Blackstone Jr at Miller 1985

Blackstone at WMU Miller Auditorium This Thursday Evening at 8:00 P.M.

Colon Express, March 6, 1985: “Editor’s note: The picture and press release of Harry Blackstone Jr. were sent to the Express from Western Michigan University’s Miller Auditorium. Some of our readers keep scrapbooks of Colon’s magicians, and since Harry is probably our most famous one, following in the footsteps of his father, here’s his latest.

Kalamazoo – Continuing a legacy of magic magnificence dating back nearly a century. Harry Blackstone Jr., son of The Great Blackstone, will bring what Newsweek Magazine has called, “The largest and most spectacular traveling magic show ever” to Miller auditorium on Thursday, March 7, at 8:00 p.m.

As a child, he learned the elements of the craft of magic under the watchful eye of his father and uncle. By trial and error he mastered all the world-famous Blackstone illusions … the Floating Light Bulb, Dancing Handkerchief, Vanishing Birdcage, even the terrifying Buzz-saw.

But then in his late teens, feeling eclipsed by the shadow of his famous father, he decided to specialize in some other area. His love of the theatre prevailed, however, and he majored in theatre arts, eventually starring in stage production of Teahouse of the August Moon and eventually moving into a part-time job on a local television stationed owned by then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, in his job as producer, he cast himself as a magician for a commercial. The spot was successful and led to further involvements as a magician.

Later in other producer jobs, he was involved with the Smothers Brothers’ CBS-TV variety show, managing three west coast companies of the smash hit Broadway musical Hair and producing the Smothers Brothers’ acclaimed Las Vegas act. He was, in fact, creating another kind of magic .. the offstage masterminding of elaborate shows. And this experience and success eventually came together with his mastery of magic to create “the most spectacular magic show ever”.

Harry did not re-enter the world of magic until after the death of his famous father in 1965, but at the urging of many of his father’s former associates, Harry decided to devote his considerable skills to enhance the name of Blackstone and all it stands for.

Harry Blackstone says, “What I am undertaking is the challenging, but delightful, task of bringing this magnificent art to even higher levels, building on what has gone before, but injecting a modern, innovative presentation that is very much of the present, of the future and of my own creation.”

Harry has headlined at top nightclubs, hotels and television shows all over the world, including his own syndicated special. In 1978 he mounted the largest illusion show the world has seen since his father’s retirement. His first tour was an immense success as have been subsequent tours. His 1980 Broadway show was the longest running illusion show in the history of New York theatre.

The success of Harry’s magic show has not kept him from other forms of theatre. He has acted on TV in “Hart to Hart”, and on stage. He has starred in numerous TV specials. He created all the illusions incorporated by Earth, Wind and Fire into their 1983 international tour. In addition to all his appearances and collaborations he has authored several books and magic kits, has done numerous commercials, and won numerous awards acknowledging him as the master magician of his time: America’s Bicentennial Magician in 1976; the Star of Magic, an honor bestowed only 11 times in 80 years; “Magician of the Year” by the Academy of Magical Arts. Through Harry Blackstone Jr. one of the world’s favorite forms of entertainment flourishes. To his skill he adds charm and wit and the extravaganza of a major musical production. And he invites his audience to participate with all the good humor of a house party.”

 

Harry Blackstone Jr. (1934-1997) appeared at the Abbott’s Get-together in 1964, 1971, 1972, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, and 1996.

Blackstone visits Colon 1951

Blackstone Visits Many Colon Friends

 

From the Colon Express newspaper, August 16, 1951: “Harry Blackstone, the famous magician, with Mrs. Blackstone and Harry Blackstone Jr., spent Tuesday visiting Colon friends. The Blackstones, who now live in Hollywood, California had been taking a short vacation in Chicago and drove down for the day.

During the past year, since Blackstone moved from Colon, his show has been busily engaged in playing theatres in the western states and Canada. Late in July the show entertained at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, where Bill Watson is stationed. Blackstone will be the featured attraction at the California State Fair in Pomona, which opens on September 14th. He then expects to travel east by way of New Orleans and may show in this territory sometime next winter.

