Abbotts 47th Get Together 1984
by Frances Marshall
Abbott's - 84 ... the Year of the Youth
What's the youth? Who said Youth was wasted on the young? George Bernard Shaw ... me ... and several hundred of my era ... who sat in the high school auditorium at Colon and watched them, night after night. Migawd, they're young! And damn, but they're good! The new young ownder of the Abbott Magic Company, Greg bordner, looked almost middle-aged by contrast when he came out on stage one night to accept a portrait Karrell Fox had painted of his dad, Recil Bordner.
Let's start at the beginning. Greg phoned a few days before to see if we could arrange transport for James Dimmere, coming into O'Hare two days before the event. No problem since we had others in our party and one more didn't matter. Greg forgot to mention Jim's young lady assistant and Jim's considerable luggage and Jim's feathered back-up group. It worked out. the doves and parakeets were turned loose for a field day in Jay's patio. It took scrambling to get them all together to leave with George Johnstone and Betty, while the act in a huge anvil case was crammed into the station wagon. The night before, I took them and Ali Bongo to see a Chicago off-Broadway musical play, for which I had passes. jay was already fishing with Sam Horowitz and Tommy Edwards on Colon's Palmer lake. Next morning, while we were all wondering if Irving Desfor made it in from Florida he arrived bag, baggage, new book and camera. So we loaded him into the wagon and finally we were off.
Nobody stopped talking for the two hundred mile run. Frank Heitler, my appointed chauffeur, even said a little. Irv mentioned in a letter a while back that he found most conventions didn't provide the opportunity for people to get acquainted - no time for good conversation and camaraderie. I said that was because he had never been to Colon and he signed up on the spot. When he finally left Colon on Saturday, it was with dozens of new friends on his list, miles of good conversation, plus all the other goodies such gatherings bring forth. He plans never to miss another one.
Soon we were at Colon, driving past the scene of the big supermarket fire which Harding's sustained, and out to our beautiful lakeside cottages.
The audience was amazed as they walked into the auditorium that Wednesday night - you could have kept a side of beef at those temperatures! We all snuggled into our sweaters, felt comfy and enjoyed. We have all seen and heard Gordon Miller before - a dozen times maybe? But that old home-coming feeling takes over when a familiar figure walks out to greet you and it's the way we want it to be. He got all the chuckles he wanted and would up with the requisite yardage downpour that first spelled out:
After Gordon paid off the stage hands, the rest of the material fell from the sky, and spelled:
All this to huge applause. Gordon was debonair and relaxed in a sort of Colon leisure suit (jogging outfit).
Abbott's have been selling my two new books ("Those Beautiful Dames" and "Success Book Number Four") both of which makes a big feature of women's place in magic. then the Democrats put Geraldine Ferraro at the top of the political scene. So it seemed only right that the '84 Get-Together should be launched with la bonita senorita, Lucy Smalley. Lucy has completed the Chavez course and adapted many of the routines to a pretty feminine level. She began in a tuxedo and in the midst of the act did a quick change to a swank, silky, evening gown. Given a year of working at the professional level, Lucy could easily become a top star in our profession. Neil Foster is to be congratulated.
Arthur Benjamin is a human calculator, working against mechanical calculators brought onstage by assistants from the audience. Multiplying huge numbers in his head, it was a different sort of act, and he managed to get his laughs along with the best of them. Greg Otto was next, in the new 1984 version of the tuxedo, coatless, ribbon around the upstanding collar and very smart in appearance. He pleased the girls just by being up there to look at.
The next number was the "Eclipse" illusion, a poignant number for the Chicago group. This trick was scheduled to be performed by Joe Palen and Peter Tappan, who had done it in other places in the years since the Chicago originator passed it on to Joe. We all knew that Joe was back in Chicago, too ill to attend, too ill to just come and watch. So Phil Willmarth took his place and the illusion was beautifully presented and very well received. (Immediately on our return to Chicago, Joe's daughters phoned to have Jay, Ali Bongo, George Johnstone and whoever else saw the performance to come over and describe it to Joe. He was given a real shot in the arm at hearing all about it. Joe left us on August 26th. A mass and broken wand service were held September 1st, with Fr. Jean Niven, also a magician, and Bob Parrish doing the wand service.)
Howard hale opened the second half. he was the Bill Baird Trophy winner and is a most capable performer from Dallas, where he operates "Magicland". He worked with linking rings, billiard balls, coins, etc., out of a plexiglass case. for a finale the whole case transforms into a giant mirrored ball!
Every magic show needs a sparkler to set off the magic and, more often than not, it is a juggling act that does it. This time it was Airjazz, two boys and a girl from Colorado who were more than remarkable. This night they juggled clubs and were full of surprises and scary bits, like the boy walking between the flying clubs unscathed.
