By Geoffrey Hansen
Here is England's ALAN SHAXON
By Geoffrey Hansen
Alan Shaxon was born in England December 28, 1933, the son of a lawyer and destined to take over the family legal firm. Instead, he went first into banking upon leaving school and later became one of England's top professional magicians. Bitten by the magic bug at the age of 8, after being loaned the C. Lang Neil book, "The Modern Conjurer", during a spell of the measles. Magic became his passion from that time onward. he started performing small shows during his school days, later going into the field of cabaret performances in London. a guest appearance on the important "David Nixon Show" over television led to many, many offers. Alan and his new wife Anne left the banking business to accept a three month engagement during the summer months
Having retired several years ago as a professional magician, Alan has been a guest on the top television variety programs in England, Sweden, Australia and in the U.S. He has presented Royal Command Performances on four occasions at Buckingham Palace, and cruised around the world on luxury ocean liners for over 17 years. He tours regularly to Switzerland and Germany and has a hectic schedule in England. Alan can make the proud statement that he was never had a week out of work in 25 years!
In the magic world, Alan is recognized as an authority on all branches of the art, and has lectured all over the world at various magic conventions. He is the author of two best-selling Goodlife publications, "My kind of Magic" and "Practical Sorcery". Many of his creations have been marketed and his "Confabulation" effect is in the acts of many Professionals. In his own act Alan performs the "Fish Catching From Thin Air and his trademark (and personal favorite effect), the classic "Thumb tie".
A close friend and confidant of late Robert Harbin, Alan was willed many of his props including the Chair Suspension, Sawing, Blade of Opah II, The Zig Zag and Harbin's personal favorite, Little by Little.
A member of the Magic Circle Council and the Inner Magic Circle, he is frequently featured on their annual shows in England. When Alan first appeared at the Magic Castle in Hollywood in 1978 he was nominated for awards in both the "Visiting Magician the Year" and "Lecturer of the Year" categories. He has also appeared on both the I.B.M. and S.A.M. conventions on at least three occasions and he is a regular visitor to the shores of North America.
Alan and Anne have two daughters. The oldest, Julia, is now touring theatres in Great Britain appearing in such musicals as "Babes in Arms" and "The Sound of Music". She is currently enjoying an engagement touring with the counter-culture play "The Rocky Horror Show" The Shaxon's youngest daughter, Paula, is still in college where she studies theatre and T.V. makeup and hopes, too, for a career in show business. The great talents of Alan Shaxon are a true credit to art of magic.
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By Geoffrey Hansen
Twenty-three years of starring in his own television show is the career credit of Dick Williams! Yes, twenty-three years as the star of his own show, "Magicland" on WMC-TV, channel 5 in Memphis Tennessee!
Born in Hoisington, Kansas, July 17, 1927, Dick became interested in magic when he received a magic kit at age 7. In his own words, he was "hooked for life". The first magical effect he learned was the Handkerchief Mouse, Taught to him by his father. By age 8 he saw magician George Staples present a show at his school, and by age 9 he had read all books on magic at the local library. Forrest Kuhns sponsored him for membership in the "Wizards of Wichita" at age 13, and when he was 15 to 17 young Dick was performing at the local military bases in Kansas. The first big magic gathering he attended was the ABBOTT's Get-Together in 1944. His first paid performance was at age 13 for the sum of 2$. The first lecture Dick saw was in 1943 when he witnessed Dr. Harlan Tarbel, author of the famous "Tarbel Course of Magic"
He obtained a B.A. degree in Liberal Arts from Wichita State University, and married Virginia Maranville, June 12, 1949. The Williams had one daughter, Sherry, born in 1951, who died in 1981. Today they have two grandchildren, Jennifer born in 1974, who was a student at Rhodes College in Memphis, and Michael, born in 1976, lives in Nashville.
Dick took a job as a radio announcer in Wichita in 1945 at radio station KANS. During Dick and Virginia's honeymoon they went to Oklahoma City where Dick first discovered the magic of television. Wichita still at that time did not have the new medium. He set his sights on the new phenomena which many thought would only be a passing fad.
During the mid-fifties the Williams family moved to Amarillo, Texas and was contracted as a staff announcer and weatherman for a local TV station. Before that he had experimented with magic on television, which would be a stepping-stone to his success later.
Joining WMC-TV in Memphis, the local NBC station, as an announcer and weatherman, he began to develop ideas for a magic show on TV. About six months later he went on the air with "Magicland" as a half-hour weekly show to be broadcast 52 weeks a year. The show was sponsored by McDonald's Restaurant since the first telecast in 1966, and continued until Dick's last show and his retirement 23 years later!
Recently Dick stated, "I thought it would last two or three years. at five years I couldn't believe it." After ten years he went to the program director and asked if he wanted to take the show off of the air. He replied, "No," and they continued to stay popular in the mid-south are and on the air.
In the late 70's the show changed to a one hour program format In 1989 then realized they had broadcast nearly 1200 shows!
