Howard “Mel” Melson by Gene Gordon

Howard Melson, Gone But Never Forgotten

 

From TOPS Magazine, January 1961, by Gene Gordon:  “Magicians are always intimating that the spirits do return to the scenes of their past triumphs. If such a thing is possible, then our new Editor, Neil Foster, can be sure that he will have spiritual aid in publishing this magazine from its former Editor, Howard Melson or as he was know to all of us, Mel. He loved his work as editor and he should be very happy to know that it will be carried on by a young man that he admired very much. Mel passed away on December 12th, 1958, in the Veteran’s Hospital at Ann Arbor, Michigan. Mel’s association with the Abbott Company begin in 1940 when he left the excitement of New York to go out to Colon on a six week’s assignment to do art work for the next catalog. The six weeks stretched out to eighteen years. He was a sophisticate and remained one to his death … but he was charmed by the small town life of Colon and was never happier than being there with real friends. Witty and often cynical, his plans to improve on life were not so materialistic as idealistic. He knew that he could only sleep on one bed and only eat three meals a day so money could buy no more,

His thoughts always followed a clear and personal logic. They were no mere fantasies but were founded on reason. He would argue against his own beliefs to hear what others had to say and then draw conclusions to make his own decisions. His great sense of humor drew him to Humorous people. He respected anyone who had independence of thought and he had little use for conformists. With restrained enthusiasm, he liked to speak of his projective thinking.

When you arrived at an Abbott Get-Together, Mel was one of the first to greet you and his welcome was as warm for a first time visitor as for a big name performer. When I would get worn out just watching Percy travel from dawn to dusk at break-neck speed, I would recuperate by spending a few minutes in the quiet serenity of Mel’s company. It was hard for me to look over the book display at the last gathering and not see Mel behind the counter.

He was born in Steubenville, Ohio, on January 6th, 1890, but moved at an early age to Buffalo where he attended grade and high school as well as the Chown School of business. And early bent for cartooning won him a first prize in a contest conducted by a breakfast food company. This led to his enrollment in the Buffalo Art Institute and later Cleveland’s Landon School of Cartooning. He was not a boy magician … his real interest started not long before he went to Colon.

Mel spent many years in the reportorial and editorial end of newspaper work. He was Art Director for the Magazine of Wall Street and his creations appeared in many other magazines. His work brought him into close friendship with many prominent figures in the theatrical world such as Bob Hope, Olson & Johnson, Edgar Bergen, Al Jolson, Rosa Ponsell and many others. Since he passed away just before Christmas, it was my sad duty to help his family here in Buffalo sort the magic greetings from his personal cards and I was amazed at the wide scope of friends that he had made over the years.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army March 8th, 1918, where he served at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas. He later toured with the Kelly Field Players over the Pantages and Gus Sun Circuits as Mel, the Chalk Cartoonist. He also did a sand painting act and also appeared at many magical conclaves around the country. I always looked forward to his annual visit to Buffalo where he came to be with his family — three brothers named Jim, Bill and Dr. Oliver and a sister Mrs. Marie Jones. I know Jim’s Son Doug and I know that in his estimation, his uncle was TOPS.

A sad part of his passing was that within a few days he would have been married to Sally Banks, formerly of the Blackstone show and well-known to many Colon visitors at the Get-Togethers.

Mel was buried in Buffalo’s Forest Lawn, Cemetery on December 14, 1958 and Ring 12 Members attended the services. His body is there but the real Mel will always be in Colon, enshrined in the hearts and memories of his friends.

 

Abbott’s 10th Get Together by Mel Melson

Abbott’s Tenth Get-Together

 

TOPS Magazine, July 1943, by Mel Melson: “To tell the truth, this is a story I did not think I would be writing this year, but so many fellows wrote in saying they were planning their vacations for the Labor Day week end and were expecting to come to Colon and a host of others urged us on, so we are making plans for Abbott’s Tenth Annual Magic Get-Together in Colon on Sept. 9th, 10th and

11th.

As a matter of fact, we had a flock of reservations for rooms and seats before it was definitely decided and before we even had any kind of a show lined up, and they are still coming in. Most of the fellows are playing smart and reserving seats early, remembering the mad scramble at the last moment other years. As in the past two years, all seats at the Opera House are reserved, and all reservations for seats must be accompanied by covering check — 50 cents a night for Magicians, and for others, 75 cents for adults and 25 cents for children.

