Bobby Baxter has Died

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Postby Richard Kaufman » 09/02/09 01:47 PM

Just got a message from John Thompson that Bobby Baxter has died. Think he must have been in his late eighties.

If you're outside of the New York City area you probably never saw him work. My first exposure to him was at the Festival of Magic and Occult in Madison Square Garden in 1972--same show with Richiardi, Omar Pasha, Gogi Pasha, and so on. Baxter was great--funny and mystifying. It was the first time I saw the Hummer Card fly around someone's body.

Bobby was also one of the best thimble workers on the planet, and had a pretty good claim to having come up with the idea of make a Vanishing Cane disappear by rolling it up in a newspaper.

He was legend in the New York magic scene and often performed at Monday Night Magic in his later years.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 09/02/09 02:24 PM

He was the MC for the The World Festival of Magic and the Occult as I remember it. I also was yelled at by Irv Tannen for giving tickets to his own show. We all received free tickets at Tannen's and Bobby used to hang out there. He said he need tickets and couldn't get any, so I gave him mine. I thought I was doing a nice thing, until Irv heard about it. He flipped! He couldn't believe that Bobby would take them. He knew Bobby could get more, but he had to pay for them.

Needles to say, Irv gave me some more tickets and told me to hang on to them. Or Else!
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Postby Jim Maloney » 09/02/09 03:31 PM

Bobby Baxter is indirectly responsible for me starting my research on Nate Leipzig. As Richard mentioned above, he was a great thimble worker, and I heard from a couple of sources that it was actually his thimble routine that was published in the Leipzig Book. I've since answered that question, but I was intrigued, and so I've continued down that road...

I sent him a letter asking him about the thimbles, and was pleased one day when he called me up. We must have talked for at least an hour. Our conversation quickly strayed from the main point, though, and we ended up discussing a wide variety of magic-related topics. He had a genuine love for magic that was apparent just from that one phone call.

About a year after that, by some happenstance, my aunt ran into him. She e-mailed me the next day:

Hi Jim,
Yesterday I was visiting friends in the city. We were at the London Terrace apartments in Chelsea. The friends I was visiting gave us a tour of the roof garden in the apartment complex. When we about to leave the roof a very elderly man, Bobby Baxter (87) came over to us and asked if he could go to the elevator with us since we was almost blind. He had a magazine with him - I think the name of it was Magic. He said that there was an article in the magazine about him and that he had just received an award in Hollywood. We read the article and yes, he was a famous magician. He even did card tricks for us. You may already know him but if not and you are looking for someone to discuss your research with he would probably be great. He seemed to want to talk to anyone he met and I think we could still be there talking to him if we had nothing else to do! I imagine you could track him down but if you want a phone number or exact address I could probably get it for you.


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Postby Ray Eden » 09/02/09 03:50 PM

Damn... I'll always remember Bobby Baxter as the guy who would call every three months or so and hit on my girlfriend when I was living in New York City. What a true character he was and a great magician. Rest in Peace, Bobby.
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Postby Joe Pecore » 09/02/09 04:03 PM

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Postby Richard Kaufman » 09/02/09 04:32 PM

Just received this anecdote from Steve Cuiffo:

I just read your post on the Genii Forum about the passing of Bobby Baxter.

I first met him at Mostly Magic when I was about eleven years old. During his act, he was doing the linking rings and started to hand all of them out for examination. He came to me and said, "are you a magician?" I said, "A little bit." Then he said, "Examine these and make sure they're okay." He then gave me the Key ring and a solid ring with a wink, knowing, somehow I would play along. I, of course, did. So, that night, that audience saw a linking ring routine where all of the rings were examined beforehand. Talk about instant stooging!
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Postby Torkova » 09/02/09 06:10 PM

Bobby always wanted me to write a book about him. To that end, I had recorded many hours of our phone conversations. However, can't see getting to it anytime in the near future, but perhaps someday. I also have the video of his performance from Ed Sullivan circa 1948 he gave me as well as another TV show from the 1970s. Will digitize them sometime soon and post them.

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Postby schindler » 09/02/09 06:47 PM

Bob was a good friend and the funniest magician I ever met.
He could get a standing ovation any time he wished one.

