I wanted to wait to get a few posts done before the inevitable post about my cat. We all love our pets and think they’re the best. Mine is big, white and fluffy, and she is really attached to my husband. My cat loves to watch television with him. I thought she would lose her mind the first time she saw Liberace on TV. We found an old series he had done, and thought we would check it out. She was fixated on the television. She is not a performer herself, but has a bit of a magical past and I’d love to tell the story of how she came to us.
One weekend my husband and I were at a party at my CPA’s house. By the way, his name is Scott Kimball, he is in Canoga Park and he is really great with magicians. I think he mentioned that he worked with Michael Borys, or was it Micah Cover? Anyway, our CPA’s former girlfriend sought me out at the party because she knew we loved cats and her friend Sara’s dad had started feeding a stray cat. It seems he hadn’t realized the cat was pregnant and now he had way too many kittens.
Our always sickly (let’s just say we paid for a new wing on the Vet Hospital) little black cat, Samantha, had recently passed away. Our other cat, Thomas, was heartbroken and lonely, and my husband, Geoff was deadset against getting another cat right away. Geoff was heartbroken too, but we were getting ready to move soon. So while he thought we should definitely not get another cat right away, I knew the timing was auspicious.
Here’s how the conversation went with Geoff. “So, I ran into Reggie at Scott’s party. She said Sara’s dad had taken in a cat. It had kittens, they are very cute and they’re looking for homes for them.”
(I get “the look”.)
“You know when I say, Sara, I mean Saratoga, right?”
(Immediate look of interest.) You’ve never seen a man change his mind so fast. I knew the cat was in the bag – poor choice of words? (no actual bags were involved in the telling of this story).
You see these kittens that needed homes were Carl Ballantine’s. Carl was a very funny magician who took his last name from a bottle of Ballantine whiskey. Carl loved the ponies and had named his daughters after two race tracks. Sara is actually named Saratoga, and his other daughter Molly was also named after a racetrack, although in her case it was her middle name, Caliente, for the Agua Caliente racetrack. We had worked with Carl on a number of magic shows when he performed his comedy magic act as “Ballantine the Great.” His daughters, Molly and Sara, would come by to see him perform of course. He was very special to us, as he was to so many people in magic. Not only did he have two wonderful daughters, when people ask me who my favorite magician is, I always reply, “Well, after my husband, Carl Ballantine. He was so funny.” Carl was beyond funny and incredibly kind to everyone.
Carl was in several 60’s televisions series (he was Al on Car 54 Where Are You? and Lester Gruber on McHale’s Navy), and many guest appearances on television series of the time. In Carl’s early days he was a serious magician, but comedy turned out to be his strong suit, and he played to it. His magic act was a series of things going wrong, and it was so funny because his timing was impeccable. He has been dubbed the father of modern comedy magic. Little known fact – while magicians are now a staple in Las Vegas, Carl was the first magician to work a major showroom in Las Vegas.
We have many fond memories of Carl, as he was always exceptionally nice to both of us. Carl was not exactly a young man when we worked with him. When we went to his house to look at the kittens, he looked pretty good for a man of 89, and he was anxious to be off to the racetrack with a guy that was coming by to pick him up. It was tough to pick the most adorable of many fuffy almost identical white kitties, but I think we got the best one.
It was great to see that Carl was still very active. Geoff thanked him for his kindness when he was but a youth, and he just laughed it off and said, “That’s just the kinda guy I am.” And, that’s the kind of guy he was.
Geoff immediately named the kitten Bastet, and she fell asleep in his hand on the way home. She looked up to Thomas as her big man protector cat and they immediately got along. She was a great addition to the family.
We recently saw Sara at the Magic Castle where they had a special event to introduce the new display about Carl. It is a terrific tribute to him, with many of his props on display, and a wonderful presentation by Sara and Joan Lawton, his dear friend and a treasure in her own right.
Geoff got to show Sara and her family the picture of our cat Bastet, now all grown up, (and I refrained from telling my other favorite Carl story because the punch line depends on profanity.) There were lots of people there showing their support and love for a truly great man. It was a wonderful evening and tribute to someone who everyone loved, respected, and thought of as a friend.