Thursday
Jun052014

My magical influences... by Gerry Griffin

We all need to be inspired, encouraged, influenced and these influences help mold us into the person we are.  So, let me tell you a little bit about the people who influenced me in magic. There are four specific individuals.  But first a little history... My first interest in magic started in about 1969, I remember watching television and there it was the “TV Magic Cards.” I was hooked. Then came the “TV Magic Set.” Fortunately for me, these were available at a local store. My dad, being the kind soul that he was, bought me these for Christmas. Shortly after that, I found an advertisement in the back of Boys Life magazine. There was this page filled with advertisements for all sorts of fun things, one of which was a catalog from a magic store in Evanston, Illinois, the “Top Hat Magic Company.” For any of you who have been around the magic scene at least for a while, may remember this company. I remember ordering from them, the Chinese Rings, the multiplying billiard balls and a Dove pan. Needless to say, I was in “hog heaven.”

Flash forward a couple of years and the Television show starring Bill Bixby, “The Magician”, started playing on television. Obviously, this hooked me and my destiny to become a magician was shown to me. The television show The Magician, was only on the air for about two seasons, only 22 episodes. But I remember it very fondly and it made quite an impression on me. I also saw on television, at that time, magic performed on the Merv Griffin show, the Today show and a program called Not for Women Only with Barbara Walters. On Barbara Walters TV show I saw the famous close-up magician Derek Dingle. He was fantastic! The card magic performed by Derek was exquisite and card magic became my love. Derek Dingle is my first hero in magic and there is a great story that cemented him as one of my all time heroes and inspiration in magic...


In the summer of 1975, I was on vacation with my family, we were traveling through Texas and stopped in the city of Dallas. I had read of a little nightclub in Dallas called “It's Magic.” So as we traveled across the country, we just had to stop by and check this place out. We got into town early evening, and as we drove past this place there on the front door was a sign that said Derek Dingle was performing in their magic lounge. I can almost hear the tires of our car screeching to a halt. Derek was originally from England, so he had that elegant charm that only the English have. The next day I was fortunate to spend the afternoon with Derek. My family and I were treated to a couple hours of his wonderful card magic. His taking the time to spend with us was simply extraordinary and I will always be grateful for such kindness. There just happened to be a friend of his visiting with him at the time, I didn't recognize his name at the time, but the friend was magician John Cornelius. John showed us some magic to, of course, it was exceptional!

Over the years, I had the chance and good fortune of bumping into Derek Dingle on a few occasions at magic conventions. He was always a gentleman and I will always appreciate his kindness and good nature. What stood out for me really was first the quality of his magic, he had a twinkle in his eye and a funny something to say that went well with his magic and he was always sharply dressed, with a very elegant nature about him. Of course, the English accent helped. These qualities, of how he carried himself and performed impressed me greatly.

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During the mid-1970s, I spent quite a bit of time at a nightclub in San Francisco called the Magic Cellar. There were many great magicians performing at the magic cellar in those days and one of the very best was magician Vic Kirk. Now I must say Vic was and is my biggest inspiration. I had the good fortune of knowing him for about 20 years and he was a very close friend. He was “Uncle Vic” to my two daughters. The discussions we had about magic were wonderful. I first saw him, as I mentioned, performing at the Magic Cellar nightclub. He performed at the close-up magic table as well as on stage, many times. He had a very strong commanding presence as well as a deep speaking voice. The kind of voice that you usually hear narrating some great story on television.

