A Trip Down My Magical Memory Lane

White_Theatre_FresnoWhite’s Theater, downtown Fresno, California long ago lost to the wrecking ball, was the launching point of my lifelong passion and interest in magic. The theater had been one of the grand movie palaces in the burgeoning movie industry of the early Twentieth Century.

White’s Theater was a famous spot for performers on the vaudeville circuit from around 1910-1930, and although Vaudeville had been dead for virtually decades, there were still some movie-houses that continued the custom of using performers prior to the movies to draw moviegoers.

That sunny afternoon in 1960, I couldn’t have possibly known that my life would be forever changed when my grandparents took my sister and I to see a movie there.  To this day, I cannot recall a single thing about the movie or even its name, but I do recall every single trick that magician performed onstage on that auspicious day.

Although I was only five years old, that magic act made a strong impression on me.  I guess you could say that magician changed the course of my life that day, just by showing up and doing his act. I only wish I knew his name. I owe him a debt of gratitude.

My grandfather was one of the lucky people chosen to help onstage for a trick that ended up with the magician pulling my grandfather’s shorts out of his pants tied between two silk handkerchiefs. My grandfather never did let on if he knew how that trick was done, he just played along.

The magician produced a stack of goldfish bowls and even made a rabbit appear and disappear. I was enthralled!

Needless to say, as a result of that remarkable afternoon, I was hooked for life. My parents and grandparents said it is ALL that I talked about for WEEKS — endlessly.

Mark_Nani_Wilson_CutiesIt was but a few short weeks later that mom found a listing in the paper for a new television show called, The Magic Land of Allakazam, starring an up-and-coming magician named Mark Wilson and his lovely assistant Nani Darnell.

Mom knew it was a show I would be interested in, and she was right. Because without fail, every Saturday morning I was riveted to that television screen, watching intently to see what new and wonderful acts of magic those amazing Wilsons would perform.

Lawston's Professional Magic Catalog

Lawston’s Professional Magic Catalog

After the conclusion of the program, I would run outside and sit under the Mulberry tree with my Vick Lawston’s catalog.  I was looking for the tricks I’d seen performed by Mark Wilson. Maybe I could saw a beautiful lady like Nani, in half. Surely, they would be in the catalog. After all, it was a professional magician’s catalog. I would find them and order them through the mail.Never do the memories come rushing back so rapidly about my first days of magic, as when I come across some small trick or oddity I ordered, or daydreamed about ordering, from Vick Lawston’s mail-order catalog.

Lawston_Catalog_MessageMy first exposure to it was after seeing an advertisement in the back of a comic book for a Professional Magic Catalog. Sporting a pencil moustache and a goatee, Vick Lawston was the real thing. Plus, he had a monkey named Pumpernickel.

Mom ordered the catalog pronto and soon afterwards it arrived. What I thrill to get something in the mail with your name on it —  and a magic catalog to boot! I was in heaven!

Known as “The House of A Thousand Mysteries”, Vick Lawston’s  catalog touted 1,000 Ways to Have Fun with Magic, and I was bound and determined to discover every single one of them!

Trixy_the_MouseIt wasn’t long before new tricks, like the Trixy the White Mouse and the Luminous Ghost were in my hot little hands.

I was completely mesmerized with the thousands of things in that catalog and spent endless hours perusing the thousands of miracles that could be had for under a dollar.Asrah_Levitation

Particularly intriguing to me was ventriloquism, so I ordered the Talking Horse. It was a cardboard cut-out of a horse with a strip of plastic that you could run your thumb along creating the sound of a horse’s neigh.

Then came the day I spotted the Talking Dragon In Hat. What visions that ad conjured up for me.  I could just picture myself decked out in tuxedo and top hat, in front of large audiences wowing them as my Talking Dragon emerged from my hat.

Talking_DragonThe ad said “You don’t have to be a ventriloquist to make the Dragon talk.” I had to have it. At a $5.50 price tag it would be my largest purchase yet, but it would be worth it.

