When the Magic Castle opened

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

Postby Guest » 06/28/05 09:05 AM

This might be considered magic history or at least anecdotes.
When the Magic Castle opened there were, as I recall, 67 members. Although I had known Bill Larsen for several years I first met Milt that evening. In those days we had no scheduled acts, no close up room, no basement, no dining rooms. We had the lobby, the bar area much smaller than now, two rooms and a terrace. There was a house magician Jay Ose. He performed for those sitting around a table in what is now Irmas room.

There were fewer seats at the bar than later on and one of those, that next to the stairs, was sacred to John Shrum. He was the brain behind much of the dcor.

Several of us were there every evening or nearly so. We had some interesting things going. For instance, when there were guests there and Fred Shields was doing card tricks he would casually ask me to name a card. He would then revel that that was the top card of his deck, or it was face up in the deck. We each acted as stooge for the other.

Jay Ose would ask first time visitor, I know so many card tricks that every card in the deck suggests a trick to me. Name a card and Ill show you the trick of that card. Since Jay knew the five cards statistically most likely to be named and had them in such a location that their discovery was a miracle he did well. He always prefaced that trick by a reference to me saying that it was my favorite trick so he would do it.

It was during the annual meeting in 1967 that we got a phone call from the hospital announcing Jays death. Since it was during that same meeting that Milt announced he had hired me as manager it was for me a memorable session.

In the earliest days Harry Coles was librarian and I was assistant. Harry claimed to be the only member entitled to do black magic. He was our only Afro-American member at that time. He always wore white shoes as a statement. The library was in what later became the Houdini room.

In the Fall of that year October as I recall the dining room opened. Fewer dining rooms than later. I think, but am not sure, that Toribio (Toby) was our first waiter. He certainly was there very early on and grew with the Castle. I think someone with access to the records could do an interesting story on the staff of the Magic Castle over the years. We used to say that Milt didnt hire people he cast a show. I dont think that the staff got from many of the members the appreciation that they earned.

When we opened we had few of the name magicians who later gave the place such panache. I recall when they arrived one by one. A few first and many more as word of the Castle spread. Many magicians from other parts of the country retired to the LA area just to be near the Castle. Chicago in particular was a source of many who settled within walking distance of the Castle. Clarke Crandall and Johnny Platt each lived less than a block or our front door.

Enough for an opening chapter. If anyone is interested, there will be more.
Tonga
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Postby Tabman » 06/28/05 09:30 AM

tonga, this is important stuff. that's incredible that you can remember such detail. I know I'm not the only one thats hanging on every word.

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Postby mrgoat » 06/28/05 10:04 AM

Originally posted by -=tabman:
tonga, this is important stuff. that's incredible that you can remember such detail. I know I'm not the only one thats hanging on every word.

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Yes please! More of this...
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Postby Pete Biro » 06/28/05 10:08 AM

Nice to read your experiences. Remember Toby Palmieri? He came up with the money for the stained glass domed ceiling in the dining room, and when he died willed money to pay for a wake at the Castle.

I still do a card trick that I first saw Jay Ose perform on my first visit.

When Dai moved here he was like a magnet bringing folks like Cervon, Jennings, Skinner, Carney, and others to the area.
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Postby Robert Allen » 06/28/05 10:15 AM

It sounds to me like Mr. Goshman knew the difference between being a magician and an entertainer. I wish I had had the opportunity to see him perform in person. I've only seen part of his routine on that magic show on TV in the 1970's (which featured many of the same magicians/acts also featured in the Hyla Clark book.)

I LOVE seeing an original, entertaining magic act. I don't care about the modus, I just enjoy being entertained.
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Postby Guest » 06/28/05 12:04 PM

Pete, Yes, I remember Toby. Anecdote: He took a young lady to dinner, paid the check, got up from his chair, gasped, and sat down again. Always the gentleman he had paid the check before checking out. Cremated preparatory to scattering from airplane. W.R.C.Shedenhelm designated scatterer. He hefts the ash container prior to boarding the plane and addresses it: Okay, you SOB you finally lost some weight. Shedenhelm, you may remember, was usually on the stool adjacent to Tobys at the bar.
That Wake was the first of many at the Castle. Noteworthy are those of Maury Leaf and Clarke Crandall. Cary Grant attended the latter and remained out of sight so as not to detract from the attention given the deceased Senator. He made himself known only to Ruth Walter (Mrs. C.)
The Wake for Loring Campbell was held up in the new area of the club in the parking garage. About all I remember of it is that Bill L had had made a poster size copy of the photo of Loring which I took for a Genii cover.

