Duke Stern by “A Magic Nut”

 

 

Important to Abbott Magic Company history and the village of Colon, Michigan is a man by the name of Duke Stern (1913 – 1973). I never had the pleasure of meeting Duke or knew much about him except knowing that he was buried at Colon’s Lakeside cemetery. The following is taken from the September 1965 issue of TOP’s Magazine. It appears in a column titled “Magic Nuts I Have Known” By One Of Them: “Again we take you to Colon, Michigan, where the subject of this month’s article now resides. Although he has been living in many places since he took up the magic wand, he seems to be happy in his present location. A comparatively young man, he has many years of experience in various branches of the entertainment world. Fundamentally of course, he is a magician. And a very clever one, too. Has a great sense of humor and manages to tie up his magical effects with clever comedy routines that are always productive of my laughter and many return engagements. He is also an expert musician and his favorite instrument is the violin. Has appeared in pit bands in theatres and with small intimate combos in nite clubs. Is a skilled cartoonist as well and likes to leave his calling cards with a clever caricature for his booking agents. At one time he was manager of a prosperous magic shop in Indianapolis. And for a while he was a clothing salesman below the Mason and Dixon line. He likes to work as a “stooge” for other magicians at magical affairs, especially with Monk Watson and Karrell Fox. He is now one of the staff of the Abbott Magic Co. in Colon. He appeared as emcee on one of the 1965 Abbott Get-Together shows and made an indelible impression with his clever magic and comedy. Has made quite a name for himself, although his parents had already made the name of DUKE STERN for him.”

In 1993 Karrell Fox did a cemetery tour and tells the story that after Duke’s death he was cremated. Putting the urn in the box they decided to wrap it so it wouldn’t rattle around. They took some newspapers of Recil Border’s desk and wrapped the urn in them. A few weeks later Recil wanted to know who had been fooling around with the papers on his desk. Turns out that Recil had placed stencils of Abbott’s price list between sheets of the newspaper to dry. So, Duke Stern is buried with Abbott’s price list. Duke had requested that he be cremated and some of his ashes put in a vase on the counter at Abbott’s Magic so he could still work for them! Duke was legally blind at the time of his death but that did not appear to slow him down!

 

Neil Foster by Dorny

Neil Foster by “Dorny”

 

 

Important to Abbott Magic Company history and the village of Colon, Michigan is a man by the name of Neil Foster (1921 – 1988). Dorny writes about Neil in his Entre Nous Column in the February 1965 issue of TOPS magazine. Neil Foster was editor at the time. “Altho it is the right and privilege of a magazine or newspaper editor to eliminate, change or entirely omit any of his contributor’s efforts, I sincerely hope that Neil Foster will NOT exercise this royal right in this particular article for I feel that one should issue forth with the bouquets while his subject is still living. And to make it easier for our general editor to cooperate with me in this request I will save the name of the aforementioned subject for the end of the column.

Let me begin by saying that our hero this month is one of the latter day’s most modern performers. Born and raised in Aurora, Illinois, he became addicted to the practice and presentation of magical finger flinging at a very early age. But he never essayed a public appearance until AFTER he had spent many arduous hours practicing and developing any and all trix he presented. Altho he was exceptionally clever with playing card manipulations, he was never quite satisfied. To further develop his latent talents he enrolled in the Chaves School of Magic in Los Angeles. Here he graduated cum laude and was immediately hired by Ben Chaves to become one of his teachers. In this way he not only was one of the most proficient of all digital dexterity exponents but helped a great many others who subsequently went on to becoming recognized standard theatrical artistes. After a spell of magical “Pedagogging” he came back to the old hometown and for a time worked as a clerk in his brother’s grocery store. Although he was now eating regularly, he was never happy “in trade”. So he began to work casual club dates, nite clubs, etc. and while in Florida he met and married his wife, Jeanne. She became his assistant and after showing his wares to a flock of agents he landed a long contract to play the so-called University Lyceum Courses. This being a very rugged way of making a living, it affected Jeanne’s health and reluctantly they had to give up all this lengthy booking. “Our hero” now went to work in the Ireland Magic Company’s Chicago Magic shop. Here he demonstrated and sold tricks to the aspiring tyros of the Windy City. Then, receiving a very fine offer from Recil Bordner, the owner and former partner of the late Percy Abbott, he moved to Colon where he was, and still is gainfully employed as super salesman and vice president of the Abbott Magic Co. Here he revived the long defunct “TOPS” magazine, which in a very short time has become one of the very best of all good contributions to magical journalism.

Has a nice home in Colon and besides having agile fingers he also has a “Green Thumb”. His flower garden is one of the show places of the town.

To see him perform at any kind of a public show is to witness an exhibition of the excellence of stage magic. Albeit he employs no big effects or illusions, his every effort with cards, cigarettes, etc., can be seen and enjoyed in the largest of modern show shops. Has a magnificent sense of timing and a most pleasing personality as well. Has taken up one of the more recent magical effects and made it a masterpiece of beautiful mystery. This of course, is his version of the much-abused “Zombie”. This stunt, unless handled by a master performer can be a total loss to a mediocre magician’s reputation. But when it is shown by a real artiste it can make the reputation of anyone who has the ability, showmanship, skill and charm of this month’s subject, NEIL FOSTER. And I KNOW that anyone who ever has see Neil in action will agree with me that I am right.”

When Ben Chavez died in 1961, Marian Chavez continued to operate the school. When she died in 1978, it was her wish that Neil Foster and Dale Salwak become the co-owners of the Chavez school. Together over the next nine years they made every effort to carry on the training school. When Neil died in 1988, it left Chris Jakway Dean of the Midwest Studio (along with instructor Larry Wirtz) and the East Coast. Dale Salwak still continues the tradition at the west coast branch.

