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It was Pittsburgh 1981, and I competed in the International Brotherhood of Magicians Gold Medal competition. Mac King & Lance Burton set up my magic gear on the Hilton Hotel's makeshift stage, then wished me good luck. Someone said " You must be pretty good to have Lance Burton set your things out on stage ." That was an omen of sorts. It was my first magic convention and my first competition. I was a small time Louisville magician and was in over my head, I was not a mentalist so of course I didn't know.
It was Pittsburgh 1981, The Amazing Randi sat seven feet in front of me as one of the six or seven contest judges. (Back then the judges were on top of you as if you were doing close up magic and now when you compete for close-up it's usually for 100 or more people at some conventions) Randi's facial expression indicated surprise... of what I don't know. Maybe it was my facial expressions. Whatever it was he didn't see IBM Gold Medal manipulator material in me. I felt it would be rude to cheat them of what I had prepared for the contest so I continued for another six or seven minutes with original facial expressions.
Lance and Mac had picked me up at the Cracker Barrel near Lexington, Kentucky the day before. The restaurant lot was about empty after closing but then headlights appeared and there they were in Lance's old car. Now I wasn't so worried; here were my magician friends and we were finally on our way to the best magic convention of the year. (They had driven from the Tombstone Junction Theme Park where they had worked to hone their acts for several summers.)
When we arrived in Pittsburgh and walked around the International Brotherhood of Magicians dealers room a good number of magicians were following behind us. Magic dealers were yelling things to Lance as we passed. I remember thinking Fantasio the magician was very respectful towards Lance. He recognized the rise of a young master in his craft. That weekend we stayed with Mac's girlfriend Kathy and her wonderful family. Mac made me sleep in the basement and I think those were my boxer shorts Kathy found weeks later.
No magician won the Gold Medal that year. ( It's only awarded when they deem a performer to be beyond a special realm of proficiency. Lance Burton had won the previous year. Mac King would compete a year or so later at the Norfolk, VA IBM convention. Mac would discuss what funny bit to intro for his final competition night and he had a better chance of winning his contest then I did. Disappointingly he would not make the finals either )
Later in the afternoon after I had competed, a woman who had watched my IBM stage show came up to me & said " you would make a good bizzarist. " The seed to a comedy magic career was being nurtured.
Many years had passed since the mornings I would wake and watch Mark Wilson's " Magic Land of Allakazam " and be amazed at the magic and illusion on our TV. At age five or six I would see jugglers or magicians like Fred Kaps on the Ed Sullivan show. What set me afire and never let me go were the images and story of a magician played by actor Tony Curtis in a 1953 movie about the great Houdini. It also starred his wife Janet Leigh
The movie's magic made me cognizant of the magician's role in creating wonder and that feeling of awe when you see something that can't be explained. It was just chance that my mother made me sit down that day to watch " Houdini " on TV.
Presto the Magic Clown performed magic shows on Louisville's WDRB TV- 41 during the early 1970's as the host of an afternoon cartoon feature show. He was the bane of many local magicians but I would watch him when I came home from school. It was Presto or The Three Stooges at 3:30 in the afternoon and I only liked the ones with Shemp ( he'd say " I'm gonna brain ya" and then throw something at Moe ).
So I'd change channels to watch Presto and a weird puppet called J.Fred Frog just to see some magic tricks. William " Bill " Dopp was his real name and he did a birthday party show in our neighborhood years later. My younger brother's went to the party, so that's why we have this blurry picture of him. Presto used to do " Sands of the Desert " to open his show and I think he closed with it too.
My father would take me as a boy before my birthday or sometimes at Christmas to Caufield's novelty store. Keran Caufield or " Mr. C " was the owner of Caufield's. He was pretty good with the coin trick " Hopping Halves " and would later hire me as a magician in 1980 right after Lance Burton and Mac King lleft. That's where we met and became friends, and I would also would see Lance in theatre classes at the University of Louisville.. Mac moved in with me in the House of Bruce 1425 South Third Street.
I went back to Caufield's again for a short stint in 1984 to finish my magic degree.
While I was still in high school I would see another magician named Harry Collins, he performed at our high school assembly at Oldham County High School in LaGrange, Kentucky. His show was an eye opener for me. Click for next page.
Louisville magician and top funny man Tom Hamilton invites you to email or call 502.553.5004 and put magic into your party
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