It is interesting to note that the Blackstone show now travels by air in two C-54 planes, one of which carries the 7 tons of baggage, the company of 28 people traveling in the other.

Blackstone expressed pleasure on seeing the newly painted storefronts and other improvements in Colon. He and Mayor Watson spent some time together discussing civic affairs and Blackstone stated that of all the cities and towns he has visited, Colon continues to be the town he’d like to live in, if his business and health permitted.”

 

Inez Blackstone Mrs Magic

She’s ‘Mrs. Magic … U. S. A.’

 

 

From the files of the Colon Community Historical Society Archives. From a newspaper clipping, probably from the Brandenton (Florida) News, date unknown, by Sally Remaley: “A pretty, petite blonde girl was doing a single act in vaudeville, playing the banjo at a theatre in Oshkosh, Wisconsin while on tour on the old Keith-Orpheum circuit when she answered an ad for a musical director.

The man looking for a musical director turned out to be The Great Blackstone, who was later to become the world’s premier magician, and the girl who decided to take a chance on him was Inez Nourse, who later married Blackstone after first helping build up his show from four people to a big, beautiful production using 17 regular personnel, and playing to packed houses all over this continent.

Now retired and living quietly, with the memories of her fabulous life still fresh and sweet, Inez Blackstone, widow of the internationally famed Blackstone, recalls her days in show business, and her life with Blackstone.

Inez was a mere child when she got “drafted” into traveling with musical acts on the road.

“I was playing piano in a theatre,” she remembers, “Somebody came along and thought I would look and play well on the stage. The money was better and away I went.

“I was in ever so many musical acts from then on,” she said, “even though I was very young. I had taken one term’s instruction on the piano and found it came naturally to me, so I went on from there on my own, and also picked up on banjo and organ.

“I made my living with my music from the time I was just a little girl,” Inez said.

Ironically, Blackstone’s show was laying off when Inez was working in Oshkosh and she heard he needed a musical director.

“I was ambitious in those days,” Inez recalled. “I thought, “That’s not a bad deal … a full season’s work and more money.” So I went with the Blackstone show.

“It didn’t work out like I thought it would … not then, anyway. The show went broke. I was sorry for everybody so I stayed on to help them. At that time there was Blackstone and his three assistants … two males and a girl.”

Inez worked hard and soon helped build up the show. “Then I married Blackstone,” she smiled. “After I got the show on its feet. Of course he was bound to become great, nothing could really stop him. From then on he went uphill in the business so fast it just amazed everybody … except me, I guess. I knew all along that he would be the best.”

“I traveled with him for ten years and became the ‘general workhorse,” Inez laughed. “I helped everywhere on the show … worked on stage a couple of years, doing that originally to help out, then was in the orchestra pit mostly after that.”

“During that time the show grew to such an extent that we used the largest railroad car ever built … a balloon top 76 feet in length. Those were fabulous days.

“There’s not a wide spot in the road I haven’t been on,” said Inez, president of the local chapter of Brotherhood of Magicians and the beloved “Mrs. Magic … U.S.A.” of the world of magic. The name was bestowed upon her by one of her favorite magicians, the young and handsome Sorcar, of Pakistan and India, who has succeeded The Great Blackstone as the world’s greatest magician since the death of the “master magician”.

Blackstone passed away in 1965. He had retired and was living in Hollywood at the time. (Inez remarried but is again a widow.)

“He played all big time legitimate theatres,” Inez mused, “all over the United States and Canada, never leaving this continent.”

Inez was the first woman to join the International Brotherhood of Magicians, which has members in every country of the world except Russia.

The group has grown from less than 100 members at its first convention in 1926 (where Inez did a takeoff on a woman bathing in champagne to tie in with the news stories of the day) to its present 1,400 members from 35 countries who registered in Amsterdam last summer for the World Congress of Magicians, an event held once every ten years.

Still president of the local, only woman ever to hold the post and revered worldwide for her work with the International Brotherhood of Magicians as well as being the widow of the greatest magician the world has ever knew, Inez was awarded a plaque for 20 years service as Sarasota local Ring president. (State chapters are called Rings after the oldest magic trick, the Linking Ring.