Bob was the first magician to vanish a cane in a newspaper. He did it ealier putting it into an umbrella envelope which he would tear up.

Many of his gags have been pilfered over the years but no one could come close to his card force. Tears of laughter followed his routine trying to get a spectator to choose the card.

He was also a great closeup technican especially with sponges. He played the great supper clubs, the London Palladium. the Ed Sullivan Show, the Ricciardi show, and in NY worked at the Magic Towne House and at Mostly Magic. He was 89 years old.

His real name was Edwin Ziegler. Let's not forget him.

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Postby David Oliver » 09/02/09 07:38 PM

Professor Bobby Baxter was one funny man. Over the years, I had heard his name many times. I remember the first night I met him, and it was at Monday Night Magic some dozen years ago. This was going to a memorable night, for sure, since I was working with the legendary Bobby Baxter.

Backstage, he was this nice elderly man, who would try little one-liners and zingers while trying to have fun with you. He almost made you think, gee, this old guy really is trying to be funny, but he doesn't have a clue. Man, was I wrong. HE was the one who was making sure that I didn't have a clue of how good and funny he really was.

While setting up for the show, he asked what material I would be doing as the opening act. I went through my list of effects within my bird act, and also mentioned the linking rings. With a dejected sigh, he said, "OK, I guess I'll take mine out tonight." I offered to not do my rings, and he replied, "nope. I'm the closer, I have more time on the bill. I'll take out my rings. Don't worry about it, kid. Do your stuff."

I opened the show with my act, including the rings. Afterwards, I ran around to the front of the house, and snuck into an empty aisle seat during intermission. If I was going to se him for the first time, I wanted to see the Professor from the front. So, I wore my street clothes and slouched in my seat, about five rows back in the dark. Even though the theater was very dark, I didn't want to distract him.

He was hilarious. He acted as this, overworked, under appreciated old guy, who seemed to WANT to enjoy his performance, but it had become a 'job.' (Imagine the old guys from the Muppet Show, "Waldorf" and "Statler," or ventriloquist Jeff Dunham's puppet, "Walter" doing magic.) His audience management and timing were better than almost anyone I have ever seen. He darted around both physically and figuratively, mesmerizing the entire audience. Then, about twenty minutes later, it happened.

He took out his linking rings. He began his routine. There was a very subtle mumble in the audience. (Today, I know he waited for that mumble to happen, and he would have continued until it did. Or he would have pretended to hear it anyway.) He looked up in the direction of the noise and commented (as if he had actually heard a something), "What!? You've already seen these? Oliver did them before? That bastard."

He then began to walk up the aisle in my direction, yet never looking at me. I was sure he hadn't seen me crouching in the dark, and that the lights were in his eyes. He had been mumbling his disgust about the whole situation all the way up the aisle, and the audience was laughing heartily. He stopped in the aisle, turned to face me and glared in my direction. I was now in full lighting, and it was clear that he knew I was there the whole time. I was had. He tossed the rings into my lap and said in a most crotchety tone, "If you're going to do my act, you might as well take all of it." With that, he tore off his toupee' and placed it onto my head, kissed it goodbye, and went back onstage to finish his set. The audience roared.

We worked together several times at MNM after that, and each time was a learning experience for me. I would usually have a sore side from laughing so hard every time I saw him. But I would always come home a little smarter, and a smidge better performer for having spent time with Professor Bobby.

After that first show, he thanked me for "playing" with him, and allowing him to have some fun.

No, thank YOU, Professor, for allowing me to play, and to learn about having fun and loving what you do onstage, from one of magic's true masters.

You will be missed, Professor.
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Postby Torkova » 09/02/09 07:46 PM

Great story David. Typical of Bobby's humor and acting ability. Also keeping it "real" and in the moment which often resulted in his funniest material. Thanks for sharing it.

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Postby Torkova » 09/02/09 10:30 PM

An update on Bobby Baxter's passing. He had no will but left his body to science at Columbia Presbertian Hospital in New York. He had said he was thrilled to be buried for free. We are still looking into having a memorial service and possibly a stone placed in his memory.

