Abbotts 51st Get Together 1988
by Frances Marshall
Nothing stays secret long in this magic world! Just about the time the news reached me that I looked "awful" during the Colon Get-together this year, I realized it myself. So, I was, as they used to say in my old neighborhood, "Sick in bed with the doctor", for quite a few days. Pneumonia is now one of my specialties and I know how to get over it. It is with a pretty good return of my health that I launch this report - after all, it will soon be 1989!
The trip over to Michigan was full of uncertainties and changes. Jay (Marshall) and Tommy Edwards had gone over on Sunday to catch fish with Sam Horowitz. I debated about flying over, taking a Greyhound, the Amtrak or whatever. During this thinking, George Johnstone called with an offer: Go along with him and his passengers, Ricki Dunn and Terry Herbert. The rules: Don't bring much luggage and be ready on time. So, we four sailed off into the sunrise. Talked continued at a rapid pace, replete with stories about agents, Las Vegas spots, the old days, braggadocio and jokes with hardly anyone yelling out "b--- s---" at the end of statements made by the other passengers. A very nice trip with over 175 miles of midwestern scenery - and, all of a sudden, we were there.
We had missed the Wednesday lecture by Stuart on which we heard only good reports. I joined my house party and left George, Terry and Ricki at their posh hotel. We had a houseful of magicians and welcomed them. We sponged off June and Sam Horowitz for some supper and then went downtown to the high school auditorium. For decades, almost the first person I would see in this auditorium was my lifelong friend, Neil Foster. I could still feel his presence, but the hug and the kiss were missing.
Neil Foster Eulogy by Gordon Miller
I deem it an honor to have been asked and to be allowed to deliver this eulogy for my friend, Neil Foster.
A eulogy is nothing more than a personal recollection. During his lifetime, Neil Foster touched everyone here in attendance, and thousands more who are here in spirit, with his presence. To some he was a casual acquaintance or a customer or a neighbor. to others he was a co-worker, a teacher, a relative or a friend. He was all these things and more.
Any man fills many roles during his lifetime. He is first a boy and then a man and, if providence allows, a husband and possibly a father. My first recollection of Neil was in the role of The Idol. Neil was an almost legendary figure in his chosed field of magic. He was respected and revered for his high level of skill, his masterly presentations and his superb showmanship. I knew of him first only through the writings of others.
While Neil and his wife Jeanne were traveling the school assembly entertainment circuit, a complex series of circumstances resulted in their retiring from that nomadic life and ended with them settling here in Colon. The Fosters joined the staff of the Abbott Magic Company. My idol now stood across the showroom counter from me. We were now Casual Acquaintances.
During one of our conversations I managed to convince Neil to act as my instructor - a dream come true for a young man bewitched by the art of magic. And Neil's role changed to that of The Teacher. I shall always remember those evenings, first at the little house on Romine Street and later at the hous on Goodell Avenue. I paid for one hour's instruction and usually spent over three hours each night once a week, talking, listening and learning. As others had discovered before me and still others had discovered after me, Neil Foster was incomparable as a teacher. Just as he was as a performer = he was the best.
It was certainly during this time that Neil became my Friend. When Neil became the Editor of The New Tops magic magazine, I joined the staff of the Abbott Magic Company and we became Co-Workers - a condition that lasted until his retirement in 1979.
All his life Neil pursued a variety of interests, in addition to those we have briefly touched upon. He was an artist and an illustrator whose talents ranged from catalog line drawings to oil portraits. He edited a magazine, which his wife typeset, for over nineteen years. Both he and his wife were voracious readers; Jeanne favored detective mysteries, Neil devoured biographies and travel books. both were addicted to late night television, especially favorite old movies.The house on Goodell Avenue was justly famous for the gardening and landscaping efforts that Neil created. the lush flower arrangements, the thick shrubbery and hedges and the great variety of trees formed a safe haven for all the neighborhood birds, squirrels, and rabbits - and a natural and relaxing retreat for the Fosters and their friends.
