The Blackstone Letter That Has It All

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby Kevin Connolly » 10/24/04 09:57 PM

Here's a Blackstone Sr. letter that has it all. It has him near death, sex, a bitchy wife, a guy who stole his act and more. I wonder who these two guys were.


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Postby Jim Riser » 10/24/04 10:23 PM

Wonderful document - even moreso when you can remember the times and who is being mentioned! Thanks for sharing.
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Postby Pete Biro » 10/24/04 11:27 PM

I never noticed any similarities between Kirkham and Blackstone. Who was this "to" and from whom??
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 10/25/04 04:14 AM

I don't know who they were either. My guess is either one or both worked as a demonstrator at a California magic shop.
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Postby Guest » 10/25/04 06:53 AM

Hey Pete,

I wonder if the Frank who's writing is "The Skipper"? The time frame is right, the Ralph Edwards mention makes sense, but I don't remember if Frank worked for St. Pierre. Do you? I have several candidates for "Jack" IF the "Skipper" is Frank. What do you think?

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Postby Richard Hatch » 10/25/04 08:23 AM

"Jack" is almost certainly Jack Chanin. Chet Karkut, whose rubberstamp is visible on the letter, was a very close friend of Chanin's and I once drove with Chet to Philadelphia at Chanin's request and we literally shovelled papers of Chanin's into the back of Chet's station wagon. Mrs. Chanin had been hounding Jack to get rid of such things (this was several years after he'd sold his shop). His garage was waist high with such stuff and Chet was like a kid in a candy store getting this hoard of "priceless" ephemera. Jack=Chanin would also explain the magic store references in the letter.
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Postby Pete Biro » 10/25/04 09:15 AM

Frank Herman, AKA Skipper Frank... you may be right El Chosse... :rolleyes:
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Postby Guest » 10/25/04 09:36 AM

No wonder he felt good if he slept around for 20 hours a day. ;)
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 10/25/04 09:56 AM

Richard,

Jack Chanin seems right to me to. It came with some other Chanin stuff. Frank must be in the biz too, but the Chanin connection is what will sell it.

Thanks for the help.

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Postby Kevin Connolly » 10/25/04 11:25 AM

Did Frank Herman work out of the Magic House Of Charles in Hollywood?
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Postby Guest » 10/25/04 03:32 PM

Frank had his own TV show, and was tied into almost everything magical in LA at one time. He also did kid's shows, school shows, lectures, sold magic, worked in magic shops, etc. I can't be sure he is the Frank in the letter, but it is possible. Bruce Cervon, Mark Wilson, Les Smith, or one of the other "old-timers" from the Castle might know more about Frank's work history. That's where I would start...

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Postby David Alexander » 10/25/04 06:16 PM

The "Mr. Chaudet" that is mentioned as Blackstone's friend was Louis W. Chaudet, Sr., the father of Bill Chaudet. I had dinner at their home any number of times when I was a kid. Blackstone had been involved with Bill's mother long before she met Bill's father. Blackstone were friends of the Chaudets since before Billy was born.

Mr. Chaudet Sr. was a noted silent film director and Mrs. Chaudet was THE piano teacher in Hollywood. She taught the likes of Douglas Fairbank, Jr., Shirley Temple and others. She was a great character in her own right.

Chuck Kirkham was on the Blackstone show for a season or so as Blackstone's valet. I don't know about the comment of him running Blackstone down, because I never heard him do that....although Chuck has a positive genius for irritating everyone around him, including the few friends he had. A hard man to like for any length of time. He ended up a senile old man himself before he died.

The "St. Pierre" mentioned would have been Louis St. Pierre, owner of Hollywood Magic on Hollywood Blvd.

I don't think the "Frank" is Frank Herman. It doesn't sound like Frank, whom I knew. He didn't talk or write like that. It could have been the Frank that used to work in Hollywood Magic as a demonstrator. He was the guy who did the multiple coin roll, several coins on both hands simultaneously. He also made small magic and may have known Chanin. This sounds more like him that it does Skipper Frank.
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Postby David Alexander » 10/26/04 11:08 AM

The reference to Ralph Edwards was probably because on the 9th of March, 1960, Ralph Edwards surprised Blackstone with a "This Is Your Life" retrospective. Ralph Edwards was the creator/producer.
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Postby Guest » 10/26/04 11:29 AM

David,

You're right about the Kirkham/Blackstone connection - in fact, Kirkham was quite proud of his "association" with the elder Blackstone, and I never heard him badmouth Harry either. There was an auction of a collection of magic belonging to a guy whose name I can't remember. He was killed trying to stop a mugging outside the Castle, in 1978 or 1979. Among the props was the Blackstone "Sawing", and Kirkham just HAD to own it. He bid outrageously and got it, for "old times sake..." as he told me.

But you're right, Chuck managed to irritate almost everyone he came in contact with, sooner or later. He DID know as much about magic as almost anyone I'd met at the time, though, and could be very generous with the knowledge.

Ed Smith! That was the fellow whose estate it was, and the auction was an amazing event.

