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Harry Anderson and “It’s Magic!”

“I’m Harry. But then again, aren’t we all?” That’s the first thing that I remember Harry Anderson saying the very first time I saw him on October 20, 1978.

It was opening night of “It’s Magic!” and Harry was the emcee and also performing as Harry Anderson and Leslie. I remember him saying, “Now, I would like to introduce my beautiful tall blonde assistant”. He said, “Leslie”, and turned to indicate his adorable brunette (but not so tall) wife. I about fell over laughing. He was so funny and I just loved him.

Harry had 2 kids. His daughter Eva Anderson is a comedian, playwright and television writer, and quite funny. Harry went on to a very successful television career. I can’t believe he just left us, still so young.

Rolling Stone Obit for Harry

Anyway, back to the 25th Silver Anniversary show that Harry emceed. It was very good. So good that they extended the run. It was held over for two weeks.

25th Its Magic! with Harry Anderson (with his long sleeves from the straight jacket escape exactly as I remember him then), Paul Fidler and Marie, Glenn Falkenstein, Francis Willard, The Morettis, Carlton and Company.

Producer Milt Larsen’s formula for “It’s Magic” was to book several world class magic acts along with one variety act. That year, the variety act featured the amazing work of The Morettis from Germany. This was actually Hans Moretti Jr. and his lovely wife Maureen. They did a cross bow act that was unbelievable. He’d walk out on stage, quickly spin and shoot at a paper frame. Maureen would burst through the paper, holding the target at her chest with the arrow now dead center on the target. He shot an apple off of his own head by hitting a target attached to the trigger of a cross bow, that hit the target on a trigger of a second cross bow, that hit the target on a trigger on the third cross bow, then a fourth, fifth and finally a sixth that then shot the apple off of his head. One night it came so close that when he lifted up the arrow, the apple flopped over and fell off, as the arrow had pierced the very bottom.

Even more amazing, though, was the sword box. I still don’t know how Hans did it! It was just a cardboard box that sat on an open frame support. He just barely fit inside. Then Maureen brought people up from the audience, who would wrap him up in chains and lock him securely. He would get in the box barely big enough for him. Then, Maureen had people from the audience push swords through the box. This is far away from any curtain and you can clearly see under the box at all times. The swords were removed, and out he came with a complete costume change. He was now in a clown costume and makeup beating a small drum. 

While both acts he did were dangerous, it was the sword box that got him one night on this run. Word quickly spread backstage that he was bleeding. Red stage lights were put on to help hide the blood, he took his bow, and the ambulance was on the way. The injuries were minor, and he performed the next night, but it was unnerving. I also heard about a performance in Vegas where one of the stagehands ignored the “no one in the wings” rule and got nicked by a bolt from the cross bow.

At this point, I should probably mention that I went from seeing the show for the first time to working on it (backstage, running follow spot, production) in fairly short order. I always say it was how I learned magic. Getting to see the best magicians perform over and over during the run was so inspirational. I was lucky enough to get regular calls from the Variety Arts Theatre to work on other shows as well, and it was so helpful to me (and a great workout, if I may say so – I don’t think I would be up for hanging lights these days.)

Anyway, I also got to work with Hans Moretti Sr. and his wife Helga on one of the Academy of Magical Arts Awards shows. Prior to the show, he was imposing. He looked like this big bald headed guy who easily could have been cast as a Bond Villain. Actually he was quite serious because he was checking the theater for drafts and wind currents – very important with a cross bow act. On stage, he changed entirely and he bounced merrily around the stage. He originated the cross bow and the box act. Hans Jr. changed his name for his second act (the box) on the show to Pantar and Partner to begin to differentiate himself from his dad. Hans also has another son who does the crossbow act as well as escapes, and works under the name Peter Moretti & Sonya. Hans Sr. also has a daughter, Nicole, who is also a performer. What a grand tradition they are carrying on!

Paul Fidler and Marie arrived for It’s Magic in an Excalibur, a very impressive car. I think my husband had a bit of a crush on Marie, because she was so sweet. Her writing, “To handsome Geoffrey…” when she autographed his program didn’t hurt any either.

