Arthur Brandon did not live to see the story of his life make it into print. Sadly, he approved some design samples for the book from his hospital bed shortly before succumbing to complications from pneumonia at the age of eighty-two. But after reading this wonderful book, you will not at all not feel sorry for him, for he lived
every moment of that remarkable, and as the subtitle imparts, Magical Life.
Milo & Roger: a Magical Life
by Arthur Brandon (Hermetic Press, 2001) is 432-pages with an all too short section of photographs. With a career that spanned over 50 years, one would hope that there might be more photographs available but, alas, the book has only eight pages of them. I suspect that the author was just too busy collecting personal memories to collect photographic ones. The overall production is typical Hermetic Press: exceptional. Art Ducko by publisher Stephen Minch graces the work throughout and is a lovely touch that gains in relevance as the story unfolds.Milo & Roger
is more than just a matter-of-fact autobiography of a magician and his stage partner, Roger. Its part adventure story with a touch of mysticism that can make even the most ardent skeptic smile and wonder what if? Its also part behind-the-scenes expos that shows the mere dreamer that the nuts-and-bolts workaday life that is professional show business is not all glamour. And its a fascinating glimpse into the lessons of the mystical, sexual, and the trials of life and death, experienced by a man from his first recollections to near his last.
As in all good stories, Milo & Roger
starts at the beginning: Arthur Brandons youth in Alliance, Ohio. It was not at all idyllic, growing up during the Great Depression, but nor was it traumatic for him. Like most of his generation, Brandon learned to appreciate what he had: The value of a dollar, hard work, family, and friends. Learning not to take such things for granted at a young age would see him through trying times in his adulthood. The reader might come away thinking that Brandon believed in good luck and the power of the stars. However, its clear he made his own good luck through his work and diligence. Arthur Brandon might credit
the stars (or the Gods of India), but he clearly believed in himself first and foremost.
Of course, it was during his youth that he became enamored with magic. Good fortuneor the Gods of Indiasmiled on him many times. He acquired several Tarbell lessons from a barber who no longer needed them and recognized that the youngster was indeed a magician. He met Harry Blackstone, Sr.the greatest magician in the worldbackstage after lying about being on the school newspaper. He met a doctors son who owned magic equipment young Brandon would borrow for his shows (of course, he worked at nurturing that relationship which allowed him to do thatso not all is just good fortune). He knew people who would help him build his own equipment from the ideas in his fertile mind: A talent that would carry him throughout his career. His father turned his bedroom into a theatercomplete with stage and curtainso he could give his first performances. And he was encouraged not just by his loving parents (the stories about whom are wonderful in their own right, and who were never ashamed of introducing him as their son, the magician), but also many townsfolk. Some of these people suffered the consequences of some early magical disasters, but they still inspired him to persevere and follow his one true calling: to be a magician. So, with a made up quote attributed to the New York Times
on his brochure, the young man set out to follow his dream, his first agent being a local quack and grifter with a gift for salesmanship.
The story takes him through the years from his bedroom theater to church basements; to medicine and minstrel shows: To Florida and New York, where he would learn alternative health practices and the ways of the zodiac. He would develop his skills at astrological reading, which would finance his true calling on more than one occasion. This talent would have him rubbing elbows with the rich, powerful and famous, and probably could have provided him with a very comfortable living. But Arthur Brandon was a magician.
(After all, the New York Times
said so!) He would always return to Alliance and his parents, but soon the lure of the road and his calling would have him off again, traveling by bus, performing when and where he could, living the adventure of professional show business. He even managed to get himself mixed up in a bizarre mnage a trois
. But more importantly, while in a personal funk, Arthur Brandon departed the stage forever: Milo took his place and the Gods of India smiled.
A short time later, while in Akron, Ohio (and while the Gods of India were still smiling) he would meet Roger Coker in a small magic shop. A teenager who showed an interest in magic, Roger began to study with Milo, the seasoned professional magician. With the passing of his widowed mother, Roger had nowhere to turn and Milo took his young apprentice completely under his wing and soon made him part of the act: Milo and Company.
Roger, it turned out, also had an inventive mind, and was a capable builder. They decided they would make the move to Hollywood, since that, or so they believed, is where the work was. A side trip to Alliance introduced Roger to Arthurs mother and father and loaded them up with a supply of oatmeal cookies for the long bus trip west.
In Hollywood, they soon learned that to get work they would need to be completely original; particularly in what was believed, in the early 1950s to be a virtually dead industry (live show business). Between the odd show, zodiac readings, stints as a waiter and Tarot card reader for Roger, they set out to build their new act. In a small two-bedroom apartment with a living room turned workshop, they built tricks and illusions and sewed costumesand housed their ducks used in their act.
During this period, their paths would cross with a list of characters that range from readings by Milo for a young Clint Eastwood and Susan Hayward (among others) to an assistant named Miriam (Im not a prostitute she assured them) and another named Solar Plexus. But they also began to work. They packed their ducks and equipment into a homemade trailer pulled by their used car and hit the road. Their travels would take them across the country working at fairs, in smalltime theaters, various club meetings, and anyplace else they could book a show. They endured dive motels, little food, and performing conditions that would dishearten the most robust of spirit. Though considering it, they never wavered from their course.
Milo and Roger slowly worked their way into bigger and more prominent bookings. They appeared on television (where Rogers name was formally added to the act: Milo and Company became Milo & Roger) and the annual Its Magic show in Hollywood where they received excellent reviews from one of the toughest critics in Hollywood. On Hollywood Boulevard, Milo bumped into the now retired Harry Blackstone, Sr., who praised their act, thus bringing his relationship with the worlds greatest magician full circle, much to the delight of Milo. It was also during this period that Milo and Roger visited Arthurs hometown again. In one of the most poignant moments in the book, it would be the last time Arthur Brandon would see Alliance, Ohio and his beloved mother and father.
Always thinking outside the box, Milo and Roger bartered their way to the Orient (shows for cruise ship passage) and toured Japan, China, and Taiwan. Often, they would perform for audiences of men being serviced by the hostesses working the theaters. They bartered their way home from Hong Kong when they where asked to join a tour with film and stage star Mitzi Gaynor. Milo and Roger hit the big time, and they would finally have a real New York Times
quote to add to their rsum!
This tour would end in Las Vegas, where Milo and Roger were approached by Donn Arden which would result in their traveling to Paris. There they would headline at the Lido for two years (and then at the Lido show in Las Vegas) and then for many years at the Crazy Horse back in Paris. A vacation from the rigors of nightly performances would take them to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Germany (on tour with Ted Lesley), Greece, London and then back to the Orient where they would set down roots, though they would still hear the call of the road and magic. Even in their advanced years, they continued to perform in Las Vegas, on Broadway and around the world until the passing, in 1997, of Milos best friend and partner, Roger Coker while at home in Thailand.
Though relatively unknown among many magicians, as the story of Milo & Roger: A Magical Life
unfolds, the reader is left with little doubt how theirs became one of the greatest comedy magic acts in the history of show business (not just magic). It was inevitable: It was written in the stars, the cards and the New York Times.
PS: This wonderful
book is still in print and is available from the publisher, Stephen Minchs Hermetic Press, Inc.
If you do not have it, I highly recommend that you acquire it. It is one of my very favorite books; I cannot recommend it any higher than that. And my little acknowledgment here cannot do it any justice whatsoever.