One of the most phenomenal gifts to magic left us today–Harry Anderson. He was a street performer, a delightful guest on Saturday Night Live, Judge Harry Stone on Night Court, and he played Dave Berry on Dave’s World.
How anyone could play Dave Berry is beyond me—but then Harry was also beyond me.
After television, he moved to New Orleans and opened a bar with a magic shop. When Hurricane Katrina devastated the area, the word is that he kept his place open to feed (important) and provide coffee (MORE important) to the first responders. Later, he moved to Asheville, NC.
When I heard that he had moved, I did a search and found a Harry Anderson in Asheville, and wanted to send him a letter. I wanted to tell him that I enjoyed Night Court. I watched it here, In 1988, on my way to Antarctica, they only had a limited number of hours of television in New Zealand, but one program they had was Night Court–they must have enjoyed him, too. I think he would have liked that. I bought the DVDs. If you never saw Night Court #1, you need to.
Harry rekindled my interest in magic. I’m not much of a performer, but I love the art (and, yes, the science) of stage magic. It’s like the person who could never paint the Mona Lisa, but is dumbstruck by its beauty. Knowing how the magic is done only deepens my respect and admiration for those who perform.
The last performance I did was Thanksgiving, probably in the 1980s, in the basement of my parents’ home. My audience was my kids, parents, siblings, niece and nephews. When I did his trademark* needle through the arm (“It’s an illusion. It’s like–it’s like economic recovery. You think that it’s happening but it really isn’t!) my mother had to leave the room.
Harry would have approved.
I love magic, but to put it into perspective–I’ve seen Harry Blackstone, Jr. perform, and had a wonderful discussion with him after his show and got an autographed picture. (The picture faded but the conversation never will. He was a gentleman with class.) I would have loved to have had him as a next door neighbor.
I’ve seen David Copperfield several times; I suspect deep down inside he’s shy–in the lobby, after the show, he’d autograph memorabilia (including mine), but didn’t say much.
I saw Doug Henning on stage and the show was absolutely awesome, but never had the chance to talk with him.
I’ve been to the magic convention in Colon, Michigan and the Magic Castle in California, several times. I have to count the Safe House in Milwaukee as another great venue for magic.
But I never saw Harry’s show live and I never met him.
Doug Henning was wonderful, but we knew–KNEW–he wouldn’t drown upside down in the “milk jug.” David Copperfield’s illusions are so large that they defied description. We KNEW that the Statue of Liberty was still there and there was no passage through the Great Wall of China.
Then there was Harry. He told you it was an illusion. He told you that he really wasn’t pushing an 18 inch needle through his arm, BUT, we all knew a kid in high school who, for a few dollars would have done exactly that. That’s what made Harry’s performances so wonderful. You never could completely suspend the disbelief. Harry knew what was truly magic–and made us believe, even if just a little.
I’m sorry I never sent that letter. I might have made a friend, or one of us might have thought the other was a total jerk. But I never did, so I’ll never know.
How many opportunities do each of us pass on for no good reason? Maybe we should each take a chance on something before it’s too late.
Goodbye, Harry. I’m sorry I never sent the letter.
*Harry didn’t invent the illusion. It was once called Whodo Voodoo, which never made it because it was considered too gory, but Harry had the perfect story (patter) to make it work.