The Last “Great” Doesn’t Bother To Say so
From TOPS Magazine, August 1961, by George ‘Alabama’ Florida: “Time was, and it is still within the memory of most of today’s theatre-goers, when any magician who wasn’t either the Great So-and-So or So-and-So the Great wasn’t patently worth the hat he pulled his rabbit out of.
It was as much the magic that surrounded their names – Herrman the Great, The Great Kellar, Great Houdini, Thurston the Great, The Great Dante, The Great Blackstone – as the magic they put on the stage that made the decades around the turn of the century the golden age of magicians in the theatre.
One of the great Greats, which really meant the magicians who could put together a full two-and-one-half-hour show and tour regular legitimate theatres, all but one have passed into the greatest mystery of all. The youngest, HARRY BLACKSTONE is the last.
Fashions in theatrical billings change even as fashions in theatrical presentations. “The Great”, even in the lexicon of press agentry, has long since been relegated to the unique and unparalleled personalities who lay claim to being the only person-to-accomplish-this-feat in the world of the circus, the carnival and the tented side-show.
It is no longer the Great Blackstone. It is simply “BLACKSTONE” – THE WORLD’S FOREMOST MAGICIAN.”
Harry Blackstone’s real name is Harry Bouton, and he was born on the south side of Chicago. During his early vaudeville days he and his brother, Pete, did a burlesque magic act under their right name. When they decided to go in for serious magicianship, Harry figured that Bouton would hardly stand against their rivals at the time.
While pondering a change, he chanced to pick up a batch of ready-made posters for defunct magician known as Frederick the Great. It looked like a perfect deal at the time and proved so for several years.
“I had to give up when World War I came along,” Blackstone said, “It would have been like calling yourself “The Great Kaiser Wilhelm’.”
Where did he get the name Blackstone?
That’s Blackstone’s secret until he decides to change it again. The last time he was asked the answer ran like this, “Well, I tell you son, the best explanation I ever heard was that I got it off a cigar band” … but personally, I don’t believe it.”