The Flight of Time

That was the name of one of Houdini’s famous pieces.  When it comes to magic, Houdini is a perennial favourite in the mind of the public.  The Jewish Museum has a wonderful exhibition on the life of this master of mystery. Houdini: Art and Magic demonstrates the extent of his reach not only in his own era but also even today. The exhibition showcases rare Houdini ephemera, props and posters as well as artwork and installations by modern artists that were inspired by Houdini. The exhibition closes at the end of March but will then “hit the road” as Karl Johnson writes, “like an old vaudeville company”, first to Los Angeles from April to September, then San Francisco from September 2011 to January 2012, and then to Madison Wisconsin, from February to May, 2012.

I have been conducting my own tour that included performances, keynotes or workshops in Boston, Baltimore, Miami, Montreal, Indianapolis, Chicago and London. I can’t imagine how someone like Houdini would have traveled in this age of heightened security. There is no escaping it. Still, each stop offers something that makes the hassle of traveling all worthwhile.  Here are three personal highlights from my recent travels.

While performing in Boston I had the pleasure of meeting George Goebel. George Goebel was one of the last of the grand magicians in the spirit of Harry Kellar, Howard Thurston, Dante and Harry Blackstone. He is also the proprietor of the oldest and most famous costume shop in America, A.T. Jones & Sons, founded in 1868 in Baltimore. A few days after my initial encounter with Mr. Goebel, I found myself in Baltimore, delivering a keynote address on creativity and problem-solving to the Association of American Manufacturers. Afterward, I made a beeline for the costume shop to soak in the atmosphere and to revisit Mr. Goebel.  It is always a pleasure to meet someone with such artistic sensibilities, and who has contributed so much, and who can best be described as a real gentleman.

While in Boston, I also had the chance to meet Dr. Robert Albo. In addition to being one of the most respected practitioners of sports medicine – he was the doctor for numerous professional sports teams including the Golden State Warriors and the Oakland Raiders – he was also a magic collector and historian. He wrote dozens of books, each one tracing the history of apparatus in his collection and the magicians who made it. Each book was a lavish work of art and sought-after collectible in its own right. It was his work on Theo Bamberg, a fifth generation Dutch magician who performed under the name Okito that enabled me to reconstruct “The Floating Ball”, a theatrical illusion that I featured in The Conjuror.

Dr. Albo was also an elite athlete, garnering numerous awards in multiple sports. He turned down the opportunity to play professional sport, however, to pursue a medical career. I told Dr. Albo how much I admired his work and career, and how I used him as an example for my own son, Harrison, to follow. Harrison has ‘hung them up” – that is to say, his skates and his Junior A hockey career – to pursue his university education in a sports-related field. Dr. Albo and I exchanged numerous letters following our initial encounter – letters that I will treasure forever.  Dr. Albo passed away on February 21, 2011, age 78.

A third highlight was participating in “It’s Always Something…” a fundraising variety show hosted by Russell Peters on behalf of Gilda’s Club of Greater Toronto, the organization that provides social and emotional support for men, women, teens and children with cancer. For this particular performance we restaged our “Sawing In Half” from The Conjuror, and with our original cast. It was an honour to appear on the same program with such artists as Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor, Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood, Robin Duke, Jayne Eastwood, and the cast from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; and for such a worthy cause.

 

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