Dancing Shoes & Remembering Ralph Adams

This week we got a visit from Ralph Adams Jr. son of the late Ralph Adams, one of the last great American magicians of a bygone era.

Ralph drove down from Nevada to deliver an illusion that had been stored away for several decades, Diana’s Zimmerman’s Dancing Shoes. Originally built for Diana in late 1970’s by Eric Lewis, (another iconic name in magic), The Dancing Shoes was a unique illusion that was most assuredly off the beaten path. It was designed by Dick & Diana Zimmerman for Diana’s act, who is a truly rare commodity, a lady magician.

As you can see by the photos, it is was not a small endeavor to unload the illusion.

The unloading of The Dancing Shoes into the showroom.

The unloading of The Dancing Shoes into the showroom.

After a successful run on television and live performances, and being somewhat cumbersome, The Dancing Shoes was later sold for a Vegas Magic Show that never found a home. Sadly, the illusion was warehoused and has been packed away from the light of day for years. That is, until now.

The former owners contacted Ralph, who were quite familiar with him and his father’s work, wanting to find out a vendor for the sale of the illusion, and I’m glad to say that our name came up as a viable source of finding it a new home.

Diana Zimmerman with Channing Pollack.

Diana Zimmerman with Channing Pollack.

I would like to thank Diana Zimmerman for her quick return phone call and for providing us with valuable information and the back-story on this illusion. In fact, take a look at Diana performing her very well choreographed Dancing Shoes on television.

Of course, we are thrilled to have such a landmark illusion on our showroom. And even thought it may not live here long, it is indeed an honor to have it here.

One of My Heroes – RALPH ADAMS

For those not familiar with Ralph Adams work, let me take this opportunity to tell you his story.

Ralph Adams, the youngest of 12 children, was born April 18, 1910 in Ross Fork, Mont., a stage coach stop where travelers were fed in the Grandma Adams’ home, and came to Santa Maria by way of Oregon in 1922.

Always being somewhat interested in the illusion of magic, after buying a little pocket trick from a street vendor, he sent away for $2.65 worth of tricks.

He volunteered as a magician at the Main Street School, and although he didn’t know any tricks, he bought a book, gave the show and, as he said, “I was a big shot around the school for a few days.”

He wasn’t about to rest on his laurels, though. Working as a dishwasher at the France Café for $3.50 per week while attending school, and $7.50 during vacations, he saved $65 and sent away for the Tarbell Mail Order Course in Magic. The course, written in 1926 by Dr. Harlan Tarbell, is said to have been the greatest thing that has ever happened in the teaching of magic.

“A magician is not a magician because he knows tricks, but because he knows magic – its principles and fundamentals.”

Ralph Adams performing his Floating Lady Illusion.

Ralph Adams performing his Floating Lady Illusion.

It took years for Adams to develop his sleight-of-hand.

But he didn’t stop there. Adams was an accomplished lapidary artist (making polished tables that remain pieces of art), and operated the Ralph Adams Photography Studio for 35 years, first on West Main Street in Santa Maria, California.

During the 1930s, while running his photography studio, he was also busy performing magic at local lodges. Eventually, his hobby became his profession.

For many years he took school pictures and years later took these same children’s wedding pictures. People have often told of how he mesmerized the children, as they were lined up to have their pictures taken, with his magic tricks. The kids reverently spoke of him as “The Magic Man.”

After watching Ed Sullivan’s “Show of Shows” on television and seeing guest magicians doing the same old tricks, Adams began creating tricks of his own.

A Ralph Adams made Hindu Basket. This one didn't stay on the showroom floor very long.

A Ralph Adams made Hindu Basket. This one didn’t stay on the showroom floor very long.

When the nine Adams children were small, he included them in his act as “acting assistants,” curling into small spaces as parts of his acts.

After retiring from his photography business, he was able to devote more time to his magic act, and it wasn’t long before he received recognition from illusionists throughout the world as “the man who put entertainment into magic.”

Adams worked hundreds of stages throughout the country in such prestigious entertainment palaces as Radio City Musical Hall in New York, The Astrodome in Texas and Radio City in Ohio, where a one-night stint lasted FOUR years!

He pioneered the magic of illusion on television and created and built all of his own equipment, thereby saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Adams’ dancing handkerchiefs, probably his greatest achievement, is known all over the world of magic.

On his 85th birthday, Adams was honored by Lance Burton and David Copperfield during their show in Las Vegas.

After Ralph retired for good, he and wife Hilda put on magic shows for 65 people at a time in the garage of their home in Orcutt, California. Admission for the children was a note from their parents saying that they were “good kids,” while parents needed similar notes from their children.

There were two doorbells on their front porch, one for solicitors and salesmen, but it didn’t work. The one set below that bell was for friends and relatives. It was deliberately set low so that children could reach it.

The City of Santa Maria, in recognizing the achievements of the couple, designated May 7, 1997 as “Ralph and Hilda Adams Day.”

Only family members knew the magic secrets of Ralph Adams. When asked how he did his “dancing handkerchiefs,” he’d smile and reply, “very well.”

He was known to climb a free-standing rope and disappear in front of the audience only to reappear a few moments later. When asked how he did this trick, he’d smile and reply, “It’s magic.”

Later in life a local reporter was astounded to find that Mr. Adams was blind, since throughout her visit, he looked her straight in my eyes, with no indication that he couldn’t see. As she reported, with twinkling blue eyes and two snow white tufts of hair sticking out on both sides of his head, she expected handkerchiefs to start floating around the room.

Ralph Adams passed away on July 8, 1998.

Les Smith Estate on Horizon

My friend Steve Dick, who is a knowledgeable Owen collector himself, was nice enough to come up from Los Angeles to spend the week with us helping to write product descriptions for the coming Les Smith Estate sale. He and Cole have been focusing on the Owen listings while Tim finishes up with the remaining items from the Dean Dill Estate. Having Steve’s assistance and input has really helped expedite the process. Thank you  Steve!

Hopefully, next week we’ll have a better idea of the exact date as to when the Les Smith Estate will be occurring.


Again, if you’re NOT our mailing list, you won’t’ receive a reminder a day prior to the sale going live. Best to  sign-up now to ensure that you get advance notice of this extraordinary event.

Looking forward to another great weekend enjoying our mild Spring weather.

Until next time,




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