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.

Jack Gwynne Cover Portrait 1947

 

Jack Gwynne, Cover Portrait 1947

 

From TOPS Magazine, April 1947, Cover Portrait: “Jack Gwynne, head man of the original Royal Family of Magic, whose likeness appears on the cover this month, has been in Magic a long while indeed, and now does every type of act from a lecture on his trip to the Orient to a full evening show.

He received his first taste of Magic when he saw a side show Magician do the Die Box. His interest was so great that he could not resist the urge to climb a rope to see if there was a hole in the table. For this he was ejected unceremoniously from the tent, but this treatment only served to whet his desire to find out something about Magic.

In a library he unearthed the Hoffman books and he was on the way. He found a catalog of a dealer who was selling out in Chicago, and with money earned on a paper route and as a drugstore helper, he sent for his first “boughten” tricks – Die Box, Linking Rings, and a Color-Changing Handkerchief. These added to the ones he had constructed from the books gave him his first “act”.

Kellar was then making his farewell tour and introducing his successor, Thurston. A thoughtful and sympathetic aunt gave Jack a ticket and streetcar fare to Pittsburgh to see the show and he saw both great artists. This fired his ambition still further and he studied that much harder.

White still in school he was able to present a passable 15-minute act at many school events, and was soon in demand at the Elks Club, church socials and other local affairs.

His schooling completed, he went to work as a roll turner in a steel mill, and studying at night became interested in the Safety First idea, then a new thing. Combining his ability to entertain and talk he was soon a safety engineer. Then by studying public speaking and elocution, he sought to improve his hobby.

Came a period when he was a booking agent for Lyceum and Chautauqua circuits and later a performer on such show. As the Chautauqua idea died out, he became one of the pioneers in doing school shows independently.

By this time, Gwynne had many live stock tricks and small illusions and a shop where he could build. He built many things for Eugene Laurant, Birch, Davis, and Houdini and furnished fish bowls to Thurston and others.

Harry Houdini gave him the stack of bowls and Gwynne still uses the original gimmick that was made for Houdini by Ching Ling Foo in exchange for another trick that Foo wanted.

Married then to Anne, he soon had the two grand assistants who are today the backbone of his new big show – Bud and Peg, born and raised on Magic. And now the third generation, little Bud the Second, Peggy’s boy, is a show stealer in every sense of the word.

Gwynne regularly attended the Pittsburgh vaudeville theatres and if a Magician happened to be on the bill, made backstage visits. He was soon well known to the managers and once when an aerobatic act missed the opening, the manager asked Gwynne to fill in for the day. Fate arrange that a scout for a large circuit caught the show and soon talked Gwynne into getting into the show business and doing his act in vaudeville. Gwynne then hired a teacher for the kids, borrowed on his insurance policy to buy scenery and finance the trip to New York for a tryout. All the boys who knew Gwynne know the result – a 40-week route on the Keith time.

After many years in the “big time” – all the large circuits – Gwynne saw the handwriting on the wall and noticed that nightclubs were opening on a large scale. He immediately slanted his act to that field and became the first and almost exclusive Magician to perform large and spectacular illusions on a nightclub floor, almost surrounded by the crowd.

The war came on and Jack and Anne flew over 75,000 miles, playing in North Africa, Italy, Egypt, Iran , Iraq, Persia, China, Burma and India, arriving home just ahead of his son, Buddy, who was a pilot in the Air Corps through the entire war. His son-in-law, Frank Cole II, was also due home from a European tour for USO. The Royal Family, re-united, decided to pool their talents and do a large show that had been in Gwynne’s mind a long time. The hour unit was an instant success and played in vaudeville theatres all across the country. Then came plans for the two-hour show to play auditoriums. This show recently had a successful premiere and bookings are being arranged.

The show had to have a headquarters, and the family had to have a home, so Gwynne bought a bungalow in the South Shore District in Chicago, which he and Anne and the kids have had a lot of fun arranging a workshop, costume department, storage space and comfortable living quarters.

The active Royal Family now consists of Anne Gwynne, Buddy and Helen Gwynne, Peggy Gwynne Cole, and the Boss Man, Jack. In addition to the combined big show, the three boys – Jack, Buddy, and Frank – each have their respective acts.

It’s a grand family – The Gwynnes.”

Jack & Abbe Gwynne 50th

Jack and Anne Gwynne Married 50 Years!

From The “TOPS” Magazine, December 1965, by George Johnstone: “On Sunday, November 7th, 1965 the Midwest magic world turned out en masse at Banana’s Steak House (S’help me that’s the real name) to honor Anne and Jack Gwynne on the double anniversary of fifty years of married life and fifty years in professional magic. Their children picked up the tab for the affair. It was one of the finest and crowded affairs that I can remember. I saw people I haven’t seen in eons … Everybody wanted to pay their respects to this wonderful couple and hope that they’ll be around for another fifty. Jack’s enthusiasm for magic and show business, after fifty years, is still undimmed. He was all over the hall greeting and talking to people with such vitality that I hesitate to dub him “The Grand Old Man of Magic.” … I wouldn’t even consider to call Anne “The Grand Old Lady of Magic.” … “The Grand Young Lady,” yes. Let’s just think of her as “The Tinkerbell of the Geritol Set!” I first met Anne way back in the days when I was a galley slave on the Blackstone show but believe me, outside of a few streaks of grey, she is still the bubbling, vibrant gal she always was. My love affair with her will never flicker.”

 

 

 

 

Jack Gwynne died of a heart attack at age 74 on Sunday, December 7, 1969 at his home in Oak Lawn, Illinois. The previous Friday he had performed four magic shows at Chicago area schools. His wife, Anne, survived him by 10 years, making annual appearances at the Abbott’s Magic Get-Together in Colon, Michigan, where she presented the “Jack Gwynne Excellence In Magic Award” each year to the outstanding magician at the gathering. The award is still presented by surviving members of the Gwynne family.