The show ended with Harry Blackstone Jr. He explained that he preferred to work later in the week but he had work happen to him in Atlantic City and that they were leaving directly for there that same night. those plans didn't prevent him from doing a most relaxed and polished Dancing Handkerchief, the Birdcage with many, many children; his fathers routine with the boy and the candy box and the rabbit - especially good! and the Floating Light bulb. This nights audience couldn't stand it - they clapped and yelled and got to their feet and told Harry Blackstone that, for their money, he could do those same tricks every year, from now on. If nothing else, he gave them a chance to observe the absolute epitome of a professional.
(Harry did go to Atlantic City, do the shows, and then moved in with Charlie and Regina Reynolds to work on their book for a few days. A New York publisher has ordered a definitive book on the Blackstone family. It was while there that the phone call came from the West coast, the call that took Harry out there by the first available plane. His oldest child and only son had been mortally injured.)
The M.C. for Thursday night was Stan Allen, a past member and still active in the Long Beach Mystics organization. He introduced Chuck King with comedy magicla material. Bob Higa (who won the Jack Gwynne Trophy) presented his usually perfect presentations, this time with the Flexible Glass mirror, a Snowstorm in China and other things, closing with a Substitution Trunk. Stan Allen did his spot at this point, a comedy routine with Stewart, an enchanting rabbit puppet. Next was James Dimmere, a new face to this audience, and of on the top acts at the Get-together. he worked closely with his assistant with doves, canes, and other manipulations ending with a strong number - a cage full of doves which shrinks down to the size of a vanishing bird cage ... which vanishes. He brought the audience to their feet and they showed their pleasure in him.
The Longe Beach Mystics are a lively group of young people from California who were hired to do their separate numbers to form the second half of this nights show. They included Steve Keeler, Michael Weber (who is better known than the others and who had recently been on a lecture tour), David Deeble - a juggler, Dana Daniels - who did an interesting act with a real parrot who performed a rope escape and the last 'Mystic', Kevin James who was an audience pleaser with a newspaper restoration, other manipulation, and the item they strongly applauded for, a costume change. (The several (4) costume changes during the week by various performers created much talk among the conventioneers. "How they did it" was heatedly discussed, with a number of interesting theories. European acts seem to use this stunt much more than Americans and they are very adept at it.)
On Friday night, Doug Anderson as M.C., performed the third instant costume change of the show. He introduced John Kurtz and Maria, a popular act from Milwaukee. - They work well together, do many visual routines building up to a big chicken production followed by a giant parrot surprise production. They won the audience over.
Airjazz followed with their longer set routine, consisting of cigar box juggling, three-ball juggling, 'firefly lights' ,devil sticks and a unicycle ballet. The choreography of this group is outstanding and the synchopated rhythm especially during the devil sticks routine was excellent.
Then Sid Lorraine in his classic 'Frasnia' number, an old fashioned medicine show pitch which turns into a modern television medicine pitch. Always a surprise.. . especially for first-time viewers. Dale Salwak followed. Dale is Neil Foster's counterpart on the west coast in his involvement as an instructor of the Chavez course in magic. He works with precision and carefully patterned manipulation. A pleasure to watch.
After the intermission, Dr. Peter Gloviczki charmed everyone with his ball manipulation act. The balls are as big as Zombies and he handles their constant multiplication with utmost ease. (Last year, the good doctor was on the show under the same, conditions and had to rush off early the next morning to become a father. The child was premature and remained in the hospital until November after which time he was sent home to successful babyhood. Exactly a year later, on August 15, Peter again had to rush home from Colon, this time for the full term delivery of his daughter. Asked if he planned to rush away from Colon for these events on an annual basis, he said that now he is finished - one boy and one girl makes a nice balance. That's good - now he can work the Saturday night show with an easy mind. )
Doug Anderson and Company, currently employed at Six Flags Over Great America amusement park in Gurnee, IL., presented a miniature Las Vegas-type extravaganza, complete with girls, illusions and a flash finish. Among his effects were the Crystal Casket (producing two girls, one at a time), the Double Thin Sawing with the transposed bodies, a Guillotine routine with a boy from the audience and a very fast packing crate Substitution Trunk.
Karrell Fox took over as M.C. for Saturday night, introducing two long time favorites who haven't been seen lately - Tom and Sherrie. Essentially, they perform the same act but with modern hair cuts, and the smooth handling and delivery one expects from them. Abb Dickson fooled around with comedy and a routine with an egg beater an3 a mentally selected card. Abb is just pixie enough and just heavy enough so that anything he does gets laughs. Ed Fernandez was scheduled for the next spot but transportation troubles kept him in Canada (see letter from Ed, included in this report), so Neil Foster performed the flawless ,beautiful and familiar act we know him for.. .and one hopes that Ed will be able to come another year.
Due to a mechanical failure on my
cargo trailer in transit to Colon, I was forced to cancel my Saturday night performance. I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused anyone as I know a few old friends had come to Colon to see me specifically.
I would like to apologize to Greg Bordner, the Abbott Magic Company and the Get-together for letting you down. Unfortunately, the circumstances were beyond my control.
Hope to see you all next year.
