Karrell Fox Cover Portrait 1947

 

 

Cover Portrait for Karrell Fox in 1947

 

From the October, 1947 edition of TOPS Magazine. “By this time you’ve probably noticed that its Karrell Fox. “His Royal Slyness, King of Korn” on the cover this month The thing he holds in his hand is an ear of corn and if you like corn he’s got it – and he dishes it out – on stage and even off stage. In his more or less serious moments he’s manager of the Abbott Branch Store in Detroit.

For the past three or four years Fox has been making a national reputation for himself as the “King of Korn”, performing an act that while it has some suggestion of Magic was devised more for laughs than bafflement. He’s a favorite on shows for Magicians and has worked on several at the big time and regional conventions as well as the Get-Togethers at Colon.

And so far Karrell is not out of his teens. He’ll be 20 next January, but he has shown sense and the knack of whipping up entertainment that is far beyond his years. In this past year he collaborated on a big fashion show in Detroit, and wrote, directed, and worked in a variety show sponsored by the American Legion Post made up of veteran employees of the J. L. Hudson store. He also was one of the hits on the annual SAM show in New York last winter. Through the war years, Karrell worked many USO shows at service centers and camps in the vicinity of Detroit.

Aside from his duties in the Abbott branch store, Karrell is in demand for some of the best club dates in his hometown, and even has had offers from some of the top nightspots. The latter he has prudently declined as he feels he needs a couple more years before branching out into the night club field. He’ll be a better performer then, too, for this lad show marked improvement as an entertainer with each succeeding show.

Karrell was born in East Rainelle, W. Va., in 1928, and after a few years in Washington, D. C., where the Magic yen developed in him, his parents moved to Michigan – Hillsdale, Mich., to be exact. Since Hillsdale is only a short distance from Colon, it was not long before Karrell learned that fact an he soon began regular treks to the Magic Capital of the World and the Abbott showroom. At that time Karrell was helping his dad in the Penney Restaurant. Customers didn’t mind waiting for their orders from the kitchen for Karrell whiled away the waiting time by entertaining them with magical tricks. At that time he was performing Magic in a serious manner, albeit it may have been accompanied by the sly cracks, which are natural with the lad. But one day during a performance, Karrell did something that brought a real belly laugh. That did it, and ever since the Fox brand of entertainment has given first place to comedy. The development of the “corn” came along as a matter of course.

From Hillsdale, Karrell went back to Washington for a brief stay and when he came back to the Mid-west, he could be found behind the counter at Carlo’s Magic Shop in Toledo. From there he went to Detroit where his father had located and by the time the Abbott Detroit Branch was under way, Karrell was called in to take over.

Among his off time activities is the coaching of youngsters in Magic, and at the present time he is the mentor of six Detroit lads who are becoming Magicians under his tutelage. One of them, indeed, was one of the hits of the Get-Together Shows – Mickey Ostasky, whose performance of the Zombie was a showstopper. The other five, according to Karrell, are comers too. He also has found time to devise several tricks which have found favor in the Magic markets, his latest being the Foxy Paper Tear, which is a torn and restored effect a bit different.

Karrell has made friends wherever he goes for his effervescent personality and sincere friendliness grows on everyone he meets.”

 

Karell Fox (1928-1998), appeared at Abbott’s Get together in 1939, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1952, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1997,

Karrell Fox at 16

Karrell Fox at age 16

 

 

From a 1944 issue of TOPS magazine. KARRELL FOX SERVES MAGIC

Here is a feature story which made fine pub­licity for a young Magician who, when not conjuring, helps his dad run a restaurant in Hillsdale, Mich.; the story was headed, “Young Hillsdale Waiter Bakes Biscuit in Customer’s Pocket”:

“The waiter cracks an egg in a patron’s pocket. He adds some milk and flour, then stirs the mixture with a wand. A moment later he reaches in and pulls out a biscuit.

“Another customer insists on having sugar, although the waiter explains about rationing. The waiter pours some granulated sugar from one of the containers into a bag, waves his wand and tells the customer he ‘can lump it’. Out of the bag roll lumps of sugar.

“Karrell Fox, 16-year-old son of R. I. Fox, Penny Lunch proprietor, may not be a strictly orthodox waiter, but he is one of Hillsdale’s most popular because of his mastery of legerdemain.. A veteran Magician, although just out of high school, Fox can and does stage a 45-minute show that is definitely above the amateur class.