 

Abbott’s Get-Together 1964 by Monk Watson

    The 1964 Abbott’s Get Together

 

 

From Abbott’s TOPS Magazine, October 1964; by Monk Watson: ”The big show is over, or was it the big shows … really I’m not back to normal yet, but I hope to be before I finish this October Column. Neil Foster has his whip out, even though he is too weak to use it. I’m just a chicken so he says, “Monk, how about the October column?”  That’s all it takes to make me give up golf and fishing and stuff like that and get busy. Here goes!

During the Get-Together so many came up to me and said, “What is this guy, ‘The Senator,’ trying to do to you Monk?” I just laughed, really not knowing too many Senators, until I gave it another thought and came up with the idea that they must be talking about a real nice guy, whom I used to know pretty well, by the name of Clarke, or was it Crandall, or perhaps Clarke Crandall. Then it dawned on me that in the past I had read some column, “It’s a Mystery to Me,” and in this column he had mentioned my name a couple of hundred times. Now I do recall some of his writings. I also picked up the September TOPS      and there it was again … “OBESITY” .. (see previous reference to Watson, Monk), I can recall where in the dear dead past I referred to my former friend as, “Fat something”. He never forgets.

For the other side of this great guy, one would be so very happily surprised to learn that he is without a doubt one of the cleverest writers and speakers in the field of Magic or most any other subject you can think of. My good friend (of the Elsie Janis days) was pretty upset too, thinking how deeply I had been hurt by this brute of a Senator. I let Dorny continue to think so even during the shows (where Dorny had both hands full of hard work putting up with some of the greater STARS of the show business). I didn’t tell him that I had spent most of the day with Crandall, Bob Lewis, Mark Leddy and Milky, having more laughs than most men can handle. I’ve not had so many laughs in many, many years. Krandall, or is it Crandall, was in fine form during the whole four days and nights. He was “ON” all of the time while others were sleeping, fishing, buying tricks, or just visiting; this man was in a very easy chair having fun. As I said before, and I mean it, here is a real great guy with more talent (wish he had it) than any five men I know. One of these days he’ll bring out a Children’s Book and it will sell like hot cakes, or maybe like books. Some of the lines will have to be changed a bit, but I want the first one.

Back to the shows and some of the people I saw and visited with. First of all Russ Walsh and I closed the meeting, as we have for many years, on Sunday morning. After everyone has left we get together and talk about the other days and other conventions across the country, and when we finally finish we figure that the Get-together in Colon is the BEST of all Magical Conventions. The acts were all so good that one would use up a lot of time trying to review them, and I know that it will be covered in other columns, so all I want to say is, “This was a dilly of a convention, get-together, meeting, or just shows …” I’ve been to all of them across the country and with no meetings to attend it was a great success. Over 680 registered, another thousand found seats in the gym at the school, so what could be better.

The Night Before part that used to be just for the visiting Magicians, turned out to be a real Magic Show, with everyone on their toes outdoing themselves to please a packed house. Duke Stern was not too busy to help me along with Karrell Fox to bring back an act I did in the After Piece in Vaudeville with Bert Wheeler … (not the Bert Wheeler of Magic). The blow off of the act was that it had gone off well. Strange as it may seem the very acts that some of the Magicians thought a bit too long were the acts that the laymen are still talking about. We all know the answers to most of the tricks, but when you figure that you have another thousand people who are still fooled, one has to stop and think about his own act and the tricks that perhaps bore him … they’re new to your audience, so pull them out of the bag and do them over and over again.

The Tadlocks were here again, coming in on the same plane with Mark Leddy (who books most of the acts for the Ed Sullivan Shows). I had called them the night before they took the plane and told them that Mark would be on the same flight and for them to talk to him. They landed in Battle Creek and by that time they were good friends. Milky and I had just done a television show and with my Mary we picked up the trio. The trip to Colon was interesting, because I had arranged a room for Mark Leddy in a home on the Palmer Lake in Colon. Mark is a lover of nature and proved it by walking around in the yard of this home after the shows were over. He got a big kick out of the shows, and I believe he’ll come back again next year.

One didn’t have to go to the shows to see real Magic. There was more Magic to be seen at the Abbott showroom than a person could dream about. With Foster and several others showing the newest in Magic, one could spend hours just watching. Foster did the Zombie every hour, and each time it was the great masterpiece in his hands. Doves could have been on every show, because they’ll talk about them as long as Magic is shown. Sherm put a girl into a cabinet and that alone was a bit of magic. He put girl filled every inch and yet he put more swords and knives through that darn cabinet than I could count. A Six Footer cut into sixths was simply out of this world. The girl at the Hammond, Wilma Rench, never missed a cue and believe me that is Magic in itself.

I’ve gotta say a few kind words about my godson, Harry Blackstone Jr. He is a tall, fine looking man of thirty with every move of a seasoned actor. Hi voice (he can throw away Magic) was fine, and he could very nicely take over a lead in a Broadway show. However, I’m sure he’ll never throw away the thing he loves; Magic. One could close his eyes and see and hear his great father in every move. The cage at the tips of his fingers, the dancing handkerchief, the floating light bulb, were done with the same Professional Touch as his father had used for so many years. I’m mighty proud of the boy.

So Neil, here it is, and I hope you’ll forgive me if I’ve talked too much. I wanted to say more about my run with Bob Lewis and the midnight gang, but they know how much I enjoyed them. Mark, I’ll be calling when I get to New York, and we’ll hash over the ACTS again. I wish more of the boys from New York could have been here. Felix Greenfield was here and was thrilled over our shows, I’m sure. Now I’m going fishing, and I wish you all could come along.”

 

Jack Gwynne’s Magic Carpet; 1963

     Jack Gwynne’s Magic Carpet!

 

From Abbott’s TOPS Magazine, October 1963: (Editor’s note: This story took place in Calcutta, India during World War II. Jack Gwynne, a prominent member of the U.S.O., was flying around the world on his “Magic Carpet”. Jack and Eddie Joseph had been friends for over twenty years but had never met; it took a war to bring them together. Eddie Joseph who was then living in Calcutta wrote this story at that time.)

* * *

 “On a Saturday afternoon while I was admiring a picture of Jack, Ann and Bud Gwynne in a magic magazine, a mysterious American suddenly appeared on my threshold … how could he appear … to use a conjuring term … at the “psychological moment”? It seemed as if he had stepped right out of the magazine. This, indeed, was magic of the highest caliber. Jack Gwinne was at my threshold. Everything comes to him who waits. To me the waiting brought its reward. While the two of us were engaged in giving vent to our long nourished desires, minutes fleeted like seconds and hours like minutes.

It soon got time for Jack’s first performance in Calcutta. As his special guest I enjoyed every second of this 90-minute fast-moving show. Jack proved that a magician doesn’t have to carry a wagonload of stuff to create a furor. He not only lived up to his status of a front-line performer but dominated the entire production besides.

 

Jack Gwynne

 

His captivating smile, his elegant stage debonairness and his graceful manipulative abilities stamped each of his offering with a 24-caret Jack Gwynne “Hall-mark”.

But … Jack landed his “Magic Carpet” on Indian soil not only to bring enjoyment to audiences. He had another important mission to fulfill. He came her to investigate the mysticism of this wonderland.

Before bringing his “Magic Carpet” to rest in this large city, Jack visited many remote points in the country to contact Specialists. At Allahabad, for instance, he encountered an aged “Jadoowala” and the last keeper of the genuine Indian Levitation secret. Jack is a far-sighted performer. He bought the secret outright. I was given privilege of witnessing it in partial operation. Jack is taking it to the States and when he chooses to put it on there, you … too … will agree you have not witnessed its parallel.

Then … from Benares, the holy city of India, Jack acquired the only true secret of the famous Hindu Rice Bowl suspension. So confident Jack is of this late acquirement, that he offers an unconditional reward of 1,000 dollars to any person who could prove that he has recourse to any hidden connection, mechanical or otherwise. He works it right under one’s nose.

JACK ORGANIZES INDIAN MAGIC CONVENTION

During his stay in India, Jack broke magical traditions. He actually organized a “Jadoowala” convention for the first time in Indian Magical History. In accomplishing this, he had done what no other visiting magician had attempted. The rounding up of over a hundred “Jadoowalas” (magicians) was unheard of. When it was suggested to me, I ridiculed the idea. Jack wanted a real Indian Magic Convention … and like all Americans he wanted it “Juldi” (quick). Engaging messengers and drumbeaters, he sent them in different directions. On the fourth day, at the quite village some miles outside the city, what appeared at first a preposterous undertaking, took its shape.

Before the convention opened, Jack said through interpreters how glad he was to be with them. For years, he continued, he had been reading and hearing of them and always nurtured the burning desire to meet them. He then explained, he was introducing an American Magic custom into India. He said for the first time he was bringing to the East the custom of the West. At a given signal from Jack the trumpeter blew his horn. The convention was under way.

The Magicians and Snake Charmers assembled on the ground in different groups, each with his bag of tricks laid out in front of him. It was a sight worth seeing and something not easily dismissed from the mind. Over a hundred “Jadoowalas” entertaining each other.

Jack visited each group in turn. Squatting on the ground in real Indian fashion he sprung a surprise for each group. The first group he approached was busy looking at Karim Bux, a 70-year-old performer of repute, doing the famous Indian Rupee trick. Specks of dust were being gathered from the ground and converted into real hard rupees. Jack borrowed some of the dust and rubbed it between his hands. When he opened his digits slowly, instead of the expected rupee, all were surprised to see a glittering “Gold-Mohur”. “That’s for you.” Said Jack, tossing out the precious yellow metal.

When Jack approached another group the celebrated Indian dove basket trick was in progress. After it was concluded Jack remarked “This must be a wonderful basket.” Repeating the exact moves of the “Jadoowala” Jack later lifted the cover and who should pop out but Elmer … his pet Rooster. Jack brought Elmer all the way from the States. A real Cosmopolitan blend. An American Rooster from an Indian Basket. “Where did you hide that Rooster?” one of the Jadoowala enquired, and Jack retorted, “In my match pocket.”

Thus Jack resumed his round from group to group. In each group he did something not only to the astonishment of those watching but to the delight of all present. It was a rare sight indeed to watch this stalwart figure doing the familiar tricks in an unfamiliar manner.

At another group the magicians drooped a number of rupees inside a bamboo container and asked Jack to uncover it. All expected to see the usual live reptile shoot out of it. Instead … a harmless little bird came chirping out.

After completing his round Jack took his position right in the center of the field and asked for some rice and a Lota. These were easily procured and Jack proceeded to suspend that Lota of rice and walked with it right in front of him around the field. It was then announced that anyone was at liberty to grab that Lota at any stage in the demonstration and should anyone discover any hidden connection, Jack was willing to forfeit 1,000 dollars.

Borrowing a “pugree” (turban) from the oldest Jadoowala, from behind it, Jack produced a real live chicken. That … Jack added with a smile … is “Elmer, the Great.”

GWYNNE OFFERS 15.000 RUPEES

Before the convention finally closed, Jack repeated in person his press offer of Rs. 15,000 to anyone who could perform the Indian Rope trick. This was the first occasion anyone made the offer in the presence of over a hundred Jadoowalas. Those who wished to accept the challenge were asked to record their names. The time limit fixed by Jack is limitless and who knows, we may yet see the Indian Rope Trick in the near future. A few told Jack that this trick was definitely performed and many came forward to testify this statement. Jack persisted in his offer. He said, “If I’m going to lose this money it’s worth it. I will gladly pay 25,000 rupees to see the Indian Rope Trick.”

