Hank Moorehouse Obituary

 

 

Henry L. Moorehouse

 

 

From The Sturgis Journal newspaper, August 9, 2011: “Henry L. (Hank) Moorehouse, 77, of White Pigeon, died Saturday, July 2, 2011, in Beijing, China, of natural causes.

He was born April 23, 1934, in Oak Park, Ill., a son of Fay and Stella (Meyer) Moorehouse.

On September 3. 1983, he married Jaculan J. Miller in White Pigeon.

He had been a White Pigeon resident since 1983, coming from Ypsilanti and Colon. He was a self-employed magician since 1970, a plant manager in auto manufacturing in Plymouth, Mich. and a member of the First Presbyterian Church of White Pigeon where he was very active as a church elder. He was past president of The Society of American Magicians, a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and magic clubs around the world. Hank was also known for his magic shows at local schools. The Hank Moorehouse Assembly in Ann Arbor is named for him.

Surviving are his wife, Jaculan J. Moorehouse of White Pigeon, daughter Kim Moorehouse of Wiuterhaven, Fla.; sons, David (Nina) Moorehouse of Ellicott City, Md., Buddy (Kathy) Moorehouse of Gregory, Mich., Michael (Cathie) Moorehouse of Grand Junction, Colo., Peter Nicholson of Elkhart, Ind., Timothy Nicholson of White Pigeon and Steven (Christy) Nicholson of Angier, N.C.; 12 grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; three great-great-grandchildren; and two nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents and a brother, Paul.

There will be no visitation. Funeral services are at 11 a.m. Saturday at the First Presbyterian Church in White Pigeon with Rev. Steve Kaszar and Rev. Wilbur Brandhi officiating. Private burial will take place in Lakeside Cemetery in Colon, Mich.

Memorial contributions may be directed to the American Heart Association or a charity of choice. Envelopes are available at the Farrand Funeral Home in White Pigeon which is handling the arrangements.

Blackstone by George Florida

The Last “Great” Doesn’t Bother To Say so

 

 

From TOPS Magazine, August 1961, by George ‘Alabama’ Florida: “Time was, and it  is still within the memory of most of today’s theatre-goers, when any magician who wasn’t either the Great So-and-So or So-and-So the Great wasn’t patently worth the hat he pulled his rabbit out of.

It was as much the magic that surrounded their names – Herrman the Great, The Great Kellar, Great Houdini, Thurston the Great, The Great Dante, The Great Blackstone – as the magic they put on the stage that made the decades around the turn of the century the golden age of magicians in the theatre.

One of the great Greats, which really meant the magicians who could put together a full two-and-one-half-hour show and tour regular legitimate theatres, all but one have passed into the greatest mystery of all. The youngest, HARRY BLACKSTONE is the last.

Fashions in theatrical billings change even as fashions in theatrical presentations. “The Great”, even in the lexicon of press agentry, has long since been relegated to the unique and unparalleled  personalities who lay claim to being the only person-to-accomplish-this-feat in the world of the circus, the carnival and the tented side-show.

It is no longer the Great Blackstone. It is simply “BLACKSTONE” – THE WORLD’S FOREMOST MAGICIAN.”

Harry Blackstone’s real name is Harry Bouton, and he was born on the south side of Chicago. During his early vaudeville days he and his brother, Pete, did a burlesque magic act under their right name. When they decided to go in for serious magicianship, Harry figured that Bouton would hardly stand against their rivals at the time.

While pondering a change, he chanced to pick up a batch of ready-made posters for defunct magician known as Frederick the Great. It looked like a perfect deal at the time and proved so for several years.

“I had to give up when World War I came along,” Blackstone said, “It would have been like calling yourself “The Great Kaiser Wilhelm’.”

Where did he get the name Blackstone?

That’s Blackstone’s secret until he decides to change it again. The last time he was asked the answer ran like this, “Well, I tell you son, the best explanation I ever heard was that I got it off a cigar band” … but personally, I don’t believe it.”