Robert Allen. You have hit the nail squarely on the head tetegisti acu. Not all magicians are entertainers. Not all of those whose memory is revered in this forum even aspired to be entertainers. I could name one (but I wont) who on more than one occasion said, F--- entertaining. I just want to be so good I even fool myself. Yet you will see more attention paid to his memory on this forum than you will find for Goshman.

One thing that is rarely considered when judging a close-up performer is his audience. I used to choose who sat at the table in the close-up room. I would not put the same types at the table for, say Tony Giorgio, as I would for Albert Goshman. For Giorgio I would pick a very well dressed, very proper woman between 60 and 70. Giorgio would entrance them. He would charm them. He would take all the stiffness out of them in no time. They would have a great time. In consequence so would the rest of the audience.

For Goshman the ideal was a nice softnik woman shes maybe 45 years old, her kids are no trouble, shes from Brooklyn or maybe in rare cases from Riverside Drive. The electricity from such a momma and Albert you should see it to believe it.

For those of you who just watch Albert looking for his sleights and moves you have missed his talent. Albert was a charmer under those circumstances.

So it looks like this was chapter II.
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Postby Pete Biro » 06/28/05 01:15 PM

ONe of W.R.C.s great lines, writing about a Buick, "You went into a turn and spun the wheel like a riverboat captain."

He also claimed to have perfected Jellied Burboun Sandwiches.

I used to do stories and pictures for Shed and others in "those days" when Petersen Publishing was at 5959 Hollywood Blvd. (What a dump now)!
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Postby Tabman » 06/28/05 05:29 PM

Originally posted by tonga: So it looks like this was chapter II.
Interesting that you were the fox finder for Tony Giorgio and Al Goshman!!

What about set ups for the other guys who were working the close-up room at that time?

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Postby Guest » 06/28/05 06:48 PM

Tabman has lured chapter three untimely from the womb.

I cannot at this late date remember the specifics for finding the chair fillers for any of the others. Many wanted their special guests seated there, of course. In fact, that used to be s problem at all times. It was one thing for the performer to ask me to place his guests there. It was quite another for a member to try and get me to place his guests there. I was concerned with placing there the persons who would best react with the performer, not with gratifying the wishes of individuals. Some b----rds even offered me tips (bribes) to comply. I took no tips. Not true, I was forced to on one occasion. It happened like this, daddy. One of our wealthy associate members happily celebrating a birthday came into the Castle bursting with good cheer and spreading largess about with a high hand. I declined. Whereupon he went to Milt and complained that I was spoiling his celebration. So Milt took the money and came down stairs to me and thrust it at me and said that I would take it. I rationalized this to myself by saying that since I received the money from Milt I hadnt taken a tip.

Once, I was over ruled by the performer. Johnny Carson was in the house and heading for the Goshman show. Al asked me to put Carson next to him.
I demurred with all the persuasion that I could. Al was angling for an invitation to perform on the Carson show. I put Carson there. During the show I was amazed, standing outside, at the quiet that reigned in a venue where usually laughter filled the air. When the show, or may I say fiasco, was over Al came out and assured me I had been right. Johnny had made sure that he not Goshman was the center of all eyes. He let all know by eye and presence that he was the star around there. And for those of you who are not aware of it let me tell you that there are a thousand little tricks that require no words or fanfare to distract an audience. Carson was a master of a goodly number, if not all, of that thousand.
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Postby Guest » 06/28/05 07:44 PM

okay, I was just going though the file and found somethng I typed out a couple of years ago.
Some notes on Doug Henning.
In either December of 1969 or January of 1970 while I was manager of the Magic Castle we booked Doug into the Wine Cellar of the Castle. The Wine Cellar was the venue for magic other than close-up as at that time the current stage area had not been added to the Castle.

Although the decision to book him had been made by the Larsen brothers Bill and Milt, writing to book him was my job. His act for the week that he played was very successful. The audiences liked his personality and that of the young lady who was his assistant. However, his act was NOT the Doug Henning which later became famous. When he came up to the office on the final night to pick up his check I pointed out to him that not one of his tricks, not one word of his patter was not suitable to a sixty year old. He was a fine performer but the persona and the material were entirely right out of the magic store. Obviously, when he went back to Canada he found others who shared that opinion and backed him financially to showcase his real talent.