His stepmother, pretty Mrs. Pauline Fox, has her arm cut off and glued back together at every show. She is there to take the bouquets young Karrell pulls out of the air. Then she passes through the audience with a deck of cards from which spectators draw five. A minute later Karrell pro­duces the identical cards on the tips of the fingers of a cardboard hand, as he is shown doing in the accompanying picture.

“From Percy Abbott’s laboratory in Colon, young Fox has purchased a wide variety of Magic, including some of the latest patriotic tricks. For example, he will take paper swastika and rising sun. flags, tear them up, fold the pieces and throws, them in the air. When they come down, they have been transformed into a war bond poster.

“Rubber tires are hard for most people to get these days, but not for Karrell. He mixes up a strange concoction in his Magic bowl and out comes a tire.

“In the year since he moved to Hillsdale from Washington, Fox has presented shows, before the local Kiwanis club and other organizations. One evening he had them’, standing in the sidewalk on Howell street while he entertained a capacity crowd at an informal performance in the Penny Lunch. In Washington, he once gave a performance be­fore 600 soldiers and sailors under USO sponsorship.”

 

 

Harry Blackstone in Three Rivers

HARRY BLACKSTONE SR.

 

From the Sturgis Journal newspaper, June 11, 1931: “A crowd lined the Wood Street Bridge and the banks of the river saw Harry Blackstone make his escape from a nailed casket lowered 14 feet into the water in only a few seconds Thursday afternoon. Blackstone clad in a bathing suit, was bound and placed in the casket which was nailed shut, then lowered into the stream. He reappeared almost immediately. Blackstone’s exhibition opened the three-day convention of world magicians, members of the International Magic Circle in Three Rivers.”

 

 

Minstrel Show Change 1940

LIONS CLUB MINSTREL SHOW CHANGED TO TUESDAY

 

From the Colon Express newspaper, October 31, 1940: “The date of the Lions Club Minstrel Show has been changed from Friday night, November 8, to Tuesday night, November 5th.  This change was made necessary because Monk Watson, one of the leading actors in the show, has a week’s engagement at the Colonial Theatre in Detroit as master of ceremonies, opening with the well-known Milt Britton Band next week, and Monk will be compelled to leave for Detroit on Wednesday, or immediately after the Minstrel Show Tuesday night.

The big show will be staged at Hill’s Opera House, and everyone will be glad of the opportunity to return to the favorite play house for this grand show of the season.

The Lions have sold tickets for the show in advance, and while they have been very successful, there are many good tickets available. The reserved seat board is at Niendorf’s Pharmacy where you can secure your seats any time, however, better get busy as they are going quite rapidly. It really appears like a “packed house.” All tickets purchased from the Lions must be exchanged for reserve seats at Niendorf’s not later than 7:00 o’clock the night of the show, as all remaining tickets in the reserved seat board will be sold at the opera house ticket office after that hour Tuesday night.

In case you purchased tickets in advance for the show and the change of date makes it impossible for you to attend, you have the privilege of returning the tickets to Niendorf’s and your money will be refunded.

And now something about the show. Really, folks, it’s going to be an outstanding entertainment, and how could it be otherwise with Colon’s own outstanding show people – Skippy, Jean and Monk – among the leads? Jupie Stevens, who is well known here and who was with Skippy’s Comedians for several years, will swing the minstrel music.

Just an outline of the show. In the first part, Jean LaMore will be the interlocutor. The premier and end men, Skippy LaMore and Monk Watson will be assisted by Bob VanDeventer and “Ray” Ward; and in the grand black-face circle, Virg Farrand, Chax. Williams, Mel Flowers, Don, Bubb, Carleton West, Lawrence West, Edwin Loudenslager, Earl Brown, Ralph McMurray, Geo. Conklin. And what a lot of comedy that group has in store for your amusement.

The songs they will sing– Opening Chorus “Strutters Ball” by entire cast.

Introduction of premier end men, Skippy and Monk.

“Smiling Thru” – George Conklin.

“Cecelia” – Monk Watson.

“Gold Mine in the Skies” – Chas. Williams.

“Liza Jones” – Skippy LaMore.

“Bells of the Sea” – Melvin Flowers.

“Why Do You Sit On Your Patio?” – Skippy and Monk.

