It was good to see James Taylor's Shocked & Amazed mentioned in Jon Racherbaumer's On the Slant column. James has poured countless hours, a ton of hard work and unlimited passion into the creation of this fine publication. It's good to see it get some notice.
I would also like to thank Jon for the nice mention of the great Melvin Burkhart. Melvin was a mentor of mine and his last performance was at my wedding. He died one month later to the day.
Though Melvin was known for his work in sideshows as the Human Blockhead and the Anatomical Wonder, he was, as was mentioned in the article, a magician, and a fine one at that. During his travels around the country, Melvin struck up a friendship with many magicians. Karrell Fox, Hen Fetsch and Gene Gordon were all good friends. He often picked up a magic trick from one of these friends and then spent a year performing it ten to fifteen times a day in the sideshow. By the time the carnival route brought him back around a year later, Melvin had often added many touches to the traditional handling of effects.
The Sacks Dice Routine is a good example of this. Melvin was working in a dime museum in Chicago in 1933. There was a magician on the bill named The Great Gravitino. This fellow was in his sixties and had a full head of long bushy white hair. After doing his magic act, the Gravitino would tie up his silvery locks, hook them up to rope and be lifted by the hair up off the stage. While he was hanging there, he would juggle. Now, that's show business.
One day, Gravitino fell off the stage and broke his hip. He was rushed to the hospital and the manager told Melvin to fill in doing the magic act in the show. Melvin had dabbled with magic, but never really performed it onstage, so he took it as a challenge and started messing around with the various trick Gravitino had left behind.
Later that week, while Melvin was on a break, I guy came up to Melvin asked if he wanted to see a trick. The guy took out a single die and held it at his finger tips. He held it, not sideways as in the Sacks routine, but like you hold a pin when you stick it into a bulletin board. As he moved it towards and away from Melvin, he used a paddle-like move to cause the numbers on the die to change back and forth. Melvin liked the trick and the guy showed him how to do it. Melvin started doing it in the next show.
The problem was that it was very small and only looked good from the front, so Melvin started using a pair of large dice and held them sideways. Since he had never seen the Sack's routine, he develped a different handling that involved the rotation of the wrists instead of the turning of the whole arm. Melvin did that routine for sixty-eight years.
As was mentioned earlier, his last performance of that and his Human Blockhead act were at my wedding, October 8th, 2001. While Melvin was in New York for the wedding, I set up a session with Melvin and Jamy Ian Swiss, where Melvin showed him his handling of the dice. A few weeks after Melvin's death, I received a package in the mail. In it were Melvin's costume and props for his Human Blockhead act. Also in the box were Melvin's giant dice with a note expressing a desire for Jamy to have them. I know he is honored to have them.
Well, that's the story of Melvin's dice. I just thought you might like to know it.