I can't imagine who the Frank you're thinking of was, but I'd love to know. And again, you are right, the tone doesn't sound like Frank Herman as I knew him. But, I knew him in his later years, from 1974 on. I thought he might have mellowed with age, as the Professor did, at least publically. It's better to think that he was a nice guy all the time!

I thought the Chaudet mentioned MUST be related to Bill, but I had no idea about the background. Thank you for sharing that, it is another wonderfully interesting footnote to the history of the magic scene there in LA.

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Postby David Alexander » 10/26/04 12:52 PM

Thanks for the kind comments...Yes, I never heard Chuck K. say a single bad thing about Blackstone, Sr. Always respectful. Kirk was mercurial about his knowledge...as you correctly say, more than practically anyone...but he could be odd about sharing it. He liked to have other people want what he had, so he could say no.

I think what Frank might have been talking about Chuck complaining about was some business that Hollywood Magic conducted with Blackstone, Sr. selling some of his routines and the "Harry Blackstone Secret Control Deck." The old man got some money for selling some of his items and liked the recognition. He was far too old and frail to perform, but he did anyway up at the Castle in its early days.

Yes, it was Ed Smith. Ed was a model builder with a huge collection of magic, a lot of which he'd bought from Kirk when Kirk needed money. Kirk would sell it to him because he knew Ed would never perform it. Kirk would become quite angry when Ed would sell one of "Kirk's" props to someone else, even if Ed had owned it for years.

I would see Frank Herman at Castle Swap Meets years after he was off TV, but he was growing deaf and it was difficult to carry on a conversation when everything had to be shouted two or three times. I corresponded with Frank Herman in his later years and he remained a nice guy. Letters were better for him. I sent him a fan letter near the end of his life, telling him how much I loved Skipper Frank and how he was a good influence on me as a professional magician...he being the first live magician I ever saw. He sent back a nice response....happy to hear from me, etc. I was one of two magicians at his memorial service and nothing would have run in the LA Times if I hadn't called them and reminded them that Frank was a LA TV icon. He always delivered a professional job when he was hired to work.

The "Frank" that worked at Hollywood Magic was a swarthy guy who'd spent seven years learning how to roll multiple coins on both hands simultaneously. There is a film some place of him doing it...Bill Burrud had it on an early show that showed the magic scene in LA...I think the included Owen Brothers, Hollywood Magic, and Merv Taylor. This was early 50s TV. It would be interesting to dig that footage up.
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Postby Guest » 10/26/04 01:55 PM

David,

It's funny to hear you calling him "Kirk". I never got what the deal was with Chuck vs Kirk. Seems that those who knew him longest called him Kirk, everyone else knew him as Chuck. Marvin (Burger) and he had a love/hate thing going, like many, I guess. Marv would call him about props and makers from southern CA especially.

Ed's auction was really something! I went with Burger, right after an IBM convention in San Diego. We bought so much we had to rent a trailer to bring it back to SF. Some one-of-a-kind pieces, some real rarities, Loyd candles, Sand Canisters, a Zig-Zag(!), Dell O'Dell's Appearing Bird Cage (Four cages on a stand with a column and four arms with hanging chains and all unchromed, it was the prototype by P&L. The original (the one she used) was all chromed.) Tons of Thayer, Blue Phantom, Rising Card Tray, Locking Card Boxes (regular and Jumbo, in mahogany), P&L Fairy Ribbon Shears, Aquarium, Stull Fishbowl, Cups and Balls, Conradi Bran Vase (all Nickle), Bartl Card Star, Martin pieces, a Willmann Ring Pull, Thornton Windlass, Rutherford Rising Cigarette (Anyone remember that!?), Merv Taylor Card Sword, Tambor, Por-Mor Fill-Mor, a BOX of Neyhart Houlettes (There were nine, I got three working units out of the nine, and tried to repair the others, but never was successful - don't know what Marv did with them ultimately), tons of Brema stuff, including a great set of Chinese Wands, etc.

The stuff was laid out in Milt's Variety Arts Theater, as I recall, and took hours just to preview. I THINK Kirk helped do the auctioning! In fact, I'm sure he did, as there was some grumbling about him bidding on things he was auctioning. We thought the prices were high then! Can't imagine what that stuff would bring today...

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Postby Steve V » 10/26/04 07:29 PM

I want y'all to know it is really facinating seeing how this letter is bringing out facts and stories.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 10/26/04 07:40 PM

Steve,

Wait till you see the Houdini letter where he's considering having monkey testicles grafted to his body to stay young. Now that's a letter! :eek: :eek:

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Postby David Alexander » 10/26/04 09:47 PM

His full name was "Charles Wesley Kirkham." The "Kirk Kirkham" was supposedly easier to remember and alot of people called him "Kirk." And yes, he had a very strange idea of friendship and loyalty. I was a pallbearer at his mother's funeral and then he "borrowed" a few hundred dolalrs a couple of years later...borrowing it for a deal that never happened and then not paying it back for years. Amazing. I always thought his wife, Phyllis, was as close to a saint as I'd ever find on this planet, yet she loved him.