Vic is also the only person, in magic, that I could truly say had a PhD in magic. His erudition was that of legend. I now own most of his library of magic books and these books are well-worn with his study. He knew these books inside and out, like a clergy man knows the scriptures. He was familiar with all performing aspects of magic, and actually learned every magical effect in the entire Tarbell course of magic. And why did Vic know magic so well? The performance art of magic was his life's work. Whenever I am asked “what does it take to become a great magician”, my answer is “passion” for what you do. This is probably the greatest piece of information that I gleaned from knowing Vic Kirk. His knowledge of magic was encyclopedic, that is  because he loved it so much, he studied every aspect of magic. Not just the tricks, but all the details that make up performing magic, from how you conduct yourself on stage, performing up close, to the smallest details of what make magical entertainment great. I must say, talking to Vic Kirk about magic, is what it was like to talk to Einstein if you were a physicist. The depth of the conversations were wonderful and something I miss.  Vic Kirk has had the greatest influence on my magic than any other person I have ever known.

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Let's go back in time once again, it is approximately 1977 and I am on a trip to Reno, Nevada. While I am there I am introduced to a magician by the name of Terry LaGerould. The first words I can say about Terry is that if I were asked “who do you think the finest close-up magician in the world is?”, my answer would be Terry LaGerould. Without question, Terry is not only the best close-up magician in the world, by my standard, but the most creative mind in magic that I have ever known. He is like an Artesian well, magical creativity pouring forth without stop. I have seen him do the kind of magic, in skill level, that I have never seen anyone else do. Terry has spent most of his life entertaining in the hotel/casinos of Nevada. He told me a story once, he wanted to get into magic as a performer and he came out to Las Vegas to witness for himself the famous magicians of that time, this was during the early 1970s. He found that they were great, but fortunately his skills were very good as well and he could forge ahead and do well as a performer of magic in the world, and he did. I remember he performed at Harrah's in Reno, Nevada, in the mid-1970s and later at Caesars south shore of Lake Tahoe casino in their restaurants. Over the many years that I have known Terry he has entertained hundreds of thousands of dinner guests and even hundreds of thousands of tables full of dinner guests, and incredible number! His skill as a magician and performer are a testament to this time he has under his belt.


I've spent many hours over the years talking magic with Terry and it has certainly influenced my performing style greatly. Terry is a master of presentation and weaving the entertainment storytelling perfectly with his original magic. As a footnote to this story, his book “Pasteboard Presentations” is one of the all-time best books on card magic complete with his presentations. If you can find a copy or any of the magic he has produced, don't hesitate to get it. Terry LaGerould is, without question, one of the most “fun” performers I have ever seen.

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The fourth magician I will speak about is a gentleman who was a friend of mine for many years. Let me use a little tale to introduce him to you, my friend Greg Wilkie.

“I was 19 years old and had owned my magic shop for about one month at the time. Business was, of course, new to me but my interest in magic had been going since I was about 14 years old. I thought I really knew a lot about magic, especially close-up magic, when one day into my store walks Greg Wilkie. I asked him if he was into magic and his reply, with a smile on his face was “oh, just a little.” Within the next hour or so he showed me more great magic than I had even read about in the first five years I had been working on the subject. Since then I figure I have just about tapped him out on what he knows about magic, but that was 18 years ago, and I'm 37 years old now and about every other day when we're talking about magic he says to me, “hey did I ever show you this one?” He always proves me wrong, that is, about tapping him out, which is one of the many things I like about Greg! Greg has always been one of the best influences on my magical career, as well as in an unending source of enthusiasm, knowledge and skill when it comes to the subject we love to talk about most, magic!”

That story I wrote about my friend Greg Wilkie was written 19 years ago, as a forward to a booklet he had written about magic for a class he was teaching. Another story I remember about Greg was we were at a Christmas party for the Society of American magicians local group, it is probably about 1978. We all had enjoyed dinner, but when it came to the evenings performance itinerary, there really wasn't one. Fortunately, Greg was there at that dinner and when dinner was finished he sat down at one of the tables, put his close-up mat on the table and for the next hour and a half performed some great close-up magic. That alone made the evening for everyone. Over the years Greg and I spent many hours talking about magic. He knew most of the performers at the Magic Cellar that I was familiar with, so we had a common history between us. Greg went on to perform magic internationally for a number of years before returning to the United States and making Martinez, California his home.

