Los Angeles, USA

Academy of Magical Arts Awards Show

The Magic Castle is the club house for the Academy of Magical Arts. Since 1968, the Academy has had an awards ceremony, the magic world’s equivalent of the Oscars. My husband Geoff and I began working behind the scenes of these events in our early 20s. Geoff even won an award one year. He was working on the show and it came as a complete surprise. He eventually directed a few of the awards shows. It was such fun working behind the scenes, and to be frank I loved meeting the stars who were often presenters.

When Covid hit, that ended the awards, with the last one being an outdoor event that we skipped. That’s until September 27th of this year. We were not originally planning to go, but when the President of the Magic Castle stopped in at our Women Magicians Meeting to offer his support, and shared the news about the upcoming Awards show, it just sounded like such fun. We all decided to go. They put the show together quickly as they really wanted to honor Max Maven this year. He has had significant health struggles. He truly deserves a Masters Fellowship, the highest award that the magic world can bestow, and you just can’t know the future. I think the Academy felt they better get on the stick about this and I am glad they did.

I first met Max in my twenties. He is not someone you forget meeting because as he says he has a look that only really works in Hollywood. He does mentalism (mind reading, psychic effects, etc.) and has a rather intense persona in his performances – dark and mysterious. He is considered one of the best mentalists in magic, and one of the best creators of mentalism themed magic. I think most professional magicians have performed something invented by him at one point in their careers. I have his books on my shelves and own magic he created. He is legendary in the business. I love that his mentalism is so amazing to layman (non-magicians) and often depends on using a somewhat mysterious and dynamic personality (something I love). Almost every show I do has at least one mentalism effect it in, because people just love it – for the everyday person it just seems like real magic.

This year it was held at the historic Avalon Hollywood. On famed Vine Street right across from the Capital Record building (the one that looks like a stack of records), it opened in 1927 as the Hollywood Playhouse. During the depression they presented shows by the WPA Federal Theater. It was renamed the El Capitan in the 1940s, not to be confused with the current Disney owned El Capitan on Hollywood Blvd. They broadcast CBS radio shows from there. In the 1950s it became a television broadcast studio, with shows such as the Colgate Comedy Hour and Your Show of Shows. It was also from there that Richard Nixon broadcast his famous “Checkers” speech. In the 1960s they renamed it the Hollywood Palace and broadcast The Hollywood Palace Variety Show. Over the show’s 7 year run the theater hosted top name talent in music and theater, including the Beatles first West Coast performance. They also had a number of magicians on the show, including Channing Pollock, Carl Ballantine, Kirk Kirkham, Silvan, Michel de la Vega, Milo and Roger, Mac Ronay, Prassano Rao, Ralph Adams, and The Steckles. In the 80s it became the West Coast version of Studio 54. In 2002 it was fully renovated and renamed Avalon Hollywood. It was renovated again in 2016 and looks great inside. It continues to function primarily as a nightclub, but it sure has a lot of history within those walls.

Since they did not have a full normal year of performances at the Magic Castle, they decided not to do the performance awards this year. Instead they focused on various fellowship awards and awards of merit. I bought tickets as soon as they were available. We ended up at one of the best tables in the house. It was front row just left of center. It was just the luck of the draw but a number of people wondered how we rated.

There was one person who I really wanted to meet in person at the event. Connie Boyd was there to receive a Special Fellowship award for her work on the history of women in magic and her many interviews with women magicians. She started doing the interviews after Covid hit and found a lot of people were available to talk with her, what with the whole world shutting down. Born in Canada, she has been living in Europe and flew out for the awards ceremony.

Connie Boyd (r) with presenter Diana Zimmerman (l)

Connie is one of the leading advocates for women in magic, but she has also had a very impressive career herself. Her big break was in Las Vegas in 1987 when she began appearing at the Riviera Hotel in the Splash showroom. She starred and headlined in production shows such as the Tropicana’s Folies Bergere, and Bally’s Jubilee.

She’s won lots of awards, has designed stage illusions and created original magic effects. She has appeared on many television shows and magic specials, and has had a very impressive performing career. She later transitioned into directing and producing. She also produced female centric magic shows for cruise ships.