I am grateful for my priviliged position. I was a friend to both Neil and Jeanne for over a quarter of a century. I saw them as man and woman, as husband and wife and as surrogate father and mother. We traveled together frequently and often performed on the same shows. What an advantage to see the best in the business hundreds and hundreds of times! What a collection of memories!
This, then, was Neil Foster. Idol, acquaintance, Co-Worker, Teacher, Role Model, and Friend. I often had the enjoyable task of introducing Neil to an audience. It was the easiest job in the world. All I had to say was: "Ladies and Gentlemen ... Neil Foster ... the Best!"
It was a joy to find Bill and Ce Joy in that same area, though, smiling and strong. Then there were just too many old friends on every side and greetings abounded.
Gordon Miller paid tribute to this summer's weather by being discovered, as the curtain opened, in a reclining lawn chair, umbrella hat on his head, sunglasses in place, electric fan beside him and a long cold drink on the floor. He conducted his traditional welcome from this prone position and all the expected greeting banners fell from the battens. He then hopped up and introduced the fellow who was to be our MC. for the remainder of the evening
The opening night show had a fellow Chicagoan as MC, - one Randy Brown. Randy is a "professional Texan", with a white western suit, a white Stetson hat, cowboy boots and a wonderous act that combines paddle balls and regional jokes.
He quickly introduced New Englander, Dave Cresey. Dave worked with his daughter on producing a seemingly inexhaustible supply of silks, flower bouquets and other production pieces - and had the audience on his side most of the way. (When you make the throw-out streamers and the mouth coils you can afford to be lavish with them - and he was!)
Following was Kovari, originally from Hungary, now a professional magician and magic dealer from England with his lovely English wife, Susie* He had several new illusions - a head twisting effect and a blade box. He also showed his big Indian rope trick which looks great on stage. (Kovari had the blade box on display later in the dealers room and sold it the following day for a high price.)
Ralph Adams, from California, is known by reputation for his wonderful routine where silk handkerchiefs leap in and out of big bottles. He performed this fascinating number (the Ralph Adams Dancing Hanks) and introduced a young man and a young woman who assisted him in other effects new to this audience. In the course of his act he vanished from the stage and reappeared at the back of the Colon Gymnasium. Ralph has always been a winner and this year he ended up being awarded the Jack Gwynne Award for Excellence.
Randy Brown and his paddles batted rubber balls on elastic strings out over the heads of the audience, all the while doing his joke routine. Randy winds up catching three of these flying balls in his mouth, to much laughter and applause.
Bob Jepson has taken ventriloquism and working with "dummies" to a new high in his laugh-making routine with a boy figure who gets into trouble and is put into a box to be sawed into halves. You find out how his sawing is done when a second figure shows up. That gives Bob two figures, plus two distant voices on the telephone. the jokes make you laugh, even if you don't want to - and some of them are terrible, as jokes go. One day, I hope to bring bob Jepson to Chicago for some gathering.
Franz Harary, in black leather (actually Neoprene) and with his blonde hair, is always coming along with something different. This year he introduced "Walking Through A Girl" and it had everybody talking. It is probably the cheapest illusion you could put together (there is almost nothing to build!) except that it requires four people. We suggest that Franz put out a manuscript on this subject right away to get his just returns from it. Magicians are, by definition, acquisitive by nature and an inexpensive illusion is something they would like to acquire.
And so the Wednesday night show ended with a high note and slipped off into history. Everybody was happy. Some went back to the showroom to watch and buy magic, while others went over to the American Legion building to give their opinions on the evening show and to watch closeup magic, washing down their late night snacks with various drinks.
The Thursday lecture was by David Ginn. It was well attended and appreciated by those who also entertain children for a living. David really knows his field.
Brett Daniels was next and, as always, performed a beautiful act featuring doves that seemed to be trained to his touch. The last production turned out to be a big wide-winged colorful bird of tropical nature. When tossed into the air, he made a circuitous trip out over the audience and back onstage to Brett. (I can't get my dog to do that!) At one point, Brett dropped a glove and when he made the move to scoop it up with his foot it visibly changed to a dove that flew in pattern, back to the display stand like the other birds. Brett also did a fine routine with a huge patterned Zombie ball, which disappeared at the finish. (And there was more of Brett to come, later in the week.)
Buddy Big Mountain showed up next with a funny act of ventriloquism - which was technically excellent as well. In his routine Buddy s figure (which is a cowboy character) produced a little Mexican figure and the minority jokes flourished. Buddy got a good hand from the ventriloquists present for his fine technique and he certainly had the audience laughing.
Certain acts do certain tricks so well that they are always closely associated with them. So it was with the next act. Bob Higa and his attractive wife wear oriental masks during their dramatic presentation of Japanese style effects. The act concludes with a stage-filling "Snowstorm in China" Bob's biggest effect is an Asrah wherein the floating lady revolves completely before being vanished into thin air.
Harry Blackstone vanished the bird cage amid a host of little assistants and then took advantage of the presence and popularity of a couple of great people in the audience. Harry performed a cards across routine in which he was assisted by (look-alikes?) Sid Lorraine and Ralph Adams. Harry then successfully predicted a magical madcap menu and concluded with what has become his signature - the astonishing "Floating Light Bulb".
On Friday, Meir Yedid took the place of Terry Herbert as the featured lecturer. Terry felt his lecture was too similar to that of David Ginn's so he opened the door for Meir - who delighted all with his approach to card and close-up magic. Meir made many friends all week long in Colon.
On Friday night, Michael Ammar emceed, showing another facet of this young star who is into everything. the audience vocally chided his discretion when he dismissed Bellamie Blackstone as his volunteer assistant (taking a little boy, instead). Michael pleased all, however, with his rope and ring handlings and his sensational card on the ceiling!
The show opened with Petrick & Mia, the popular and well known team who are now settled in as Americans. Anything Mia does is pretty and so is she. Perhaps this is why we tend to discount Petrick's skill in this act featuring coins and ribbons and picture frames.
Ricki Dunn was next. He is one of the few entertaining pickpockets extant, in this country or any other. He worked over a line of men he brought up on stage and ended up with most of their possessions. the laughs are built in - the guys are really fooled - and Ricki ends up on top, to our delight.
In his second appearance of the week, Brett Daniels' pretty blonde assistant is put into a spiker illusion of a sort. She is in the middle of a framework containing a number of rods on both sides. The front panel is closed up. Brett and his assistants shove from both sides and the rods obviously have to mesh at the middle, leaving no room for anything. The front and back panels are removed and she has disappeared. Panels are put back and the rods are pulled back. When the panels are removed she has reappeared. Brett also featured an escape from a falling bed of spikes, the three sword suspension and more. All good, solid magic that the Colon audience ate up - for that's what they came for!
Somewhere along the way Brett managed to slip in a substitution trunk and he ended with the Water Torture Cell. In the sub trunk presentation, he changed places with his pretty lady and when he emerged from the bag inside the trunk he had changed from a formal tail suit to a red, white and blue bathing costume - setting him up for the torture cell. Two assistants locked his ankles into stocks and he was hoisted up, hanging head downwards over the large clear plastic tank of water. He was lowered into the cell and the stocks were locked at the top. A large cloth cover was held in front of the illusion for a full minute. This cover was temporarily removed so that the audience could see that Brett was still struggling with the handcuffs around his wrists. The cell was once again covered from view and within the next thirty seconds Brett Daniels appeared, dripping wet, for an ovation. A hundred kids in the audience began to scheme - how could they get such a trick? That Colon crowd is crafty
"The Great Fiasco" is Terry Herbert's comedy act, well done in the familiar tradition of tricks going wrong and the magician going crazy. You knew he had done it before! (Many times!) His last item involved starting a fire in his top hat and having the table base and top hat head for the wings, puffing up smoke to the appropriate sounds of a railway train!
