I was recently asked to write a few notes on magicians I saw when I was a kid, back in the Dark Ages. There are a couple of points that I could use some help with, as follows:
In the late 1940s, when I was 11 or 12, I went into a sideshow on the midway at the Missouri State Fair and saw a dwarf magician do a burned-and-restored bill effect in which he used a blowtorch to burn the bill. I know that was the signature trick of a sideshow performer of the time who was a dwarf, but I can't recall the name. Zooey Bluey rings a bell, but perhaps that's someone else entirely? I'm pretty sure the dwarf magician is mentioned in "Greater Magic," but I sold my magic library seven or eight years ago because of health problems, so I no longer have a copy of "Greater Magic." Anybody know about this magician?
[Now that I think about it, I may have been a little older at the time of my visit to the sideshow, which would have placed it in the early '50s. The sideshow also had a sword box (performed by someone else, not in the context of a magic act). A semi-comely lass climbed into the box, a guy stuck swords in and then he reached into the box and yanked out what was supposedly the swimsuit the girl had been wearing. For another two bits, you could walk up onto the platform and peer into the box at the allegedly naked young lady, also finding out how the illusion was accomplished. I forked over my quarter, of course, and joined the line of sheepish males. I don't suppose they would have let me do that if I were only 11 or 12? And no, Virginia, the girl wasn't naked. She did look REALLY surly -- though it's understandable that anyone would get a little irritated at being jammed up amid all those blades with a bunch of farmboys taking turns gawking down at you.]
At about the same time, there was an attempt to revive the vaudeville format at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis. We were on our annual vacation to the "big city," and my folks took me to see a bill that included Jack Gwynne. I recall that the Gwynnes did a lot of tricks using small livestock – rabbits, chickens, etc. – and that they played very close to the front of the stage, right on the apron much of the time. I wonder if that was a trademark of the Gwynne show or whether the Fox simply had a very shallow stage at the time? (It's one of those old movie palaces that were built in the '20s and '30s, and it originally was intended for film, not live performances.)
Also about the same period, the late '40s or early '50s, there was a magic convention in St. Louis during which a large public show was held at Kiel Auditorium, and the lineup included the Great Ovette. What I remember most is how much difficulty he had speaking. Many years later, I read somewhere that Joe Ovette was suffering from throat cancer and that the convention show was his final performance. Does anyone out there recall whether that was an IBM or SAM convention? Maybe an early Midwest Magic Jubilee? I know that my folks took me to the old Lindhorst Magic Den and bought me a lousy trick that was billed as the "Convention Special." I wasn't an attendee, of course. I just saw the public show.
If anyone has any information about these somewhat esoteric topics, their comments would be appreciated. After all these years, my memories are murky. Later on, after a magical hiatus during high school and college, I got a job in St. Louis and resumed my interest in magic. Since the Midwest Magic Jubilee was in St. Louis every other year, alternating with Kansas City, I got to see an illustrious procession of the country's better magicians. Best of all was a remarkable Jubilee that Jay Vincent put together in Kansas City featuring Dai Vernon, Charley Miller, Faucett Ross, Ron Wilson, Larry Jennings and, among others, a new kid on the block named Derek Dingle. I have no trouble remembering that.