Hank Moorehouse in England

 

Hank Moorehouse in England

This is a reprint from Tops in November 1982. We lost Terry earlier this year in January 2011 and Hank 6 months later. As you can see from the picture that Terry did make it to Abbott’s, and when he showed up he was greeted by Abbott President Greg Bordner, Abbott Plant Manager Gordon Miller, and Abbott’s Sales Manager Hank Moorehouse, all in Watford Hornet soccer attire.

I know that Hank Moorehouse will write in the NEW TOPS about the British I.B.M. convention in Hastings, so I felt that you must have the truth from our side of the water!!! Hastings is a very old town, known mostly for the famous Battle of Hastings in the year 1066 (or thereabouts – I wasn’t there), and it opened it’s arms to welcome 7000 magicians for their annual thrash. Various parcels of magic from Abbott’s had been arriving at my house for some weeks, and can you imagine the temptation that Hank and Greg put in my path – fancy a crazy magic nut having about a dozen large parcels of magic in his house and he is not able to open them for some weeks and see what is there!

 

The day came to welcome Hank to the country at London Airport and he staggered through to the meeting area with yet more parcel s, but most important I straight away saw the duty-free bottle of Scotch!!! I told him that he was not tired after his all night flight and that he was going to his first soccer match that day. I kept him awake, fed him and took him to see my team Watford, and of course we won as usual! The Moorehouse, tired and aching, was dragged around by me for two shows that night, and then another one on Sunday and in between much discussion on our job to come of jointly M.C.ing the Gala Show at Hastings, Then came Monday morning and the incredible task of loading Hank’s personal stuff , my stuff and props for the show and all of Abbotts dealer’s stand into my little Datsun. There was just about room to squeeze The Moorehouse in the passenger front seat between two flagstaffs and a few Zombies and so we trundled off to our first stop, the McComb household. Lunch with Billy and then onto Hastings to unload at the hotel and then a walkabout in the evening to various local pubs to give Hank some local colour, but I think I ended up with the most colour!

Tuesday morning was setting up the trade stand day, and as the dealers trade fair was at the end of the pier this involved a fair amount of carrying parcels up and down!!! This was great Pun as the various parcels were opened and all the splendid goodies saw the air of England for the first time, The decorating of the stand was done with the help of many folks who lent us cloths, ladders, bits of wood, string, scotch tape and so on, and after nearly a full day’s work we were looking good and the name of Abbott’s was being held high. Hank gave me instruction in some of the items I didn’t know and with the aid of my calculator the great task of converting the prices to U.K. pounds was completed, and the finishing task was the sign Hank put up – “Official Translator Terry Seabrooke”! ! !

The next day we were open for business and the magicians came flocking into see what was the latest and to see what the famous Abbott’s organization had to offer. What a thrill when I took in my first money, one pound-fifty pence for a pack of cards! One thing I learned from this convention is that it is no fun standing all day behind a dealer’s stand, and folks like me who are not used to it find the old legs have plenty to say towards the end of the day! Still, as we got organized, each of us (Hank, Billy and myself) ambled off to look around and recharge the batteries at the thoughtfully placed bar! On Thursday morning for the dealers trade show, we were second on at 9:30 A.M., and I think we woke them all up with one of the craziest few minutes you have seen, the three of us doing. I don’t know how many tricks in about six minutes and leaving the audience with no doubt that Abbott’s were here. A busy day behind the stand and many laughs and picture taking going on, and the same pattern for Friday.

Saturday was Hank’s big day, and I really felt for him. The stand had to be opened at 9:30 A.M., then he had to do his lecture at 10:30 A.M., then back to the stand at lunch time and then he had to come to the theatre for rehearsals for the Gala show, then back to the stand for an hour and then to the theatre for two show, one at 5:00 P.M. and one at *:30 P.M. and then he had close-up to do at midnight!!!! Such is the restful Saturday he had, and to top it all he had to cope with me after I found out that Watford had lost that afternoon!!! At this point I must tell you that many, many of the magicians said that the Moorehouse lecture was without doubt one of the highlights of the whole week – I am sorry I didn’t see it, but I was holding the fort for Abbott’s in the dealers room whilst my boss did his stuff!!!