Hundreds of magical effects were maintained so not to repeat anything in a year. The Williams kept index files with a list of each effect, the patter, and the date of broadcast. They kept the patter on larger cards, and over 700 index cards! They started to videotape their own shows for home use in 1978.
Each show had a live audience with spectators from "Age 8 to 84" as Dick says today. Virginia worked the Sub Trunk, Sawing in Half, Levitation, Zig Zag, and other illusions. She also made the costumes, as well as performing her own magic act including, "The Girl Who Cannot Be Lifted."
Many names in magic made guest appearances on the show including Harry Blackstone, David Ginn, John Calvert, Mercer Helms, Mark Wilson, Tom Ogden, Dr. John Booth, Charlie Miller, George Johnstone, Walter "Zaney" Blaney, Ricki Dunn and more.
Dick recently stated, "The advantage of taping over live TV are many, especially for a magic show. A magic sequence that fails can be retaped. However unplanned events are sometimes worth leaving in the tape if there is no exposure."
Once Dick was doing the routine where a woman's ring was borrowed, vanished, a dove produced, a small silk bag is around the doves neck, inside the bag is the woman's ring. As luck would have it, the dove became frightened and flew to the high rafters of the studio carrying the expensive ring with it. Dick explained to the audience that the vanished ring was in the bag around the dove's neck. The audience began to laugh as the woman stared daggers at Dick. The dove refused to obey Dick and fly back down. The camera caught a picture of the defiant bird. More laughing at the situation. It was too funny to retape. Dick asked the lady if she would like to see another trick. She didn't. The show ended with the bird remaining on its high perch.
According to Dick today, "this became on of the most talked about shows of the season. People love to see the star of the show get into trouble. After the audience left, except for the woman and her family, the crew took a long pole and gently pushed the dove from its perch. The bird promptly flew to a nearby equally high girder. The process was repeated until the bird finally tired of the same game after about 20 minutes and flew to the floor. The bag was opened and the ring returned to its owner."
On each show, the taping of each segment was continued to its conclusion no matter what happened. Later Dick and the director could make a decision whether to keep the segment as taped, edit it later, or retape the entire segment. The latter option Dick says was, "Seldom necessary."
There were mishaps while shooting illusions on TV. Once while presenting the ELECTRIC LIGHT BULBS THRU THE GIRL (as featured by Blackstone, Sr.) one of the roller blinds that conceals the girl broke. Dick says, "Virginia rolled it up by hand as if it had been planned." In his new book "LIGHTS! CAMERAS! MAGIC!" Dick tells what happened when "Miss Tennessee", Terry Alden was in the cabinet when two of the light bulbs broke!
On another occasion, Dick encountered a "bloopers" type situation as the shelf boxes resisted being inserted into the other side of the illusion! On another occasion while performing the Substitution Trunk, Dick unknowingly pulled the sack inside out as he pulled it over his body inside the dark trunk. When the trunk was opened and Dick stood up, Virginia could not find the rope to untie the sack. No wonder. The rope was inside the inside-out bag. Virginia hurriedly pushed Dick and the sack back down inside the trunk as the studio audience wondered what was happening. "Shut down--retape," Dick comments.
When performing the TIBETAN VEIL, a transposition illusion, Dick dropped his costume robe backstage as a double in an identical robe performed as Dick onstage. Dick raced around to the back of the studio to make his appearance in the audience. The floor director, and "Independent type" who had skipped rehearsal, was accidentally blocking the only passage for Dick to get his place to appear. Dick tapped the back of the floor director who shrugged if off as not to miss watching the illusion he hadn't seen at rehearsal. Once again Dick tapped the FD who angrily turned around to protest the interruption. Anger turned to bewildered amazement as he saw Dick. "But, how you be here when you's up there?" As he brushed past the flustered floor director Dick mumbled, "Magic. Pure magic."
The last and final episode of "Magicland" as a one hour show aired January 29 and 30, 1989. Highlights of past shows were aired, and greetings on video tape from famous magicians across the country.
Recently Dick stated, "the opportunities for a television magic show still exist on local TV outlets. In addition, the advent of cable TV with its many more channels means there is a need for many more programs."
After retirement, Dick and Virginia began writing a book. The definitive book on their experiences in producing and performing a weekly magic show on television for over two decades.
Today Dick points out, "Writing the book was more difficult than doing the show on TV. We began digesting and assembling this vast array of material when we retired in 1989. In 1990 we sent the first draft to David Ginn who had asked to publish the book. He did a complete edit and returned it several months later. We embarked on a rewrite which was more difficult and time consuming than the original draft. We sent the revised draft draft to David in 1991. In 1992 David, who was behind in his busy work schedule, requested permission to expedite matters by sending the manuscript to a mutual friend, Samuel Patrick Smith, the magic publisher it Tavares, Florida. We agreed."
Dick continues, "Sammy received the manuscript in May 1992 and began further pre-publication work. Sammy added his magic knowledge and journalistic expertise. Soon the book began to improve in looks and content under his supervision." Who would think that pro grapple Jerry "The King" Lawler would end up doing all the illustrations for Dick's new book?!"
