Category: Entertainment History

A Stand-Up Guy

OK kids, step right up and join me in The Wayback Machine for a moment…!

Easter weekend I received an out-of-the-blue message from Bill Davern. We first met doing stand-up comedy on amateur nights at Yuk Yuk’s way back when. Eventually we both progressed enough that they started paying us to do it. Bill travelling much further along that road than me.

Said he recently received video from a night of stand-up comedy recorded by Cable 14, the local community access channel. This was at the original Hamilton Yuk Yuk’s located downstairs in the Royal Connaught Hotel. Video is 35 years old but, then as now, Cable 14 staff and volunteers know their business so it’s a decent record of the night. Bill was letting me know he posted it on his his YouTube channel.

So here, in all its nerdy glory, is my 2nd time ever doing stand-up. November 4th 1987. Huzzah!

Watching this time capsule reminded me that when I started doing stand-up I also decided to work clean. No foul language. Then as now I do magic shows for children and family audiences. Didn’t want to ever worry about these two worlds accidentally colliding. I’ve never regretted that choice.

So, while you may cringe at my jokes, you won’t cringe at my language. Mister Peabody (and Sherman) would no doubt approve. Enjoy, if you dare!

Variety Arts Greeting Cards

I have a dear juggler friend with whom I’ve exchanged holiday and birthday cards for years. She seems to have a knack for finding cards with delightful performance imagery regularly. Me? Not so much.
Except this year… I finally get to turn the tables!

These Art Nouveau style cards are the brainchild of California performer Bri Crabtree and illustrator Holly Pierson. Each card portrays a remarkable female performer from the world of circus and variety arts. They are blank inside and, by the bye, that’s Bri gracing the one at bottom right.

I don’t know Ms. Crabtree personally but she’s a terrific performer, both live and online. I posted her video for younger children on this blog about a year ago. Wonderful stuff for your wee munchkins.

So, happy customer Owen here, sharing link to the cards on her website. For international purchases you’ll need to contact her as the check-out function doesn’t have that shipping option. That’s what I did. She replied promptly to my inquiry and this lovely 4 pack of cards was quickly on its way.

Cards arrived well packaged. Then, almost as soon as they arrived in Canada, one was back in the mail to the USA to arrive (fingers crossed!) just in time to finally impress my juggler pal on her upcoming birthday.

Magical Blast From The Past

Flipped through an old magic book the other night, The Phoenix, V. 1, a bound collection of newsletters produced by Walter B. Gibson and Bruce Elliott, and found this clipping stuck between pages. Magic legend Harry Blackstone, Sr., and Walter B. Gibson, visiting with the Hamilton Magic Club.

Meet-up was Oct. 1/47, Spectator page date noted as Oct. 8/47 on other side.

Harry Blackstone Sr., roughly speaking the David Copperfield of his time, was in Hamilton for a performance. Blackstone was likely performing at The Capitol Theatre (formerly known as Loews) or possibly The Palace Theatre (formerly known as Pantages) or, less probably, The Century Theatre (previously The Lyric). OK, OK, just showing off a bit, don’t get me started on the smaller rooms!

Gibson was a prolific author, magician and most famously creator of The Shadow, a wildly popular radio crime drama from 1937-1954. Elliott was no slouch himself with several magic books to his credit; all with a place on my magic bookshelf.

I remember getting “The Bird” (as it was affectionately called in the biz) at a magic auction for not too many clams way-back-when. Guessing I’m its third owner over these many years.

Never met Blackstone or Gibson but many many years ago I did meet Inez Blackstone, Harry’s first wife, at a magic convention. Had a sweet chat with her. She would have been in her early 90s at the time.

And speaking of being in their 90s… The young man at left in the above photo, Gordon Precious, is as keen about magic today in his late 90s as he was at the time of this photo 75 years ago. Proof? Here’s a video I shot of him performing at his 90th birthday party hosted by the Toronto Magic Club. His exuberance obvious in every frame!

Proud to have him as magical friend and mentor since I was a kid magician myself.

The Great Farini

A small plaque belies larger than life exploits!

One of my magical friends recently shared this Historical Society of Ottawa link about Canada’s answer to P.T. Barnum: William Hunt, aka The Great Farini!

Second man to walk across the Niagara Falls gorge on a tightrope after Blondin and the guy who invented the shoot-a-dude-out-of-a-cannon trick.

The historical society link reminded me of the wonderful book by Shane Peacock. Reading it years ago was my first introduction to William Hunt’s adventure packed life.

Made a mental note that when magical travels took me far enough east along Highway 401 I’d pay my respects at Farini’s grave site in Port Hope, Ontario.

Cut to late August 2017. Did three TD Summer Reading Club magic shows for Kingston Library. On my way home, I made a wee side trip to Union and St John’s Cemetery.

Cemetery office staff kindly left a plot map in their mailbox with an x-marks-the-spot notation. That ‘x’ made things easier during my early evening visit.

The Great Farini is a fascinating part of Canada’s early entertainment history. Great to be reminded and share a personal photo here. Such a fascinating life!