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.)
This week’s star magician is T. Nelson Downs, who was both a Mystic Wonder and a Celebrated Prestidigitateur.
The image above is an advertisement from the back pages of Will Goldston’s Secrets of Magic (London: A. W. Gamage, 1903).
Downs was a highly successful self-taught magician, performing in well-known venues across the United States and Europe and prestidigitating (is that a verb?) for royalty. Because of his many well-known and elaborate coin tricks–illustrated by the spooky disembodied hands above–he was known as “The King of Koins”, an epithet that is engraved on his tombstone.
Also, and this seems too good to be true: T. Nelson Downs had two wives over the course of his 71 years, one named Nellie Stone and one named Harriett Rocky.
The internet archive has a digitized version of Downs’s The Art of Magic, and Brown University’s Library houses the T. Nelson Downs Collection, which includes correspondence, documentation of tricks, photos, programs, and advertisements.
This week’s wild-eyed magician, “Hammo the Great”, is featured on the cover of the August 1941 issue of Genii.
(It’s a little hard to see, but that’s definitely glitter lettering spelling out “Hammo”.)
If this magician’s mug looks familiar, it’s because Max Terhune, the man behind Hammo, wore several other (literal) hats: he played Lullaby Joslin (great name!) in the B-movie Western series The Three Mesquiteers, he was a well-known stage ventriloquist (and his dummy, Elmer, roamed the range alongside Terhune in the Mesquiteers), and, in his earlier days, he traveled widely as a competitive whistler and animal imitator.
The editor of Genii colorfully describes Terhune’s “sublime prestidigitatorial skill”, as well as his “careless dress [and] high-heeled boots”. Said editor also notes that it’s “a fact” that Max Terhune has no enemies.
Max Terhune: what a guy!
This week’s magician is taken from the cover of the December 1932 issue of The Linking Ring.
Here’s Jesse Lybarger inside a vignette with playing cards, coins, a bird in a cage, balls, the devil emanating from a radio tower, and the Angel of Death with lightning bolts radiating from the hood of his robe.
The latter’s a little hard to see, so here’s a close-up, enhanced for extra green-ness:
Lybarger was an Ohio native and sewing machine salesman; his magical claim to fame is that he sold the first known routine involving sponge balls in 1925 (although Al Cohn, known as the “Sponge Ball King”, claimed to have invented the prop nearly 20 years later; Robert A. Nelson invented the “sponge rabbit” in mid-1940s).
Next time you’re enjoying a magic trick involving sponge balls, don’t forget to thank Jesse J. Lybarger.
The award for Most Stunning Magician Eyebrows goes to:
Celeste Evans! Would you take a look at those amazing arches?
The August 1964 issue of The New TOPS describes her act thusly:
This tall statuesque and beautiful girl makes a stage appearance at the outset which is quite electrifying. As Celeste appears in an evening gown, minus the “sleeves, pockets and concealed hiding places” worn by the men of her profession, the sudden production of eight doves and a real live Toy Poodle adds still more bewilderment to an already baffling act.