Sally Banks on Blackstone

Sally Banks and Harry Blackstone

From the Battle Creek Enquirer and News, August 13, 1972

Sally Banks: “Girl Friday” for late Harry Blackstone

By Amy South. “Everybody in this town remembers Harry Blackstone,” I was told when I stopped at a small store in the famous hocus-pocus village of Colon. But, as I found out, nobody knew Harry Blackstone, “The World’s Greatest Magician,” as well as Sally Banks knew him.

Sally now lives in a trailer overlooking home and summer headquarters of  Harry Blackstone and his “Show of One Thousand and One Wonders.” For many years Sally had been Harry’s special assistant and when she thought she was too old for the stage he put her in charge of headquarters in Colon and even let her raise his young son, Harry Blackstone, Jr.

Sally Banks was born Della Coppin near Pittsburgh in 1900. Her career in show business started at the age of 8. In 1927 she was working in Chicago for Ernie Young’s Revue. They had finished rehearsing and she had a couple of weeks off when she met a man who was looking for girls to work in Harry Blackstone’s Magic show.

Sally went to Colon for her vacation, not to get a job but just to see what these tricks were all about. She was so fascinated with Blackstone that she never went back to Ernie Young’s Revue. Instead she became a box hopper for Harry Blackstone. A box hopper is a girl who crawls into a box and disappears, or she might crawl into a box and get sawed in half. But Sally didn’t like the buzz-saw trick. “It looked too dangerous,” she remembers. “Besides, I was too small.”

That following summer Sally married Blackstone’s stage manager, Ted Banks. Ted was from England. He had come to the United States with Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel, of Laurel and Hardy.

Their three-man act broke up after Chaplin was called to California and later Laurel followed him. Ted might have gone too, but he threw up his hands and said, “Ah, that silent picture stuff is just a fad. It’ll wear off.”

He took a job with Blackstone. After Ted and Sally were married, they continued with the show traveling with 37 people, three carloads of tricks and a menagerie of animals. Sally assisted in acts and even made her own costumes. September through May they traveled throughout the United States and Canada. Summers they returned to Colon, making plans and props for the next year’s show.

In the fall of 1942 Sally said she wasn’t feeling well. Blackstone suggested she stay in Colon and close up the cottages for the winter and join them in a couple of weeks. Sally had taken care of business and had purchased her ticket to join the troupe but never got that far.

The show had been on the road only two weeks when they opened in Decatur, Illinois. They were playing to a crowd of 3,000, mostly children. Ted Banks came on stage and whispered into Blackstone’s ear that a serious fire had started backstage and the fire chief had ordered everyone out of the building.

Harry went on with the show, “For my next act,” he told the audience, “I want everyone to follow me outside where I will perform the greatest trick you have ever seen.” Everyone followed him outside and watched the burning of what proved finally to be five buildings.

Ted Banks helped fight the fire and went to bed that night exhausted. He never got up. Sally had no need for her ticket after she got the call that Ted had died of a heart attack. At 42 she decided that she was too old to go back on stage. Blackstone then asked her to care for the property in Colon and gave her the responsibility of raising Harry Blackstone, Jr.

Her face may be lined and her brown hair turning gray but Sally Banks can still give you the air of a showgirl. Her eyes sparkle when she remembers Blackstone and the good times of the theater, but they cloud up when she remembers the bad.

She anxiously awaits the yearly Abbott magic get-together that will be held August 16 through 19. For Sally it means seeing a lot of her old friends of the magic business. Again this year Sally Banks will be just another spectator. “Oh, I could still crawl into those boxes,” she laughs, “But I’m afraid I couldn’t get back out.”

Sally Banks with Harry Blackstone on This Is Your Life with Ralph Edwards.