Monk Watson at 82


Monk Watson, age 82, still dazzles audiences


Sturgis Journal, August 20, 1976. By Mrs. Robert Johnson: “ COLON – Donald William Watson, better known in the magic world as “Monk Watson,” is a man of numerous talents, which include magician, comedian, entertainer, master of ceremonies, musician, bandleader, and lecturer.

At age 82 he is still very active and has performed with Abbotts Magic Co. 39 years. This year he has been promoting the Abbott Get-Together with television and radio interviews.

Monk and Mary Watson reside in Colon where they have lived since 1940. Monk met Mary Burnette, who is from Canada, in Detroit, and they were married there in 1929.

They have four children. Next door to Monk’s home is what his wife calls, “Monk’s Hide-away.” Entering his studio is like stepping into a history book. Mementos and portraits cover the walls and most of the room.

A native of Jackson, Monk’s parents came to Colon to live. At age eight, Monk recalls when a medicine show, in the 1900s, came to town and the owner lit a light and placed it on the tailgate of his wagon. He did a few tricks for the crown and would then sell them medicine.

The local druggist, Charles Niendorf, learned some of the magic tricks by doing the changing of water to wine and back again to water. His protégé was a young boy named Donald Watson.

Monk alone with a friend, Neil Sweet, put on many magic shows. Monk’s first show was in 1902 in a local church.

Monk spent two years in the Army Air Force in Texas as morale director in World War I and in World War II with the Red Arrow Division.

He performed shows in every veteran’s hospital in the country numerous times.

Elsie Janis, one of the top stars of the vaudeville era, performed shows for the 32nd Division and invited Monk to join her troupe when he was discharged. Monk was with her show for two years and played in top theaters throughout the country.

Following the Janis show, Monk participated in vaudeville.

He then assembled a marimba band and toured the well-known theater circuits.

During this time, Monk said, “Magic was more of a hobby.”

His mother had given him piano lessons, and later he learned to play the clarinet. During his army service, in World War I, he learned to play most band instruments.

Monk has appeared with many entertainers during his show business years. Jack Benny and Monk trouped together for three seasons in the 1920s on the same vaudeville circuit. Monk knew “Rochester” Anderson long before Benny did. Rochester and his brother, then known as the Anderson Brothers, performed dance routines with Monk’s band.

Bob Hope, then a young comedian, got a chance to speak his first line on stage due to Monk Watson. Hope also danced with Monk’s band.

When Wings Stadium opened in Detroit, Bob Hope introduced Monk to the audience saying he gave him his first break.

Monk has several pictures of Hope and himself and said he still hears from Hope and they have an open date to play golf.

Monk has appeared with Bing Crosby, Edgar Bergen (before Charlie McCarthy), and Andy Devine.

In Cleveland, Monk had his own television show called “Monk Watson’s Miracle Show” and it ran for 28 weeks.

He has done many television appearances and shows for service clubs and other organizations.

Monk played in the Palace Theatre in New York three times in one year and gave 5,000 performances at the Rivera in Detroit.

Among Monk’s mementos is a dress worn by Elsie Janis when she appeared at the Palace for $16,000 per week. The dress is valued at $2,000.

During the Abbott Magic Get-Together, Monk and Mary will entertain several of their magician friends, but one in particular will be Harry Blackstone, Jr. Monk is his godfather.