Los Angeles, USA

WMA and Magic Castle News

I have loved being a member of the Women Magicians Association that is affiliated with the Magic Castle in Hollywood. There were online meetings during Covid but they got fewer and fewer and a number of the people involved in running it got very busy in their lives and asked for help. I stepped forward and have been working to help get it going again. We just had our first live meeting post-Covid. Yay!

It has always been my nature to try and step in and run things. Of course, when you do that you have to deal with all of the politics and other less fun elements of any organization. Just being a member is so much more fun. You don’t have the headaches or responsibilities. I saw myself as just being a member of the WMA.

Now I feel I need to step up and be of service. I have had a lot of experience running meetings and organizations. I helped found and run a non-denominational church in Hollywood. I ran meetings with actors at Actors’ Equity. I was an officer for a not for profit national computer graphics organization. I know the pitfalls and that it is not always fun, but I am also excited at the prospect of being able to help and make things happen. Supporting women in magic is one of my major life goals, and I will actively help out the group however I can.

Our first post-Covid WMA meeting went extremely well. We had top magician, author, and former board member Ice MacDonald do a Q and A session about whatever we wanted to ask him. He shared tons of useful information for working magicians. Chuck Martinez, the President of the Academy of Magical Arts (Magic Castle) also showed up and talked with us and offered his support of our group.

He also gave us some behind the scenes info. The Magic Castle is the most famous organization for magicians in the world. It is housed in a beautifully restored Victorian mansion that is amazingly larger on the inside than on the outside. The problem is that it is in the heart of Hollywood, a short walk from Hollywood Blvd. and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (or whatever they are calling it this year). Property values here have only continued to skyrocket. The Academy had a landlord, the family of the man who was the original landlord when the Magic Castle opened with a handshake deal. The temptation to sell the property was just too much. Developers were making huge offers.

For years the Castle has been living on a lean budget, putting as much away as possible for a future purchase. Covid came along and wiped out a lot of that money. Things were looking pretty grim.

The Castle found an angel at almost literally the last minute. Randy Pitchford swooped in and purchased the property to preserve it for the Magic Castle. He is a co-founder of Gearbox Software, which has had many huge hit games and revitalized the classic Duke Nukem game. There was a second angel who also wrote a check for the other half of the negotiated price. She is Kristy Pitchford, his wife, who wrote a rather popular game called Borderlands.

Randy Pitchford’s roots in magic go very deep. His great uncle is Richard Valentine Pitchford, one of the most highly respected manipulators of the early 1900s. His great uncle performed under the name of Cardini, with his wife Swan as the assistant in the act that featured a slightly tipsy well-dressed gentleman and a bellhop (Swan). In the Magic Castle there is a large case featuring Cardini props and memorabilia donated by Pitchford.

While common now, Cardini did the first silent card manipulation act set to music. He had one of the most successful acts in Vaudeville. It was also the first manipulation act to tell a story. It began with an offstage voice calling out, “Paging Mr. Cardini” as he walked out on stage. Swan as a bellhop would come out and deliver a note to him. He was dressed as any well dressed gentleman of the time, in top hat, tails, coat and cape, with a cane and white gloves. He had clearly been out drinking and was just a touch inebriated. He did not do magic, but magical things happened to him. It still stands as one of the greatest manipulation acts of all time. You can see the act on Youtube.

When Randy was young, Swan gave him a copy of Bobo’s Coin Magic, an advanced tome for professional magicians. It was beyond his skill level at the time, but it gave him encouragement. The almost identical thing happened with my husband. He was a very young magician and was given magician Stan Noxon’s personal copy of Bobo’s book by his niece who had inherited it. It was also my husband’s first professional level magic book, and he found it inspiring and a little beyond him at the time in the same way. Both grew up to be quite accomplished magicians.

Randy continues to perform and has worked on many magic related projects, including working with Penn and Teller on a series of VR based magic effects. The Magic Castle will continue to be run on a day to day basis by Wendy Larsen, daughter of founder Bill Larsen. It feels like everything is in good hands.

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