"LIGHTS! CAMERAS! MAGIC! covers Dick and Virgiana's entire television career in presenting magic. You'll learn everything you ever wanted to know about the real secrets of performing magic on television.
Congratulations to Dick and Virginia Williams for their long and successful careers presenting magic on television. Another BRAVO! for sharing your knowledge and experiences with the magic fraternity.
Meet Italy's Man of Magic, RAIMONDI
A new name to Americans, but an established entertainer in Europe, he's Italy's Raimondi. He became interested in magic as a young boy and by the age of 15 presented his first show. In 1956 he joined the Club Magico Italiano and the I.B.M. in 1963.
Inspired by the work of Keith Clark, Raimondi developed a cigarette act and routined it from suggestions by Italian magicians Arsenio and Karton in 1961. Of course it has taken over 25 years to perfect it! Noted magic authority Henk Vermeyden once said, "I've seen many, many magicians but on one, as has Raimondi, given me the illusion of the appearance of so many cigarettes from thin air."
His work as a magician has received many outstanding awards over the years including the "David Di Michelangelo" in 1978 and "Gonfalone D'Oro" in 1982. In addition he was awarded for his manipulation talents by the F.I.S.M. in Amsterdam in 1970 and in Paris in 1973. In 1962 Raimondi took first prize of the "Mago D'Argento" In Italy, and the very coveted "Oscar of Magic" in Europe for 1968.
One of the most popular professional magicians in Europe today, this outstanding magician has appeared in such notable establishments as the famous Sporting Club of Monte Carlo, Salle Pleyel in Paris, Hotel Concorde Lafayette in Paris, Beirut's Paon Rouge (Phoenicia Hotel), and the Teatro Alfieri in Torino as well as many, many others.
Raimondi's appearance in theaters, night clubs, on television programs and variety shows throughout Europe, are, indeed, a mark of his success. But, this gentleman is also well established as a writer of magic books in his native Italy. In fact he has written the most outstanding instruction books on sleight of hand manipulation in his country, "Nove Lezioni Der Diventare Un Mago." This book is considered a "must Read" book by every European magician. He also wrote, in collaboration with his fellow mystery worker Lamberto Desideri, eight lessons of magic instructions in a course titled, "Lezioni Di Arte Magica."
Besides his manipulation act with cigarettes, cards, billiard balls and other objects, Raimondi has also organized several other very interesting acts, A chinese act, an Arab act, and a comedy clown routine. They are all performed in costumes and makeup and are very novel in their appeal.
I hope that someday Raimondi will find a chance to break away from his busy schedule of performances in Europe and accept the many offers to perform in North America. The continental style and outstanding magic of Raimondi would be a welcome treat!
Geoffrey Hansen has been involved in magic for over fifty years. His first inspiration was Dante, considered one of the best magicians in history. Because of a battle with two childhood illnesses, rheumatic fever and tuberculosis, he had three years in and out of hospitals. Educated at the time by private tutors and later public schools, he had become highly motivated to become a professional magician.
Over forty years ago Geoffrey began writing articles and selling stories to national magazines. He has written for a vast assortment of publications as well as television and radio. Early on he was credited as Geoff Hansen or Geoffrey D. Hansen, but during the past 25 years has been known as Geoffrey Hansen.
During the 1960's he was a frequent guest on the top television variety / talk shows from Hollywood and New York. later he would star in his own TV specials in the USA, Japan, Korea, Philippines, Iceland and South America.
Geoffrey starred as Mandrake in the film and television programs based on the fictional detective character. In the 1970's he starred in the films "The Dragon's eye", "Fighting Dragon", Funny Kung Fu", and "Midnight in Transylvania" which were all filmed in Hong Kong. He has also appeared as an actor in films and TV programs in the USA, Asia and Latin America.
A varied career as a magician, actor, writer, producer and director, Geoffrey Hansen prefers performing magic before live audiences.
during the 1970's Geoffrey was the headliner of his own show in night clubs and theaters the Orient and Pacific when he as called to Hollywood to work on a television project with Orson Welles. Later he would say on a television program, "It was a thrill to work with Orson Welles".
While on tour, Geoffrey would perform 16 to 18 shows each week. His tours have taken to every state in the USA (except Alaska) and all over the Far East, South East Asia, Pacific, Latin America, Caribbean and Canada. While performing in Indonesia He came down with malaria, which required recovery.
His wife is a former beauty queen, and together they have two children. When not involved in show business, Geoffrey enjoys all aspects of martial arts, which he has also been involved for fifty years.
Some of his favorite moments in magic:
Watching Case Boxley perform Sympathetic Silks...Norm Nielson's Floating Violin...Shimada's Dragon Act...Geno Munari's Cards to Pocket... Lee Grabel's Floating Piano..Silvan's card manipulation..Channing Pollock's Dove Act...The comedy of Fielding West...Mac King's Worm... Johnny Aladdin's Handcuff Routine...Harry Blackstone Jr.'s Pick-Pocket Act...and Jokes and Fun with Ricki Dunn.
