s water torture.
Henning left the world of magic performance and began to pursue his interest in yoga with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – famous for his involvement with the Beatles. Unfortunately, Doug died at age 52 of liver cancer.
And, drum roll, please…
Harry Anderson – I’ve never seen Harry Anderson perform live, much to my disappointment. Harry apparently started out as a street performer, was on “Saturday Night Live” and eventually ended up first as Judge Harry Stone on “Night Court” and a tribute to Dave Barry on “Dave’s World.” Eventually he moved to New Orleans where he owned a small magic shop and eventually a night club. Word is that during Hurricane Katrina his place was a place the aid workers used to rest and regroup. Eventually he moved from Louisiana to North Carolina.
The reason I like Harry Anderson so much is that with some magicians you can’t quite dispense with the disbelief. Regardless of what your eyes (and David Copperfield) tell you, the Statue of Liberty is still there. You know Doug Henning isn’t really going to drown. However, with Harry it’s different.
First off, Harry starts with an approach that says, “I am going to make a complete fool of you, if you let me, but it’s okay because we’ll laugh about it together.” The response from the audience is, “Pick me! Pick me!”
Second, is that with Harry, you’re not quite sure. He does an illusion – and tells the audience right up front that it is a trick, “Like economic recovery – you think that it’s happening, but it isn’t.” The best example of this is when he appears to push a large needle through his arm – interrupting people to tell them, “You’re not listening – this is only a trick.”
However, most of us knew someone from high school, who for ten bucks would have stuck a needle in his arm – and Harry is making far more than that – so there’s that little piece of your brain that says, “But it COULD be real.”
I hope you enjoy magic as much as I do.