Packing up day on Sunday, and much dealing between dealers of stock remaining and then only two parcels left to take back to Watford, and much more room in the car this time! Monday evening we all went to the Magic Circle, and by the reaction of everyone it was obvious that Hank and Abbott’s had gained new friends and fans. So back home for me and unpacking the goodies that were left – word soon gets around in the magic game and several of the chaps found out that I was looking after the Abbott stuff that was left over, and since Hank’s departure I have had several visitors to the house to have a look and I managed to sell quite a few items already, and believe me, I get quite a kick out of it!

So another convention is over, and the British were thrilled to have a name such as Abbott’s represented so well over here, and if we are lucky Abbott’s will be back soon again, and maybe Greg will come and take a look at us! As for me, I am delighted that it looks like next year I shall be taking reprisal action against Abbott’s for sending Hank over, and I shall be coming to Colon in 1983.

Serves you all right!!!!!

Terry Seabrooke  appeared at Abbott’s Get-Together in 1979, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1991, 1995, and 2004.

Hank Moorehouse appeared at Abbott’s Get-Together in 1970, 1974, 1990, 1991, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2004, and 2008.

 

A Blackstone Story, George Johnstone

A Blackstone Story

 

 

From TOPS Magazine, December 1974, by George Johnstone: “We get letters asking for more “Blackstone Show Adventures.” So Salla reminds me of my first visit there … we had loaded most of the show into the theater. Since it was a hot day we left the animal cages out in the stage door alley. While waiting for another load of illusions to arrive from the baggage car we and the stage crew retired to a small coffee shop up the street. Upon returning, when the truck arrived, we found to our utter dismay that the ducks were missing. Eight ducks had been stolen from the cage crates. Since some of these tough old ducks had been with the show for years, God help the thief when he tried to sink his teeth into them.

Now came the mad scramble to replace them. At a stagehand’s suggestion I was sent by cab out to the local zoo. They refused to sell or loan out zoo property for a career in the show business world … The cab driver suggested that I try a farmer’s market at the edge of the city. Off we went. They had ducks but Blackstone’s efficient assistant had neglected to bring sufficient funds to buy them. With the promise of prompt payment the minute we returned to the theatre, the cab driver loaned me the money. Now another problem that the efficient assistant forgot to anticipate. How do we transport eight writhering, flapping, quacking ducks? Again the cab driver came to the rescue by driving to the nearest grocery store and returning with cardboard cartons.

Back at the theatre the ducks were tossed into the cages as I began the hectic prop set-up in a race with show time. The ducks made their appearance from an illusion about midway during the show. Our old ducks had been loaded and unloaded so many times that they were fairly docile. The new ones … Oh, Boy!! They fanned out, half running, half flying, all over the stage, over the orchestra boys in the pit and out into the audience. Blackstone stood aghast with his mouth hanging open. The animal man had neglected, or didn’t have the time, to clip the wing feathers. Harry also raised hell because the ducks were so filthy. The old ducks were washed periodically and were a snowy white. The ducks that made their appearance might have been born white but now they ran the gamut from a dingy gray to mucky brown … It goes without saying that there was a lot of “chewing-out” after that first show in San Diego.”

 

George Johnstone (1919 – 2004) was a magician, entertainer, book collector and painter. He started out in magic as a leading assistant in The Blackstone Sr. magic show from 1939 until he got drafted in World War II in 1943. He met and married his wife Betty while they were both assistants on the Blackstone show. After the war, he went on to a career as a comedy magician and later as a stand-up entertainer. He wrote for TOPS magazine for many years.

 

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”.”

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.”