When you look at the cover of this September 1967 newsletter from the Boston chapter of the Society of American Magicians, you may think to yourself (which is to say, I certainly thought to myself), “one of these things is not like the others”.
Adrift in a sea of slightly mischievous men wearing ties (and the occasional tidy wife), we see this peculiar duo (or trio, if you’re counting the duck):
Arthur “Milo” Brandon and Roger Coker, both Ohio natives, toured with their comedic magic act from the 1950s until the 1990s, which is a darn impressive run. They performed in nightclubs, theaters, fairs, hotels, and on television, including an appearance on The Tonight Show. An article in the August 1971 issue of Genii refers to them as “the Laurel and Hardy of magic”, describing their slapstick humor and vaudeville style. The same article also notes that, at least in 1971, they traveled with 2,000 pounds of equipment, including 50 pounds of “outlandish maharajah’s outfit”.
Speaking of outlandish maharajah’s outfits, I would be remiss to publish a blog post featuring two white men in fabulously exaggerated and bejeweled turbans without touching–however briefly–on the topic of Orientalism in the stage magic tradition. While it’s rather too complex to condense into a blog post, I do want to note that magicians in the European tradition have been incorporating imagery from the Middle East, Asia, and North Africa since at least the Middle Ages, adding intrigue and allure to their acts by playing off of Western stereotypes of the “exotic” East. Milo seems to be comically riffing off of said intrigue and allure, judging by his bushel-basket-sized headwear, in a multi-layered interplay of cultural signifiers.
Adam Silverstein, a University Research Lecturer in Near and Middle Eastern Studies at The Queen’s College, Oxford, has some interesting observations about the overlap between magic shows, the study of Islamic history, Orientalism, popular preconceptions, and the culture of expertise. For a more in-depth cultural criticism of Western portrayals of Eastern cultures, with a focus on imperialism and power dynamics, I recommend Edward Said’s book Orientalism.
Now, not at all speaking of outlandish maharajah’s outfits: apparently all of Milo and Roger’s ducks (and I imagine there were many in a 40+ year career) were named after Vice Presidents, and lived in the pair’s bathtub wherever their show happened to take them. Yes, these were world-class ducks.