It was The Great Sorcar, of India, the “Maharajah of Magic” and “Midnight Mysteries of the East,” who became a devoted friend of Inez and modeled his lifework after Blackstone, his idol. Sorcar writes her often, and so do hundreds of other magicians and friends.

From around the world, visitors come and seek her out. She’s still the only lady president in the world and the only lady to hold the honor in the magicians’ brotherhood.

Until recently, Inez passed her time, supposedly in retirement, busier than most other folks who are still working. She paints beautifully and plays the organ like a professional … although she is self-taught in both fields.

And her home is almost a shrine in the world of magic, for she’s truly “Mrs. Magic … U. S. A.,” not only to Sorcar, but to the world.”

 

 

 

Dedicated to Inez Kitchen Blackstone (1889-1983).

 

Inez Blackstone

Inez

 

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).

Blackstone’s Birthday 1941

Friends Surprise Blackstone on Birthday

 

 

From The Colon Express newspaper, October 2, 1941: “It requires unusual magic to deceive Blackstone, the famous magician, but he was caught unawares last Saturday evening when a group of friends from Colon and out-of-town prepared a surprise party in honor of his birthday. Although the party was held at his home on Blackstone Island, plans were secret and Blackstone was taken completely by surprise.

A birthday dinner was prepared under the direction of Eddie Wychoff, aide’-de-camp of the Blackstone show, and included a birthday cake decorated with images of Doc Bill, Blackstone’s vanishing horse; Jerry, the vanishing canary; and other of the magician’s renowned illusions. A shower of gifts was tendered Blackstone as he entered the room.

Colon residents who attended the party included Gen Grant, Howard Melson and Mr. and Mrs. Ken Murray. Out-of-town guests were Dr. and Mrs. M.F. Parrish, Mr. and Mrs. F. H. Murray and daughter Kathryn, of Sturgis; Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Doremus of Corning, N.Y., Capt. Robert Hertzberg of Washington, D. C.; and Mr. and Mrs. Lon Harris of Chicago.

Congratulatory telegrams were read from “Monk” Watson (“To the world’s greatest magician from the world’s worst”) who is performing in Texas and from Harry Blackstone, Jr., who is attending school in New York.”

 

Blackstone’s Home Base

Blackstone’s home base still has the tricks of his trade up his sleeve

 

 

From The Detroit Free Press, October 30, 1987, by Neal Rubin: “COLON – Little Johnny Jones, The Conjuring Humorist, remains alive and tricking at 89. The magician’s gravestone has already been erected, though, at Lakeview Cemetery.

 

“Now,” it says, “I have to fool St. Peter.”

Jones will eventually rest alongside William T. Keckritz, 1914-1978, who performed as Bill Baird. The Magnificent Fraud, Keckritz hailed from Lansing, Jones from Bangor, but both chose to have the curtain fall at Lakeview, not 30 yards from the handsome granite marker of the great Harry Blackstone Sr.

Just about everyone who ever pulled a rabbit out of a hat wanted to be close to Blackstone, it seems, which is why signs at the borders of a town of about 1,200 people say, “Welcome to Colon, Magic Capitol of the World.”

IT’S WHY posters bearing the football schedule of the Colon High Magi are taped to windows of places like Magic City Hardware, the Magic City Café and the Blackstone Inn bar and restaurant. It’s why teachers use magic in classrooms and 1,000 magicians materialize every August for Abbott’s Magic Get-Together.

It’s why Colon, 16 miles west of Coldwater, stands at the center of a magical mystery tour of southwestern Michigan. There’s Marshall, home of the American Museum of Magic, run by Blackstone’s friend Robert Lund. There’s Battle Creek, where Neil Foster operates the Chavez Collage of Manual Dexterity and Prestidigitation.