“God Bless America” – Circle, and for the second chorus the audience is invited to join. Following an “intermission of ten minutes, sure” as the program states will come the grand second part.

The opening will be a special musical treat, a marimba solo and drum solo by Mary Joan Ward, of Brunson, who was out in front with the first prize as a marimba artist in the state contest, and won second place in the international contest.

The second act, “Back Stage,” courtesy Elsie Janis, with the following cast – Monk, the stage manager; Skippy, wants to be a singer; Jean LaMore, temperamental star; George Conklin, props. Song number, “Too Young for Love” (by Elsie Janis).

The scene “Back Stage” was produced by Elsie Janis and played for one year in London, featuring Lapino Lane, international comic; also played in the United States for one year, featuring Monk Watson. This scene is now being sought by the largest film producers.

The third act – “Arkansaw Travelers” by Carleton and Lawrence West, who are well known to Colon as musicians and entertainers. Their song numbers will be “Hiccough Rag”, “Wabash Blues”, and “Alabama Jubilee.”

And the final act, “The Crazy House”, featuring Skippy, will be a side-splitter from start to finish. As the program states, anything can happen here. Hang onto your hats and stuff.

As a fitting line to describe this show we go back to the old Kempton Komedy Kompany headline, “You Laugh, You Scream, You Roar.”

That’s just what you are bound to do, if you see the Lions for the show, and the band will give a short concert before the curtain.

We advise you to get your reserved seats at Niendorf’s now.”

Lamore’s and Watson in Lions Minstrel 1940

THE LAMORE’S AND MONK WATSON ASSIST IN LIONS MINSTREL

 

From the Colon Express newspaper, October 24, 1940: “The script is written, the rehearsals are under way, and the Lions Club Minstrel, to be presented at Hill’s Opera House on Friday evening, Nov. 8, promises to be the leading attraction in the line of entertainment of the season.

The fact that Skippy wrote the lines is sufficient evidence that the show will be a mirth-provoking affair from start to finish.

Another reason why the Minstrel will be a real attraction – Jean and Skippy and Monk Watson are all doing their bit. Jean LaMore will be the interlocutor, Skippy, Monk, Bob VanDeventer and George Conklin the end-men – and what a snappy show combination that will be. And along with these professional actors is a minstreal group of ten local people who can all do their bit for entertainment.

The tickets will be sold by Lion members or you can get them reserved at Niendorf’s Pharmacy, where the ticket board will be on display. The admission will be 15¢ for children, 28¢ for adults.

It’s all being done to secure funds for the Lions Club, to be used at Christmas time. Just what the Lions will do this year is a question as yet. There is some thought of changing from a Christmas party for children to a planned distribution of Christmas baskets to the needy and shutins. Regardless of which plan they follow, funds will be needed.”

4th Of July in Colon, 1906; Monk Watson

The 4th of July in Colon, About 1906-‘07

 

From the July 6, 1977 Colon Express; signed Monk Watson, HDQ Co. 125th Inf., 32nd Red Arrow Div., World War I:  “The day would start with some of the Old Soldiers, meeting on the corner of State and Swan Streets, talking about the war that they had served in. I was an interested kid who loved to hear their stories about Bull Run and San Juan Hill (I think that’s the way you spell it). I was waiting for the LKG (Lamb Knit Goods) band to form for the parade, and I could carry the music or perhaps the drum. The Ross brothers were the leaders of the band at that time. One worked in the factory and the other made cigars. This LKG band was a very good one, and was in demand all over the State of Michigan for parades. Wherever they went Jeff Hill was at the head of the band, with his gold-headed cane waving in the air, calling for “In the Good Old Summer Time”. That was his favorite for as long as I can remember.

After the parade they had races of all kinds, greased pig to catch and keep, the greased pole to climb to take the money that was in the cigar box on top of the pole, and bicycle races from the Hub (now Dawn & Phil’s) to the four corners and then across the road into town, now Old-78.