Because our table was close to the stage and Connie had to go backstage to get ready to receive her award, she was at our table for the Awards show. I very much enjoyed talking with her. It was great to catch up with someone I only really knew through her online presence and it was such a joy to chat with her.

The second woman to receive a Special Fellowship was Gloria Dea, who accepted via video. She just turned 100 years old the previous month. She is the first magician to appear on the Las Vegas Strip, performing at El Rancho Vegas in 1941. In my husband’s book The Greatest Adventure, he credits Carl Ballantine as the first magician to perform in Vegas, but Gloria beat him by 15 years. So, to be more accurate, Carl was actually the first magician with lots of pockets to perform in Vegas. Connie Boyd flew to Vegas to give the award to her personally, after the event.

Gloria Dea via video

Many members of the Women Magicians Association were there. It was great seeing so many of them there, all looking so fierce. We are working hard to make this group for women an important source of encouragement and support. I loved seeing women so well represented at the show, as winners, and presenters. Charming and talented magician Elizabeth Messick-Fernandez handed the awards to the presenters and Erika Larsen was co-producer of the show. It had a warm feel that I enjoyed. It was so great to see everyone again.

WMA member Elizabeth Messick-Fernandez brings on the awards

The show was hosted by Michael Carbonaro, in my opinion one of the most creative magicians working today. His The Carbonaro Effect series on truTV is brilliant. He did an excellent job of moving the show along and was very funny and entertaining. I also enjoyed the humorous mind reading routine he did with Brunhilde (played by Liberty Larsen).

Host for the evening Michael Carbonaro

It was great to see Lance Burton on the show. He retired at the age of 50 at the very top of his game after being one of the most successful Las Vegas magicians ever. They built the Lance Burton Theatre for him at the Monte Carlo casino and he performed live in Las Vegas in over 15,000 shows. We first met him when we worked together on his first It’s Magic! Show, which led to his first appearance of many on Johnny Carson. He has always been a first class performer and a first class human being. For the awards show he performed one of Max Maven’s best known magic effects. While Max’s character is mysterious and dark, both Lance’s and Mac King’s comments showed how fond they are of “Uncle Max”. By they way, Mac King is at Harrahs in Vegas now and has appeared there in over 5,000 shows, so he’s no slouch.

Mac King also had on a Jay Marshall Lefty tie, which was great. Lefty was a character that appeared back in the day on the Ed Sullivan show. He was a glove on Jay Marshall’s left hand made to look like a rabbit. I found Jay to be a rather grumpy ventriloquist/magician when we met him on a lecture tour, but he had the luck to marry the fabulous Frances Ireland (born Frances Marie Ahrens Vandevier). She was so kind and charming. She was a well loved magician, and with Bess Houdini she started the Magigals in 1938, the first organization just for women magicians. Frances fell in love with the owner of the magic shop where she worked. She married Laurie Ireland, who ran that magic company in Chicago, and after his passing married Jay Marshall. They renamed the company Magic Inc, and it became a fixture in Chicago. So was Frances, and her “Around Chicago” column ran for years in magic magazine The Linking Ring. She was a prolific writer, publishing many books and articles, and was editor of the Magigals first newsletter. L. L. Ireland Magic Company, opened in 1926, continues in business as Magic Inc, and is now run by Jay’s son, Sandy.

I also really enjoyed Anni Küpper’s performance. She is one of the top female jugglers in the world. From Germany, her extensive training in the theatrical arts makes her performances a cut above. For the awards show she juggled pins with consummate skill, but also while defying physics as pins remained spinning in the air much longer than gravity would normally allow. It was both magically amazing and impressive.

Anni Küpper and her minimalist gravity defying act

The In Memorium segment of the people we had lost since the last show was difficult as expected. So many great performers have passed. Luckily, I had been through a preview of this at Magic Live (where I kind of lost it). Also, it was done to a lovely song by Liberty Larson, that went on just a bit longer than the photos, so we all got to compose ourselves a bit. I could still see the tears in Geoff’s eyes as the show moved on though.

Covid was brutal for live performers. Most full-time pros are not rich, and everyone struggled to make it through without any live performance work. To be cut off from the only other people who really understand why you do what you do was tough. Magicians tend to be very social. Being back together again was such a joy. it was a wonderful evening, and my thanks to all those who worked so hard to get this event up and running in such a short time. You rock!

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