MOST IMPORTANT, there is the Abbott Magic Co., a link to the past and a bridge to magic’s future. Blackstone drew Percy Abbott to Colon more than 50 years ago. As National Magic Week winds down – it ends on Halloween, the day Harry Houdini died at Detroit’s Grace Hospital 61 years ago – the company bearing Abbott’s name stands as the world’s largest maker and supplier of magic tricks.

 

 

 

The black cinder block building with the silver skeletons on the front holds the secrets of the Hippity-Hop Rabbits, Feather Flowers From Nowhere and Hong Kong Dove Production. Abbott supplies illusionists, mentalists, bizzarists and other enthusiasts worldwide with all the tricks of the trade – the Floating Table, the Squeezaway Block, the Routined Manipulation Finale and the Chinatown Quarter.

Greg Bordner, son of the co-founder, presides over 17 full-time employees and sales of nearly $1 million a year. And it’s all because one day 60 years ago, Inez Blackstone decided to take a drive.

HARRY BLACKSTONE Sr. was appearing – and presumably disappearing – in Kalamazoo. His wife set out to find them a summer home and came back with what became known as Blackstone Island, 72 ¾ acres of a Sturgeon Lake peninsula.

Their home evolved into a retreat for friends in the trade, many of whom also began to make Colon their base. Australian Abbott came to visit, met a local woman named Gladys Goodrich, got married and stayed.

Abbott was touring with a tent show in Edon, Ohio, in 1934 when he agreed to give local farmer Recil Bordner a few lessons. “The show closed early and Percy came back to Colon,” Greg Bordner says, “My dad had already paid for the lessons, so he had to come here to get the rest of them.”

With Bordner supplying the money and Abbott the expertise, they opened a magic shop in a second-floor room in Colon’s abbreviated downtown. By 1937, business was good enough that they moved to the former carriage factory on St. Joseph, a block from Blackstone Avenue, that still serves as a showroom, office, mailroom, warehouse, print shop and workroom.

Its walls and ceiling are covered with still photos and posters of magicians. The floors aren’t covered at all; weathered hardwood creaks underfoot. Smaller tricks are displayed in counters and on shelves. Large items like the Temple of Benares (41,350, including swords) and Buzz Saw Illusion ($4,000 including buzz saw) are in a 506-page catalog which begins, “Open Sesame!”

The company produces only one or two new tricks a year, Bodner says. Its wares are hand-made and laboriously detailed, and “It’s all we can do to fill the orders for the old ones.”

He recently bought a Commodore 128 computer to handle mailings, but employees still print tissue-paper rabbits for the Foxy Paper Tear at about three per minute on a letterpress that pre-dates World War I.

The largest magic firm in the world also does wedding invitations. “Obviously,” Bordner says, “we’re not getting rich.” Not when a worked in the auxiliary shop a few blocks away – next to the supermarket with an Amish farmer’s horse-and-buggy in the lot – has to spend 5 minutes painting a strip of black tape green to match the leaves of the vibrantly colored flowers that spring from an effect.

A popular item like the Disecto, a $65 arm-chopper that slices carrots placed above and below a volunteers arm but leaves the appendage intact, might draw a 100 orders over many years.

“It’s like being the world’s largest manufacturer of buggy whips,” Bordner says, “It’s not a big market.”

BORDNER, 35, has never tired of magic even as he grew up behind the counter. He earned a degree in political science at Michigan State, but always assumed he would take over the business from his father, who died five years ago.

His two children enjoy the craft, but at ages 7 and 10, neither seems inclined to make a career of performing. Someone in Colon will, though; “You always seem to get about one in every generation who will put together an act. We’re just about due to have a high school kid come in and start showing some interest.

David Tomlinson was that kid in the 1960s. A friend’s older brother gave him a few tricks in the third grade, at which point “I started haunting Abbott’s”

“I had the outlet,” says Tomlinson, 36, now one of Colon’s two lawyers. “Anyplace else, where would you go? Here, it’s half the town. Many members of his troupe settled down and retired here. Pete Bouton, his brother, used to always be down at Abbott’s. There’s nowhere else you could get that kid of exposure to it.”

Phyllis Harrington, a substitute teacher from nearby Sturgis, bout a magic coloring book this week to use in class. Riffle through it once and the pages are blank. Do it again and there are outlines. On the third pass, the pictures are colored in.