Carazini did his third appearance on It’s Magic! He was one of the most successful magic club acts in Europe during the 1970s. It was in the mold of Cardini (without Swan and with cigarettes instead of cards) where he did essentially a drunk act where all these strange and befuddling things just happened. His real name was Jim Tom Williams, although he signed my husband’s program as Jason, and many people called him Jay. In public it was not unusual for him to pick up a spoon, start puffing on it as if it were a cigarette, and produce smoke. He was friendly, and a unique cat. His act allowed him to travel all over the world, and he spent 10 years at the world-renowned Crazy Horse Night Club in Paris.

Mentalist Glenn Falkenstein did his classic sightless vision blindfold routine with the line “Silver dollars embedded in the sockets of my eyes.” He said it in such a distinctive way that it became a sort of catch phrase, at least around our house.

I was thrilled that Frances Willard was on the show. Frances’ father was Harry Willard, known as Willard the Wizard, one of the great touring magicians who worked under canvas. She had recently begun working with Glenn Falkenstein, performing the Willard Spirit Cabinet. Being able to see this classic of magic performed by someone who really knew the original since she assisted her father as a child, was very exciting. We could all tell that Frances and Glenn were very fond of each other, so it was no surprise when they announced they were getting married six years later. We just wondered what took them so long. Her daughter Hannah from a previous marriage (to another Glenn) fell in love with and married Michael Ammar, one of the top close-up guys.

Glenn and Frances were very fast with the spirit cabinet. She would be bound to a chair in a hypnotic state, the curtains would be closed, and instantly things inside the cabinet would start flying around. Glenn would whip open the curtain to show her still bound. At one point he would throw in a man’s jacket and then quickly whip open the curtain. Francis was still in a trance, still tied, but now wearing the jacket.

There are many who would rank Tonny van Dommelen right up there with the best of the manipulators. I do remember him being quite good. He also appears to have an unusual and single film credit portraying himself in what is described as a 1963 Italian documentary that in English would be titled “Naked Nights.” What is unusual about this film is that it may be the first film shot in Techniscope. It was a desirable format as it offered a wide screen picture while using half as much film for the same amount of time. It remained in use until 1980, where its costs savings were a boon to low budget directors who were not as worried about the grainier quality. I could not find a copy, but apparently it features a number of short segments, one of which is titled “The Magician,” which I assume is Tonny. Many of the other segments seem to involve, not surprisingly, nudity. Over 350 films were shot in Techniscope, including George Lucas’ first feature length film, “THX 1138,” along with films such as “The Good, Bad and the Ugly”, “Beau Geste,” “For a Few Dollars More,” and both Thunderbirds Supermarionation films. It was a format used by Roger Corman, but also more recently by James Cameron. He used a Techniscope camera to film the scenes of the actual Titanic wreck in the movie “Titanic” because the format allowed him longer underwater filming times without having to reload. That is an important consideration when you are two miles below the surface of the ocean.

What I remember most about Carlton and Company were their kitties. Carl “Carlton” Beck had an illusion show with big cats, and they had an adorable tiger cub. What stuck in my mind from getting to see the cub up close, was how strong he was even though he was fairly small. It gave me a lot more respect for how dangerous the big cats could be. Doing It’s Magic! was a big break for Carl as it led to Vegas where he worked for many years, including working on Don Ardeen’s Jubilee, the first big Vegas show I ever saw.

Dirk Arthur was on the bill as well, with his beautiful bird act featuring a variety of different types of birds, not just the usual doves. Even his doves were different colors. He later became a Las Vegas staple with his show featuring big cats.

Shimada is one of the great acts of magic, and his parasol act where he produces dozens of parasols from nowhere is a classic of magic. It was simply beautiful.

A couple of years later I got to work with Shimada again on It’s Magic! when he premiered his dragon act. It was a huge and beautiful production and used a lot of dry ice for the fog. He even had a huge waterfall of fog. His orchestration was pre-recorded by a Japanese full orchestra and Jerry Rosen and his orchestra had to abandon the pit when Shimada came on as the pit completely filled with fog.

Later, I also got to work in his act for a magic special called Shimada in America. It was a last minute emergency substitute as an assistant, and I was completely covered head to toe in black so you did not even know that I was a girl. It was one of the few times I have assisted other magicians. It was very hot and a long filming day with 100+ degree temperatures, but I was in heaven. There’s just nothing like magic.

 

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