The public shows this year will be well worth while as the following line-up of talent will suggest: Don Sweet, Bill Williston, Harlan Tarbell, Tom Osborne, Judge Carter, Jack Herbert, Ruth Oakes, Lester Lake, Karrel Fox, Harry Cecil, Chuck Kirkland, Al Minder, and Pingalli and Pinella.

In addition, an unusually fine program is being arranged for the Victory “Night Before party, which this year will be longer in order to include sixty minutes of patriotic presentations, for the best of which a War Bond is to be awarded. Other War Bonds will be given lucky ones at the public shows. The usual al fresco Magicians’ show will be held on Saturday afternoon.

As a special feature of the gathering this year, Dr. Harlan Tarbell will conduct his No. 2 Magic Course, which will be available for a stipulated fee to all Magicians attending the affair. Tarbell also will appear on the public shows both nights, presenting acts of Magic. And of course there will be the usual feast of Magic aside from the various shows, for demonstrations will be carried on at the

Abbott plant throughout the affair, at all times when other activities are not in progress. And it looks as though getting to Colon will be less difficult this year, for while repairs are being made to Route 112, Greyhound busses on the Chicago-Detroit route are rolling through the town. Colon is not a regular stop, but passengers from the West may buy a ticket to Bronson and the bus will stop to discharge them at the Magic City — those from the West buying tickets to Sturgis for the same accommodations.”

 

 

Thoughts on Magic by Mel Melson

     Thoughts on Magic

 

From Abbott’s TOPS Magazine, April 1945; by Mel Melson: ”Just a few rambling thoughts:  How many amateur and semi-professional Magicians lose sight of the fact that, after all, Magic should be a means of entertainment, that its mysteries should be entertaining as well as baffling to the spectators!

I have in mind a chap who has mastered the techniques of his profession in a very high degree, and who even goes farther in his baffling procedures and learns to do some of his tricks the hard way in order to amaze and fool his fellow Magicians. The result is a fine technical display, but repetitious to the point where it becomes boring to the average audience, and even to Magicians.

This chap is unusually intelligent but he is so obsessed with producing amazing and apparently miraculous feats that he forgets that fooling people with Magic is not enough to keep them interested. And some folks get really disinterested in Magic generally after they witness the performance of a Magician whose only purpose in appearing before them is fooling them. Some people don’t like to be fooled. They may accept the fooling, however, when it is sugar-coated or disguised by a bit of showmanship, clever patter or a touch of comedy, all of which serve to entertain.

Entertainment is the major function of Magic as it is performed today. Time was when it was used to inspire religious awe or respect for religious leaders. That was long ago. Since, it has progressed along with other elements of intellectuality. To the masses, Magicians no longer are real wonder workers. They are entertainers and are sought as such, for most of their audiences are aware that, regardless of how miraculous this or that effect may appear, “There is a trick to it.” But they demand entertainment.

Inattention to the entertainment functions of his art by the Magician too often makes a Magic performance a boring affair. It is quite true that with Magic, the job of keeping audiences interested is simpler than with other turns, but tricks and their accomplishment are not enough.

Of course there are some tricks in which the mystery of their working is in itself entertainment if properly presented, but these are not too numerous. Certain illusions are in this category. The discerning Magician will gauge all his tricks for their entertaining value and if it is not inherent in the mystery itself, he will amplify it with the necessary showmanship.

The Magician who thinks that the baffling aspects of Magic are sufficient to successful performance is fooling himself. If his performances are not entertaining as well, he is doing harm to other Magicians as well as himself, and, indeed to Magic in general. “Another Magician!” folks who have seen such a Magician, have said, do say, and will say. “Ye gods! Do we have to sit through that again!”

Sure you can do Magic tricks, you can make your audiences’ eyes bug out with wonder as you do them, but do you entertain? Ask yourself this. It is the entertaining factor that brings in repeat dates most of the time.”