Satanic themes were big this year and showed up well in the multi-person act of Don Jones & Company. He is from Detroit and is a newcomer to the Get-togethers. his people were mysterious and hooded and produced him from a coffin-like device with lots of fire flashes and billowing smoke clouds. Among other items they performed a sword basket illusion in the same mood. the girls in the group were all good dancers and a little short of wardrobe. You will see them all again,I am sure.
Saturday morning found the assembled magicians listening and learning from the lecture of Michael Ammar. Michael is TOPS in his field and his words of wisdom were well heeded (and his books, manuscripts, tapes and tricks were quick sellers).
That Saturday afternoon, the auditorium was taken over to present a benefit matinee for the co-sponsor of the Get-together, The Colon Lions Club. This show featured David Ginn and his charming company of performers from Atlanta, GA. David is a veteran of such shows and was a good man for the job.
And so we come to the Saturday night show - the final show of the week. Karrell Fox took over as M.C. and sprinkled some new ideas in among some of the more familiar stuff. Jeff Korst opened the show, having just returned from six months of performing in Japan. He also tries to work out spare time to be with his bride, an opera singer in California. His hectic lifestyle didn't show as he began his usual flawless manipulation of objects, including doves. It is one surprise after another, with constant bursts of applause.
Petrick & Mia made a final appearance on this show, this time with their classic act. Graceful Mia wandering around Petrick with wicker baskets that were soon filled with big, shiny 8" balls, all of which were produced from Petrick's top hat, and tastefully set out on display by Mia. He also does some excellent small ball manipulation. Finally, the hat is shown empty and a large silver ball is produced. Mia brings Petrick his cape and the silver ball doubles in size. This, of course, brings an outburst of applause as they bow.
Someplace on this show, Karrell and Abb (Dickson) went through a card routine (Joe karson's World's Fastest Card Trick) with Abb getting the worst of it, due to Karrell liking to work with a heavily powdered deck of cards. It was the real half-witted comments from both sides that this pair do so well that proved so funny. Just like the old Saturday nights when Duke (Stern) was around.
Franz Harary and Company came back to a small sound problem. He stopped and waited for the right music cue to start again. He then performed his version of the neon light bulbs through a girl's body and other original illusions including a different type of stretching a girl illusion. These master magicians are really masters when it comes to finding pretty girls who also have the talents to make their tricks look great. How do they do it so consistently?
I have known Johnny Thompson for, maybe, 25 years. He has gone a long way since he left Chicago. It was fun seeing him and his wife, Pam, doing the comedy act - The Great Tomsoni - that they have performed in sophisticated rooms on several continents. He ended with his famous "Babushkas of Warsaw" which ends with the production of a bowling ball! (What else would you expect from the Wizard of Warsaw?) It also set the stage for the next and final act.
Definitely Japanese in concept was the absolutely overwhelming magic of Kikuchi. The heavily costumed character of the Samurai magician moved from one impossible thing to another, Beautiful and colorful parasols multiplied, dragons appeared, fire and smoke shot out and the stage became more and more crowded with Kikuchi and his numerous properties. Rolling silk panels, falling folds of decorated paper and four smoking dragons wind up this extravaganza. It takes hours to set up, effort to perform, hours to pack up and trucks to move it away. Nothing seems to be too much trouble for Kikuchi - but this is an oriental philosophy that few American magicians have time for.
Howard Olson conducted the Vent-O-Rama sessions each morning in the old showroom on St. Joseph St., and delighted the ventriloquists. There were 85 in attendance one morning More details on this event are included in this month's Vent Views column by CoL Bill Boley.
The backstage people were guided by Bill Smetak and Cindy Conklin and everything seemed to go smoothly in that department There were magic auctions at the elementary school showroom each evening after the shows.
On Saturday night, after the show they announced that the Clarke "The Senator" Crandall Comedy Award had been presented to Terry Herbert; the Neil Foster Award for Manipulation (formerly called the Bill Baird Award) went to Brett Daniels; and the Jack Gwynne Award for Excellence was presented (in absentia) to Ralph Adams.
There were goodbyes and hopes that we'd all make it to next year. The general comment was that it didn't seem like a great lineup of talent on paper - but that it had indeed been a year of really great shows.
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