Today is the 102nd birthday of the still-living John Calvert (b. 1911). The Indiana native was inspired to take up magic by a boyhood trip to see the legendary Howard Thurston. He began his professional career touring town halls in Kentucky in 1929, with a single assistant and “Gyp, the Wonder Dog”. Within two years he was playing vaudeville theatres throughout the south with six assistants, presenting sleight of hand, hypnotism, and larger illusions. As the 30s wore on and vaudeville passed away, he was booked, often as a headliner, at presentation houses. His niche seems to have been comedy. Many of his stunts as described seem to have had a comical twist, as when a lady behind a screen disrobed — and a comedian emerged, or when he worked a decapitation stunt in parody of a horror movie. By the 1940s the good-looking, well-spoken Calvert became a movie star (of sorts) himself, first appearing as himself or magician characters, later as a crime solving sleuth called “The Falcon” in a series of B movies. His last picture was Dark Venture (1956) which he also directed, and which co-starred John Carradine. Also starting in the 1940s, he began travelling to his engagements in his own airplane (which he flew himself) and his own yacht (piloted by himself). He toured the world in this fashion, often finding himself escaping by the skin of his teeth from scrapes in war-torn foreign lands. He was still making public appearances into his nineties. And this interview was recorded when he was 100!;
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc