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.”

 

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).

Phil Wait and His Balloon, Monk Watson

Phil Wait and His Balloon

 

From The Colon Express newspaper, June 11, 1975; by Monk Watson: ”I think we all have idols to look back on, and my great idol was Phil Wait. I remember his first balloon ascension, and how anxious we all were to see his chute open, high in the sky.

Phil’s brother, Will, had been making balloon ascensions for some time. I believe he lived in Burr Oak. When I first saw Will Wait make his ascension he landed in Palmer Lake. Many boats were there to fish him out. As he neared the water he swung away from the parachute, and dove into the water.

So Phil figured he’d try it. He filled his balloon in the street in front of where the Davis Agency is now located (The “A” frame on North Blackstone across from the Village Hall). Will’s advice to Phil was, “When you get high enough, I’ll fire this gun. That means you should cut loose.”

In those days the parachute was not folded into a pack, but hung below the balloon. So, as soon as it was cut loose, it started to open. Not like today, when we have the delayed jumps.

So, Phil went up and when he reached the peak of his flight, Will shot the gun, and in a few seconds Phil cut loose. He was headed for the lower lake, but the wind caught him and he landed near the pickle factory, or just below the lumberyard on the railroad tracks.

From that day on it was a weekly event to see the balloon ascension. The storekeepers gave Phil a check for $5.00 and the factory gave him the wood to burn to make the hot air that filled the balloon. For a long time the trench and poles stood at the northeast corner of the Lamb Knit Company yard.

My mother had made me a parachute out of burlap bags, and I had made a hoop and trapeze, and with long ropes had it attached to the burlap parachute. Phil had promised me that he’d take me along on his next ascension. I took the chute to the little park, where Dr. Lawrence’s office is located (Now Dr. Smolarz). When the bag was filled Phil took hold of the top of my chute, and asked me if I was ready. I was so thrilled at the thought that I would soon be up there high in the sky and ready for him to drop me. When he yelled “Everyone Let Go!” I was ready, but only to see him drop my chute on the ground. I cried for a month. I was eight years old.”

Where Was I? 1940-1964 Monk Watson

Where Was I? 1940 – 1964

 

 

From The New TOPS Magazine, December 1964, by Monk Watson: “If you think this is going to be an easy month, you’re crazy. Neil has just returned from the hospital, looking in the pink, and still doing a lot of daydreaming. He said, “Monk, I like to have you reminis” (no such word), but knew he meant look back into the past to some things you used to write about in your columns at the start of your writing career (that’s in the dictionary) but not in my life.” So here goes; Turning the clock back some twenty-four years to “Tops” September 1940:

“Where was I?” was the name of my column and the reason for such a heading was because I had not been invited to a convention and many of my friends asked me, “Where were you?”  These are just a few of the lines written back in those day of friends, some going on to play a much better date, where the price is right, and the place is crowded with talent. No worries about stage or travel conditions. Little morbid, isn’t it? I guess when you are older and you look back you can’t help but look ahead just a little to the time when you’ll be playing the BIG TIME too. Enough of that, but let’s visit about those days and the Tops of twenty years ago.

My first column brings out the fact that I had invented a new type of fishing worm called the Fight Back Worm. I might add right now that it didn’t take long for the big columnists in the New York papers to jump on this story and give credit to one of my close friends, a reader of Tops. The worm didn’t catch on I believe because it seems the law will not let you give liquor to a worm. This had to be done so that the worm would fight back any fish that come up for a nibble. I was going to build a stadium in Colon, for the Get-Together for that year, so everyone could see my worms in action. Too bad.

That same year I invented a clock for the new cars. This was built into the glass of the windshield. You did not have to wind it, nor did it interfere with the driver’s vision. My only reason for not going ahead with it was because it didn’t run.

Smooth as Silk was the subject for the October issue of Tops in 1940. It was regarding the way the Get-Together was handled, the Seventh Annual. Those were the days of the basement theatre, where the close-up work of the GREATS were something to talk about. Paul Rosini raving about a new boy named Frank Csuri. I had introduced them and raved about this boy to Paul, and now it was his turn to rave. Howard and Teddy Strickler were the Life of the party, with Teddy “First Lady” at the “Night Before” party. That was the year that my good friend John Braun couldn’t make it. I did the Tight Wireless act on that show, and I’m still using the same wire. A flash was the news that Carl Fleming had passed on, with a fine tribute from Bob Anderson.

November 1940 “Where Was I?”

 

Joining up with Recil Bordner and Gen Grant at Hershey, Pa., where there was a Magic convention. The Abbott booth was the headquarters for most of the boys. The Campbells were there and I remember how sweet Mrs. C. was to Gen and me, and how I was asked not to do my Wireless act, and I had my wireless wire with me just in case I was called upon, but they were filled up so I just sat around and Pouted. Not for long, however, because again I ran into Charlie Larson whom I had introduced to Magic in 1931 in Detroit. He, at that time had the largest collection of Magic in the world. He asked Gen Grant and I to visit him in New York and look over his collection. We went in and saw the whole works. Mr. Larson said, “Go ahead and look at anything you want to.” He meant just that, too. “LOOK!” Gen started to pick up a trick and got a big, “Don’t touch that, please!”  After several of those, “Don’t touch that!” we just walked around bored stiff. He had lunch sent up for us … a ham sandwich and a glass of milk … to his downtown office …same building. A wonderful day with Staurt Robson at his shop, 324 W. 56th St. There we met John Muholland and Dorothy … he saw my No. 1 card trick and said I used a double-faced card. … I threw him on the floor and sat on his chest. Dorothy yelled, “Murder” but John just laughed (after I got off). Really I didn’t use a double-faced card. Then out to see Dell O’Dell in her beautiful home. Charles was a perfect host, showing us movies of their trips. Roland Travers was there and we hashed up some shoptalk about the lost art. Show Business … it’s been pretty dead a long time. He was in Magic and I was in Music … the Palace was THE PALACE. … Then on to meet Ted “Jinx” Annemann and buying fifty from him on the spot … Stuart Robson, Ralph Read, Ted and I getting a coffee cake out of jail at the Automat and talking and talking about Ralph’s new Mental Masterpiece. … Meeting the Great Williston and laughing ever since at his fine act … caught Sim Sala Bim with Gen and Williston, stood out in the street long into the night talking about that great show …The next night at Robson’s with Albenice, Harry Bernstein, Max Katz, Prince Mendes, John Maker, Bob Sharp, Ralph Bowen, and Buddy Bassi … and a lot more fellows. Hells-za-poppin with Olsen and Johnson … whom I had known for years. I was placed in a box where a girl sat in my lap … she said, under her breath, Monk, I was in your chorus in Detroit … married to Olson’s son …Hardeen was in the show … They tried to mess up his act, but it still was great. Saw Doug Geoffrey … then off to Club 4-40 owned by Olsen. Next day lunch with Gen and Charlie Larson, at the Savoy (this was on Gen) . Larson took us to his apartment where he had another two rooms of “Don’t Touch” magic. The next night in New Jersey to see Dell O’Dell at the Top-Hat. She was in great form and could have worked all night … and darn near did. Those were the happy days and nights … Gosh it’s late and I’ve got to do a show so I’ve got some packing to do. Twelve cases to pack, and I used to do a pocket act.

Thanks Neil, for letting me walk down that Memory Lane … Monk”

 

 

Following Blackstone by Monk Watson

Following Blackstone

 

From TOPS Magazine, October, 1961, by Monk Watson: “This should not be hard to write because it is pretty close to my heart, and also close to the hearts of many who were lucky enough to

see Blackstone at our Get-Together.

There are some few things I would like to clear up for our younger generation at this time. Perhaps some were a little disappointed with Blackstone’s performance on one of those nights. This would have been on Thursday night.  I anyone of our Magicians had followed Blackstone that day, I’m sure he would have stayed in bed for days to come. Let me outline the activities for that day. First, he had to come over from Battle Creek, where he was staying to keep a date with a writer and photographer sent in to cover the story for The Saturday Evening Post. The photographer had spent the day before cleaning out the stage, footlights, brass railings, and seats in the old Opera House so he could pl

ace Blackstone on the stage where so many of his tours started. Blackstone appeared on the scene at a very early hour, and for the next ten hours he was standing, setting, standing, leaning, in every pose known to for writers and photographers for Seven Hundred pictures.

Late in the afternoon he had to change into dry clothing for the night show. He was tired just as anyone of us would have been. He was pent up with emotion at the thought of coming home to Colon to friend of years gone by. Friends who knew him when. When he was the GREATEST Magician in the World, showing to packed houses across the country, in a Full evening show, with big, big, big, illusions that filled several baggage cars. A stage full of people (who knew their work, without a miss) to do some simple little tricks in front of the front curtain wh

ile the stage was being set for the next big act.

These little fillers,

or small tricks, were what we saw at the Get-Together. However, lets not sell the Bird Cage, Danci

ng Handkerchief, and Floating Light bulb, short.  In the hands of so many these would look like just another little trick. But in the hands of Blackstone (with the Professional Touch) they were Masterpieces long to be remembered. So, on the first night he faltered a bit, broke the light bulb, covered it up with a grin saying, “Accidents will happen.” Walking across the stage with his head held high as if nothing had happened. Then the rope tie with the laughs, and don’t tell me he didn’t get them … the Ace of Spades routine … boring to some, but as a breather to others, who would like to do it so well.

Now comes Friday, the second day of our Get-Together,

and again we find another photographer wanting hundreds of pictures for another magazine (Show Business Illustrated … by Playboy), of Blackstone in the Opera House, local papers from nearby towns wanting to get in for some shots. That is when Watson stepped into the picture, both literally and otherwise. I did have a couple of shots made with me and my pal for my Grandchildren to gloat over in years to come, “Granddaddy knew Blackstone!”  I put the boom down around noon and said, “Harry, lets go and get some coffee.” He was thrilled to get away from it all. So, for the next few minutes I drove him around the little town he loved so much and then home to my little kitchen, where we visited about Showmanship for an hour. All of this time I had my hard shelled Portable tape recorder, that had seen action on the front line, taking down notes for me to use at a later date. With his tails hanging on a hanger in my car I drove him to the High School where I had placed my cot in his dressing room. Not long he was off on another cloud dreaming, perhaps of years of his Big Show, but resting for the first time in days

.

That night he did a grand show, with the old spark coming through for all to see and light their own light with. His smile, his bows (never bending, but with head held high) saying without words, “There you have had what I have to sell! Like it?” They loved it to the point of tears, laughs, and most of all, STANDING OVATIONS. So for you youngsters, you’ll brag one day about even seeing the Great Blackstone in action. When you see some fellows who so much as use “The World’s Greatest Magician” you’ll see how they suffer by comparison. So much for Blackstone, may he live on and on in our hearts forever. PS: I saw some great comics crying like babies, showing their big hearts, thinking, “Wish I had it like that.”

Monk Watson and Harry Blackstone at the Hill Opera House in Colon

Modesty almost got in my way here, but I brushed it aside and with a capital “I”, I want to say a few thousand words about the “Night Before Party Show.” From others I quote, “Other such shows have been full of sick comedy, cluttered up stages full of nonsense, but this was a real great show!”  Men who had been to most of the Night Before Parties across the nation. Made me feel real good because that was the way I wanted it. With Neil Foster and Monk Watson heading the bill, Jimmy Shannon stopping the show, the German Band opening, The Whistlers getting belly laughs, Jack Ricketts (Laughing like Watson) Gordon Miller (Abbott Company), HOW COULD IT FAIL?”

 

 

 

 

 

Monk and Mary Watson

 

Monk and Mary Watson

 

 

Clipping from a newspaper, source and date unknown (1977): “COLON, Michigan – “From the time I was two years old, I would do anything to get attention,” admits Donald “Monk” Watson.

Since then he’s played every big time U. S. Theatre, hosted his own radio show and appeared on television and in night clubs as a magician, comedian, band leader and emcee.

Now “retired” Monk, 83, entertains service clubs and conventions and is considering college request to “tell kids about show business they’ll never see again,” he says.

At an elaborate recorder in his office studio, Watson peels away 50 years of entertainment history with a flick of his wrist. Music and voices of vaudeville phantoms and show business greats echo from walls framed with their faded photos, many inscribed endearingly … “To Monk”

Here he recalls his razzle-dazzle acquaintances with Beatrice Lillie, Will Rogers, George Burns, Jack Benny and Bob Hope while recollecting highlights of his own career.

“I climbed on stage as an eight-year-old magicians, at 16 I joined the circus as an acrobatic tumbler, but I got underway as a performer in World War I,” recalls Watson. “I was a nut and my outfit nicknamed me “Monk.” While carrying stretchers or driving the soup wagon mules up to guys on the front lines, I’d dress in a red wig and tall silk hat. Somehow it lifted spirits to see such a crazy sight.”

After the war, Monk toured vaudeville theatres throughout the country with the “Elsie Janis and Her Gang” show, sharing billings with yesterday’s top stars. He remembers W. C. Fields as “the greatest clown.”  Edgar Bergen for his stock of dirty stories and Milton Berle as “Mechanical – he always had to have a costume or prop to perform.”

Before Jack Benny became a fiddling comedian, he was Ben K. Benney, Watson’s partner in a farcical skit for three seasons. In 1926, after Monk assembled his 18-piece stage band, “The Keystone Serenaders,” he hired Bob Hope (“then a poor prize fighter known as Packy East”) to work in front of the band as a dancer.

Monk and his band played a record-breaking four years at the Riviera Theater in Detroit where local merchants awarded him a new (1931) automobile, jewelry and other gifts on the group’s 5,000th performance. Comparing his band to a modern day counterpart, he says, “it was akin to a jazzy Lawrence Welk.”

Besides playing the LaSalle and Riviera Theaters, Watson had his own radio show on WJR. “All together, I earned about $1,800 a week – a fortune in those days.”

After his band disbanded (in 1932) and he left the stage in 1940, Watson spent two years as an Air Force morale and entertainment director during World War II. Later, he had a television show in Cleveland on WNKB-TV, and appeared as a guest star on television shows across the country.

Still in demand as master of ceremonies for conventions and large gatherings, Monk says “I haven’t decided to join the college circuit yet, but have nice letters from three Michigan universities, asking me to share my vaudeville experiences with students.”

In the town that bills itself “Magic Capitol of the World,” Watson lives in a pleasant frame house with his wife of 49 years, Mary. The couple has four children, 15 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, and part of Colon’s magic is Watson, who worked with Harry Blackstone and is godfather to the famed magician’s son, Harry Jr.

At a typewriter surrounded by memorabilia like a Will Rogers rope, a sequined costume worn by Elsie Janis, his old show bills and theatre trunk, Monk says, “I’m working on a book that will capture my memories before they’re gone. I think I’ll call it – “To Vaudeville .. With Love.”

School Daze From 1917 to 1976

School Daze From 1917 to 1976

 

By Monk Watson in the Colon Express newspaper, 1976: “The year was 1917 and the 32nd Division of Michigan and Wisconsin was training for overseas duty as a combat division. I found myself in the 125th Infantry Band as a clarinet player. The duty of the band was to play for parades and learn first aid and to be stretcher-bearers. This I found was terrible, but was necessary for the survival of the fighting men. Also it was very necessary for somebody to entertain those fighting men, to give them a little relaxation between fronts. I turned out to be the man they were looking for. I could sing, dance, tumble and all-around clown. All of these talents were good for me, even when the fighting was rough and I had no idea I’d even make it back. I found time to put on a red wig and give out anything for a laugh.

So, back to my memories I see Gus Edwards’ “School Days” that played the vaudeville theatres from coast to coast. I saw the act many times in Jackson where I ushered at the Bijou Theatre. I remembered every word and move. So I wrote to New York for permission to produce the act for the men, and I put the act on in Waco Texas in the YMCA tent, along with my Jazzers, ie., jazz band. We also had a couple of more acts on the program. My school kids consisted of men playing girls and boys.  It went over so well that we were asked to do the same show over again in Waco at the big theatre. Again it went over very big, and General Hahn came back and told me to keep up the good work. We were close friends from that day to the end of the war. “School Daze” played all over Germany and France. After the war I had to have a new cast because I had lost most of the first cast in action.

Now we jump to Detroit and the largest theatre west of New York City, the Grand Riviera. I put “School Daze” on several times in the four years I was in that theatre. Then came the movies, and stage shows were out. Again I formed a new cast for commercial shows to play across the country several times.

Now come World War II and again I find myself in Texas as morale director in several flying schools, and again I produce “School Daze” with the young future pilots. I wrote a song for these young men to learn and sing around the world. I received letters from these pilots telling me that hey heard my song on the streets of London, and fou8nd the singers were from my schools in Texas. What a thrill that was for me. All of that cast of young men are long gone, most of them shot down.

Now we’re in the year 1976 and I have promised the Bicentennial committee that I’ll again do School Daze on July 16 – 17 in the air-conditioned high school gym with a real good cast of Hal Wright as Toughy”, Wade Drake as “Izzy”,  David Farrell as “Percy”, Sharon Drake as “Ima Pest”, Bertha Frohriep as “Ura Nut” and Hilda Butler as “Carrie Potts”.”