Archive for magician

Magic at Coney: An Interview with Magician Gary Driefus

Posted in BROOKLYN, Coney Island, Contemporary Variety, Magicians/ Mind Readers/ Quick Change, PLUGS with tags , , , , , , on April 20, 2017 by travsd

Sundays at Noon, Gary Dreifus presents his long-running family-oriented magic show at Coney Island USA, featuring a different line-up  of expert illusionists every week. Today, Gary gives us the low-down on this popular show: 

When/ how/ why did you start performing magic?

My interest in magic began in the fourth grade.  I was assigned a “How To” book report and wound up at the 793.8 section of the library.  I took our Dunninger’s Encyclopedia of Magic and performed three effects from the book. I sucked, but it peaked my interest in magic.  Later that year, I witnessed my first live magic performance. I helped the magician take his livestock to the car and he showed me how to do a simple magic trick.  I was hooked! His name was Maurice Keshinova (sp?) and performed as Maurice the Great. He had been a vaudevillian magician and taught me several tricks.

During adolescence, I was a klutz.  My father suggested I renew my interest in magic to gain some dexterity and hand/eye coordination.  He owned a popular bakery in Midwood and a magic shop opened a block away. I had a few hours to kill between sweeping up and closing time at the bakery, so I would go and hang out at the magic store.  We were all young… the manager was Larry Scott (Youngstein), who now owns Havin’ a Party in Canarsie and is the local balloon distributor. Other kids who hung out there were Eric DeCamps, Levent (Cimkentli), Robert Baxt, Brian McGovern.

I graduated Brooklyn College with a degree in Education of the Speech and Hearing Handicapped.  My first job was as a Teacher of the Deaf in JHS 47; the city’s school for the deaf.  Since I was new teacher, they gave me the worst class in the school.  I made a deal with the students. Every day they behaved, I performed a magic trick.  The class became the best in the school and I was running out of material so I started teaching them magic. The “worst” class scored higher in math and reading scores than any other group in the school!

Throughout my professional career, I used magic to motivate, educate and entertain. I was also asked to teach a beginners (and subsequently an intermediate and advanced) magic class at Kingsborough Community College. It was in the late 1990’s that I came across a magic shop on Queens’s Boulevard in Elmhurst. The proprietor was Roger “Rogue” Quan, who asked if I could perform at one of his weekly magic shows.  I agreed, and was then asked if I could host the shows.  Thus began my career as magical host.  Met all the local performers and became friends with many of them.

In 2008, my program was eliminated by the city and I was laid-off.  A friend had a great idea to perform for restaurants and bars. We had contracts on Long Island and the Jersey shore. Unfortunately, we weren’t getting paid and had to run after EVERY penny! I parted ways with my partner and started teaching magic in local community centers.

How/ when did you come to be doing your regular Sunday shows at Coney Island USA?

In the summer of 2010 I was meeting with another magician at the Freak Bar in Coney Island. He introduced me to Patrick Wall, then the stage manager at Coney Island USA. I asked why there weren’t any regular magic shows at Sideshows by the Seashore.  I was told they had tried, but they never took off. I did some research and found that magic and magicians were an integral part of Coney Island. Coney Island was a beacon for magicians throughout the world. The local sideshows at Dreamland, Luna Park and Steeplechase Park, as well as the local dance halls and theaters were a proving ground for those performing artists looking to hone their skills. Luminaries such as Houdini, his brother Hardeen, Cary Grant, William “Bud” Abbott, Dai Vernon, Jean Hugard and Al Flosso were featured artists who went on to stardom around the world.

I drew up a proposal for a magic variety show and pitched it to Dick Zigun, the artistic director of CIUSA. I began on a Wednesday in September. We had eight acts for that first show… It was some time after midnight that we finished! The important lesson I learned was that performing artists have NO concept of time! Fifteen minutes maximum turned into a 40 minute set! The show was a HUGE success. Audience response was fantastic. Magic at Coney!!! continued as a monthly show, then twice per month the following season.

During the 2013 season, I was asked if we could perform during the off-season. Thus began the Sunday matinees.

What do you like about performing there?

Magic at Coney!!! belongs at the same venue where the last of the sideshows is performed. The Coney Island Museum makes a perfect backdrop, allowing for a mix of both old and new Coney Island.

Who are your heroes, mentors, models in the magic world?

I love watching Marc Salem perform.  I think he’s the top working mentalist today. I love watching Rocco perform. He brings magic to a whole new level. Bobby Torkova is fantastic as is Thomas Solomon. I enjoy working with ALL of the artists involved with Magic at Coney!!!  Each brings his or her own take to the art.

My biggest influences were probably the late Bob Cassidy, Kenton Knepper and Eugene Berger. Ken Weber gave me specific suggestions that changed and improved certain specific effects. Simon Lovell was an incredible performer who also helped me improve.

The entire Magic at Coney!!! project could not have succeeded without the support and dedication of a group of talented magicians.  The friendships I’ve made have been tight and everlasting, and I cannot thank them all enough.

Stars of Vaudeville #1022: Samri Baldwin, “The White Mahatma”

Posted in Magicians/ Mind Readers/ Quick Change with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2017 by travsd

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SAMRI BALDWIN: THE WHITE MAHATMA

Today is the birthday of Samuel Spencer “Samri” Baldwin (1848-1924) . Originally from Cincinnati, Baldwin became inspired to become a magician by studying the Davenport Brothers, and became one of the first mentalists by studying the tricks of Anna Eva Fay (who claimed to be a true medium). Billed as “The White Mahatama”, Baldwin publicly performed handcuff escapes and debunked fraudulent mediums, both activities prior to Houdini. His wife Kate or Kittie was often employed as his partner in the mentalism part of his act, as was his daughter Shadow.  The lady confederate would be led onstage in a trance, blindfolded, and then asked to ascertain the content of messages audience members had written on pads of paper. The Baldwins were the first to do this type of act.  Samri Baldwin’s books include Spirit Mediums Exposed (1879) and Secrets of Mahatma Land Explained (1895).