Now comes the big night … with Hartman’s ice cream, Clement’s grocery store open for candy, and the balloon race. Mr. Clement’s note for $5.00 would be pinned to the top of the paper balloon, to be brought in and cashed at the store. The paper balloon was about 10 feet high and Mr. Clement had to stand on the top of a ladder to hold it. When it was inflated (a small bit of soaked straw on the wire across the bottom of the balloon), he would let it go and away we kids went running and bicycling, trying to catch up with it for the prize. I was very lucky one night to reach the balloon near Sherwood. I took the note and returned to Colon. I also took the balloon which was not harmed in landing. However, it was never used again because I tried a rag full of fuel and it worked too well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was also the High Dive from a ladder standing at the east end of the dam. The water hole was very deep at that spot, and the platform was about 50 feet above the water. The diver, Mr. Emmell (I believe that was his name) reached the platform and looked down, and then gave up. It seems that Phil

Waite, the balloonist, had landed on the steeple of the Reform church, now the Church of God, and that upset Mr. Emmell so much that he called off the High Dive. It wasn’t too long before I was at the top of the ladder and yelling. “Everybody look at me!” I then dove off and was followed by at least a dozen of my friends.

 

I walked over to the spot where the ladder once stood, a long time later, and there in the ground was an iron eye that was used to anchor the cable that held the ladder.

The fireworks were made up of Roman candles and pinwheels, and now and then a skyrocket. How it suffered by comparison last night when Colon put on one of the nicest displays of fireworks. We stand-alone from other small towns with our Fourth of July.

Again I rode in the parade, with my Red Arrow cap, and thoughts of where I was July 4th, 1918. We were facing fireworks that were for real, and many of my friends are still in France from those bombings. No wonder I have a lump in my throat when our children march in our parades, and the Flags stand out so great head of the marchers. I saw a very few uncover their heads, of half-hearted salute as the flags went past. They seem to be afraid someone will see them salute. Times change!!!”

 

Monk Remembers Colon

Monk Watson’s Memories of Colon

“I guess if I tried to recall a lot of the rather interesting things that have happened to me right here in Colon over the years, and I mean over the years. I’ve been around a long time and it seems that a good part of the time was here in Colon. Every now and then a person mentions something that brings back a memory, so this is about the first hypnotist I ever met. I went to Curlie’s for a cup of coffee and a fellow said, Monk, I’ll bet you don’t remember me.” With that I told him that I didn’t. So he then said, “Do you remember the bowling alley that we had here in Colon?” I told him that I did and it was located in the street (Swan) right next to what was later the “Midlakes”. He then told me the story of the man who came here and put up a small tent and built a bowling alley, really a duck pin alley, and that the fellow was a hypnotist. I told him that I not only remembered him, but that I was his first, and I believe his only, foil to be hypnotized. When I first met this man he asked me if I would be willing to put on an act for him. I guess because I was always a ham at heart, I said that I’d be glad to go along with him. He then asked me what I could do differently than anyone in Colon, and I told him I could ride a bicycle backwards on the handlebars. That made a hit with him and he told me what we could do to cause some excitement in town. So we went into that act. In a few minutes word got around that someone was going to be hypnotized. A large crowd, perhaps ten people, which was a crowd in Colon in those early days, gathered around to see the action. Now this man had told me just what would happen to me. First he’d put me into this hypnotic spell and then he’d place me on the bike backwards and give me a push. I was to ride it as far as I could down the street, and then he’d stand me up and slap me in the face and bring me out of the spell. This sounded like fun and I was all for it. After the crowd gathered he made a talk on how he was going to put me under his spell and that I would do things he ordered me to do, and I would not know what I had done. Then I was made ready by looking him straight in the eye and with his wave of the hand I fell into his arms. With some help he lifted me onto the bicycle and gave me a push down what is now State Street. As I neared the railroad tracks I saw and heard a train coming from the east, but I knew I had time to cross the tracks ahead of it. Now the crowd also knew that a train was coming and they started to yell “Stop him, Stop him!” I crossed the tracks just as the engine passed, but in time for me to fall off the bicycle and lay in the street, with the bicycle running down to the lake. I looked under the cars as they passed and saw the crowd still waving and yelling. After the train had passed they ran across the tracks to find me sprawled on the ground. It seems that the first man across was Charles Niendorf, who ran the drugstore on the corner where the hardware store is now located. Mr. Niendorf was so upset that he told the hypnotist that if anything happened to me he’d have him thrown out of Colon. They stood me up and the hypnotist slapped me in the face and I said, “Where am I and what happened?”  That seemed to be good news to the crowd. I never told a person, until right now, that I was faking all the time. Since those days I have seen many acts such as this hypnotist working on stages, and people are still fooled into thinking that all is on the up and up. Well, “tain’t”, and I know, believe me. However, those were better days to look back on. Colon had high divers, balloonists, snake eaters come to town, and it did bring excitement to a sleepy little town. I guess you call them”the good old days”, maybe not really good, but people seemed to be more honest. We had several grocery stores and a couple of meat markets and people were really friendly … every Saturday night the whole town would turn out to listen to the Lamb Knit Goods band, and pay their bills at the stores, to receive a pat on the back and a bag of candy, just to show the appreciation of a good store owner. Maybe those were the good old days, or at least friendly days.” Donald Watson, (Monk), (1894-1981) was from Colon and became a humorist, magician, and band-leader.  He once was teamed with a man named Benjamin Kubelsky (later called himself Jack Benny) in vaudeville. Monk was very active with the USO in World War II and was a World War I veteran. The “Midlakes” was a restaurant that stood near the present police station.

