Abbotts 37th Get Together 1974
by Francis Marshall
Editors Notes by Neil Foster
A customer stopped me on the street in Colon to tell me how much he enjoyed being there. "I'm new in magic," he said, "and this is my first time here. I also went to other conventions, but none of them are like this. Everybody's glad to see you in Colon!"
When you know a lot of people and have been around a long time, you forget how it feels to be a stranger. A gathering that can make a stranger feel that he is home at last can feel it has succeeded. The Abbott Get-Together did just that in 1974 - and 3 -- and back for a lot of years. Fun-town had something for everybody, and it looked as tho everybody was there to get it. Over 1,200 piled into Colon. Private homes took care of many, as did the motels a short drive out of town. Houses are getting harder to come by, but what were available were filled up, and reservations put in at once for next year.
An effort was made to change the format of the shows, and proved a good idea. We had come to expect to see house acts on Wednesday night, so it was refreshing to find an excellent bill of new faces, an accent on youth, and a good, solid family act. Gordon Miller, M.C., did a professional job in introducing Bob Higa, a young man who has spent the summer working a resort; Tim Wright, comedy and sleight of hand; Mike McDade (newlywed ventriloquist); The Reneaux's (more newlyweds); The Shaftons, (dogs, unlimited!); And Dick DeYoung and his family in their big act. The DeYoungs are experienced and fortunate in having good looking youngsters who enjoy being part of the show. When they lose one to marriage, another one grows up. The audience was very pleased with the opening night show.
On Thursday, the M.C. was Glenn Haywood. When you first see Glenn, he strikes you as a sort of country singer type, perhaps not too bright. You resolve to be kind to him and give him more applause than he deserves. This is in the first 3 minutes of watching him. By the time he finishes with you, you are limp, helpless with laughter, dripping with admiration for a man who can do THAT to an audience. Great tho many of the acts at Colon were, if this was the first time you ever saw Glenn Haywood, you got your full money's worth.
What does he do? It would be easier to tell you what he doesn't do. He has nipped into everything in magic and ventriloquism, and does it all well. His vent figure has gotta be a midget in a suit nothing without life could ever behave the way that figure does. And how about the production of glasses of liquor from the Malini Egg Bag? Enough! There's a lot more show to talk about. Congratulations, Recil, on having Glenn.
Riding high on the show Glenn introduced was Gene Raymond, a superlative manipulator from Australia. Thunderous applause greeted his work. The Great Andre and the Madsen Brothers were familiar to the crowd, but none the less loved. This beautiful dog-magic act is classic. Ken and Louise Diamond looked very elegant and performed in the swank style their clothes suggested. Their act was graceful and well rehearsed. They had a few bad seconds with a dove, but overcame it skillfully -- and with that particular audience, that always goes for extra credits. Sid Lorraine on next with a chart explaining how one becomes a magician, hilarious!
Jay Marshall and the Heitlers presented their Black Art Act, which was very well received. This novelty is seldom seen any more --in fact, many spectators said they had never witnessed this type of act. The trio put a lot of manual labor, and rehearsal time into the act, which they will probably only present a half dozen times, due to the weight and transportation problems. Don Wiberg and Joyce presented their version of the Tom Palmer madhouse magic act, and it never looked better. Here, too, the analytical spectator could see how much effort, work and planning had to go into it, to end up with just a brief act.
That evening ended with the Reneaux's and their doves. I have known Jimmy since he was a young magician working on his first dove. As I watched the perfect manipulation and the really thrilling surprises of his act that night, I pondered again on what power magic has over people. How it brings out, in a performer, the tremendous desire to do something no one else can do - and to do it best.
Friday night couldn't go wrong, because every card was an Ace. When you put together a show consisting of Neil Foster doing his 45 minute "Concert of Magic", Col. Bill Boley, Ken Griffin and Roberta and their illusions, Bob Kramer and Judie and their illusions, with Jay Marshall as M.C., there's no way it can avoid being good, solid entertainment. These people have been seen before at Abbotts Get Togethers, but they all managed to do something unexpected, and because the audience liked them all personally, even before they came on stage, the show took on a happy aura.
On Saturday, Recil took chances. He had some new people with big reputations lined up - always a risk. It is hard sometimes to live up to your advance notices. But Recil has been taking chances on shows for years, and his luck never seems to run out. Carl Garray, like Glenn Haywood, sneaks up on you. He comes out with a round faced smile, looking like the guy next door, and since very few had seen him before, we didn't know if this was THE Garray, or the local fire chief with a message about smoking. I am a perfect audience. These guys mow me down like summer grass.
Carl Garray built and built, as I watched him work, and let me tell you that everything you ever heard about him and his act is true. It is deserving of all its Las Vegas and around the world bookings. In some column last spring, I referred to this act of Garray and Tomio (having heard about it from some one else), and suggested that convention committees might look into it. Now that I have seen it, I think everybody in our profession ought to see what is possible in the ventriloquial/puppeteer field. Carl introduced Bob Coluzzi, a Chicago act featuring various tricks with fire, always well done and many surprises. Monk Watson performed for, as he announced firmly, the last time, but he put away his railroad lantern rather carefully for a guy who never intends to swing it again. Tom and Sherrie were excellent, as we have come to expect of this thoroughly professional act, and Norm Nielsen couldn't be followed. It was the great good fortune of the Get To gether that Norm happened to be in this country at the right time. Every magician owes it to himself to see what a perfect act looks like. The flute vanished in a shower of diamonds, the coins tinkled in tune down the ladder, and the violin played by itself in space -- true rhapsody in magic.