Geoffrey Hansen sums it up, "There is nothing like magic to make people happy."
The incredible Pierre Brahma of France
Standing in the spotlight in the glow of stardom on the stage of Loews Hotel night club in Monte Carlo, the magician flowed from one extraordinary manipulation to another with coins, jewels, sparkling crowns, silk scarves and other mysteries of the magical arts. At the conclusion of his act the audience responded with cheers and shouts of Bravo! along with a standing ovation. The magician stood in the limelight, bowing with a bright smile...but he never heard the applause bestowed upon him. Magician Pierre Brahma is deaf!
A native of Marseille, France, Pierre Brahma (an adaptation of his real family name Bramma) was born of an Italian mother and French father. At the age of 13 he became partially deaf following a bout with scarlet fever. This infirmity, at first slight, grew more pronounced with time and seriously hindered his school studies. He, nevertheless, perservered and at the age of 18 enrolled at the University of Montpelier. At age 21 he received his law degree without having attended a single class! His hearing handicap by that time was so severe that he was unable to benefit from oral instruction.
During this period he became interested in the art of magic, after discovering some second hand books in a shop. He practiced and practiced, becoming so proficient that he was amazing his friends with his ability. This helped greatly to overcome the sense of isolation which so often afflicts the deaf.
Pierre headed for Paris with the goal of becoming a civil servant of the law. However, all doors were closed to him because of his hearing deficiency. This presented a major problem - a real obstacle to earning a livelihood. All public service careers and positions of responsibility were shut to him. For three years he had to settle for a job as a clerk in an insurance company.
To escape the mediocrity of his existence, Pierre tried his hand at writing (his other passion) without success. Then he created his own magic act. Instead of working with cards, doves, rabbits or traditional objects, Pierre developed an original act with gold coins, jewels, crowns and sparkling necklaces. His career as a magician was launched and success came quickly!
In 1964 he was crowned Grand Prix winner in Europe and began an international career which has taken him to Australia, Africa, The Middle East, The U.S. and, the highlight of any professional magician's career, the true land of mystery, Japan.
In 1973 Pierre's one partially good ear was affected by a severe infection and that which he had feared since childhood occurred, he became completely and irreversibly deaf. This did not stop him. He studied lip reading and hired a secretary to assist him. He devised a spotlight which has enabled him to visually follow the musical background for his act!
In 1976, totally deaf, Pierre Brahma won the Grand Prix in Vienna for the second time! He has gone on the be not only a great magician and a true artist but he also stands as an inspiration to us all. Despite everything, he remains vibrant and is looking forward to still more challenges. Great is the word for Pierre Brahma.
Spotlight On Young Magicians
Mysterious Christian Z.
He does small shows in his neighborhood as the Mysterious Christian Z. At age 6 he can present a number of entertaining and baffling magical effects for schoolmates, neighbors and friends. Christian was born in Tacloban City on the beautiful Pacific Island of Leyte. At age 5 1/2 months he moved to North America and was just a normal kid until he saw Japan's greatest magician, Shimada, perform in Las Vegas. __________________________________________________________________
"When I saw Shimada, I liked all the magic he did, but my favorite was when he was fighting the dragon! I've seen his show a few times...and that is one of the best things I have ever seen" says the young magician.
"Another of my favorites is Silvan from Italy. He is really cool. I like the magic he does with cards!"
What kind of magic does Christian perform? He is an expert with D'lites, cups & balls, coloring book, flower box and color changing scarfs. "I want to do the cut and restored rope, but my mother won't let me play with sharp objects. I'm working on the linking rings and hope to have it ready to show soon."
Christian's hope for the future is to present a 30 minute magic show for Veteran's hospitals, retirement centers and Youth groups. Someday he might become a full time professional magician.
Besides magic, his other hobbies are watching bull riding, car racing and Jackie Chan movies. He also likes to visit Houdini's Magic Shops and talk with Andrew Purnell, Tim Ortiz, and michael Little. "They always give me good ideas for what kind of magic they think would be good for me." Houdini's Magic shop always welcomes and encourages young magicians and is always ready to help them in their path for magicial entertainment.
Houdini In California
Rare photo of Houdini taken in Seattle, Washington while on tour performing
the Orpheum Theatre circuit, 1915. The tour would take him across country
to every major city in North America. (From the Geoffrey Hansen Collection)
I have been a collector and researcher in the art of magic for over 40 years. In my youth I would go through the archives of the newspaper offices in San Francisco and Oakland, locating anything and everything related to magicians. I would track down and interview people mentioned in the newspaper articles. This allowed me to build a massive collection, thousands of photographs, handbills, heralds, flyers, brochures, clippings, posters and anything related. In those days to buy a "rare" poster would be $25 to $35. Today the same poster can fetch $35000 in a public auction. _______
In time, as I would travel around the world presenting my shows in theatres, night clubs, and on television I would continue my research and collecting. While others had material related to magicians in North America, my collection became international. Early in my pursuits, I discovered that Houdini had performed as a headliner at the Orpheum Theatre in Oakland on Clay Street. Years later a new location would find the theatre on Broadway in Oakland, but we are getting ahead of our story.