Surgery for Neil Foster

Feature by John Sherwood about Neil Foster

 

 

 

Published August 9, 1981, in the Battle Creek (MI) Enquirer:

Early inspiration lured Foster to lifetime in magic.

About 1929, one of the great touring magicians of the day, the late Harry Blackstone Sr., performed his stage shows of illusions in Aurora, Ill.

Edgar Neil Foster Jr. then was just 9 years old, and was enthralled as Blackstone – the first magician he ever had seen – stepped on stage.

“He had black hair then. That was before he became the ‘white-haired magician,’ Foster recalled.

Blackstone’s visit to Foster’s hometown had a lasting effect.

“Some people make their decision about their life’s work when they reach college, and that’s the most important decision of their lives,” Foster said. “For me, the only thing I ‘ever’ wanted to be was a magician.

During the ensuing 18 years, Foster worked at various jobs around Aurora as he developed his own magical repertoire of effects and illusions, devised by himself or purchased from magic stores, including the then-new Abbott Magic Co. in Colon.

Foster first assumed the magical *nom de guerre “Retsof,” but had second thoughts a few years later when he was billed rather unflatteringly as “Ratsof,” so about 1938 he dropped his first name to differentiate himself from his father, and became Neil Foster.

In 1940, Foster’s fascination took a new turn when he saw a performance by Cardini, a monocle-sporting manipulator of coins, cigarettes and balls. Cardini entertained audiences nationwide on a theater circuit with a sophisticated, urbane characterization of a slightly tipsy magician.

Reflecting on that experience, Foster said, “The parallel is very strong to that of a pianist. He may play popular jazz and rock ‘n’ roll, but he may find that fine, classical music stirs him. When I saw magicians like Cardini and Okito perform, I knew that had to me my kind of magic – with the hands, the finer essence of magic.”

On the two occasions they were to meet, Foster found Cardini distant and aloof, but Foster still considers him the greatest manipulator who ever lived.

Even as Foster reached his 20s in Illinois, two people he had yet to meet were establishing in California the first major school for magicians. They were Ben and Marian Chavez, who had been vaudeville and touring performers since the 1920s. together, they set up in 1941 a state-licensed school, the College of Manual Dexterity and Prestidigitation, also known as the Chavez School of Magic.

In 1947, Foster went to California, enrolled in the Chavez course and demonstrated a flair for precise dexterity and creative skill that impressed Chavez. When Foster graduated from the course, Chavez hired him to tutor new students.

“My teacher, Ben Chavez,” Foster once wrote, “taught me that magic is just and excuse for being before an audience, for it matters little what you do, it’s how you do it. You first must become an accomplished performer, then a super salesman.”

In 1951, Foster left the Chavez school to work the magic field, and was chosen in 1953 to be one of the performers of the Gala Coronation Convivialities in London, England, when Elizabeth II was crowned queen.

During that show, he performed a floating-ball illusion which he not only had mastered but which had become his trademark. Apparently young Elizabeth was impressed, for Foster got to meet her during an intermission. And a few years later, Cardini himself saw Foster perform the illusion and applauded it enthusiastically.

In his book, “The New Modern Coin Magic,” magician J.B. Bobo wrote: “Cardini’s magic and Neil Foster’s beautiful magic are rare treats, to be enjoyed time after time. Who could ever tire of watching an artist work?”