What I remember mostly about Greg was his enthusiasm and passion for magic, that's what grabs me most when I think of him and the time we spent together. He was very well read in magic literature and his love, especially for close-up magic, I believe was the strongest. He was a good friend.


Three of my magical inspirations Derek Dingle, Vic Kirk, and Greg Wilkie have all passed on and I miss them greatly. Terry LaGerould is still out in the world of magic, doing his thing as only he can, without peer!

These four gentlemen influenced my magic the most and I am grateful for having known them. I do believe it is very important to have people that you look up to, in every field of endeavor. These people are our heroes, this encourages us and inspires each of us to move forward and be the best we can be. This influence we have upon others is one of the most important aspects of learning.

Thanks for listening, there are more details to be told, until next time... Gerry Griffin

Wednesday
May142014

The Magic Cellar... my reminiscences by Gerry Griffin

Let me tell you about my days at the Magic Cellar nightclub. It was located at 630 Clay Street in San Francisco. “Earthquake McGoons” was the name of a famous jazz nightclub located at that address and there in the basement was housed the collection of Carter the Great, the famous magician. A little history to go with this first and the story I am about to tell you is as amazing as the Magic cellar was itself. Back in the 1950s two brothers, Peter and Cedric Clute had purchased some old cars and had them stored in a building where they were planning to fix them up. During this time the owner of the building told them they needed to move the cars out as soon as possible. While the brothers hastily prepared to remove the cars they accidentally broke through one of the walls, it was a false wall and on the other side they discovered packing trunks. In these trunks was the collection of the great magician Charles Carter, known to the world as Carter the Great. In all there was approximately 20 tons of memorabilia. There was apparatus, posters, costumes and large illusions that Carter had used as he traveled the world performing.

The Clute brothers were able to purchase this collection of memorabilia from the building's owner. Our story continues and the plot thickens. Turk Murphy was the leader of his own famous jazz band and he had a nightclub that opened around 1963. This nightclub was called “Earthquake McGoon's.” The nightclub was located at street level at 630 Clay St. in San Francisco and Carter the Great's collection of magic was moved to and stored in the basement of the building, which was quite large.

Peter Clute was the piano player with Turk Murphy in his jazz band. Cedric Clute, Peter's brother, decided it was time to do something with Carter the Great's collection of magic. His collection was put on display, the stage was built, and the Magic Cellar nightclub was born in the basement of “Earthquake McGoon's” nightclub in 1970.

Now the location at 630 Clay St., in San Francisco is just one block from the Transamerica Pyramid building and one block approximately from Chinatown. This was the old location of the William Tell Hotel, an old three-story building. Located around the back of the building on Merchant Street, was a very famous posh restaurant, at the time, The Blue Fox. I always wanted to go there, but never made it. Now, Alfred's Steakhouse is in the building where the Blue Fox once was located.

I first heard of the Magic Cellar in 1975, the year I graduated high school, and went there for the first time in the fall of that same year. Of course the Magic Cellar had its own little entrance, a window marquee just to the left of the door, and a little awning above the door that said “Magic Cellar Saloon” on it. When you entered the doorway you descended down a staircase, on the wall just above you was a very large poster framed of the magician Carter the Great. The staircase turned to the left and there you were in the Magic Cellar. A little desk was there to the left where you paid to get in and an old Wurlitzer Juke box to the right playing old songs from the roaring '20s, and a little further just ahead was the bar. If you were standing looking at the bar and then turned around you would be looking at the nightclub theatre itself. Surrounding the walls were memorabilia of magicians. Thurston, Blackstone Junior, Harry Houdini and many more, but mostly the collection of Carter the Great. There was a “Sawing in half” illusion, and near it was the “Million-dollar Mystery” as presented by Howard Thurston in his big show. A little further ahead was the “close-up magic” table, just to the left of the stage. If you continued past the little stage, there was a spirit cabinet, the kind used by the Davenport Brothers. Next to that was the large “Iron Maiden” illusion. I remember there being a poster of Nicola the magician performing the Iron Maiden illusion, a young lady placed in the cabinet and big iron spikes driven through her, only for her to exit the cabinet unharmed only moments later. There were a number of display cases surrounding the walls with smaller magic props in them and on the walls very large full color lithograph posters, theatrical playbills you might call them, some as large as 9 feet tall and 9 feet wide.

