From the TOPS Magazine, March 1967, Cover Portrait, by Daniel Waldron: “Where does a road lead?
If you are a young girl named Inez Nourse t leads from the quiet country lane of Fox Lake, Wisconsin to the great main thoroughfare of a golden age of magic.
World War I has not yet disrupted the scene; Vaudeville is in its prime. Miss Nourse has beauty, talent … and the price of railroad fare to New York. The trains run fast and often. She climbs aboard. Her journey has begun.
Music is her forte, and “Inez Nourse … The Little Banjophiend” scatters melody along the criss-cross trails of America’s theater circuits. She learns the trouper’s world by heart … a world of stardust and boardinghouses, of applause and hard-boiled managers, of grouch-bags and split weeks and miraculous tomorrows.
Her own miraculous tomorrow is fast approaching, though she does not know it. The rails speed her toward Oshkosh where, in the snows of 1916, she is to keep a rendezvous with magic.
A traveling magic troupe is sorely in need of a musical director. There will be a chance to do a feature act as well. Inez weighs the decision. She signs on.
The magicians name is Fredrik the Great; or so his advertising paper proclaims. But show business already knows him as Harry Bouton, of “Harry Bouton & Co.” … a magic act which he and his brother, Pete, carried to top time in Vaudeville. In years to come he will be even better known by still another name: Blackstone, The World’s Master Magician.
There is little promise of future triumph that first winter Inez Nourse spends on the show. Struggling through the Minnesota deep – freeze known to vaudevillians as “The Death Circuit” the 5-person show, with its 27 pieces of baggage, almost founders amid sparse audiences, half-heated theaters chicanery in the bookkeeping, and bitter cold. When the company manager does a disappearing act with the last meager receipts, extinction threatens. Inez can leave, or stay. She stays. She pitches in. The show pulls through.
The year after the war’s end, Harry and Inez are married. For the next decade her life is to be bound up with that of what is now the “Blackstone” show. She throws herself into helping it become one of the biggest shows in magic. She designs. She sews. She looks to the music. She performs onstage. New illusions are added. More people. Gorgeous costumes. New scenery.
The effort is endless and unremitting. But it is rewarded in the 1920’s with great-extended tours of the Pantages, the Keith-Albee, and the Orpheum Circuits. There are sensational appearances at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, and an unforgettable, record-shattering run at the Corn palace. Each summer the road leads back to Fox Lake, or Chicago, or some other resting spot where the troupe can draw a breath before starting out again.
In 1925 the show summers at West Lake, Michigan. Motoring through the countryside one Sunday afternoon, Inez takes the road that leads to the lovely lakeside village of Colon; and soon Blackstone is making Colon his regular summer quarters and home. In 1927 Percy Abbott is invited to the Blackstone home. The visit turns into a permanent stay in Colon and the eventual establishment there of the Abbott Magic Company.
In 1930 the Blackstone show is a far cry from the early growing days. But for Inez the road is destined to take a sharp turn. She and Harry part company. But magic and Inez never part. She had been in on the first days of the International Brotherhood of Magicians at Kenton, Ohio, and now the magic conventions find her much in evidence. Her musical and staging knowledge play a part in numerous shows. The road is rough. But the road goes on.
In the mid-1930s’ she joins the Rajah Raboid Company. Again, her show-business acumen is an asset, which aids the show in many ways. She marries again and becomes Mrs. Robert Kitchen. When this marriage is ended with his death, Inez makes her home in Sarasota, Florida.
Sarasota, for many years, was the home of that travelingest of shows, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Baraboo, Wisconsin, where the Ringlings got their start, is not far from Fox Lake. It is fitting, somehow, that Inez Kitchen, the natural-born trooper, should be so situated. And when winter withdraws from the North Country Inez still sets out, by car, to visit friends, drop in on magic conventions, and stay in touch with the world at large. You may see her if you look. And when you hear someone say: “There’s Inez!” be assured that there is only one Inez who is so well known she can be identified by her first name alone.
When death took Harry Blackstone in 1965 Inez turned to another of her talents, oil painting, to honor his memory. She did a portrait which shows him as she remembers him best; as the young man who guided a young and carefree troupe along a bright and never-ending magic road.”
Dedicated to Inez Kitchen Blackstone (1889-1983).