“I had never realized the potential until I saw another teacher use it.” She says, “She told the class, ‘Everybody starts with blank pages. Then these are the ideas, and these are the colorful ideas.’ She said, ‘Anyone who has written a book or had a great idea started with a blank piece of paper.’”

EVERYBODY IN town knows an old magician, or maybe even a working act like Jerry and Shirley Conklin, who have “The Amazing Conklins” stenciled on their porch steps on Maple Street. Ask in any restaurant, Bordner says, and a waitress or two will have dated or assisted a magician.

The people who make things vanish for a living are surprisingly visible themselves. Even Blackstone would offer tips and advice to anyone who asked.

Chan Shedelbower, 75, began vacationing in Colon in 1933. he lives her now, on Blackstone Island. “The first time I saw Harry Sr. was up there on Miller’s Landing,” he says, “There used to be a peach tree. He was picking pennies off the trees and giving them to kids. He was a regular guy with those of us who knew him well. Otherwise, he was always on, always putting on a show.”

In a sense that hasn’t changed, even 22 years after his death. Tourists, some almost reverent, come year-round to see the grave. “Blackstone,” it says, and beneath that is his real name, Harry Bouton.

Atop the pedestal stands a fluted sculpture. “Some say it’s a rose,” Bordner says, “Some say it’s a flame.” It could even be a tulip.

In Colon, Harry Blackstone still has them guessing.

 

 

 

Salute to Harry Blackstone

Salute to Harry Blackstone Sr.

Harry Bouton (Blackstone) 1885-1965

 

From “The Express” newspaper, November 17, 1965: “He put Colon on the map, and now he’s gone. This wouldn’t be the Magic Capital of the World; possibly it wouldn’t even be a town anymore, if Harry Blackstone hadn’t “discovered” it in 1925.

He was one of the greatest magicians of all times, and he was looking for a place, away from but accessible to the cities, where his troupe could work and he could be at home. In ’26 he bought what has since always been known as Blackstone island, all 200 acres of it. He built his home here and quartered his troupe, between 25 and 30 people here. He was a performing magician for 64 years, and a headliner for over half a century.

Harry Blackstone was called the Ziegfield of Magic. In 1914 he began giving full evening shows, completely renovating the pace of the times with fast action, lots of color and many beautiful girls. His was the last of the really big shows.

Among his most famous illusions were the “Vanishing Horse” and the “Flying Bird Cage”

Harry Blackstone was born in Chicago on September 27, 1885. His legal name was Harry Bouton. He took the name of Blackstone for stage purposes. Blackstone was the name of one of his grandparents. He leaves a brother in Colon, Pete Bouton, who worked as his right hand man backstage, a son, Harry Jr., who has been doing a show in Florida, other relatives and friends all around the world, and the proud village of Colon.

He died peacefully a 10 p.m. California time, Tuesday night in his Hollywood home.”

“The Floating Light Bulb,” was perhaps his signature piece. In a darkened theatre, Blackstone would take a lighted bulb from a lamp and float it, still glowing, through a small hoop. He would then come down from the stage and the lamp would float out over the heads of the audience.

In 1985, on the 100th anniversary of his father’s birth, Harry Blackstone, Jr. donated to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. the original floating light bulb – Thomas Edison designed and built it – and the original Casadega Cabinet, used in the “Dancing Handkerchief” illusion. This was the first ever donation accepted by the Smithsonian in the field of magic.

 

Blackstone’s Summer Home

Blackstone made Colon his summer home

 

From The Sturgis Journal newspaper, August 8, 1990, by Mike Dunn: “The date was Oct. 21, 1941, Harry Blackstone, one of the most prominent magician/illusionist in the world, opened his national touring show before a capacity crowd at the Hill Opera House in Colon.

The opera house, constructed in 1897, had been closed for a number of years prior to ’41. The days when live shows were the main source of entertainment in the country had long been past, replaced by radio serials and the silver screen. The opera house had flourished in its time, but its time was past and now it was a landmark in town, a reminder of what once was.