The printed program didn't list someone who was there that Saturday night for the next act. Karrell Fox and his Michigan Shenanigans took over, and somewhere on that stage, unseen, but felt, was a little guy with a white sheet, and a foil wrapped halo on a stick. Duke was there. He even spoke once, but nobody heard him. He said, "Come on, You (expletive deleted), be funny!" And they tried. They tried very hard and they almost succeeded. Karrell, Kissell, Witkowski, (the one in the pink rabbit suit), Marshall (the shooting gallery target), Oslund (Sherrie-a-la-mode), Darin, Abb Dickson, Tim Wright -- they kept things moving, breaking, dripping, running down, chaos. And as the curtains closed, Duke said softly, "I'll teach you how to squirt milk and break eggs my way, if it takes eternity!" And he probably wi 11.
That's the way it was with the evenings at Colon, but the rest of each 24 hours was equally busy. There was time allotted for selecting talent winners. This year the winners were Jack Hill and Graciela Binaghi, a brilliant mime act which appeared on the Saturday night show, excellent match for the company it was in. The judges in the contest apparently made a tactical error in this case, however, because public opinion was a bit ruffled. Everyone thought the act was great, and should certainly have been contracted for. But the feeling was that a mime act should not be selected to win a magic contest, and no act that is professional should be allowed to even enter the contest. Naturally, the amateurs don't stand a chance. This is purely a matter of putting down good substantial rules regarding entries, awards, etc., and then sticking to them. I could have left his paragraph out and not mentioned it, but I never saw a magic convention yet that somebody didn't get miffed at somebody else, and I don't want you to think Abbott's is any different.
Tom and Sherrie, last year's Gwynne Trophy winners, presented it this year to Norm Nielsen, with the unanimous blessing of everybody in colon.
The matinee for the benefit of the Lion's charity fund was put on by Mister "E" and Co., and the Jaronas. Special interest groups who held meetings during the week were the Magi Ministers, the ventriloquists, the close-up enthusiasts, and the Bull Shooters who met nightly at the American Legion and went home with the dawn. A report on the ladies' activities appears in "For Women Only", this issue. Tom Mullica, Tim Wright, Bruce Florek, and Don Hudson performed on the close-up show.
The lectures were exceptionally good, judging by comments from every side. Hank Moorehouse discussed working for children in such a way that everyone knew he was well experienced in that field; Glenn Haywood also delivered from his vast experience; and of course Sid Lorraine and Bruce Posgate are already known far and wide for their magic knowledge.
With well over a thousand registrants, there was hardly a moment when someone didn't want to buy something, and business was brisk. If you didn't want to buy, you could wait a little while, and they'd run off an auction. The showroom was open at all hours, except during shows, and Recil has a stable of salesmen second to none.
When I write a report on an event of this kind, I don't like to set myself up as a critic, so bear with me while I make one last point. I observed something strange happening during the evening shows -- I saw it beginning a couple of years ago, and noticed it again in 1973. It has to do with the audience. I think the Abbott Get To gether is a very professional affair, but I wonder if we don't have amateur audiences? I have been in theatres where some of the greatest names in show business have delivered tremendous performances. A solid round of applause, sustained, repeated, greeted them. Far less often, I have heard some "bravos!" here and there, for someone especially fine. Practically never have I seen an audience rise to its feet. This year, I saw an audience that got to its feet after five acts out of six, and even for that one, made a start. What do we do if we ever get the really superlative, A No. 1 Hotsy-Totsy Act????? Get to our knees? For what it's worth, I suggest we let the acts know we think they're wonderful by clapping enthusiastically - but let's remain seated. That way, we have something else to offer when the right man comes along. If we give a rising ovation to everybody, it means nothing to anybody.
Or is this just a ploy to get Recil to cushion the chairs, now that he's air-conditioned the auditorium? Oh, you sly ones!
(Editor's note: I have to play the devil's advocate here. Todays audiences are television oriented and are not used to applauding, and anyone presenting live entertainment tries to break this habit. A standing ovation is the highest tribute an audience can pay an artist and it is a strange happening. On behalf of Abbott's Magic Company I would
like to say that we at Abbotts are very proud of the standing ovations awarded our performers, especially the six acts that received them on Saturday night. This was a MAGIC CONVENTION FIRST! At no time in the history of magic conventions has there ever been six standing ovations during one show! When you count the one Recil Bordner received that same night, as he was introduced from the floor, the total rings up to SEVEN.
Over the years Abbotts have introduced many innovations to magic and have had many firsts. We prefer to feel that instead of our audiences being 'amateur' that they appreciate real talent when they see it. Unlike all other magic conventions (which do not sell quanities of tickets to the general public for each night, nor pay for press, television and radio advertising) Abbotts can afford higher budgets for their shows. When you can afford the best, you get the best. . .and the standing ovations are justly deserved. The acts that received them this year have all worked very hard and in some cases most of their lives to reach the point where they are.)
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