It was the week of November 12, 1915 and Houdini's brother was within walking distance performing as a headliner at the Pantages Theatre. The newspapers carried an item, "Hardeen", the Wonder Worker Supreme in Vaudeville, and noted as the creator of the handcuff escape, heads a notable bill for the coming week at the Oakland Pantages. The famous mystifier, whose exploits have astounded police and public of two continents, and to whom iron bolts and bars, intricate locks and cells are playthings, will show his famous handcuff escapes, will accept challenges to escape from straightjackets, nailed packing boxes, and prisons while in Oakland. He will attempt an escape from the Oakland City Prison, to which the police have challenged him, and will perform other sensational feats. Hardeen has escaped from the prison cells of the Tower of London, The Bastille of Paris, The Prison of Wartburg, where Martin Luther was confined, and other places man has ever placed in, and endangered his life thousands of times." On the same page, the newspaper carried this item, "Now comes Houdini to the Oakland Orpheum. Houdini is called the Genius of escape. All who are familiar with the history of theatricals know he originated to idea of entertaining the public with weird and strange escapes from every sort of lock and bar and bolt, or straightjacket that could be contrived to hold him. He has been one of the most notable figures in the theatrical world for ten years." Other write-ups were for the attractions appearing at the Public, Franklin, MacDonough and Hippodrome theaters. All in competition attract ticket buyers into their performances.
The Oakland City Prison mentioned in the item about Hardeen was and is located on the top floors of city hall in Oakland. A new jail was built over 35 years ago, and the cells about the city hall have been closed and not in use for just as long. There is no evidence that Hardeen ever attempted the escape. He did present his stage act during the week. Hardeen's act consisted of the handcuffs, leg iron and shackle escapes. He also presented the straightjacket and packing box escapes.
Across town at the Orpheum, Houdini was doing his water torture cell, East Indian Needle Trick as well as the straightjacket. During the week Hardeen received a "challenge" from William F. Woods, the Chief of Police, to attempt an escape from a "full length punishment suit." Hardeen accepted, and made the escape in front of packed house on November 26, a Friday night.
Houdini received three "challenges, which also drew packed houses. Two were from local merchants, Roos Brothers, "clothiers to men, women & children", with their store located at Washington & 13th street. The other from H.C. Capwell Company, located at Broadway and 22nd Street. It still stands today and is the Emporium. Both of these "challenges" were to attempt to escape from packing boxes which their employees would build upon the stage of the theatre, in from of the customers before the show. In both instances, Houdini escaped.
On Friday, November 26, the same night Hardeen was doing the "full length punishment suit" escape at the Pantages, Houdini was on stage at the Orpheum were the Rigger's and Stevedores Union had "challenged" him to a rope escape. Needless to say, Houdini made the escape!
What is not well known, even among serious students of Houdini and his career, is what you are about to learn. On Tuesday of that week, at noon, Houdini found himself placed in a straightjacket and hung upside down from the offices of the local newspaper the Oakland Tribune. At that time it was located in the First National Bank Building on the corner of 14th and Broadway, in the heart of the city across from City Hall. The building still stands today, with a different name. Newspaper accounts mentioned Sheriff Barnet and "a committee of Oakland men" would place the straightjacket on him. "The Sheriff is an expert on straightjackets, and he does not believe it is possible for any human being to escape from the one which he adjusts himself." Houdini was quoted as saying, "I might fail. You never can tell. Accidents will happen. I am not infallible. The best of us fall down sometimes. But I shall make a try of it." Newspapers reported, "Fate is with Houdini. Swinging like a pendulum, and slowly wriggling himself free from a copper riveted torture suit, strapped on him by Sheriff Frank Barnet and picked committee of newspaper men and deputies, the master-illusionist and Orpheum star today at noon thrilled a great crowd of 20,000 people who blocked the corner of 14th and Broadway." After he escaped from the straightjacket, he dropped to the street below. He extended his hands as a cue for the crew to now lower him to the ground. Nothing happened! There was a "kink" in the rope. Houdini was stuck, upside down over the streets of Oakland. "The noise of the cheering drowned his voice as he shouted to his assistants to lower him. He hung in midair. The crowd did not know it, but he could not be lowered." Finally a window washer was summoned, and he extended himself out of a window. And with several strong jerks, Houdini was finally free and lowered to the ground. What Houdini did not find out until a little later, his brother had flyers distributed to the huge crowd saying, "See Hardeen at the Pantages."