In later years he was a frequent visitor at the Magic Castle and was ALWAYS a great delight to be with. I recall one occasion -- after I had given up being manager of the Castle and was just a member (incidentally, a charter member as I was one of the first 25 members) I went in to the Close-Up room to see a show and Doug was in the back row of the seats. When he saw me come in, he jumped up threw up his arms in his characteristic gesture and shouted out my name. His greetings to his friends were always equally warm.

When he had the show in New York my brother who lived there took his then 13-year-old magician-son to see Doug. Back stage when Doug heard that Alexis was my nephew he made a big fuss over him and treated him as someone special. Matter of fact, he made such an impression on Alexis that it was through Alexis -- now 36 -- that my brother and I heard of Dougs death. I have long since given up keeping up with the world of magic. (I only went to alt.magic to get the details on Dougs death after Alexis told us.)

I never saw Doug perform the magic that made him famous. I never saw one of his TV shows. My judgment of Doug is as a person -- and a very fine person he was.
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Postby Steve Bryant » 06/28/05 08:41 PM

For anyone who may have missed out on Doug Henning in his prime, you can purchase a dvd of The Magic Show with Doug Henning on Amazon, a movie made of his first Broadway show (with Didi Conn subbing for Dale). Doug is great in this.
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Postby Tabman » 06/29/05 04:48 PM

Thats a hillarious story about Al Goshman and Johnny Carson. It's to his tribute (Goshman's) that he admitted his mistake to you. I bet he never questioned your decisions after that.

I'm glad you brought up Doug Henning. I never knew he worked the Magic Castle. I got to know him in Houston when he came through in the early 70s on a tour pitching Transcendental Meditation. He was demonstrating some principle of TM using a Gozintabox. That was the first time I saw that trick. I did follow along with him on the TM path and still benefit from it.

tonga, if you don't mind me asking, do you know how many of the original 25 charter members of the Castle are still with us???

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Postby Pete Biro » 06/29/05 07:48 PM

I was given the royal treatment by Doug when I saw "The Magic Show" in NY, and to this day still have the autographed poster on the wall in my office that he gave to me.

Years later I called Doug to see if he would be interested in doing a big segment at the IBM Convention in Long Beach (I was producing the shows then) and he said "YES" -- and believe me, as much money as we paid him (it was a LOT) he delivered WAY MORE than we had hoped for... he was fantastic to work with and KO'd the audience that night.

He had NEVER worked a convention before.
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Postby Pete Biro » 06/29/05 07:50 PM

Tonga... you mentioned the "Wine Cellar" -- that was a great little place to work, but today's members probably don't believe we used to do STAGE magic in that minute space.

Wasn't it dug out and built by one of the parking lot guys?

I heard he wanted to work and Milt told him we needed a stage area and he offered to dig out the cellar and build it for a shot at working it.

I just can't recall his name, but he turned out to be a terrific performer and moved to Las Vegas and last I heard was driving a Rolls Royce.
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Postby Tabman » 06/29/05 08:12 PM

Originally posted by Pete Biro: I just can't recall his name, but he turned out to be a terrific performer and moved to Las Vegas and last I heard was driving a Rolls Royce.
Wow!! That sounds like Amazing Johnathan but I didn't think they make a shovel in his size.

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Postby Steve Bryant » 06/29/05 08:13 PM

Berri Lee?
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Postby Guest » 06/29/05 08:33 PM

In response to -=tabman ----
I have no idea of who might be survivors of the first 25 members other than myself. Here is a list. Maybe some one who reads this can point and say that so and so is alive.
1. Bill Larsen 2, George Boston 3. Fred Shields 4. Harry Mendoza 5. Alvin Jansen 6. Jim Sherman 7. Bennie Roth 8. Bill Chaudet 9. Alan Wakeling 10. Bev Bergeron 11. Jim Conley 12. Guy Thompson 13. Jack Walsh 14. Joe Sternbach 15 Kip Walton 16. Buddy Borgen 17 William Dahl 18. Dresser Dahlstead 19. Margaret Scott 20. Art Hannum 21. Harold Mulligan 22. Bob Gunther 23. Ray Treimer 25. Harold Robbins.

I just did a google search for Bev Bergeron and got 773 hits. This one was first and seemed likely so it is the only one I checked out.

http://bevbergeron.com/bookings.html

In response to Pete Biro.
I believe the Wine Cellar was dug by Hispanic laborers. It was done without a lot of City building inspectors chiming in.