In 1955, Foster married an Ohio native, the former Jeanne Hammond, while both were working in Florida. As a magical team, the Fosters toured for several years under the sponsorship of the lecture bureaus of the universities of Wisconsin, Minnesota and North and South Dakota, performing on the demanding school-assembly circuit.

The Fosters had a lifetime contract with their sponsors, but the work often meant performing daily – sometime several shows a day. The grind taxed Jeanne’s health, leading Foster to seek more stationary magical employment.

After a stint for the Ireland Magic Co. in Chicago, Foster came to Colon in 1959 at the request of Recil Bordner, president of the Abbott firm. Foster became the company’s chief magician-in-residence and its vice president.

In 1960, Foster revived the firm’s magazine, “The Tops,” which had been defunct for several years. With Foster as editor, the monthly periodical was re-titled “The New Tops” and eventually achieved worldwide distribution among magicians.

Foster invented many of his own effects. In particular, he sought to make difficult magic tricks achievable by those whose slight-of-hand gifts were less distinguished. Many of these simplified effects with cigarettes, balls and coins – as well as many other advanced tricks with doves, flowers and other materials – are manufactured and distributed by the Abbott firm. Foster also is the editor of several Abbott books.

Foster never left the stage, though, and played many dates with his wife and with another Colon resident, the late “Monk” Watson. It was not unusual, when Foster presented his floating ball effect at Abbott’s get-togethers in Colon – as he will during a public performance during the annual magicians’ convention this August – for hundreds of magicians to give him a standing ovation.

Foster has logged performances in 28 countries in Europe and North and South America. In 1977, at a ceremony in California, the Academy of magical Arts presented Foster with a Performing Fellowship Award, honoring his creativity and contributions in teaching magic and in editing the Abbott publication.

After Ben Chavez’s death in 1962, Marian Chavez continued to teach the course and arranged with Foster and one of his own protégées, Dale Salwak of California, eventually to take over the enterprise. She died in 1978.

Shortly after his wife’s death in 1979, Foster retired from full-time work at the Abbott firm and now instructs students who reside chiefly east of the Mississippi. Salwak, a professor of English literature at Citrus College in Azusa, Calf., tutors magic students at his own studio at Pasadena and distributes the Chavez correspondence course.”

 

 

 

Neil Foster by John Sherwood 1981

Feature by John Sherwood about Neil Foster

 

 

 

Published August 9, 1981, in the Battle Creek (MI) Enquirer:

Early inspiration lured Foster to lifetime in magic.

About 1929, one of the great touring magicians of the day, the late Harry Blackstone Sr., performed his stage shows of illusions in Aurora, Ill.

Edgar Neil Foster Jr. then was just 9 years old, and was enthralled as Blackstone – the first magician he ever had seen – stepped on stage.

“He had black hair then. That was before he became the ‘white-haired magician,’ Foster recalled.

Blackstone’s visit to Foster’s hometown had a lasting effect.

“Some people make their decision about their life’s work when they reach college, and that’s the most important decision of their lives,” Foster said. “For me, the only thing I ‘ever’ wanted to be was a magician.

During the ensuing 18 years, Foster worked at various jobs around Aurora as he developed his own magical repertoire of effects and illusions, devised by himself or purchased from magic stores, including the then-new Abbott Magic Co. in Colon.

Foster first assumed the magical *nom de guerre “Retsof,” but had second thoughts a few years later when he was billed rather unflatteringly as “Ratsof,” so about 1938 he dropped his first name to differentiate himself from his father, and became Neil Foster.

In 1940, Foster’s fascination took a new turn when he saw a performance by Cardini, a monocle-sporting manipulator of coins, cigarettes and balls. Cardini entertained audiences nationwide on a theater circuit with a sophisticated, urbane characterization of a slightly tipsy magician.

Reflecting on that experience, Foster said, “The parallel is very strong to that of a pianist. He may play popular jazz and rock ‘n’ roll, but he may find that fine, classical music stirs him. When I saw magicians like Cardini and Okito perform, I knew that had to me my kind of magic – with the hands, the finer essence of magic.”

On the two occasions they were to meet, Foster found Cardini distant and aloof, but Foster still considers him the greatest manipulator who ever lived.

Even as Foster reached his 20s in Illinois, two people he had yet to meet were establishing in California the first major school for magicians. They were Ben and Marian Chavez, who had been vaudeville and touring performers since the 1920s. together, they set up in 1941 a state-licensed school, the College of Manual Dexterity and Prestidigitation, also known as the Chavez School of Magic.