According to Houdini's own appointment book/diary entries, he had gotten to know the famous author Jack London and his wife Charmian during his Oakland engagement. They attended two of his performances, seeing him perform the packing box escape on one occasion. London was writer of "The Call of the Wild" and the "Sea Wolf" and considered a major celebrity in Oakland. One night Houdini had dinner with them, and another night his wife Bess joined them. On Thanksgiving they had dinner together inviting brother Hardeen and his wife Elsie to join them. Houdini never mentioned to his brother anything about the flyers he had distributed to the crowds. Instead he presented to dinner bill to him!
Vaudeville entertainers traveled from city to city. On "big time" like the Orpheum, it was 2 shows per day 6 days per week with a travel day to get to the next city and theatre. Houdini and his wife Bess along with their crew of assistants packed their stage props and luggage, transported everything to the train station and headed to Los Angeles. The next booking was the Orpheum Theatre in Southern California. That would prove another interesting episode. I spoke at length with the aging stagehands from the Orpheum and Pantages theatres, the police officials mentioned, and a number of retired reporters that remembered the time Houdini came to Oakland. In 1925 Houdini would be back again at the Orpheum, but in a new location on Broadway. The Oakland Tribune newspaper would have their own building by then on 14th street at Franklin. While the new building was under construction, Houdini would again present his upside down straightjacket escape.
And what did those people tell me of their impressions and experiences with Houdini? You'll have to wait to find out!
Rare Photographs of Houdini
Very rare photograph of Houdini and famous magician
of another era, Harry Keller, November 1915, while Houdini
was appearing at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles. It was .
a week after his appearence in Oakland.
From the Geoffrey Hansen Collection
Very rare photograph of Houdini and his trained
bunny, Rudy, circa 1925
From the Geoffrey Hansen Collection
Very rare early photograph of the Houdini's and their "Metamorphosis"
From the Geoffrey Hansen Collection
Early photo of the Houdinis......
From the Geoffrey Hansen Collection
Very rare photograph of Houdini with a smile.
From the Geoffrey Hansen Collection.
Houdini had a series of publicity photos taken
in his 1915 Orpheum Theatre tour in Seattle, WA.
Jack London and Wife with Houdini and Wife
November 1915 in Oakland, California.
From the Geoffrey Hansen Collection.
The $10,000 Challenge that was Never Met!
Houdini's handwritten note
From the Geoffrey Hansen Collection
The Art of Magic
By Geoffrey Hansen
Reading this you will quickly realize it is not so much what the magician does that makes him great, but instead how he does it. To simply know how the magician accomplishes his magic is nothing--it is the manner in which he presents his performance before an audience. All of the great magicians have had something associated with their performances, something special that makes them stand out from the others. For Blackstone, both Senior and Junior it was and is the Vanishing Birdcage, the Dancing Handkerchief and Comedy Rope Tie while picking the pockets of spectators from the audience assisting on stage. For Houdini it was his spectacular escape from a straight jacket, and at various times in his career the escape from a giant milk filled with water and later his original water torture cell. For Dante it was his presentation of his Backstage Illusion. Everybody in the audience thought they saw how it was done, but in the end he fooled them all with a surprise finish. Dante was also noted for his Lazy Magician where he sat on a chair smoking a cigar while female assistants brought out a cane, rope and silk scarves. In a lazy manner he performed magic. It was his personality that projected. Cardini was known for his suave presentation manipulating playing cards while wearing white gloves and Channing Pollock for producing white fluttering doves out of nowhere. To have a violin and sheet music does not make a person qualified to take a seat with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The same applies to magic. To have a deck of cards and several silk scarves does not make one a magician. All of the people you read about in this book have dedicated their lives to perfecting their art. The presentation of magic in a theatrical form is n art. The study of magic and it's application is a science. To a real professional magician, they never call their magic a "trick." It is always an effect which is short for theatrical effect. For it is the overall presentation and end result, the way it appears to the viewing audience that qualifies it as an art. Magic and its presentation is a form of affecting people's emotions through drama. In presenting each effect, the magician is telling a story. As the story unfolds, the emotions of the people in the audience in the form of dreams are told. Things a magician performs fulfills a basic fundamental desire in each person, either on a conscience or subconscious level. Channing Pollock once told me that he felt magic represented power; at least on somewhat of an artificial level. In the best presentation, the Art of magic expresses desire, wishes, dreams and a balance with reality on a symbolic form, and the balance with the natural laws of science. Theatrically a magician must be a good actor, because the magical effect (or play) does not in itself play out the plot. The great magician must project personality, style, timing, voice inflection, and all the other qualities of a great actor. The father of modern magic, Robert-Houdin of France said, "A magician is playing the part of a man who works miracles ." How much can a magician do with the theatrical form of magic? Where can he draw his art? Here are the basic concepts in magic when you approach it as a science.
In magician's terminology the magical appearance of something is known as a production. The size of what a magician can produce out of what appears to be thin air is only limited to his imagination and the conditions where he is performing. It must be said that the appearance of playing cards by a master magician can be just as impressive as the production of an elephant. In the history of magic, the most well known production is that of pulling a rabbit out of a previously shown empty black top hat. In the days of old this was especially effective because the magician would barrow a hat from a member of the audience, when such hats where in style for gentlemen.