In the center of the room where the small tables and chairs which faced the stage. Behind them stacks of packing trunks, still unopened and filled with treasures. When you arrived for the evening, these tables are where you would sit, grabbing a chair at one of the little tables getting ready for an evening of delightful miracles. The first time I went to the Magic Cellar, I remember seeing magicians Matt Corin perform at the close-up table and on stage magician Martin Lewis. Martin Lewis performed great magic, I remember him finishing off with the Chinese Ring Mystery, or as it is more commonly known The Linking Rings. During the years that I visited the Magic cellar, the magician in residence was a gentleman named Arthur Murata (I think I spelled his name correctly). Arthur did he a lot of card magic, which was right up my alley. I can remember seeing him many times. Let me see if I can remember the magicians that I saw perform at the Magic cellar, first as I mentioned, Arthur Murata, Matt Koren, Vic Kirk, Harry Anderson, Tony Slydini, David Roth, Rich Marotta, Prof. Lee, Tom Ogden, Danny Korem, Paul Svengari Nahmen Nissen, Daryl Easton and quite a few more whose names escape me for the moment.

Tony Slydini I was able to see two times. Each time he came to town he did a magic lecture on the Saturday afternoon at the Cellar. And of course that evening he performed two shows, both close up magic and his stage magic. I was even lucky enough to be chosen to sit in a chair on stage and be part of his famous flight of the paper balls. It was absolutely wonderful! I went to the Magic cellar pretty much every weekend, sometimes Friday and Saturday nights both on any given weekend.. Driving there from Antioch, where I lived, was a bit of a longer trip in those days, but it was worth the trip every time.

One of my all time favorites was magician Vic Kirk. I saw him perform both close-up magic and stage magic many times at the Magic Cellar. On a side note, I got to know Vic Kirk very well over the years and he became a very close friend. In 1977, on April Fools' Day, I opened my first magic store in Antioch, California, then in 1980, I moved my magic store to Pleasant Hill, California. The Magic Cellar had closed around the end of 1977, so, I had not seen Vic Kirk for a number of years. But then in about 1981 into my magic store walks Vic Kirk. We hit it off right away, especially, with reminiscences of the Magic cellar and those days back when. I must say, in all my years doing magic and being around magicians, I learned the most from my good friend Vic Kirk. But I've gone off on a tangent.

An evening at the Magic cellar, would go about like this, you arrived about 7 o'clock, the close-up magic show would be performed once in the evening, so you didn't want to miss it. We would gather our chairs and surround the little table where close-up magic would be performed. We sat in eager anticipation waiting for the magician scheduled for that evening. The bartender would step over to the table, turn on the light above the table, and introduce our performer and the close-up magic began. That performance was probably about 20 minutes long, I never kept track of the time. After that, we would move our chairs back into the center of the room and get ready for the show on stage. Of course, it was time to buy drinks and the cocktail waitress would be around to visit. Now, I was only 18 years old, so my big drink for the evening was a cherry coke, excellent. There were two shows on stage, one about 8:30pm and another about 10:30, and of course I would stay all night, so sometimes we would see the same performer do the same show twice. Now I can remember my friend Vic Kirk telling me about performing at the Magic Cellar the first time. When he came out to do the second show of the evening, he saw many of the same faces in the audience that had been there for the first show. He was doing the same show for much of the same audience twice. He quickly realized he needed an entirely different show for the second performance and he was one of the few performers who always did a different second show, that was wonderful. I must say, naturally I didn't mind seeing the same show twice, at least for me, being interested in magic as a hobby I could watch it over and over again and loved every moment of it.

