Call Me Old-Fashioned, But…

Call me old-fashioned, but I still love the greats. And perhaps unfairly, I measure the quality of today’s performers by yesteryear’s yardstick of talented performers.

It’s not really my fault, I just got spoiled early.

You see, my love of magic and show business started with Mark & Nani Wilson.

From an article mom had seen in the Fresno Bee, she suggested I may want to watch a new show on television starring an up-and-coming magician named Mark Wilson.

From that first Saturday, laying on the living room floor watching the tube, I was hooked. Mark Wilson and his beautiful assistant, Nani Darnell had glamour, glitz, style, elegance, panache and an intangible quality that said, “SHOW BUSINESS!”

The Magic Land of Allakazam

According to WikiPedia, The Magic Land of Allakazam was the name of a groundbreaking series of network television shows featuring American magician Mark Wilson. It ran from 1960 to 1964 and is credited with establishing the credibility of magic as a television entertainment.

For me, The Magic Land of Allakazam was transformative. In fact, it changed my life. The trajectory of my live had been forever altered by simply watching that show. I’ll never forget it.

To this day, I can still hum the theme to The Magic Land of Allakazam.

My longtime friendship with Mark & Nani Wilson has been a godsend and one of the true treasured associations I’ve found in magic. We speak quite frequently and I am privileged to call them friends. Never did I think so many years ago watching them that one day I’d know them personally.

Saturday Night Live 1975 Mark Wilson, Nani & Greg Perform Allakazam Train Illusion

Shot at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York, this edited clip was edited by Greg Wilson, and is from the original Saturday Night Live, hosted by Howard Cosell. Mark Wilson had just won his second Magician of the Year award from the world famous Magic Castle in Hollywood, and had finished his run of his Las Vegas show at the Hilton Hotel. This was long before David Copperfield, Doug Henning, David Blaine, and Criss Angel, who would’ve been about the same age as Greg in this clip.

Also on this show that a night were Bill Murray, Christopher Guest, Norm Crosby, Andy Williams, and more.

My Kind of Circus – The Magic Circus

Later in 1971 Mark & Nani developed the Magic Circus, which had every magician in the country watching and wishing it was them performing those beautiful John Gaughan crafted illusions with that stunningly attractive assistant. Yes, Nani Darnell was most assuredly responsible for as many boys getting into magic as was Mark Wilson. This is an incontestable fact.

Discovering Other Greats

As my taste for show business grew, I came to know and love so many of the greats, most of which are no longer with us.  Greats such as Channing Pollock, Harry Blackstone, Jr., Carl Ballantine, Edgar Bergen, Señor Wences, Jay Marshall, Siegfried & Roy, and Milo & Roger. To me, these were not just superb performers, but bigger-than-life personalities who had the unique ability to transfix audiences whether performing on television or live in person.

A Little Known Fact

I was lucky enough to me many of these greats in person over the years. You may have noticed that I included Edgar Bergen in the above list. A little known fact about me, is that even before the magic bug bit me, I wanted desperately to become a ventriloquist. Bergan was a god, and a true inspiration for me.

If you watch the clip below of Bergen you’ll see he wasn’t technically a great ventriloquist, but rather an extraordinary entertainer. Bergen’s gift was that he made his vent figures come ALIVE. They seemed like REAL people. That was the real magic of Edgar Bergen! And I love him for it.

Edgar Bergen

Harry Blackstone, Jr.

Harry Blackstone, Jr. was another great inspiration for me with his elegant style, baritone speaking voice and commanding stage presence.

Channing Pollock

Channing Pollock was unmatched. After seeing his act I knew I wanted to perform with doves, and developed my own dove act, which performed for many years.

My dove act developed during my high school days.

My dove act developed during my high school days.

Pollock was recognized as one of the most sophisticated and charismatic practitioners of his craft. Strikingly handsome with an enigmatic stage presence, he was best known for an act in which he would elegantly produce doves out of thin air. At the height of his career he was one of America’s highest-paid entertainers.

Siegfried and Roy

Siegfried and Roy joined forces becoming an instant sensation from the moment they hit the scene. Here they are at the Lido in Paris in 1968 performing in their first French TV appearance for Maurice Chevalier’s 80th birthday celebration.

Carl Ballantine

Carl Ballantine was so amazingly funny. Great timing coupled with a strong personality made him a one-of-a-kind performer. Billing himself as “The Great Ballantine”, “The Amazing Ballantine” or “Ballantine: The World’s Greatest Magician”, his vaudeville-style comedy magic act was like no other. He has been credited with creating comedy magic and has heavily influenced both comics and magicians.

Jay Marshall

Jay Marshall traveled the world with a sock puppet. Imagine that! The quintessential entertainer and  humorist.

Señor Wences

Wenceslao Moreno better known as Señor Wences, was a Spanish ventriloquist. His popularity grew with his frequent appearances on CBS-TV’s The Ed Sullivan Show in the 1950s and 1960s. I could not get enough of as Señor Wences. He was so talented and unusual, you couldn’t take your eyes off of him for fear you’d miss something.

Milo and Roger

From the mid 1950s and well into the 1990s, Milo and Roger traveled the world delighting audiences with their comedy and amazing magic. The critics agreed; Milo and Roger were one of the greatest acts in show business.

Yes, I’ll admit it, I’m old-fashioned. But, I have the greats of the past to blame for it. They spoiled me, and I’m forever grateful to them that they did.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this look back into the past. I know I did.

Until next time my friends,

Paul

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3 Responses to “Call Me Old-Fashioned, But…”

  1. Gordon Stewart Says:

    Hello Paul

    Being based in South Africa, I have never had the opportunity to see most of the performers you mention live,- my partner ,Terry Baldwin, was lucky enough to see Siegfried and Roy live in Vegas, but the show had closed by the time I was able to travel there. We had the good fortune to see Milo And Roger here in one of the Brickhill Burke Follies shows, and they were hysterically funny and sooo clever! All the other greats you mention we have only been able to see on either video or TV specials.

    But I do not regard them as old fashioned – I think it is rather sad that we shall not see their like again (to paraphrase Winston Churchill).

    Although I do admire the new talent as well, they do tend to be rather “cookie cutter” type performers ( I am referring here to stage acts) –doing the same dance, pose, dance some more, eventually doing an illusion ( admittedly very well!) and then again doing the back to back side on to audience pose.

    So no, you are not old fashioned. You just appreciate great talent, as do I.

    Best regards

    Gordon Stewart

    Of Exor the Illusionists

    South Africa

  2. Hi Paul. Thank you so much for the memories. And for introducing me to Milo and Roger – I’ve never seen them before. Their duck vanish fooled me beautifully.

  3. Wow…I devoured every video and loved your comments…so many magical memories! My friend Walter Blaney turned me on to your blog.

    The first magician I ever saw perform was Blackstone Senior (Yes, I put my hands on the bird cage before it disappeared.), and my show is still “old-fashioned on purpose!”

    I wear tails and top hat with a full length cape, and fill the stage with silks and flowers during my opening routine. Some of us need to keep the old style of magic alive.

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