To disappear an object or person, which is also known as a vanish, is a fundamental aspect of the magician's art. There are two types of vanishing acts, one with an object or person is covered, such as vanishing from a box. A person steps into a box, the doors are closed and when reopened the person seems to have vanished. The other is to vanish or disappear without any cover whatsoever. A magician can display a handful of playing cards and apparently toss them into the air and they suddenly vanish! This is a classic example of magic at its very best. Harry Blackstone, both father and son, have made a trademark of their ability to vanish a bird cage containing a canary in a split second. There is no covering whatsoever, and this is considered one of the greatest effects in magic. Another example of a vanish or disappearance is where either an object or person fades away. A large container with a paper covering a frame, with a light shown behind the paper the subject can step behind the paper and the shadow can be seen. Slowly the shadows image becomes weaker and disappears completely. When the paper and frame work are removed the object is gone.
This is when the magician changes one object into another. Dante, one of the greatest magicians in history, was once known as Jansen, "The Transformist ." On a smaller level this can be when one playing card, for example the ace of spades changes to the ten of diamonds. On a larger level it can be when a boy suddenly changes into a horse. There are many ways this can be done, a red hat chances to a black hat, or a car can change into a motorcycle. It can be done slowly and mysteriously or instantly .
this is changing the location of an object from one place to another. A girl steps into a box, disappears, and then re-appears in the back of the audience. Another way is that a bird can be placed in a small bag, the magicians fires a gun and it disappears only to reappear from his hat. The four effects listed here make up the basis for what a magician does. These are the most common and important elements of the magician's art. There are others too.
A rope can be cut into two pieces, then with the wave of a magic wand, restored back into a single piece. Another is to saw a live girl in half, separate the top and bottom half, and then restore her back to whole again. Another examples, Most which utilize pretty girls, are burning a young lady on stage and then restoring her back to her original condition, crushing a girl or stretching her arms and legs into various directions, and once again restoring her as before.
This is where an object becomes alive or animated. A good example of this was Howard Thurstons trademark. Various members of the audience would select playing cards, remember them and return them back into the deck. Slowly, one by one, one each card would magically rise up out of the deck. Another example is the famous Hindu Rope Mystery where a coil of rope is displayed on the stage, and without the magician touching it one end would rise up high into the air.
According to the laws of nature, two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time. In a magic show a penetration can be when one solid object passes through another, and at the finish there is no visible clue how this was accomplished. A needle can penetrate a glass mirror without any holes in it. Houdini made a feature of apparently walking through a brick wall, again without holes or tell-tale signs of his method of passing.
Examples of this would be a levitation where a person or object rises up into the air without any visible means of support. The Floating Girl is identified on a universal basis with magicians everywhere. Another would be the great Lee Grabel and his famous trademark FLOATING Piano. For many years he toured coast-to-coast with his mystery Show, performing this in communities large and small. A spectator from the audience would be invited upon the stage and seated at a piano. They would then be strapped into the piano seat, for reasons which would soon become known. As the spectator played the piano, it would slowly rise up off the stage and into the air, and rotate upside down as GRABEL and his assistants would pass a solid hoop over and around the floating piano and player! After making a full 360 rotation it would float back down to the stage, and piano and player where none the worse for the experience. Needless to say this created a sensation, and everywhere Grabel presented it people would flock to the theaters. Thirty years later people are still talking about it. A suspension is different from a levitation. In a suspension the person or object is suspended in the air and does not rise. A girl might remain in a stationary position on the tip of a sword, the upper head of a chair or from the inverted bristle side of a broom without explanation. Various forms of the suspension principle and levitation have become popular with magician's shows and the public often feels disappointed if they don't see it when attending a magic Show. Of course it is not only large objects or people that can be floated in the air. Small items like a metal ball floating around the stage as presented by American magico Aubrey or the floating light Globe (while lit) as presented by Harry Blackstone, Jr. are class examples of smaller items presented in a big way.
This is when the idea of time is either set forward or set backward according to the plot. A magician may show a grown young lady, perhaps in her mid-twenties and have her step into a small cabinet. Then the magician says the magic words, the cabinet is then opened again and the young lady has been changed to a baby. Another is where the magician shows a pot empty, adds soil and seeds and covers it with a cloth or metal tube. Then the cloth or tube are removed there are seen full grown flowers which he presents to members of the audience. The flower growth effect is very popular with Magician Harry Kellar who at the turn of the century and before created a sensation with it. You can imagine the impact of sitting in an audience in Toronto in the winter, and the magician causes roses to apparently Grow despite the cold, snow and winter weather of Canada. This was a big hit everywhere he presented it .
This is when a magician does something to an object , and Gets a sympathetic or the same reaction to another such object. This can be illustrated by a masterpiece of magic in the hands of Cas Boxley, one of the Greatest Magicians in history. He would show six silk scarves. He would tie three together and place them on a chair. about five feet away he would show the other three silk scarves separate. With his magic words the three that were tied would be found untied and the three that had earlier been separate were now tied together! Another example of this is when a magician ask a spectator to select any colored card with a choice of several different colors. The magician turns his back and he too selects a color and it turns out they had both chosen the same color.