-- ED FERNANVEZ
Les Duraty and partner did the clap-board "Magic Parade" comedy routine they used at FISM a few years ago. This French team took the Senator Crandall comedy awzard. Airjazz, in their third appearance followed with a brief and different juggling show - the high point being when one of the boys ran through the flying clubs. On Friday night they got a standing ovation and on this night many got to their feet again - a real winner, Airjazz.
Karrell Fox brought back some of the bits from the Foxy Follies, including the Cards Across routine with Roy Kissel who ends up as an angel with a halo ... still counting cards from his pocket. Howard Hale as a news photographer 'shot' Karrell's picture. A 'water from India' routine ended with Jay Marshall spraying water all over Karrell 's face and frontage.
And then Karrell and Abb Dickson collaborated as two hard of hearing men using thimbles as hearing aids...for good laughs. These 'mini-Follies' get laughs, but not the actual pain we suffered from over-laughter when Duke (Stern) sat on a basket of eggs and they strained down through the straw seated chair. You had to have been there. I'm glad I was.
This column reported, about a year ago, that the John Daniels' famous illusion show was for sale. Rick Walker bought part of it and presented it to close the convention. In Daniels' hands, it was a beautiful theatrical production and Rick Walker has managed to capture most of that charisma. After the second flash opening (the first one blew the fuses), a number of fine effects: Crystal Diamond, Floating Ball, Costume Trunk, Nest of Boxes with doves, Substitution Trunk with triple exchange and, as a surprise ending, the production of Rick.
And it was just as cool during the last few minutes of Saturday's show as it had been when we walked in on Wednesday. Congratulations, whoever's in charge.
Lectures took place through the week, starring John Cornelius, Les Duraty (translated when necessary by Ali Bongo), Chris Carey (presenting the first Abbott evening lecture), Stan Allen who spoke on the subject of the cruise ship magician and Mike Weber (who had done a very fine lecture recently in Chicago).
Ali Bongo, star of the previous year's convention was present as a visitor at this year's Get-together. He made a cameo appearance on the Saturday night show, dressed in baggy pants and holding a monsterous vanishing bird cage. The pants, not the cage vanished, leaving Ali in Union Jack underwear, holding the bird cage and getting a great laugh.
The traditional Matinee performance on Friday, for the benefit of the local Lion's club work with the blind, featured Chris Carey as M.C. His acts were Chris Jakway, a Chavez graduate of the finest kind and assistant instructor to Neil Foster, and Canadian Bruce Posgate who performed macy old favorites. Bruce is an authority on working restaurant type shows for family groups. Chris Carey performed 'Warm Fuzziest out of his book "Do The Things That Are You" and other strong numbers. It was Chris Carey who sent John Shirley (and others) to entertain working crews in Saudi Arabia, and gave them all conversational material for years.
The Close-up Show was composed of Mitch Williams doing continuous poker chip routines ala Jack Chanin; Steve Biller who jumped up on the table to better display his color changing socks (an item from a book he is doing for Phil Willmarth); Howard Flintt wore a black apron over his tuxedo as he did Cups and Balls and Linking Rings; and Michael Weber with material from his crowd-pleasing lecture, ended his routine with a borrowed ring being discovered as the prize in a sealed box of Cracker Jacks.
The Abbott Get-together is made up of many events and those we have mentioned are attended by almost everybody. Besides those, there are specialized gatherings like the Magic Minister session, the Vent-o-rama held several times during the week, the ladies activities, the unofficial Dutch Treat 0ld- timer' s brunch and entertainment and the magic talent contests. The winners of this year's contest: Seventh place: Stacey and Steve Smolinski; Sixth place: Ron Martin and Scott Rawlings; Fifth place: Jania Taylor; Fourth place: Todd Karr; Third place: Joseph Lucido Jr.; Second place: Steve Patient; and, First place: Stuart MacDonald. Congratulations to all who entered and competed in the contest.
And as far as special events go.. .how about the many hours spent at the American Legion building where tricks and beer and tricks and burgers and tricks and fun all mix in a beguiling way until the place closes. There are other places too, where more of the same takes place - spots like the Magic Carpet restaurant and lounge.
With so much interest in the past of magic these days, trips to the local cemetery are becoming a must. Many important performers are interred at the Colon cemetery, of course, and it is part of your magic education. Forty five minutes in your car takes you to marshall, MI. and the American Museum of Magic, operated under the guidance of Bob and Elaine Lund.
Abbotts Magic Company puts on the Get-together once a year, but all the rest of the time they are busy making, designing, building, and creating magic. with a great deal of effort, all of this is brought over (cross town) and displayed in the elementary school gymasium. Many people have not seen that much magic in their entir lives - and its all for sale! Day and night, the showroom is a very popular place.
Now you can see why it is a good thing to be young ...if you are going to take in the Abbott Magic Get-together in 1985 (Aug 7-8-9-10). Something doing every minute, and its you who will be doing it. But don't forget...loads of old timers are present...Suzie Wandas took time out from a nursing home to get her front row seat this year, Little Johnny Jones from Bangor, MI, Neil fosters old magic instructor William Becker (at 97) from Aurora, IL and ... me.
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