THE WHITE SNAKE CHARMER HOLDS UP TRAFFIC

During Jack’s stay in this city of Palaces, he stirred a great deal of curiosity. It was not an unfamiliar sight to see him in crowded places with a deadly looking cobra entwined around him. On one occasion at a busy crossing he encountered half a dozen snake charmers. Getting them to stop, Jack called for the largest Cobra. Holding the reptile container in his left hand he aroused it from slumber. The cobra did not take long to shoot straight on to Jack’s shoulder. The owner of the reptile stood aghast. He knew that he was the only one to exercise any power over it. He contemplated certain disaster. Slowly but surely the cobra started to wind itself around Jack’s torso … With this formidable dressing he paraded the busy thoroughfare with hundreds following him. Hundreds from housetops were gazing on this unusual spectacle. A White Snake Charmer leading a procession.

JACK GWYNNE TURNS DOWN RECORD OFFER

It is needless to mention that the outcome of Jacks multifarious activities resulted in several offers of engagement. One of these surpassed anything yet paid to any visiting magician. Jack turned them all down. He said, “I am here to entertain the boys, and when I am not entertaining I am busy investigating the mysticism of this wonderland.”

Jack promised to return, when this conflict is over, with a bigger and greater magic show.

And when that happens … at least Jack and Ann can be sure of one thing … a rousing welcome.”

 

Jack Gwynne (1895–1969) appeared at Abbott’s Get Together in 1961, 1962, 1965, and 1969.

Cover Portrait Of Jack Gwynne

 

From Abbott’s TOPS Magazine, August 1961; by Robert Parrish:

”The best general magic act in the last decades of American vaudeville was that of Jack Gwynne and Company. Other top magic acts of the period who consistently played the big theatres were primarily manipulation artists who or built their acts around a particular theme. Gwynne served up livestock, fish bowls, and illusions in a rapid style that was uniquely his own.

Technically, one of the outstanding characteristics of Gwynne’s act was the perfect coordination between the performer and his assistants. This was what made the rabbit box, the rooster vanish, and the stack of bowls production such masterpieces of deception. This is also one of the things that imitators of the act couldn’t reproduce – and Gwynne has probably had more imitators than Cardini. The misdirection on the stack of bowls was so perfect that the observer had no idea of where the load could even have come from, to say nothing of when the steal was made. I have had laymen tell me that the materialization of these bowls of water in the middle of a night club floor was the most impossible feat of magic he had ever witnessed or expected to.

The transition of the Gwynne act of “big magic” to nightclub conditions was historical. Until the recent advent of Richiardi, no one else has been able to achieve much of a commercial success in this country with a large-scale magic show in the confines of a nightclub floor.

Gwynne played virtually around the world on U.S.O. in World War II, and thereafter set out with his own full-evening show. One day the Gwynne troupe pulled into a south-western suburb of Chicago, saw a house they liked, bought it, ran their truck up behind the nearest Sears store, loaded it with furniture, and that night, for the first time since the middle 20’s (when Jack had decided to leave Pittsburgh and take a chance on vaudeville), the Gwynne family slept in their own home.

Much of Gwynne’s success, of course, has been due to his Royal Family of Magic; Anne and the Gwynne children, Buddy and Peggy, along with the latters’ spouses, Helen Gwynne and Frank Cole, and flocks of grandchildren. Peggy has commented that as soon as a Gwynne child was able to walk, he or she went into the act. You quickly learned that if you failed in your responsibility, father was going to be standing there in a fix in front of perhaps thousands of people, and you didn’t make that mistake again.

This brief sketch on Gwynne and Company has been written in the past tense, but of course there is nothing past about their activities or accomplishments. No sooner had the Royal Family “settled down” than the development of commercial TV presented a new challenge to magical showmanship. Gwynne pioneered in presenting illusions week after week on the long-run SuperCircus show. Jack also became virtually the trademark for Zenith Radio and a frequent performer in TV commercials.

It remained until last year, however, for him to realize the ultimate dream for very magician or aspiring magician. As a feature attraction of one of the big Shrine circus shows, he was presented as a magician really should be, entering astride an elephant and being received on a red carpet by a harem of dancing girls, one of whom he thereupon caused to vanish from the top of the arena.

Jack Gwynne is not only a successful magician, but also a kind and generous man. I learned this when I first met him, over 25 years ago, as a lad in high school, visiting in Detroit, where Gwynne and Co. were playing at a top night spot. When the maitre de barred my entrance to the establishment, I asked for Mr. Gwynne, who promptly appeared. He took me down into the basement amid the mysterious array of illusion boxes and sat me down. I told him about myself and he said, “I’m sorry you are leaving tomorrow. I like to talk magic and I’d like you to meet my son, Buddy. If this weren’t Saturday night, I could find a place for you where you could see the show. However, it happens that I am playing a midnight benefit at the Fox Theatre, and I shall call them up and see if we can get a ticket for you. Just go over and ask at the box office.” I did, and the ticket was there.”

 

Jack Gwynne (1895-1969) was one of the superstars of American magic, Jack (born Joseph McCloud Gwynne*) was the illusionist who created the Temple of Benares illusion as a variation of Culpitts Doll House illusion. Jack often had to make his own props because the nearest magic dealer was 300 miles from where he lived. He also made props for other magicians, including Houdini and Thurston. He also invented the Flipover Box, Atomic Dove Vanish, Box-Tray and Screen. He appeared at Abbott’s Get Together in 1961, 1962, 1965, and 1969. He is buried at Colon’s Lakeside Cemetery.