That was going to change, however, for one fall evening in 1941. the opera house would be alive with activity once more; its 600 seats would be filled and memories of the past would be evoked. The famous Blackstone, who had petitioned to reopen the opera hours for this one show, would see to that.

“Blackstone wanted to have the show there as a favor to the people of Colon,” recalled Ken Murray, a Sturgis resident who worked with Blackstone for several years. “He loved Colon and he thought it was a shame that the opera house was closed down. So he decided to kick off his tour there in 1941.

Getting the opera house prepared for the show was easier said than done. It took a lot of work.

“It was quite a task to get things set up in the old opera house,” Murray said. “The stage was small and it was on the second floor above E. H. Hill & Sons Bank. Everything had to be carted up the stairs.”

Blackstone first came to Colon in May 1926. H purchased what became known as “Blackstone Island” and spent the summers in Colon for the next 34 years.

Blackstone traveled around the country with his 25-member troupe, playing to large audiences in all the major cities, usually for a week at a time. Since theaters were not air conditioned in those days, the summer months were generally spent developing new acts, fixing and preparing props, and taking a needed rest from the rigors of life on the road.

Murray began touring with Blackstone in 1925. He was involved with public relations and also took part in some of the illusions.

“I looked like Blackstone,” Murray explained, “I had the same build, the same hair, so I stood in sometimes as his double.

Murray would not reveal the secret to any of Blackstone’s illusions, however.

“There’s an understanding in the business that you never divulge anything,” he said, “It wouldn’t be right.”

Murray met Blackstone while the illusionist was performing at the Lerner Theater in Elkhart, Ind. In the early 1920s, Murray, who had an interest in learning the profession, was subsequently invited to Blackstone’s summer headquarters on West Lake.

“I went there for a few days on my vacation,” said Murray, show was employed by Kirsch Co. at the time. “Harry and I became very well acquainted while I was there. He was very friendly to me.”

Some time later, Murray received a telegram from Blackstone, inviting him to join the touring troupe. Murray gave a two-week notice at his job and joined the show at Schenectady, N.Y.

“I never had any regrets,” Murray said, “It was a wonderful experience. I got to see the world and being with Blackstone and the show was tremendous. Harry was the best friend I ever had in my life.”

Murray remembers the day in May 1926 that Blackstone decided to move his summer headquarters from West Lake to Colon.

“He confided to me that West Lake was too noisy.” Murray said. “He wanted someplace that would be convenient but quieter. He heard about Colon, and when he looked it up on the road map and saw the lakes there, he decided to check it out.”

“It was May of 1926 and we were playing the Shubert Theater in Detroit,” Murray added. “Harry sent (his wife) Inez down to look over Colon. He bought the island and moved the show there after the tour closed up that year. Harry eventually built a house of his own there.”

Blackstone’s influence is still being felt in Colon today. The town became known as “The Magic Capitol” and the school’s nickname became the Magi as a direct result of Blackstone’s presence. In addition, the opening of Abbott’s Magic Factory and the annual Magic Festival which is hosted by Colon each summer can be traced to Blackstone’s decision to relocate his summer headquarters there in 1926.

“The Saturday Evening Post sent a man all the way from California to do a story about Harry being in Colon,” Murray said, “I guess they thought it was a big deal, or they wouldn’t have done that.”

 

 

The Hill Opera House (destroyed by fire in 2006)

 

It was also a “big deal” when Blackstone approached banker Edward Hill with the proposal of reopening the opera house for one night in October 1941.

“There was a great response from the people,” Murray said, “It was a packed house that night. I don’t remember that much about the show itself except that it was well received.”

Gordon Miller’s Eulogy to Neil Foster

Eulogy to Neil Foster

 

 

Prepared and delivered by Gordon Miller, March 16, 1988, Colon, Michigan: “I deem it an honor to have been asked and to be allowed to deliver this eulogy for my friend, Neil Foster.

