Saturday, December 10, 2011

The 12th LA Conference on Magic History 2011

November 12 – Saturday

There will be only two events on Saturday, a field trip and the big show.


The second field trip of the Conference is to what is called’ “the most famous address in magic.” I guess for the west coast centric magic community that may be so. I expect so Midwesterners or east coasters may have their own choices. Either way this private residence is home to a long and great magic legacy.

In 1930, Floyd Thayer opened his Studio of Magic in his home. It was named Brookledge because out behind Thayer built an addition on the home which transverses a small brook that runs though the back yard. This housed his workshop and an ornate theater.

The theater was used as a demonstration platform for the new Thayer products. Every Saturday afternoon magicians, notable or not, would gather in the theater to watch the Thayer demonstrator show off the newest in magic.

The aim of the presentation today was to give us an experience of one of those afternoons. It was a huge success.

We were transported to Thayer’s 1942. Mike Caveney emceed and gave some historical tidbits, like that Orson Wells rehearsed his Mercury Wonder Show on that stage. He then introduced the newest of the Thayer demonstrators, the young Marvyn Roy.
Okay, Mr. Electric isn’t so young anymore, but in 1942 the war had taken Thayer’s demonstrator. The teenage Marvyn got the promotion.

I’ve seen Marvyn at several of these conventions and he has always seemed…old, frail. But on this day, he was also transported to 1942. He commanded the stage with renewed vigor and great humor. He still has all that charm and greatness in him. Marvyn showed off the new Thayer catalog. “Only 1 dollar. I know you are thinking that is a lot of money,” drew laughs from the audience and the line became a running joke every time he announced the 1942 price.

This was the second emotional moment in the Conference. It was a strong one. A lasting memory.

Brookledge is now owned by the Larsen family (In an elaborate deal in which part of the purchase they traded houses with the Thayers.) We have them to thank for opening their home for this event.

The demonstration/show was closed by Brett Loudermilk, a real up and coming sideshow performer and Liberty Larsen. They demonstrated a larger Thayer illusion. Afterward we were treated to lemonade and cookies in the garden just like Jennie Thayer would lay out for the magicians so many years ago.

The Show

The Saturday night show is where it all the previous days’ work comes together. Talk becomes action. The magic of the past returns to life to inspire the magic of the future. It is the lucky position of us historians to reveal this important idea to the public. The show will also bring out a couple of celebrities, Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes sat right behind me.

This night John Gaughan will perform with Robert-Houdin’s acrobatic automaton Antonio Diavolo which, surprising had never before appeared at a Conference. Antonio is a fine performer, restored by John some years back. It has been seen on several TV specials, but is appreciated all the more in live performance. A quick search of youtube will reveal a performance if you are curious.

Mike Caveney reminded all of us as to what a fine performer he is. As a 19 year old he assisted Orson Wells on the Johnny Carson show. Tonight, he would play Orson and recreate the performance word for word. It is a simple vanish and reproduction of a Persian princess embellished with Orson’s Arabian Nights style script. This bit was marred only by a slight technical glitch when the prop gun fails to fire, but saved by Mike’s funny adlib. The act was followed by the original recording of Orson’s performance. It turns out that Mike sucked us all in. This recreation was actually word for word, even the “mistake” and adlib was Orson’s. We the audience was totally invested in the performance and heartily laughed at seeing we were fooled. Orson got a huge audience reaction from the audience present at his performance and Mike got just as huge a reaction for his work.

Jim Steinmeyer will introduce the next part of the show. For years the Conference hosts have avoided the straight recreations of performers of the past, feeling that such bordered on the ghoulish. They rather perform the old as new. Tonight they depart from such thinking in the most successful way, Jonathan Levit performs as Thurston. Using first hand and written accounts of Howard Thurston’s shows, they will give us the experience of seeing the great magician perform his Rising Cards and Sawing a Lady in Halves.

The show closed with a homage to the McElroy brothers, makers or ventriloquism figure by the superstar ventriloquist, Jeff Dunham. Jeff recently had John Gaughan restore one of his figures and after a little of John’s arm twisting, Jeff agreed to fit the conference into his busy schedule. Jeff showed pieces from his collection of figures, demonstrating the progression of the figures through the McElroy’s career and peppering his talk with humorous adlibs. He closed to an ovation with his familiar character, Walter, and some new scripted material. Wisely no one had to follow him and we ended the night on a high note. 


mai-ling said...

too bad you don't have photos to post. i know that magazines do re-caps but it would be a nice addition
to see Thayer's house and such.

ChgoMagic said...

I did post a few on my facebook, but I don't take photographs like I should. I focus (pun) to much on taking the picture and I lose too much of the experience.