RIP
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Postby MJ Emigh » 09/02/09 10:54 PM

I've been here for years, but never had the great urge to post. I guess this is more out of nessesity than anything else. The Blackpool controversy is certainly interesting, but it has no effect on me. Ed (Professor Bobby Baxter) did.

I have been doing magic professionally for about 30 years. I had always been fascinated by magic, but did not make the plunge until I was at an age that it simply shouldn't happen. Better late than never.

I was not promoting my own shows at the time I ran into the Professor. It was someone else's gig. But, what a gig it was, and what a series of gigs it became.

This very nice man helped me along quite a bit. He encouraged me to emcee shows, giving me a chance to be really bad while performing a load of effects I had purchased from Bob Little in his garage attic (another great story for another time). That was truly my start.

My mentors were The Fondas (the late Clark Fonda and the current Ruth Pitts, married to former IBM President Bill Pitts), but Ed was the guy who gave me my first shot at an audience. Such selflessness should not be disregarded, and is yet another example of the true brotherhood that exists in magic.

I did not keep in touch with P.B.B., but now I'm thinking that I should have. We toured with a lot of has-beens from the old rock and roll days. The Tokens, The Vouges, The Crystals, Danny & The Juniors.....jeez, the list could go on for a while.

He was a great guy, a sharing guy, and a genuine talent in this business. He had no real original effects, but he breathed life into the classics. I am sad to hear of his passing and I am glad to see that others have the respect that I have for him.

Peace,

-MJ
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Postby Levent » 09/02/09 10:57 PM

Sorry to hear of his passing.

He was certainly THE funniest comedy magician I have ever seen.

After I worked with him in the Richiardi show in 1983, he became a mentor of mine and helped in my transition from silent manipulator to verbal comedy performer and for that I will always be grateful.

May he rest in peace,
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Postby Joe Naud » 09/02/09 11:10 PM

David, Thanks for the great story. Magic has lost another great performer. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends who will feel this loss so heavily.
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Postby magicusa » 09/02/09 11:30 PM

Without a doubt ONE OF THE GREATS!

He probably did more shows for us than anybody in his life, at our Magic Towne House in NYC. He was the most skilled magician and funniest comedy magician you could ever want to see. He always improvised and as great as he was he went to many many many improv classes and insisted we go in his desire to help advance our skills as well.

Every trick he did he researched to the nth degree. He knew and did every move, and then honed it down for himself. Cards, coins, sponge balls, linking rings, doves, and on and on and on. To watch him work each night at our club was a constant education and joy.

He always closed the show!!! No one could follow him. He had an endless stream of magic and comedy, and relied on his natural talent. He loved his work and never wanted to leave till the audience was exhausted with laughter

We spoke on the phone about every few months, and when we did, it was always for an hour or more.

We may add more when we wipe the tears from our eyes, and come out of shock. Two NY greats gone in so short a time, first Presto Johnson, and now Bobby Baxter.

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Postby Matthew Field » 09/03/09 11:45 AM

Thanks, David Oliver, for the great Bobby Baxter story.

Patrick Page has a video of Bobbby doin warm-up on the Sullivan show. I talk about Bobby all the time and Pat put the video on and we were both pissing in our pants from laughing so hard. He does his taking off the toupee bit and lots mor. He looked pretty young (but bald), maybe in his early 70s.

Bobby told me he had been a wrestler in his youth. He was very friendly with Bobby Torkova and Bill Brunelle, but would get into tiffs with them (and everybody else).

When I left NY 5 years ago, Bobby was still working occasionally in a restaurant. I asked him where but he wouldn't tell me. He said he didn't want anyone connected with magic to know where it was because someone might try and steal the gig.

He was asked by Mark Leddy at one point to fill in for Ed Sullivan for a couple of weks on his TV show while Sullivan went on vacation, and turned down the opportunity. This was a very sore point with him -- a fixation. If only he hadn't turned tht job down ... He might have been right, but I told him he had to let it go.

He knew a ton of things about magic. Pat Page agrees that he did invent the Vanishing Cane in Newspaper. His Standing Ovation Act is copied by magicians everywhere ("If I get this trick right, give me a standing ovation. Not for me. For little Timmy ...").

I loved the guy.

