A Blackstone Story
From TOPS Magazine, December 1974, by George Johnstone: “We get letters asking for more “Blackstone Show Adventures.” So Salla reminds me of my first visit there … we had loaded most of the show into the theater. Since it was a hot day we left the animal cages out in the stage door alley. While waiting for another load of illusions to arrive from the baggage car we and the stage crew retired to a small coffee shop up the street. Upon returning, when the truck arrived, we found to our utter dismay that the ducks were missing. Eight ducks had been stolen from the cage crates. Since some of these tough old ducks had been with the show for years, God help the thief when he tried to sink his teeth into them.
Now came the mad scramble to replace them. At a stagehand’s suggestion I was sent by cab out to the local zoo. They refused to sell or loan out zoo property for a career in the show business world … The cab driver suggested that I try a farmer’s market at the edge of the city. Off we went. They had ducks but Blackstone’s efficient assistant had neglected to bring sufficient funds to buy them. With the promise of prompt payment the minute we returned to the theatre, the cab driver loaned me the money. Now another problem that the efficient assistant forgot to anticipate. How do we transport eight writhering, flapping, quacking ducks? Again the cab driver came to the rescue by driving to the nearest grocery store and returning with cardboard cartons.
Back at the theatre the ducks were tossed into the cages as I began the hectic prop set-up in a race with show time. The ducks made their appearance from an illusion about midway during the show. Our old ducks had been loaded and unloaded so many times that they were fairly docile. The new ones … Oh, Boy!! They fanned out, half running, half flying, all over the stage, over the orchestra boys in the pit and out into the audience. Blackstone stood aghast with his mouth hanging open. The animal man had neglected, or didn’t have the time, to clip the wing feathers. Harry also raised hell because the ducks were so filthy. The old ducks were washed periodically and were a snowy white. The ducks that made their appearance might have been born white but now they ran the gamut from a dingy gray to mucky brown … It goes without saying that there was a lot of “chewing-out” after that first show in San Diego.”
George Johnstone (1919 – 2004) was a magician, entertainer, book collector and painter. He started out in magic as a leading assistant in The Blackstone Sr. magic show from 1939 until he got drafted in World War II in 1943. He met and married his wife Betty while they were both assistants on the Blackstone show. After the war, he went on to a career as a comedy magician and later as a stand-up entertainer. He wrote for TOPS magazine for many years.