Recil Bordner on Magic Capital of the World

From TOPS Magazine, January 1961, by Recil Bordner: “I am assuming that everyone knows how Lester Lake came to give Colon the title of THE MAGIC CAPITOL OF THE WORLD, and how I came to buy half interest in this business from Percy Abbott back in 1934.

What has not been told about this Magic Co. is the identity and story of the many people who have and still work here.

Among those who have worked for us were: Jesse Thornton, who was in vaudeville and built magical apparatus in Chicago. “Bill” Brema from Philadelphia – the master machinist – with all the Precision Brass Tricks of the old Brema Line; Lyman Hug who had been on the Harry Thurston Show with Percy as electrician and technician. Also Ted Banks, Frank Luckner and Neil Sweet were from the Blackstone Show. Gen. Grant, Winston Freer and Nardini of “Nardini and Nadine” each spent a couple of years with us. And Eddie Joseph, who came over from India to perform at one of our Get Togethers, stayed several months, writing and developing tricks before going on to London. All the above and many more helped us here, right down to the latest celebrities, Neal and Jeanne Foster, who are now members of the ‘Magic Family’ here in Colon.

The first day I come to Colon to stay, Percy introduced me to all the places in town where he had been doing any business: The first place he took me was to the home of Charles Elliot a man interested in magic in an amateur way. “Chuck” always produced all the minstrel shows and any other dramatic productions that were attempted locally. So it was only natural that he was the “contact” man with the local people on all our magical Get Togethers until his death in 1942. Chuck’s wife Irene was doing some sewing for the Magic Co; Spring Sausages, Carrots etc. She is the same lady who is working today in our sewing department making the same things plus, of course, many more products. She continued to do the sewing in her home until her three children were grown before she came to the shop to work.

During that first year after we had moved into our own building, another man came to see us from the Blackstone Show. This time it was from the advance personnel in the person of a juggler named Fred Merrill or just “Freddie” as everyone called him. He came to help in our paint department, and started on what was to be a part time basis, but today he is still our painter and has finished and painted, I would say, more Magical Apparatus than any other man in the world today.

Before the First World War, Fred was with the Merrill Brothers, a juggling team, and “Morris Cronnin and his Merry Men”, a comedy European Juggler Act. He is the immediate Past President of the International Jugglers Association and those of you who read the OLD TOPS, will remember that he had a series of articles, on the art of juggling, published several years ago. He has promised to write some articles for the NEW TOPS as the months roll along, so if any of you juggling fans have any news, questions or suggestions that you would like to see in print, send them along to Fred Merrill, Colon, Michigan.

In August 1943 Fred’s wife, Caroline, came to help us in the sewing department for a few hours each day. It was not long before she was working full time. When we took over the feather flower making from the DeWitt sisters, she mastered the art of converting the grimy white imported swan and goose feathers to the soft brilliant petals seen on the finished white flowers. Later she become skillful at dyeing them to the bright, even iridescent colors that makes our feather flowers so outstanding. She is especially proud of her fresh carnations, and rightfully so for they are the most realistic in appearance.

If I wrote about all the things concerning all the people who have worked here, this column would be as long as a novel, so I will have to continue it in another issue.”

Inez Blackstone & Marquis Troupe 1930

Inez Blackstone Will Pilot Marquis Troupe

 

From The Colon Express Newspaper, September 11, 1930, courtesy of the Colon Community Historical Society:

“Marquis, the Magician, will commence his new season the second week in September, with the opening spot not yet selected. He is at present busy framing a new line of illusions and magical novelties.

Inez Blackstone will have full charge of the advance department this year, and Samuel Goldman will handle the publicity and exploitation 10 days of the show. Paul Irving Masters will be company manager, and Fye Fayre will be principal illusion assistant. Featured among Marquis’ illusions this year will be “The Phantom Mermaid.”  Other illusions include “Funny Paper Fantasy,” “The Enchanted Bathhouse,” “The Morocco,” “Flight of the Ghosts” and 20 other illusions programmed on the two-hour program.

After closing his road show season last May, Marquis spent nine weeks with Rajah Raboid, presenting in conjunction with the well-known mentalist a “ghost show” in RKO houses through the east.” Marquis, the Magician was George Marquis. Touted at one time as the handpicked successor to the famous Harry Blackstone, Marquis toured actively with his magic act from the 1920s through the 1970s.

In 1974, RING 81, Sarasota, Florida, honored Inez Blackstone Kitchen in recognition of her service as Ring President for 25 years.

It all began in the Fall of 1916 when Inez Nourse joined the Harry Blackstone Show to play the banjo. It ended in 1930, 11 years after they had married and 14 years after they had first met. A few years later she married Robert Kitchen, the brother of Maurice Kitchen. Maurice Kitchen trouped under the name of Rajah Raboid. Embracing the crystal gazer’s stance on stage and off, “Raboid” was famous for his mentalism, fortune-telling and second sight successes. Inez never forgot Blackstone or magic and she often said the worst thing she did was divorce Harry and leave the show. She remained close to the people she met in Show Business and in 1949, living in Sarasota, Florida she was the force behind the founding of Ring 81.

At the February meeting, in 1974 with 29 members present, William Preston, I.B.M.’s Ring Coordinator presented Inez a beautiful plaque, engraved as follows:

“This plaque is presented to our own Inez Blackstone Kitchen in appreciation of her services as president for a quarter of a century. Her dedication and devotion has been greatly responsible for the success and growth we have achieved. With this presentation, we are pleased to approve her as president Emeritus of Ring No. 81 as a token of our high esteem for her.” “We hereby declare that henceforth this organization shall be known as “The Inez Black stone Kitchen Ring No. 81″ International Brotherhood of Magicians”.

