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The Great Howdini’s Magic Castle Audition (and Mine)

I was going through the TV episodes of various shows that I’ve recorded and can’t bear to delete and The VCR Illumination episode of The Big Bang Theory on CBS is still there. I love the show because I grew up as the daughter of a geologist at UC Riverside and let’s just say, this show rings true to me. This episode has a special place in my heart though because the character of engineer and magic hobbyist Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg in blue jacket above) does his audition for membership in the Magic Castle. In case you did not know, the Magic Castle is a real place, a famed club for magicians in Hollywood.

The Magic Castle is in what was originally the Roland B. Lane home, a large Victorian mansion on a hillside in Hollywood. You enter via a reception room with no apparent doors except the one you enter through. Once you are confirmed, as it is a member’s only club, you have go up to the owl on the bookcase and say “Open Sesame.” The bookcase slides open and you enter the club.

Once inside, in front of you is the Main Bar. To the left is the Close-up Gallery, a small showroom where magicians do magic just a few feet away from you. Downstairs is another bar (the Hat and Hare) and areas where members can perform for each other. Halfway up the stairs on the right is the Owl Bar. You are never far from a bar in this place.

At the top of stairs is a series of small elegant dining rooms. The food is really very good and they have a great new chef, Jason Fullilove. I love having dinner at the Magic Castle with friends, and I’ll be doing that once again next week. 

Past the dining rooms is a hall that is not a part of the original mansion. I enjoy telling people that the Magic Castle is the only mansion larger on the inside than it is on the outside. This hallway was possible because they expanded into the hillside that once held an underground parking garage (but don’t tell anyone – it’s a secret.)

Beyond the hall is the Palace of Mystery, which is the largest showroom. The two elaborate proscenium columns in the Palace of Mystery on each side of the stage were made from the columns of the underground parking garage that this was originally before they expanded into it, but you would never notice it if  no one pointed it out.

Past another bar and down another hallway is the Parlor of Prestidigitation. This is the room that Howard apparently auditions in. It looks similar, but instead of a weird picture of a general with a head of a dog on the wall, the walls are actually covered with posters from It’s Magic!, the worlds greatest and longest running annual magic show. My husband Geoff and I worked on those shows for many years, and you can read my blog entry about them. I have performed in the Parlor and it is a very fun room to work because you are so close to the audience. It’s like you’re entertaining them in their home. The rows are also wider than just four seats as in the picture above (although they look just like the ones in the parlor).

Beyond the Parlor is another set of stairs that takes you down into what was originally the lower level of the underground parking garage. In the downstairs area is another showroom (the Peller Theater), the extensive magic library open to members only, memorabilia in display cases, and, of course, another bar, the Library Bar. It is also here where they have the display honoring Carl Ballantine (see my post about him and my cat).

Throughout the Castle they have magic posters on the walls, and a gorgeous décor largely salvaged from various showplaces and other venues in Los Angeles that were torn down. It really is beautiful inside, with everything rich and ornate. The original designer of the Magic Castle interior was John Schrum, who was long the Art Director for the Tonight Show when it starred Johnny Carson.

Howard’s audition for the Magic Castle goes spectacularly badly. Like anyone who wants to be a magician member, I had to audition, and a surprising number of performers do not get in on their first audition. I did not want to be one of them, but at first, it seemed like things were going very badly for me too.

I brought my “A” level close-up card material, stuff I knew that the judges would not have seen before that was polished from hundreds of performances in front of live audiences. When I entered the room, there were three guys. I now refer to them as Moses and his older brothers. They look just like the kind of guys who would love the material I had prepared. I do my first trick, and nothing –  No response at all. Nothing. No applause, no laughs. I begin to get very nervous.

I go into the next trick and half way through they stop me. “You’re in,” they tell me. “Oh, did we forget to mention that we don’t react to the performances.”  It would have been nice to have known, but at least, I was in. And, even though Howard Walowitz didn’t get in, seeing his nervousness makes me smile every time. Yep, I’m still not going to delete that episode.

 

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