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold

Stars of Vaudeville #942: Sylvester Schaffer

Posted in Acrobats and Daredevils, German, Jugglers, Magicians/ Mind Readers/ Quick Change, Music, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Sylvester Schaffer (1885-1949). Schaffer was a second generation star of the Berlin variety stage. His father was the Austrian-Bohemian juggler and painter George Sylvester Schaffer. Schaffer fils had both those skills, and was also a magician, lightning sketch artist, musician, acrobat and trick rider. He was often called as the “one man variety show”.

Shaffer’s public persona was not unlike Houdini’s, and like the American escape artist Schaffer was also considered a dashing sex symbol and starred in a series of silent adventure movies during the 1920s. Also like Houdini, Schaffer was an international star, and he toured American vaudeville many times in the teens and twenties, including the greatest venue of all, the Palace, where he presented a lavish stage show with ten elaborate sets.

When Hitler came to power Schaffer fled Germany and settled into semi-retirement in Los Angeles, concentrating on visual art and music studies for his remaining years.

To find out more about  the history of show businessconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Stars of Vaudeville #836: Tampa

Posted in Magicians/ Mind Readers/ Quick Change, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , on November 3, 2013 by travsd

Today is the birthday of Raymond S. Sugden, known professionally as Tampa (1887-1939). He often billed himself as “England’s Court Magician”, despite having been from the Pittsburgh area. His first magic act was even more deceptive about his origins. Starting around 1917 he began performing with partner Ray Hartman in a Chinese-themed act called the Chau Tung Mysteries. This act was short-lived, as Hartman was drafted into the service in WWI. Sugden then went solo under his own name, with his wife and two sons as assistants. This is when he first began claiming to have been a court magician under George V.

In 1925, he began a professional relationship with Howard Thurston, designing and building many illusions for him, and signing a ten year contract to anchor Thurston’s third touring unit. This is when he began to use the name Tampa.

Unfortunately, the depression hit his the act (and the entire industry) hard in the early 30s. The relationship with Thurston unraveled over money issues before the contract ran out. After some time spent working as “Goodwill Ambassador” for a Pittsburgh newspaper he attempted to book himself as Sugden again in the mid to late 30s, but without much success (vaudeville had died by then; the number of theatres had greatly dwindled). Sugden retired before passing away at age 51.

To learn more about vaudeville consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss 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

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Stars of Vaudeville #834: Gus Fowler

Posted in British Music Hall, Magicians/ Mind Readers/ Quick Change, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 1, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of August Gerald Fowler (1888-1960). Apprenticed to J. N. Maskelyne, he started performing magic in English music halls in 1906. He specialized in manipulating watches and clocks, billed as “The Watch King” and “The Chronometrical Illusionist”. He made clocks and watches appear, vanish and levitate and at the climax of his act produced 30 ringing bells from his hat. Fowler was to tour big time American vaudeville with success several times during the 1920s.

To learn out more about show business history consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss 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

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The Fakir of Oolu

Posted in British Music Hall, Magicians/ Mind Readers/ Quick Change, Variety Theatre with tags , , on October 17, 2013 by travsd

Today is the birthday of Alfred Sylvester, Sr. (1813-1886), billed in variety halls as the Fakir of Oolu.

Sylvester started his professional career in his native England as an assistant to inventor John Henry Pepper, who devised a method of creating illusions like ghosts and moving statues on stage. Soon after going off on his own Sylvester was stopped by the authorities from using a pirated form of the ghost illusion. From here he developed his own stunt, the Aerial Suspension Illusion: dressed in mystic, Hindu-looking robe and turban he would remove the supporting props from underneath a reclining audience member or assistant and they would seem to float in the air. This trick continues to be performed by headlining magicians all over the world to this day. Sylvester died while touring Australia and New Zealand, but his son and grandson, both named Alfred, each in turn continued to perform his act billed as the Fakir of Oolu.

To find out more about the variety of arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss 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

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Stars of Vaudeville #829: Al Flosso

Posted in Amusement Parks, Coney Island, Dime Museum and Side Show, Jews/ Show Biz, Magicians/ Mind Readers/ Quick Change, TV variety, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Al Flosso (Albert Levinson, 1895-1976). This legendary magician got his start playing in vaudeville and at Coney Island, thus his stage name “The Coney Island Fakir”. (The English word for cotton candy is “floss”, hence the other part of his professional name). The trick he is most associated with is the “Miser’s Dream”, in which the magician pulls an endless number of coins out of thin air and plunks them into a metal bucket. He was also a top notch Punch and Judy Man; that’s him working the puppets in that scene in the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business.

In 1939, with vaudeville dead, he became co-owner of Martinka & Co., America’s oldest magic store (est. 1877) and held court there while many of America’s future greats (like David Copperfield, Ricky Jay and our old friend Torkova) came to study at his feet. Celebrities too came to hang out in the shop’s famous back room. At the same time he maintained a national profile with frequent appearances on television variety shows. This clip shows why he was so loved; not just a terrific “all-round magician” (as he was once called by Dunninger), but very funny, with a distinctive sideshow style personality not unlike that often portrayed by W.C. Fields:

To find out more about vaudeville past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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For more on silent and slapstick comedy please see 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

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