In 1947, Foster went to California, enrolled in the Chavez course and demonstrated a flair for precise dexterity and creative skill that impressed Chavez. When Foster graduated from the course, Chavez hired him to tutor new students.

“My teacher, Ben Chavez,” Foster once wrote, “taught me that magic is just and excuse for being before an audience, for it matters little what you do, it’s how you do it. You first must become an accomplished performer, then a super salesman.”

In 1951, Foster left the Chavez school to work the magic field, and was chosen in 1953 to be one of the performers of the Gala Coronation Convivialities in London, England, when Elizabeth II was crowned queen.

During that show, he performed a floating-ball illusion which he not only had mastered but which had become his trademark. Apparently young Elizabeth was impressed, for Foster got to meet her during an intermission. And a few years later, Cardini himself saw Foster perform the illusion and applauded it enthusiastically.

In his book, “The New Modern Coin Magic,” magician J.B. Bobo wrote: “Cardini’s magic and Neil Foster’s beautiful magic are rare treats, to be enjoyed time after time. Who could ever tire of watching an artist work?”

In 1955, Foster married an Ohio native, the former Jeanne Hammond, while both were working in Florida. As a magical team, the Fosters toured for several years under the sponsorship of the lecture bureaus of the universities of Wisconsin, Minnesota and North and South Dakota, performing on the demanding school-assembly circuit.

The Fosters had a lifetime contract with their sponsors, but the work often meant performing daily – sometime several shows a day. The grind taxed Jeanne’s health, leading Foster to seek more stationary magical employment.

After a stint for the Ireland Magic Co. in Chicago, Foster came to Colon in 1959 at the request of Recil Bordner, president of the Abbott firm. Foster became the company’s chief magician-in-residence and its vice president.

In 1960, Foster revived the firm’s magazine, “The Tops,” which had been defunct for several years. With Foster as editor, the monthly periodical was re-titled “The New Tops” and eventually achieved worldwide distribution among magicians.

Foster invented many of his own effects. In particular, he sought to make difficult magic tricks achievable by those whose slight-of-hand gifts were less distinguished. Many of these simplified effects with cigarettes, balls and coins – as well as many other advanced tricks with doves, flowers and other materials – are manufactured and distributed by the Abbott firm. Foster also is the editor of several Abbott books.

Foster never left the stage, though, and played many dates with his wife and with another Colon resident, the late “Monk” Watson. It was not unusual, when Foster presented his floating ball effect at Abbott’s get-togethers in Colon – as he will during a public performance during the annual magicians’ convention this August – for hundreds of magicians to give him a standing ovation.

Foster has logged performances in 28 countries in Europe and North and South America. In 1977, at a ceremony in California, the Academy of magical Arts presented Foster with a Performing Fellowship Award, honoring his creativity and contributions in teaching magic and in editing the Abbott publication.

After Ben Chavez’s death in 1962, Marian Chavez continued to teach the course and arranged with Foster and one of his own protégées, Dale Salwak of California, eventually to take over the enterprise. She died in 1978.

Shortly after his wife’s death in 1979, Foster retired from full-time work at the Abbott firm and now instructs students who reside chiefly east of the Mississippi. Salwak, a professor of English literature at Citrus College in Azusa, Calf., tutors magic students at his own studio at Pasadena and distributes the Chavez correspondence course.”

 

 

Queen Elizabeth II & Neil Foster

Reflections By Neil Foster

 

 

Published June 16, 1977, The Battle Creek Enquirer: “Magician Neil Foster of Colon (the Magic Capitol of the World) had cause to look on the Silver Jubilee celebration for Queen Elizabeth II of England last week with nostalgia.

Foster, who recently was honored in California for his contribution to magic, was one of the featured performers at the Gala Coronation Convivialities in London 25 years ago, when Elizabeth was crowned queen.

His greatest memory of the occasion is of meeting the queen during an intermission.’

“It was like meeting an angel,” he said. “It was the only time I ever was told to extend a limp hand to anyone. She doesn’t like it when people firmly grip her hand.”

For the three minutes that Foster was on stage during the royal convivialities, he performed magical manipulations with balls and cards and the floating silver sphere illusion for which he was becoming famous and has won numerous awards.

How was his royal performance received? “I knocked them off their feet,” Foster recalled.