 

Browsing through the old issues of TOPS always has a lesson in history. This edition was in April of 1945 and the war was still going on in both the east and the west. The paper is very cheap quality. The best that could be had at the time. An advertisement for one trick caught my eye.
It was for Abbott’s Victory Poster Trick:

“MAGICIANS: Here’s Your Chance to Help, at the same time you have a new good applause-winning hit for your program.

Performer displays two paper flags, one with the Swastika and other with Rising Sun of Japan. He says: “These symbols and all who follow them will vanish because each of you will do his part. Here is a way in which each of us, young and old can make them vanish forever.” As he says this he tears up the flags, bunches them up and on opening them out they have changed into a Minute Man Poster promoting sale of war bonds and stamps.

You can get into the newspapers working this for the War Bond authorities in your city. ($1.50 a dozen).”

 

 

Howard “Mel” Melson by Gene Gordon

Howard Melson, Gone But Never Forgotten

From TOPS Magazine, January 1961, by Gene Gordon:  “Magicians are always intimating that the spirits do return to the scenes of their past triumphs. If such a thing is possible, then our new Editor, Neil Foster, can be sure that he will have spiritual aid in publishing this magazine from its former Editor, Howard Melson or as he was know to all of us, Mel. He loved his work as editor and he should be very happy to know that it will be carried on by a young man that he admired very much. Mel passed away on December 12th, 1958, in the Veteran’s Hospital at Ann Arbor, Michigan. Mel’s association with the Abbott Company begin in 1940 when he left the excitement of New York to go out to Colon on a six week’s assignment to do art work for the next catalog. The six weeks stretched out to eighteen years. He was a sophisticate and remained one to his death … but he was charmed by the small town life of Colon and was never happier than being there with real friends. Witty and often cynical, his plans to improve on life were not so materialistic as idealistic. He knew that he could only sleep on one bed and only eat three meals a day so money could buy no more,

His thoughts always followed a clear and personal logic. They were no mere fantasies but were founded on reason. He would argue against his own beliefs to hear what others had to say and then draw conclusions to make his own decisions. His great sense of humor drew him to Humorous people. He respected anyone who had independence of thought and he had little use for conformists. With restrained enthusiasm, he liked to speak of his projective thinking.

When you arrived at an Abbott Get-Together, Mel was one of the first to greet you and his welcome was as warm for a first time visitor as for a big name performer. When I would get worn out just watching Percy travel from dawn to dusk at break-neck speed, I would recuperate by spending a few minutes in the quiet serenity of Mel’s company. It was hard for me to look over the book display at the last gathering and not see Mel behind the counter.

He was born in Steubenville, Ohio, on January 6th, 1890, but moved at an early age to Buffalo where he attended grade and high school as well as the Chown School of business. And early bent for cartooning won him a first prize in a contest conducted by a breakfast food company. This led to his enrollment in the Buffalo Art Institute and later Cleveland’s Landon School of Cartooning. He was not a boy magician … his real interest started not long before he went to Colon.

Mel spent many years in the reportorial and editorial end of newspaper work. He was Art Director for the Magazine of Wall Street and his creations appeared in many other magazines. His work brought him into close friendship with many prominent figures in the theatrical world such as Bob Hope, Olson & Johnson, Edgar Bergen, Al Jolson, Rosa Ponsell and many others. Since he passed away just before Christmas, it was my sad duty to help his family here in Buffalo sort the magic greetings from his personal cards and I was amazed at the wide scope of friends that he had made over the years.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army March 8th, 1918, where he served at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas. He later toured with the Kelly Field Players over the Pantages and Gus Sun Circuits as Mel, the Chalk Cartoonist. He also did a sand painting act and also appeared at many magical conclaves around the country. I always looked forward to his annual visit to Buffalo where he came to be with his family — three brothers named Jim, Bill and Dr. Oliver and a sister Mrs. Marie Jones. I know Jim’s Son Doug and I know that in his estimation, his uncle was TOPS.

A sad part of his passing was that within a few days he would have been married to Sally Banks, formerly of the Blackstone show and well-known to many Colon visitors at the Get-Togethers.

Mel was buried in Buffalo’s Forest Lawn, Cemetery on December 14, 1958 and Ring 12 Members attended the services. His body is there but the real Mel will always be in Colon, enshrined in the hearts and memories of his friends.