A eulogy is nothing more than a personal recollection. During his lifetime, Neil Foster touched everyone here in attendance, and thousands more who are here in spirit, with his presence. To some he was a casual acquaintance or a customer or a neighbor. To others he was a co-worker, a teacher, a relative or a friend. He was all these things and more.

Any man fills many roles during his lifetime. He is first a boy and then a man and, if providence allows, a husband and possibly a father. My first recollection of Neil was in the role of The Idol. Neil was an almost legendary figure in his chosen field of magic. He was respected and revered for his high level of skill, his masterly presentations and his superb showmanship. I knew of him first only through the writings of others.

While Neil and his wife Jeanne were traveling the school assembly entertainement circuit, a complex series of circumstances resulted in their retiring from that nomadic life and ended with them settling here in Colon. The Fosters joined the staff of the Abbott Magic Company. My idol now stood across the showroom counter from me. we were now Casual Acquaintances.

During one of our conversations I managed to convince Neil to act as my instructor – a dream come true for a young man bewitched by the art of magic. And Neil’s role changed to that of The Teacher. I shall always remember those evenings, first at the little house on Romine Street and later at the house on Goodell Avenue. I paid for one hour’s instruction and usually spent over three hours each night once a week, talking, listening and learning. As others had discovered before me and still others had discovered after me, Neil Foster was incomparable as a teacher. Just as he was as a performer – he was the best.

It was certainly during this time that Neil became my Friend. When Neil became the

Editor of The NEW TOPS magic magazine, I joined the staff of the Abbott Magic Company and we became Co-workers – a condition that lasted until his retirement in 1979.

All hiis life Neil pursued a variety of interests, in addition to those we have briefly touched upon. He was an artist and an illustrator whose talents range from catalog line drawings to oil portraits. He edited a magazine, which his wife typeset, for over nineteen years. Both he and his wife were voracious readers; Jeanne favored detective mysteries, Neil devoured biographies and travel books. Both were addicted to late night television, expecially old movies. The house on Goodell Avenue was justly famous for the gardening and landscaping efforts the Neil created. The lush flower arrangements, the thick shrubbery and hedges and the great variety of trees formed a safe haven for all the neighborhood birds, squirrels and rabbits – and a natural and relaxing retreat for the Fosters and their friends.

I am grateful for my priviliged position. I was a frined to both Neil and Jeanne for over a quarter of a century. I saw them as man and woman, as husband and wife and as surrogate father and mother. We traveled together frequently and often performed on the same show. What an advantage to see the best in the business hundreds of times! What a collection of memories!

This, then, was Neil Foster. Idol, Acquaintance, Co-Worker, Teacher, Role Model and Friend. I often had the enjoyable task of introducing Neil to an audience. It was the easiest job in the world. All I had to say was: Ladies and Gentlemen … Neil Foster … the best!”

 

Gordon Miller has appeared at Abbott’s Get-Together in 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, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Della Coppin (Sally Banks)

Della Coppin

Della Coppin (Sally Banks)

The Express, August 17, 1977, By Monk Watson: “I only knew Sally as “Sally Banks” because that was the stage name of her husband, Edward Coppin. He was one of the group who came to America with Charlie Chaplin, and on his own was a very funny man. Soon he joined the Blackstone show and was with it until he died, after the fire in the Lincoln Square theatre in Decatur, Ill. When Edward and Sally were married, she took the name of Coppin, but when he changed his name to the stage name of Banks, she took that name also. So for all those years she has been Sally Banks to all of us in Colon.

For years Sally was the “Avon Lady” who called on so many with a smile. I don’t recall ever seeing Sally without a smile, even when it might have been put on. She was generous with her flowers, putting them on the graves of those she knew. I recall one morning when I asked Sally where I could get some of the old clay flowerpots that were hard to find. The next morning there was a bag on our front porch, with six large pots made of clay. I could not pay her for them, because they were her gift to Mary and Monk.

We will all miss that happy smile, but we also know that he is now resting with the greats of the world, just as she worked with and entertained them in life.

Today Sally will rest with Ted Banks and The Great Blackstone in Lakeside cemetery, in Colon she loved so well. Sleep well, dear Sally.”