Monday, November 16, 2009

Los Angeles Magic Conference-Day 1

November 5

I slept late. That is generally a given at these types of weekends, unless some ass schedules an early lecture session. Those who run the LA Conference are no asses. Even with sleeping late, I made it just under the wire for breakfast at the aforementioned Tula’s: eggs, over easy, bacon, very crisp, and wheat toast.

Registration was just off the new patio and since the dealer and exhibit rooms weren’t open yet, I bought hotel priced coke and stretched out on a couch. Need I say the weather was glorious?

Here I was able to go through my registration packet. Jim Steinmeyer did his usual great job with the program. There was a reprint of an 18th century Japanese magic book, actually a chapter of a larger book, much like Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft. This book was not a full translation, but an explanation of the artwork on 13 two-page spreads. This most interesting book was compliments of Max Maven and Ton Onosaka.

The program and the gift book were my leisurely reads for the afternoon. Occasionally, I would be interrupted, and not in the bad sense, by an arriving conference attendee. For example, Marvin Miller, who I’ve written about in my review of the last conference, stopped to say hello and chat. I’ll be writing about Marvin later also.

This year the conference was sort of a working, although hardly work, vacation for me. I had a mission. I am working on a Houdini project at the moment and I hope to talk to Bill Kalush about it.

Mr. Kalush co-wrote the most recent Houdini biography and is, perhaps, the most knowledgeable Houdini expert extant. He is a consultant to David Blaine and does a terrific pass. He has always been very accessible and generous with his time and knowledge. My curiosity was about what magic Houdini might have done early in his career, like the “King of Cards” years.

When I caught up with him and asked, he invited me to lunch. There is a little strip mall a couple of blocks away from the hotel. We walked over, grabbed a sandwich, and talked Houdini. (By the way, if you are a sandwich shop and you don’t have hot peppers or, better, giardiniera. What the hell are you thinking?)

The convention proper started at 2:30. I found my usual seat in back. I only ever walked out of a talk once, but I like to be close to the door in case another bad one pops up. Frankly, I have smart-ass tourette’s and if the speaker leaves me an opening, I can’t help but fill it. It is better for all involved if I sit in back.

Jeff Soltzing, the nephew of Johnny Carson and head of Carson Enterprises gave the first talk. He spoke on Johnny’s love of magic with some personal anecdotes about Carson performing. He then opened up the Carson archives to show some brief clips of magicians on the Tonight Show. There really wasn’t anything new here, especially if you are of the age that watched Carson. It is always nice to see Johnny in action. I find it a constant reminder of how good he really was and how bad most show (not only late night) hosts are. Get yourself over to youtube and watch some clips.

Burton Sperber spoke on collectable trading cards. The talk was somewhat disorganized and Burton is not a great speaker. Each one of the cards shows an effect on one side and then on the other side explains a trick that a person can do. He had some video clips of some noted magic people doing the tricks. All I can say is bad and amateurish. I sure there was a way to do this to be fun and perhaps he meant it to be, but it was just painful. I hate saying this about Burton. He is a good person. He produced a wonderful little souvenir booklet with full color images of the cards, front and back, a real high quality production. He gave them free to the attendees. What more can I say?

Chuck Jones put the life back in the room with the closing talk of the session. He spoke about his mentor, Dell O’Dell. Dell was the most successful female magician of her time and one of the most successful magicians of the time. Chuck remembered her life and punctuated it with a ton of photos. He also demonstrated some of her props. An excellent talk about a real worker by a real worker.

We all broke for dinner. I hooked up with Mark Cannon, Joe Fox and Fred Pittella. Mark spoke before me a few years ago at the conference. All three guys are into escape magic. I’m not. But as I know, you can learn a lot in just that situation. I take what I can and apply it to what I do. Anyway, it gave me a chance to pick Mark’s brain on my Houdini project. I ended up hanging with these guys most of the weekend. They were great fun.

As much as I have previous wanted to take a girlfriend to these types of events, I am glad I haven’t. It doesn’t matter how much she is into magic. I like having the freedom to hang with whomever I might be talking to at the time. I’ve made some great friends this way and had some great experiences in the process.

The evening session began at 8:00. First up was Mike Caveney. He gave a talk on the Ediophusikon. This is a late 18th Century novelty theater. Especially seeing the after seeing the inner workings, I would say it is the forerunner of the toy theaters that would become popular in the 19th Century. On the second day of the Conference, there would be a performance of a scene out of what would be a full evening performance. Then we would literally go behind the scenes to see it workings. The odd thing about the talk is that Mike, in a first for the Conference, talked down the experience.

Jim Steinmeyer took over to describe another piece well will be seeing, this time on Saturday night, Beau Brocade. This was a great “lost” vanishing lady illusion by David Devant. This is another example of Jim’s great detective work and brilliant thinking, solving the puzzle and bringing it to life.

Last, Todd Robbins was scheduled to interview sideshow showman Ward Hall. Todd, instead, ended up more like a piece of furniture; Ward needed no prompting to begin talking. Todd just pushed the button and let Ward go. He should be commended, it was Ward’s time and Todd was smart enough to stay out of the way. A lesser magician might not. Ward told stories of his life, pitched some DVDs, and performed the blade box assisted by my friend, Sue Holstein. If you want to know more about Ward, check my sideshow posts. I spent a day with him at the sideshow in 2005 and wrote a long piece on it called The Last Sideshow.

It was now off to the bar with some friends.


Gordon said...

Diggin' the write up Bill, sounds like a good conference.

ChgoMagic said...

Thanks, Keep reading until the end. You'll hear about the best part of the event.