We’ve begun to notice a mephitis mephitis trend in mid-century stage magic. Perhaps you recall Sgt. Phil Jay and his trained skunk, or the skunk in John Levy’s magical menagerie. Here’s another spellbinding skunk, this one being pulled from a red velvet change bag by magician Robert (Bob) Hardie:
Hardie explains his maneuver like so:
The effect is that the magician or emcee comes forward with a huge red velvet change-bag — shows it empty and proceeds to extract a large number of silks, etc. from it, while at the same time reciting a poem, and finally ending with the production of a skunk.
Image and description are from the September 1956 issue of The Linking Ring.
It’s Tuesday, so we’re currently having open hours, featuring some beautiful floral pochoir prints by Edouard Benedictus and the classic Flowers in Nature and Design by Fritzi Brod. (The latter features layered transparencies showing the color separations for various floral motifs.)
For those of you who can’t make it over in person, we also have a virtual featured magician from our Percival Collection: Brian Mainwaring, “The Gentleman From London.”
Here’s Mainwaring gleefully sawing a woman in half while his lovely assistant takes said woman’s pulse. (Isn’t it always reassuring to get medical support from someone in opera-length gloves? They just look so… chic yet authoritative.) The image above is from the souvenir program of the Twentieth Annual New England Convention of Magicians, held in 1958 in New Haven, Connecticut.
Mainwaring was born outside of London, attended Naval Military School, and spent time living in India. After marrying Christine Sanders, he settled in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He doesn’t seem to have left much of a paper trail, although I did find him listed as entertainment in a fantastic newspaper article with the headline “5 Santas to Greet Trumbull Kids”. Five santas! How extravagant!
This week’s magician, mentalist Carina (assisted by George Allston), is hailed as “bewildering!”, “amazing!”, “intriguing!”, and “new and different!”.
Here she is, blasting forth from somewhere in the midwestern U.S., all without losing her composure or the thing tossed artfully over her shoulder:
I really like that the newspaper nameplates/ mastheads are arranged roughly geographically.
This promotional flyer, from our John H. Percival Collection, indicates that the Allstons hailed from Boston, although I can’t find any further information about them online. Do you know more about Carina and her assistant? Let us know!
It’s been far too long since we’ve featured a magician from our Percival Collection! This week’s magician, Viggo Jahn, was originally a window decorator hailing from Copenhagen.
Here’s Viggo Jahn doing something totally inscrutable. Are those thimbles?
According to the November 1953 issue of M-U-M: Magic, Unity, Might, Jahn took up stage magic during the occupation of Denmark in WWII; the “entertainment-starved Danes” were eager for new performers, and a theatrical agent recognized Jahn as “very good looking, intelligent and young, and engaged in a business that required a touch of showmanship”.
After preparing for just three months, Jahn began presenting his manipulations in public, and he quickly improved “by leaps and bounds”. After the occupation was lifted, he began performing in Sweden, then across Europe, and later all over the world. “Wherever the wealthy and the celebrated dined in lovely surroundings, there was Viggo,” says M-U-M.
The article also notes that “he was still a darned good window trimmer”.
The cover of the August 1960 issue of Genii: The Conjurors’ Magazine features Ron Urban and two assistants partaking in some truly magical mischief.
At first glance, this is a fairly typical 1960’s stage magician’s scene: sequins, demure female assistants, a hodgepodge menagerie. Looking more closely, however, one begins to ask questions: are those… pigeons? Why are they different colors? How is that toy poodle so serene? Is one of those assistants wearing fishnets beneath her bloomers? Are all three of them on… ice skates?
Seeking answers, I turned to the magazine’s feature article. Since you’re undoubtedly asking questions that are 100% identical to mine, I’ll share my discoveries: those are not pigeons, they’re doves. They’re different colors because Ron Urban dyes his doves, in what the article calls a “living magical rainbow of pastel doves, very appealing to the eye.” I know nothing about the tranquil canine. As for the costumes, as well as the ice skates, this photo is from Urban’s six month engagement at Chicago’s Conrad Hilton Hotel performing in an ice show called “Persian Parad-ice.”
On that note, let’s appreciate this fantastic head shot of the magician, complete with white bow tie, fetching finger waves, and mysterious boutonniere.
If you’re not yet smitten, listen to this: he also plays the saxophone.
We selected this week’s magician, June McComb, on the basis of her bibliophilic prop, which appears to be an enormous book on a TV tray table and/or an extra-tall luggage rack.
June, in her sharp yet seasonally-confusing outfit of fur cape and silky leotard, was, according to a writer from The Ireland Magic Co., “probably the prettiest girl in magic in the whole world.” (Let’s envision, just for a moment, a world where male magicians of the 1950’s were praised for being “perhaps the handsomest man in magic in the whole world,” and/or where they performed in heavily accessorized satin bathing suits.)
The photo above comes from Ireland’s 1955 Year Book, published in Chicago by The Ireland Magic Company. The internet has several videos of June McComb in action, for those who would like to see more of this “glamorous girl magician”.
P.S. Her shoes!
Interesting: Phil Jay, NCOIC of the Airmen’s Service Club, Harlingen, TX Air Force Base, was also a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, according to this feature in The Linking Ring (Vol. 32, No. 12).
More interesting: Sgt. Phil Jay was, as of February 1953, training a skunk named Henry, hoping to include him as part of his magic act.
Most interesting: Henry the skunk apparently had had his mercaptan-emitting scent glands removed, and was purchased from an animal dealer in South Carolina. While still shy around humans, Henry was sufficiently domesticated to have developed “a taste for tidbits like sweet rolls and candy”.
I, for one, could happily watch an act that consisted almost entirely of a skunk eating candy on stage. (As for the advisability of feeding candy to a skunk – may I recommend the “Diet” section of the Wikipedia article on “Skunks as pets”? Within a few short paragraphs it includes references to all manner of skunk-centric wonders, including a food mix called Skunkie Delight, a skunk rescue organization called Skunk Haven, and a group called Florida Skunks as Pets.)