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Postby Bill Brunelle » 09/03/09 01:07 PM

After my adult and childhood mentor Slydini passed, I always said there was no magician I'd rather watch perform more than Bobby Baxter. I got to see him work in his restaurant a couple of times about a year ago, and it was a real treat.
He'd gotten so blind he had to ask the customers whether the deck was face up or face down, but it made what he did even more impressive. Oddly enough so did his behind-the-back card force.

And when he did coin in the bottle and the linking rings, it was absolutely dazzling to see his skill, grace, and humor so fully intact.
I think the thing that pissed him off the most was he didn't know who to trust help him count the tip money. I was surprised to see that it didn't frustrate him in the moment to not know whether he'd been handed a dollar or a hundred, but his attention was on charming and entertaining so it didn't matter.

Matt is right that we all got into minor tiffs with Bobby, but it never mattered. I will miss him tremendously.

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Postby Bill Brunelle » 09/03/09 03:09 PM

Bobby's neighbor and closest friend in recent years has asked me to post that she is trying to organize a New York get together next week or the week after. More info to follow.
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Postby conjuringbooks » 09/05/09 08:06 PM

I don't usually hobnob with great magicians, but I was lucky enough to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon in NYC with a sassy, elderly mannamed Babboy Baxter Bobby Baxter. Richard Cohn (who I had just met also) introduced us. It wasn't until a few months later that I learned who Bobby was.

I would have been 22 at the time, and thought I knew a thing or two. When he learned I was interested in performing, he asked me perform something for him. So, I vanished 5 cards at the fingertips, and reproduced them singly - and made a few mistakes along the way. I had picked up a couple of new (for me) moves from Jeff McBride's Card Manipulation videos, which then would have been out for 2 or 3 years. After vanishing the cards, I did an acquitment from the video and Bobby shouts "STOP...where did you learn that?!" The move was his, I didn't know it, and he had no idea that they were published in the videos. He muttered something under his breath about phone call from Jeff in the middle of the night. Needless to say, I was quite embarrassed.

Afterwards, he gave me some very helpful critiques. "Slow it down here...throw in a twist there...mix it up a bit" And ended with this funny but true line, which I have thought of often to this day,:
"Magic is like f(*#*&%$g a woman...start off slow and tender, but change it up a bit here and there. Right when she expects one thing you give her another. Nobody likes it the same way over and over. [Long pause] God what I would give to be your age. You wouldn't even know what to do with her."
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Postby David Regal » 09/11/09 11:19 PM

I just found out Bobby died. He was an original, a force of nature, a brilliant thinker and performer, a socialized madman, a fly in the ointment of the civilized world and for that, a hero. He exuded life, and I am better for being the recipient of a tiny bit of it.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 09/11/09 11:31 PM

I THINK there is going to be a gathering next week at the restaurant he last worked at.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 09/11/09 11:34 PM

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Postby David Oliver » 11/19/09 02:55 PM

An update to my story above:

I received a phone call and email a couple of weeks ago, concerning Bobby's estate. His longtime friend, Ingrid, and others, were going through his things, cleaning out his home and they needed some information on some items. Some personal items were being tossed out, others were being donated to charities. But they were calling me about some magic items, the history and backgrounds, and what should go where, etc. That was that.

A few days later, I received a simple, nondescript package.

Upon opening the package, I was stunned. Inside were Professor Bobby Baxter's own set of Linking Rings, with one of his business cards, with a note on the back verifying that these were indeed, used by Bobby Baxter in his act. Ingrid and the others had read my story above (some heard it read aloud by Michael Chaut at Bobby's memorial service, that I was unable to attend), and decided that because of my first meeting with Bobby that I so vividly remember, that I should have Bobby's rings. So, I am now the proud owner of Professor Bobby Baxter's linking rings.

A full circle moment, for sure.

The rings and card will be well taken care, of and shown proudly in my home. I'm creating a shadow box for them, to keep everything together and neatly displayed. They are not for sale, nor will they be. They represent a magical moment in time for me, that does not have a price tag on it.

Thank you Ingrid, Ben and Michael. And thank you once again, Professor.
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Postby amp » 11/19/09 05:52 PM

awesome!
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