MENTALISM AND MIND READING
A closely related allied art is that of mind reading which is sometimes termed as Mentalism. Joseph Dunninger is generally considered the creator of the word Mentalism, and he was a headliner in vaudeville for many years before turning to radio in it's early days, and later to television with equal success. Today Kreskin in the United States and Australian born Peter Reveen are the best known mentalists performing in North America . Members of the audience have their thoughts or minds "read" by the performer, in a baffling and entertaining manner. Another of the great mentalists Ormond McGill who for over sixty years was also among the most creative with his original ideas and approach. McGill has demonstrated his amazing ability to read the very thoughts of people in the audience in India, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Korea, Tahiti and other locations with the same ease as he has done in his own hone country of the USA.
This is most often seen in the traveling side shows associated with carnivals or the circus. The performers can impale his flesh with sewing needles without pain or discomfort, or walk on broken Glass in his bare feet without being cut, or snuff out lit cigarettes on his bare flesh or tongue without being burned. This should never be attempted by amateurs or anyone without a knowledgeable instructor .
The last element of the magician's art to be considered here, but by no means the least important is Escapes or what is also known as Escapology. The best known in history in the English speaking countries was Harry Houdini. He did not create or invent the escape act, but he became a headliner in vaudeville with it, the subject of hundreds or perhaps thousands of newspaper and magazine articles and several fictional films have been made about him. Some have said he was just an average magician, but a great escape artist. This can be faulted, because I have had the opportunity to see Houdini in action as both a magician and escape artist in old film clips. There is no question that he was outstanding in both aspects . Perhaps the reason magicians have stated he was only an average magician is because of the manner he presented his shows. To explain further, in Houdini's day the top magicians were Howard Thurston, The Great Raymond, Carter the Great, and Cardini. In the case of the first three when they performed an effect on stage, they were not the principle in the effect. Thurston would saw a girl in half or float a Girl, while Raymond or Carter would make a girl or boy disappear from the stage or do some other equal extraordinary feat. In Houdini's case it was that he was the center of the effect. If somebody disappeared, it was Houdini. The approach to the presentation was different than the others. Cardini was noted as the greatest sleight-of-hand magician of his day. Flawless artistic handling of playing cards, thimbles , balls etc. They appeared and disappeared in rare skill and ability. After viewing a film of Houdini presenting his version of sleight-of-hand with cards, I must say I was impressed as that of Cardini. Houdini was very mysterious and baffling while Cardini was very elegant and suave. How could anyone really compare them? How can you compare any magician to another? It is as foolish as trying to say which is better, apples or oranges. It rests in the personal opinion of the person who is the judge. which is better in music, jazz, rock-n-roll, big bands, classical or what? If everybody liked the same thing there would be only one type of ice cream. Instead there are many flavors to satisfy the taste of many people . Escapes themselves can be very dangerous. The very idea of freeing yourself from a trap or impossible situation is thrilling to any audience. Just about any normal person will in his own imagination place himself in the same situation as the escape artist. Dangling upside in the air high over the pavement in a straightjacket struggling to get out...chained down to a train track while the train approaches closer and closer...handcuffed and shackled and jumping into the waters of a lake, river or ocean and escaping underwater before facing death by drowning. These are just some of the situations an escape artist can find himself. In the early days of Houdini he made a reputation for himself by getting out of the local jails or prison in each town. There he would perform. Think of that. A magician or escape artist comes to your home town and Gets out of the jail, the same place were desperate criminals are placed Escape artists by tradition in their stage performances find themselves bound by ropes, chained and locked up, nailed into boxes, bound in straightjackets, handcuffed and all sorts of situations, yet the escape is made. Another aspect of the modern escape artists act is the "Challenge Escapes" where the public brings their own instruments to confine the performer with the idea he might fail. When I was younger I would offer $1,000 cash to anybody who could confine me so I could not escape. People and organizations would cone up with all sorts of devices; safes, vaults, fetters of every description. When there is a time element involved, that adds to the excitement. In my younger days I would also offer $1,000 if anybody could tie me up with 50 feet of rope, use any kind of knots; if I failed to escape in less time than it took to bind me. Nobody ever collected! Many times I presented a very dangerous demonstration with the time element and the prospects of death if I failed. One time in Tokyo, Japan for a national television special I was strapped into a straightjacket and hung upside down over a burning fire with five sticks of dynamite attached to the cable holding me up, set on a three minute timer. The idea was to make an escape and get into a passing gondola high above the crowd before the exposition. I made it and it create quite a stir in Japan. Today there are only several escape artists working professionally in the entire world. Norman Bigelow in the New England area has been performing one of the most original escape acts ever. Canadian born showman, The Amazing Randi has had a long and varied career, and in Japan the late Hikita Tenko, a close friend of mine before his death was as well known in his native country as Houdini to the English speaking world.