The Great Blackstone
From The “TOPS” Magazine, December 1965, by George Johnstone: “Harry Blackstone, age 80, occupation … legend.
The shadowy figure waiting in the wings with the scythe grew inpatient. Today the heart of the magic world mourns … Harry Blackstone, the Master Magician, is gone. A noble spirit has been put to rest.
The footlights have dimmed but they’ll never dim the glow of one of the brightest luminaries in show business.
Time usually diminishes a man’s status, robs him of the piece of fame that was his, and the regard in which he was held by his generation.
He becomes but a memory, mostly to himself, and that little, shrinking band of survivors who worked with and knew him well in the days of fame and high repute … Usually, a person in the twilight of his years is looked down upon as a useless, old-fashioned appendage whose values, skills and ideas belong to another age.
Not so with Harry Blackstone. The magic world knew and revered him as the last link to a time, which saw the big magic show hit a zenith of popularity. Here was a grand-scale magician, an extravagant and colorful worker of wonders, linked with Hermann the Great, Kellar, Houdini, Thurston, Dante and Okito.
We who worked with him, now realize that we were members of an era of show business that will never return to America … like the poor vaudevillians waiting for its return, we must face the fact that the big magic show, with dozens of assistants and tons of equipment has slipped into limbo forever … Like the showboat minstrel and medicine show. I thank God that He have me a short but sweet taste of this era.
In regard to the ancient slogan of the theatre to the effect that, “The Show Must Go On.” George Henry Lewes wrote, “The only cure for grief is action. It is better, I am sure, for the show to go on than for us to discover that grief has left us with stagnant spirits, unable to find the freshness of hope.”
Harry would want “the show to go on.” He has left us a wonderful heritage. He was a lobbyist for great magic. As I said when Okito left us … I am impoverished at having lost him but I can well feed on the heritage he has left … The seeds that Blackstone planted will still be seen and felt twenty generations of magic hence.
Christ Himself said, “Feed my lambs … Feed my sheep.” Harry Blackstone did just that.
Born Harry Boughton, he went thru a series of stage names, Bouton & Co., Frederick the Great, etc., eventually ending up with Blackstone, supposedly the family name of one of his grandparents.
John Mulholland has told me that he can recall six different names that Harry worked under. The name Frederick was adopted when he bought an immense array of litho ads and one-sheets from a retiring performer … this was dropped during World War I when Germanic names became unpopular.
One of his early acts, “Straight and Crooked Magic” with Bouton and Company … The “and Co.” was his brother Pete … I have an old 1911 newspaper clipping that reads: “Poorly clad, his breath smelling strongly of liquor and several days growth of wiry beard on his chin, a man approached Harry Bouton, who begins his engagement at the Caldwell Theatre Christmas afternoon, (also 5 big reels of deluxe pictures, admission 10 cents, reserved seats 10 cents extra), in a voice full of appeal. ‘Mister, can you give me a dime? I am broke and hungry.’ Mr. Bouton eyed the man and then said rather severely, ‘What do you mean begging money when you have money in your pockets?’ thereupon Mr. Bouton thrust an apparently empty hand into the pocket of the fellow’s coat and withdrew a dim. The tramp looked astonished as the coin was dropped into his hand. ‘A curse goes with that dime if you ever spend it on drink,’ said the magician as he turned away. A tug on his coat made him turn to the tramp. ‘Say,’ said the tramp, ‘Mister, won’t you please take pity on a fellow and take the curse from this coin?’”
During these salad days Harry still trouped quite a bit of props … props that would eventually grow to over 200 bulky, heavy pieces that had to be transported in a seventy foot baggage car … The “and Company” grew to over 30 people.
Years later another little boy would hang over the gallery railing enthralled by the wonders of a great magician. He would sit through two shows … Between stage shows he would sit through a silly love picture, a newsreel of F. D. R. telling how good things would be soon. Surrounded in the darkness by hundreds of other kids squirming on the hard bentwood seats. The air was permeated with the dank odor of musty corduroy, sweaty sneakers, rancid oily popcorn and bubble gum. We slouched down in our seats as the usher patrolled the aisles looking for hangovers from the last show … Then as the screen was hoisted, the overture blared forth and the leonine-headed magician made his grand entrance, my brother would nudge me and say. “Cmon, you gotta take me now. I can’t hold it any longer.”
Later when you walked out, blinking at the city lights coming on, you carried an overflowing ambition in your heart … Someday the screen would go up, the overture would herald the magician’s entrance … and the magician would be … One wonders how many other youngsters were inspired by The Great Blackstone.
Living as we do in a strictly commercial world, what we leave in centuries to come can never compare with what the past has left for us. Good bye, Harry, and thanks … George Johnstone
Harry Bouton Blackstone passed away November 16, 1965, at his home in Hollywood, California, at the age of 80.
Graveside services were held Saturday afternoon, November 20, in Lakeside Cemetery at Colon, Michigan. Donald Cozadd, paster of the Colon Methodist Church, officiated. Masonic rites were given my Colon Lodge No. 73, F & AM
Mr. Blackstone was born in Chicago on September 27, 1885, a son of Alfred and Barbara (Degan) Bouton.
Surviving are his wife, Elizabeth; one son, Harry, Jr.; two grandchildren, Cynthia and Harry, iii; one brother, Peter Bouton; and many nieces and nephews. Five brothers preceded him in death.