Inez Blackstone Kitchen died at the age of 94 in 1983. She is interred at Manasota Cemetery, near Sarasota. The tombstone at Lakeside Cemetery, here in Colon, is a memorial stone. Her husband Bob Kitchen, passed away in the 1960’s and for years afterward she lived in a mobile home park in Sarasota and went north during the hot summers to visit with magic friends and to attend the Abbott’s Magic Get-Together in Colon, Michigan.

 

Monk Watson Remembered by Dan Waldron 2008

”Monk” Watson Remembered

 

From Magicol magazine, May, 2008, by Dan Waldron: “Donald “Monk” Watson was a perennial at Abbott’s Magic Get-Togethers. He lived in Colon, and ads for new Abbott products often bore his endorsement: “I’ll take one!” says Monk Watson. “To show how easy it was to do some new trick, Abbott’s had Monk saying things like “I got it in the morning and put it into my show that night!”

Such lines notwithstanding, Monk’s performing style embodied the old truth that “It’s not the trick, it’s how you do it that counts.” He was aces at hocus pocus. His first foray into magic, however, turned out to be almost his last. “I was hardly more than a kid,” he said, “and I had just learned the Water-to-Wine trick. I thought it would go over bigger if I drank it. Of course, it wasn’t wine at all – just chemicals – and it almost killed me!”

Monk wrote a column for The NewTops  called “The Professional Touch.” The name came from the presumed showmanship and know-how, based on his many years as a professional entertainer. He had indeed been one, or rather, many – magician, vaudevillian, hoofer, traveling showman, bandleader, producer, writer … he had done it all. He got the name “Monk,” he said, from his shenanigans as a soldier in World War I, when a fellow doughboy seeing him do an acrobatic flip-flop into a shell hole, said, “Look at that monkey!”

A running feature in his Tops columns was a supposed feud with Dorny. Werner Dornfield wrote a column, too, and they were always taking potshots at one another. Actually, they were good friends, both having trouped with “the sweetheart of the AEF,” Elsie Janis. Janis was as big a star as they came in her day, although Monk’s and Dorny’s frequent references to her must have left us young Tops readers mystified. We all knew about our current stars, like Judy Garland, but our education had woefully not included Miss Janis.

Monk and his wife, Mary, lived on Colon’s Main Street in a neat white frame house with a tidy green lawn. Apparently the house was the domain of Mary, for there was not one shred of evidence that a show-business veteran lived there. But in the back yard Monk had a small building crammed with relics from his career. It held vintage photos (many autographed by famous vaudevillians), posters, scrapbooks, albums, yellowing theatre programs, folders of sheet music and other memorabilia of his days as a Janis trouper, his time with dancer Irene Castle, his vaudeville days – both with a partner and as a single – his later stint in Detroit, where he had a band called “Monk Watson and his Serenaders.” There was also magic apparatus, some theatrical props and an old L. C. Smith upright typewriter on which he wrote his columns.

In Detroit, in addition to his band, he produced “Prologues” at the Riviera Theatre. (Like regulation Detroiters of the day, he called it the “Grand Rivera.” What else could you call a theatre located on Grand River Avenue? The second “i” in Riviera was completely ignored.) “Prologues” spanned the gap between the vaudeville and the talking pictures. They were often elaborate stage shows presented before the motion picture was shown. They usually had a line of showgirls, a theme such as “Hayloft Follies,” complete with scenery and costumes and generally a monologist or what we would call today a “standup comedian.” Monk hired Bob Hope and Jack Benny early in their careers or so he said.

“Prologues” faded away as talking pictures proved a big enough draw by themselves. They are memorialized in a wonderful Busby Berkeley movie called Footlight Parade.

Monk proved to be a popular figure in Detroit for a time. It was during Prohibition, and I rather think he lived it up in that era of flappers and bathtub gin. But times changed, and Monk retired to the town of his birth, Colon, Michigan. He must have thought heaven had arrived when Harry and Inez Blackstone settled there.

Monk appeared on every Abbott Get-Together program I can remember. He did magic, of course, but also some of his vaudeville routines. They seem curiously unhurried compared to today’s quick-cut-instant-everything society, but they were funny conceptions and funny to watch. One of them involved conducting an (unseen recorded) orchestra in one of the classics. Monk at the podium turned the pages of the score. Finally, he held it up for the audience to see, revealing, not a music score, at all, but a girlie magazine. He grinned wildly as he showed the old fashioned picture of the skinny-dipping lass in a lake entitled “September Morn.”

Another gag also involved conducting an orchestra. Midway through the piece a railroad train was heard approaching. Monk whipped out and donned a brakeman’s cap, grabbed a signal lantern, and waved through the roaring, but unseen, train. Then he ditched the cap and lantern and resumed conducting the music where he had left off.

In his late seventies Monk underwent major surgery. He had scarcely recuperated when he took a booking for a magic show at a reunion of war veterans. Maybe he needed the money. Maybe he simply felt the need to perform. In any case, he took me with him. To my horror, the hall was filled with raucous, unruly, liquored up GI’s. The last thing on their mind was watching an old man do magic tricks. Yet Monk went on and faced the crowd. From backstage I could hear the ruckus. Then it quieted down a bit. About 30 minutes later I heard a thunder of applause. Monk stumbled offstage. He was white as a sheet, soaked with perspiration and trembling like a leaf.

“I made ‘em stand,” he gasped, “I made ‘em stand!”

in Monk’s hands, that chaotic collection of rowdies had been transformed into an audience. They had given him a standing ovation. This was in the days when such an ovation was rare, not like today, when audiences automatically rise to their feet, whether the act deserves it or not. In Monk’s time, it meant something.

Monk was not your “kindly old curmudgeon.” He could be sour at times. But he never lost the dazzle of his trouper’s smile. Whenever he sensed a camera within 20 paces, on it came.

In his last days, he and Mary moved to New Jersey to be with his daughter. He died there in 1981 at age 87 – but not before he had scored a life-story interview on the local newspaper.