However, mom quickly quashed my dreams of ventriloquial fame by disallowing such a purchase. She thought Vick Lawston was a huckster and that the Talking Dragon would be another mistake, so she nixed the deal. I was crushed. Besides, the price tag was too hefty for a six-year-old’s budget.

Vanishing_DogBut, I wanted to perform illusions anyway, like Mark Wilson, so I ordered the Vanishing Dog. I’ll never forget the day it arrived. I had envisioned mom and I uncrating a large doghouse illusion for me to make the family dog disappear on command.Talking_Horse.combo

It had taken weeks and the anticipation had been killing me. As I walked into the bedroom, there on the bed was an envelope from Vick Lawston, all the way from Florida. Was it about the Vanishing Dog?

To my dismay, inside the envelope was a mimeographed sheet of instructions, explaining how to build the Vanishing Dog out of a cardboard box. I was profoundly disappointed.  But, what could you expect for 75 cents? No wonder the ad stated it was, “A Honey of a Bargain!”

Luminous_Ghost.comboEventually, after the second or third set of mimeographed plans were delivered, mom promptly put her foot down and halted any further acquisitions from Vick Lawston. Sadly, the days of taping quarters to yellow-lined paper and having mom post orders were over. My association with Vick Lawston had come to an end, but what priceless memories his catalog of magic had given me.

When a recent package arrived, I was delighted to discover amongst the collection of tricks an authetic Talking Dragon in Hat. It was the actual one. The memories all came rushing back. It was my childhood in an instant. Through fate, and fate alone, I had been deprived of the Talking Dragon, and yet, fifty-two years later he’d found his way to me. How can such a simple object mean so much? But, it does. It’s a relic of a childhood memory come to life. You cannot put a price on such things.

Although the hat is worse for the wear, I’ve been going around the shop like a kid showing everyone my Talking Dragon. As it turns out, the “talking” is achieved with a built in squeaker and it looks exactly like the depiction in the catalog. Maybe there is such a thing as truth in advertising after all.

To be honest, I have to say that I value this Talking Dragon in Hat more than any of the large illusions or vintage or collectible pieces I own. It means that much to me.

Paul_Talking_DragonNever could I have known, as a five-year-old child where my long journey with magic would take me. That I would become a working professional magician, open and develop a sizeable magic enterprise catering to top-professionals worldwide, and best of all, become friends with my childhood idols, Mark & Nani Wilson.

Maybe you can’t go back, but for a few minutes in time, I did. The Talking Dragon took me there.

It has all come around full-circle.

What a magical life!

Until next time,

Paul

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5 Responses to “A Trip Down My Magical Memory Lane”

  1. Hi Paul, Your weekly update was really fascinating! Although I’m a year “younger” than you, I too had Vick Laswton’s Catalog. Among my purchases was a styrofoam “Zombie”, a Fire Eating Kit (which turned out to be some sort of straw-like material). That catalog was followed by Top Hat Magic and finally Abbott’s Catalog. WOW! When Abbott’s Catalog arrived, I thought “This is the real deal”! Frist purchase was Blackstone’s Vanishing Bird Cage. When I opened the padded envelope in front of my Dad and it revealed a limp red cage with a rubber canary, he literally almost fell on the floor laughing! I only wish he were around today, I know he would be proud to know that his son turned that cage into a career. BTW, I STILL perform the Bird Cage. Thank you for the great memories! Rob Rue, Lafayette, LA

  2. Greg Oznowich Says:

    Your best post yet Paul. Thank you.

  3. Steve Thomas Says:

    Wonderful post! A trip down memory lane.

  4. Great article & memory booster. I, too, got Vick’s catalog very early on in my love of magic & went on to winning some talent shows & working for Paul Osborne. Mail-order treasures certainly lulled us in & stimulated our imaginations even if the final result was not quite as magical as we had hoped. I am still an entertainer but only in the musical realm. I do still occasionally use my double color changing blooming bush at the tale end of a particular children’s song, though. 😉

  5. I am impressed with your heartfelt tribute to the magic of wonder that Vick Lawston put into pen and ink. I would marvel for hours in his catalog, dreaming if I only had the money…

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