The Wine Cellar performer of note was the young Australian lad Berri Lee as Steve Bryant said.
And, Steve, I had almost forgotten those jackets. Your email prompted the first thought I have given them in twenty years.
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Postby Mark Collier » 06/30/05 12:06 AM

Thank you for sharing these memories. This stuff is gold.
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Postby Guest » 06/30/05 07:49 AM

WHEN MAGIC CASTLE OPENED
Id like to mention some of the assets we had at the Castle in days of yore. The first that comes to mind is Roger Ritner. Roger had an infectious laugh. He was worth his weight in gold to any performer lucky enough to have Roger in the audience. He had easily tickled risible and would laugh in a joyous manner that would cue the rest of the audience who would join in. Roger performed in the Wine Cellar with a beauteous young psychic named Madame Reya. The most memorable part of that act was his line after she had performed one of her amazing feats was Rogers line, Well done, Medium Reya. It must have been memorable I have remembered it after thirty years.

Another great Asset was Maury Leaf (More Relief). He was a retired man who had devised some fiendishly clever magic. I saw him perform one evening for a group of his friends that he had brought. I was amazed both at the magic and at the wonderful response of the audience. To my mind that was far more important than the magic. I asked him to let us book him into the close up room once a week. He demurred. I insisted. He consented but claimed he was too nervous. He was genius enough to make his nervousness a part of the act. He would break out in a sweat, tremble, and fret. Rather than trying to hide this he capitalized on it. He called attention to it. When people would ask me during his show what was happening in the Close-up Room, I would say, Maury Leaf is in there making love to the audience. Believe me, for my money a performer who can do that is miles ahead of a mere sleight of hand artist.

Maury continued to entertain from beyond the grave. His wake was one of the most enjoyable affairs ever held at the Magic Castle.

A thoroughly nice man. When my apartment was burglarized and I lost my camera, Maury gave me a 4x5 camera that he had not used in recent years. He also brought me a smaller camera for the young nephew who lived with me. And to give credit where credit is due, his wife Kaye was equally nice.

And in listing assets one must afford a great accolade to Bill Larsen. Example one among many I could cite: One of our members who had retired to Hollywood to be near the Castle was due to celebrate a milestone birthday it may have been the 75th. Bill said that such a birthday should be feasted with family. He took up a collection among the members. Each member was LIMITED to a $2 donation. Bills reasoning was that we had members who would have been glad to pick up the entire tab. This would have been unfair to those members who could not do such magnanimous things and they would have been cheated of the joy of participation. If I remember correctly the celebrant was Herb Borin. Bill also insisted that the tickets we bought for the flight would be First Class.
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Postby Tom Dobrowolski » 06/30/05 08:52 AM

I became friends with Jim Ryan (James Patrick Ryan "The Darling of the Geritol Set") late in his life. He was a great entertainer and a truly kind and generous person. I was fortunate to have spent a lot of time with him and his lovely wife Kitty and daughter Cathy.They were all really wonderful people who loved magic and were the ultimate people persons. Jim used to enjoy telling the story of a visit he made early on to the Castle and Bill Larsen offering to have him stay as a "resident" magician. Jim declined as he was a family man first and foremost and his large family and circle of friends were in Chicago.

If tonga or anyone has any recollection of Jim's visit I would love to hear more about it.He passed away a while ago and I still miss him.

Also thanks for sharing all these great stories so far. I am really enjoying them.
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Postby Tabman » 06/30/05 09:42 AM

Originally posted by tonga: [QBThis would have been unfair to those members who could not do such magnanimous things and they would have been cheated of the joy of participation. [/QB]
Incredible. That's one of the most thougtful concepts I've ever heard. My already very high opinion of BLjr just jumped to plus 10 and with that revelation.

In the early 70s I started my little magic mfg biz with a small adv in Genii mag advertising my suede leather close-up pads. Bill Larsen treated me with great respect and kindness. I still have the letters of advice and encouragement and thanking me for my pittance of an adv. I'm sure he couldnt treat the full pagers any nicer. Now you tell me this and I understand a lot more about him. He obviously went deeper than "nice"!

tonga, you da man!!!!