Donald “Monk” Watson 1919

Donald “Monk” Watson “Cheer-Up” Boy of 32nd May Enter the Movies

From the Jackson, Michigan Citizen Patriot, circa 1919.

Jackson Soldier, Back From Overseas, Praised by Army Officials As An Entertainer; Was a “Gloom Lifter” Among the Soldiers.

When a full-fledged colonel and a lieutenant colonel praise a humble corporal as being one of the biggest contributors to the morale of the men of the 32nd division, why one must naturally have a look at the man who caused all the comment. So when word reached Jackson that Colonel Edward J. Heckle, of the 125th infantry had said in a speech down at Battle Creek, “There’s only one ‘Monk’ Watson,” and after the praises given him by Lieutenant Colonel Gansser at the Elk’s temple Wednesday evening, a Citizen-Patriot reporter decided to get the high spots of Watson’s career from his own lips.

When the Citizen-Patriot’s representative reached the home of Donald Watson at 105 North Van Dorn street he found “Monk” just packing up his theatrical belonging preparatory to making a trip. Just at the moment he arrived “Monk” was standing in the hall regarding a Boche bayonet with a rather wistful look in his eyes.

“Say,” Watson confided, “did you ever use one of these for a candle stick? They make dandies. Just stick your candle on the end, and when a Hun airplane comes over – Whoosh – and your lights go out.”

Then, with a more earned expression hiding the merry twinkle which habitually plays in his eyes, Watson sat down and told some of his unique army experiences, as an actor, a musician, and general gloom lifter, that caused him to get the name in the 32nd division of the “Skylark, who had guts.”

When Watson was in Texas he organized a jazz band and played at the different “Y” huts and auditoriums of Waco and Camp MacArthur. But it remained for him to demonstrate his real worth in later days to follow, when the 32nd division was piercing all points and when it at last emerged a victor to take-up its position as one of the division in the Army, of occupation.

But those glorious days when the 32nd was fighting all the time were not then as grand as now, looking back, and the “Buddies” used to get pretty blue after they had just taken a town. They would be sitting around a fire if they had one, or in a damp old barn, grousing quite a bit, until one would yell, “Here’s Monk.” And then Monk would come in and perform some of his “darn foolishness” as he calls it, until the gloom would be lifted and the Germans would wonder next day what made those Americans fight so.

During the Soissons drive Monk found an old battered piano in a little town just as it had been abandoned by its owners. It was lying in the water so that it had to be propped up by boards before he could play it. But they fixed it up and the “cheer up boy” played “The Strutter’s Ball” on the rusty piano, practically in the water.

In July, 1918, Watson had the pleasure of meeting Miss Elsie Janis and appearing with her in a skit in which he did some of this pantomime wire walking. A friendship sprung up between the two “morale” builders and now Watson is the proud owner of several autographed photographs and quite a few letters from Miss Janis. She has recommended him to her American manager in New York.

During the five months the 125th infantry was stationed at Horhosen, Germany, in the army of occupation, Watson went around to all the towns where the division was stationed giving his pantomimes and musical stunts. He appeared in the Hohenzollern Hotel at Neweid, one of the larger of the German music halls, and also in places so small the entertainers had to perform on tables, which often broke under them.

Some time before the division returned Watson went down in Aixles Bains and took part there in a show entitled “The Pirates.” Miss Grace Sherwood of Providence, R. I. a Y.M.C.A worker, was the author and manager of the production. The entertainment was even in the casino, formerly the property of Harry K. Thaw, which had been gambled away over the roulette table.

Even on the way home the Jackson boy continued to make the men merry. He put on some of his stunts while on board the Great Northern, which so pleased the captain of the ship that he asked “Monk” to repeat them up in the officers’ cabin.
This optimist confided the fact that he sort of hated to leave the army. “They were just like a big family. Everybody would do anything he could for the other fellow.” And then he proceeded to tell another story of how he used to help the boys cut wood by getting out and playing for them and having them keep time to the music with their saws.

Just at present Watson’s ambition lean towards vaudeville or the movies. He has an offer from the World Film Company of New York to join its list of entertainers. “But,” he added, and polished the little medal given him for being a prize entertainer in the division, “First I’m going to stay and have a talk with dad, here, and tell him some about army life.” And dad seemed perfectly willing to listen.

 

 

Hugh Frisbie on Monk Watson

     My Time With Monk Watson!

 

By Hugh Frisbie: ”Like most boys in Colon, Michigan after WWII we biked, fished, swam, played baseball and watched or sold popcorn at magic shows. But mostly knew “Monk” as the magician that traveled in the “Casite” decorated station wagon. In the fall of 1948 I was a high school freshman and my less than 90-pound weight made it foolish to join my friends in going out for the football team. With time alone I started to learn to juggle some rubber balls after watching someone on those early TV shows. With about 5 weeks of after school practice in the backyard I could juggle three balls and practice continued with plates, knives, and 4 solid wooden clubs that would crack my knuckles if I didn’t catch them right. My classmates in Colon High were putting on a school carnival and to advertise it they put signs on a truck to drive around town. My contribution was to ride on the top of the truck cab juggling the wooden clubs. “Monk” saw this and came over to our house to talk to me. First about not riding around on the roof of a truck and then about juggling. I have since read “Monk’s biography of some dangerous things he did as a kid and I thank that may have been our initial connection.