Charlie Miller once told me that Kirkham wanted to have all the magic in the world so people would be forced to go around the side, to the kitchen door, knock on the screen and ask him to perform....and he would say no!

He was a decorated combat veteran and had a hate/hate relationship with Bill Larsen, Jr. Someone explained it to me that when Kirk came back from WW II, "Big Bill" took a real liking to him, much to younger Bill's dismay. Kirk was working ghost shows and large illusions around Southern Cal. There were other reasons for the mutual animosity, but I won't go into them here.

Kirk had several potential wonderful breaks...all of them falling apart. He had a promoter who was going to do wonderful things with him...and that all happened when the guy was killed in a private plane crash.

I was friendly with Bill Burrud when ABC was buying "specials" for their late night slot. Burrud had seen me on a cruise ship and I'd sold him on a magic special to fill that time slot. Bill thought it a great idea.

I wrote it and had the sale pending to Burrud that would have been on a network well before Doug Henning's. Kirk was to supply the illusions and other things. He immediately figured out how to spend ALL the money that was budgeted. He just went crazy.

I wrote out an agreement that had me getting a small percentage of he deal as a finder's fee, plus a performing fee for doing the act, and a writing fee. Kirk wouldn't sign it saying, "He would take care of me." I asked what the hell that meant and he just repeated it. It was MY deal, but he wouldn't budge, so I went to Burrud and killed it. Kirk was his own worst enemy.

I only heard about the Ed Smith auction because I believe I was out of state performing at the time. Ed just spent money, bought stuff, and hoarded it, never performing. For some collectors, just having it is enough. I don't think he ever showed much of it off and only a handful of people knew what he really had, until he was dead.
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Postby Guest » 10/26/04 09:54 PM

Yes, Mr. Chosse, I remember the Rutherford Rising

Cigarettes. I have eight of them. Wilfred

Rutherford was from here in Richmond, Virginia and

when I first got into organized magic in 1957 he

was still alive . He was in Chautaugua and

entertained me with many stories about it. He did

a lot of work with Swiss music box motors. He

loved rising cards and had many different versions

as well as the cigarettes. Don't tell me about

the Freudian connotations , we laughed about that

40 years ago.......Mike
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Postby Guest » 11/10/04 10:07 AM

I worked with and was friends with Kirkham and his family for a number of years... so much so that he told me to use the "successor of" angle when promoting myself and my shows.

Yes, Chuck could be a contancerous old fart, but he was typically fun and a tremendous source for knowledge.

As to Blackstone Sr., Chuck had nothing but high regards for him and considered his life exceptionally blessed for having known and worked with the man. I also know that if there was any sense of similarity between the two, it was more out of respect and tribute than lesser motives. If anyone, Kirk was modeled more after Will Rock (his mentor)and indirectly, Howard & Harry Thurston. He likewise gained some appreciated "guidance" from the likes of Larsen Sr. and the great Dante.

When you brought up that dang Sawing however, my entire body screamed at me... Why anyone would want to lug that huge, excessively heavy and dangerous thing around, I'll never know... perhaps Pasquoe (sp?) the pack-rat can tell us... I believe that's where it ended up -- Indiana.

I have many fond memories of my time working and learning from Chuck. I miss those regular Saturday morning coffee clutches... some of them lasting well into the night. He was a dear friend and I only wish I could have been there, doing more for him and with him in his latter days. Sad to say, life had another agenda for me... (and a large family to tend to.)

Hearing some of the anticdotes above, I can't help but see how much my own career and reputation has mirrored his... I guess it's the curse of the Irish.

Thanks for the memories guys!
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Postby Guest » 11/11/04 12:06 AM

I showed this letter to the Blackstone collector and biographer and he said the letter rings,(unfortunately) very true to Blackstone's situation in his last years. Although he couldn't remember him acting, "fruity" at all, just on in years.
It reminded me of Andy Devine saying, "I never won an Oscar, but I've loaned money to people who have."
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Postby David Alexander » 11/11/04 12:39 AM

Kirk's "small" show that he did often under auspices was one of the finest small illusion shows you would ever see.

He and Jim Sommers had built a thin model Sawing that fit Kirk's wife perfectly...that incorporated an additional principle that made it even more deceptive.

Kirk did an excellent Gwynne Suspension that looked terrific and when the venue was sufficient, he did a wonderful full levitation, switching the girl in mid-air for the Asrah form, vanishing her over the footlights using a Jimmy. It worked perfectly.

He often opened with a Dante-like "50 tricks in 50 seconds" that took your breath away.

When the venue permitted, he closed with Abbott's Spectacular Finale...a pain in the neck to set, but impressive to the audience.
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Postby Guest » 11/12/04 10:01 AM

Interesting series on the Blackstone letter. I was curious to read pchosse's note about the Kirk vs. Chuck, as my take has always been just the opposite. Chuck, as I always called him, was a central Michigan boy, whose home town was close to my own. In those palmy days, he was always 'Chuck,' and I always thought the 'Kirk' was adopted after he moved to CA. Always nice to me on our very occasional meetings after he moved west, still no doubting he was a piece of work! It was all good reading.
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