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Postby Pete Biro » 07/01/05 04:47 PM

Tonga... since your "memory glands" are far more functional than mine, how about some stories for "Friday Night Lou?" :D

Note: This was Lou Derman, comedy writer, creator of Mr. Ed and writer/producer for All in the Family. :D

And one very funny close up act! :D
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Postby Guest » 07/01/05 08:16 PM

Pete,
You refer to that fellow who wrote dialogue for a horse and had an act whose high spot was the discovery of the chosen card in a hen's rectum. His was the only close up act during the week that I didn't introduce. I figured why introduce him since the vast majority of those who watched him were the guests he brought.
For those of you not in the know on the seventies -- Lou wrote the Mr. Ed TV show. Mr Ed was a horse gifted with the capacity to talk.
I never found the card in a hen's butt very amusing but chacun a son gout.
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Postby Guest » 07/04/05 12:07 PM

In my posting of June 22 I said "Not all of those whose memory is revered in this forum even aspired to be entertainers. I could name one (but I won't) who on more than one occasion said, "F--- entertaining. I just want to be so good I even fool myself." Today in looking for something else I found myself reading Clark "The Senator" Candall's article in The New Tops for April 1969. I quote from it:

"Larry Jennings, a fanatical card man, is supposed to have expressed no desire to entertain anyone and he doesn't."

In the same article Crandall says of Albert Goshman:
"Having watched his transition from a slightly uncouth, bumbling bumpkin to a polished, smooth skilled entertainer makes his presntations today all the more delightful. I could ask for no better climax to a week of enjoyable magic than to close with Albert Goshman."

This was written after Crandall's first visit to the Castle after a gig for an affair conducted by the local IBM Ring. His description of that fiasco is revealing.
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Postby Guest » 08/02/05 09:14 PM

I still think someone should write an account of the staff at the Magic Castle. However, until someone does Ill toss out a few memories. The early days of the dining room were a bit trying. I remember one night before I became manager taking a date to the Castle for dinner. The Maitre d came to the table to offer a wine. I selected a half bottle and he scurried off and just as quickly scurried back to say they were out of that one. I selected a half bottle of another. By this time I was a bit annoyed as I had intended to spend the evening with my date not talking to the Maitre d. Back he came to report they were out of that one, too. I heaved a deep but heartfelt sigh and selected a full bottle. Triumphantly he returned with the bottle and poured a glass for my approval. In customary fashion I raised the glass to sight the wine. I discovered on the side of the glass a three inch medallion of beef fat. I handed the glass to the Maitre d with a look that should have chilled him to the marrow.

We had a several chefs before the happy day when Chef Howard joined us. I was at that time manager of the Castle and enjoyed a great rapport with Howard. The two of us dined together every evening and discussed the needs and plans. I learned a tremendous amount from him. During his stay the Castle enjoyed a reputation as one of the very best restaurants in Los Angeles. All the food wholesalers called Chef Howard whenever they had something very special to offer.

Chef Howard was very proud of his craft. One evening when he was busy carving roast beef the major specialty of the house Toribio (Toby) one of the butlers came rushing back to say, Chef, Chef, the lady at T-10 wants ketchup. Chef Howard coldly replied that there was no ketchup in the house. Toby carried the message and returned to say that the lady insisted. Howard repeated his message. Toby was soon back, Chef, Chef. The lady at T-10 wants to see the chef. Chef Howard removed the white jacket on which he had spattered some beef gravy, donned a sparkling clean one, squared his toque on his head and strode forth. The lady smiled sweetly at him and said she just wanted to see a chef who had the courage of his convictions.
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Postby Pete Biro » 08/02/05 09:50 PM

I loved Derman's card in the chicken's derrier and now that time has passed it into public domain may well start to use it, in his honor :D
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Postby Guest » 09/02/05 07:43 PM

At one time the Castle had a maitre d who was quite a character. He was more adept at glad handing than he was at controlling the flow of traffic in the dining rooms. he would have things so mixed up that guests waiting to be seated would be on the staircase from the dining room to the lock on the landing. This made it very difficult for members wanting to go upstairs to the library.

Then to compensate for the wait that the diners had undergone, he would comp them a bottle of champagne, the best champagne that we stocked. Bill Larsen and Irene Larsen drank the least expensive. The maitre d comped the most expensive. That of course meant that the dining room lost money on that table.

Despite the long delays in serving, the dining room could handle so few patrons in an evening that the butlers were unhappy with the amount of tips they were getting.

One or another non-magician member would frequently ask for some magician to come to the table and perform for his guests. He would, of course, tip the magician more than he tipped the butler but not as much as he tipped the maitre d. Bill Larsen was horrified when he realized this custom. He had the quaint idea that magicians should be the ones to get the lions share.

The maitre d went on vacation. The most able of the butlers took over in his absence. He was able to seat far, far more people in an evening with NO waiting (and no comp of wines). As a matter of fact, he was so efficient that we had to tell him to limit the number of people he served as he was accepting more reservations than we could provide magic for in an evening.

We sent the vacationing maitre d a cable suggesting that he prolong his vacation for ever. I never saw him again.
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