Young Hugh Frisbie and Neil Sweet

With “Monk’s advice to my parents about where they could send for 3 real professional juggling clubs for my birthday, more practice and help from Monk and Fred Merrill, the former vaudeville juggler who worked in the paint shop at Abbott’s Magic, I had the start of a juggling act for high school events. Monk saw one and came by with a costume and asked if I would come along on his shows. So in 1951, 1952, & 1953 I went with him to Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Grand Rapids, Battle Creek, Fort Wayne, Sturgis and places in between in his now “Miracle Power” decorated station wagon for all kinds of shows: Lion’s Clubs, American Legion, Company picnics and some for his sponsors A-P Parts Corp., Miracle Power clients or potential customers. The audiences were from after dinner shows on a stage the size of a table or several thousands in auditoriums. I sometimes did 4-6 minutes of juggling and sometimes I only helped bring his props and set-up for his 45 to 75 minute show. Although I liked showing off my juggling of 3 & 4 balls, knives, plates and tennis rackets, the best part was watching Monk’s show as no two were ever the same. Sometimes there was 10-15 minutes of jokes, music, pantomime or magic I had never seen before.

The Monk Watson Show was so much more than magic because of the comedy pantomime and Monk’s unique ability of adapting to any audience from farmers, little old ladies, businessmen and waitresses with the result being a true standing ovation at the end of every show. The jokes about his time in the military were as funny and as rapid as any big time comedian and the unique pauses and facial expressions in the delivery were enough to incite laughs well before the punch line. The facial expressions during his pantomime of a lady putting on her make-up while driving a car would always cause some lady in the audience to go into uncontrolled laughing spells, thus doubling the enjoyment to the rest of the audience. There were laughs in all the magic sequences, but the comedy and pantomime segments were so well placed throughout the show that the result was that the audience had no idea what to expect next. This element of surprise was also displayed in magical effects thus increasing the “ooh’s” and applause that many other magicians would not receive.

Absolutely nothing about Monk’s show was unrehearsed, thought about and re-practiced. In fact, right up to show time his whole thinking was about entertaining that audience. My first real “lesson in showbiz” occurred when Monk was nervously pacing backstage before the show and I told him, “Why don’t you just relax, you know you’ll be a big hit.”  Monk paused and let me know that if you don’t think about doing everything for your audience, you should not be in showbiz.

One night we arrived to set-up on stage and a 5-piece orchestra that was hired to play before and during the banquet dinner was on break behind the curtain and Monk talked to the leader and asked if they would also provide opening music for the magic show. The answer being a definite “No, we were only hired to play until the end of dinner.” Monk said, “Well I hate to have to play myself on stage.”  He picked up a clarinet and played the heck out of it to the obvious amazement of the leader and the band members who then agreed to do anything he wanted.

Certainly one of the toughest shows I saw was for a national salesmen’s meeting for Kirsch Curtain Company at Klinger Lake Country Club near

Sturgis, Michigan. The printed schedule stated 5:30 to 6:30 for drinks, 6:30 to 7:30 dinner, 7:30 Sales Manager’s Review, 8:00 entertainer Monk Watson, Magic.

We arrived around 6:30 and found a very small stage in one corner of the room, which was mostly filled with drinking, talking and laughing. We were set-up and ready at 7:30 with drinks and laughing the only thing happening in the room, same thing at 8:00, 8:30 and 9:00. at 9:00 dinner was served with more drinks and around 10:30 many were under the tables or had a face in their plate.

The manager strode up and with less than 25% of them listening said he would be brief so we could start with the entertainment. He said a few things and introduced “Monk” at a little before 11:00.

“Monk” stood up, put his fingers in his mouth and blew the loudest, shrillest, longest whistle I have ever heard. Some heads rose from plates and some came out from under tables. In a loud clear voice he said, “Hi!, I’m Monk Watson and I’m here to give you the best show you have ever seen.”

He started and continued at a very fast pace but as he went on more and more were applauding to the tricks and by the end of a shorter than normal show, 90% of the audience gave him a resounding applause and the manager came around to sign up for another show next month. WOW!

As good as Monk was a performer, he was also one of the first to be fully sponsored by a product company. First by Casite, then by A. P. Parts, and then my Miracle Power. These appearances consisted of a rented auditorium, advertising for an audience of 1,000 to 5,000. The shows would start with a raffle of cases of the products and proceed with Monk’s solo 70 – 90 minute magic show, which included about 10 minutes of magic with direct reference to Miracle Power and improved performance to your automobile. Think about it. Monk was the only person on stage. Most of the time there were no assistants, no orchestra, no scenery, lights “on or off”, no sound man, no curtain openings/closings, and no props from the back of a station wagon.

Monk’s use of some standard magic effects like “Linking Rings” and “
Free Card Repeat” while boring by many magicians, his perfect execution and pauses as thou something had gone wrong always increased the impact of the tricks. The main reason he perfected the execution of magic effects was not to show off his skill, but to allow him to watch and interact with the audience during every effect. This became a very important element in my later development of kid’s shows. The most difficult effect was probably the “Think Of Any Card” trick that even the most skilled magician can’t always be effective. He used it mostly in small offstage gatherings to impress potential clients, businessmen or my college fraternity brothers who talked about it a long time afterwards.

To this day, I have never seen a performer better than Monk Watson who had the multi-talents of Jackie Gleason, got an audience’s attention and response as quickly as the Las Vegas show of Sammy Davis, Jr., or had the music and miming comedy of Victor Borge. In addition to profiting from his advice to go to college, then helping me get my first engineering job in San Diego with Convair working on the Atlas Missile, which would put the first U. S. Astronaut into space. His inspiration provided much benefit in turning my part time Southern California juggling into over 3,000 clown, magic and juggling kids shows, many from my own designed, fully portable McDonaldland stage.”

 

Hugh Frisbie has appeared with T.V. stars Jerry Vail, Mr. Rogers, and Bozo the clown. He was recognized by the San Diego Fire Department for his in-school Fire Safety Shows as well as the San Diego City & County award for outstanding contribution to San Diego schools, hospitals and special events.

Hugh is one of the few clown acts that have appeared at the Abbott’s Get together (1955 and 1994).