Well, as our evening at the Magic Cellar would continue, sometimes on stage there would be two performers which was even better, one of the stage performers might perform at the close-up table and then, of course, be on stage. The rest of the evening was spent visiting with my magic buddies at the time, and waiting with baited breath to see who in the world of magic might just happened to show up that evening. These were some very special times for me in those early years of magic, and my inspiration as it would become for the California Magic Club, dinner theater and magic shop.


There are many more tales to tell and I will be continuing this very soon… Gerry Griffin

Monday
Mar042013

In conversation with Christian Cagigal

Who was your biggest influence when you got involved in magic?
I loved David Copperfield's early TV specials because there was always a some sort of sketch, story or vignette in his shows. I was captivated by those pieces because the magic seemed to really mean something to the story; a characters hopes, dreams, fears. And, David Copperfield's magic was always very escapist and magical. Anything could happen in Copperfield's world. Harry Anderson who played the judge on the TV show "Night Court" was a huge influence too. Even though he did comedy-club style magic, he could stop a room of drinkers and smokers dead in their tracks with a story and all of sudden you were transported to the world of side-shows or mid-century Manhattan where gamblers and con-men roamed the streets. And lastly, Penn and Teller really made me think twice about what art and magic could be. My style is almost the complete opposite of what they do but I love that they have no shame in making you consider society, politics and religion. They have a personal point of view on the world and as artists they didn't care if you like their opinion or not. Their performances always made me think, "What else can I say with magic? What other boundaries can I push?"

Tell us a little about the style of your magic show...
My style is always fun, inviting, lots of audience participation; people really seem to love the work. One of the reasons is that I never pull back from making my shows feel like magic. Which means sometimes my shows are little dark (because if magic were real it might weird you out a bit) and there's no irony, no wink and I don't make fun of anyone. The audience joins me on a wonderful journey of magic and mystery. And, they love it. I love it too 

What is your favorite memory of California Magic Club since we first opened in 2004?
I've really only started visiting Cal-Magic regularly this year. And, every time I come Gerry swings his doors wide open for me and all the performers are so gracious. Instant new friends! But, this will be my first time performing on the Cal-Magic stage so, I feel like there's a bunch of awesome new memories that are about to happen...

What is the biggest challenge in developing a stage show?
I usually produce my own theatre shows. I've been an Artist in Residence at EXIT Theatre in downtown San Francisco for the past 7 years. They've been really supportive in allowing me to explore new ways of mixing art, magic and theatre. The biggest challenge for me is trying to weave the magic into a long 1 or 2 hour story that really makes sense. I don't mean just do a "trick," put it away, then do another one. I mean, how I can make the magic tell the story for me just like how a song can tell the story in a musical. I haven't perfected this approach yet but what I have been able to accomplish seems to have worked because it's created dedicated fans and followers. So, I guess I'm doing something right (I just wish I knew what that was though...)

What do you think will change about the art of magic throughout the next five years?
I think what will change is that more magicians will wonder what else they can "say" with magic. It's become harder to put on the big stage shows because it's so expensive. So, they'll move more towards a real connection with the members of the audience because when you can't have all the big lights and pyrotechnics all you have is yourself. And, that's the most amazing thing you can give someone, especially from the stage. Which is why I love Cal-Magic so much; it's intimate, true, it's success is based on the fact that you're surrounded by people ready to have a good time, magicians ready to make magic with you, and amazing performers-many of whom do big stage shows-coming to really connect with the audience. It's beautiful.

What’s your favorite quote and why?
I have too many...
Playwright Harold Pinter said of art,"There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false: it can be both true and false."
When magician Eugene Burger was asked why people still watch magic shows when we have such amazing technology in the world and movies with amazing special effects he replied with, "Because the human heart cries out for magic."
And, creator of Kermit and the Muppets, Jim Henson, who probably started out with nothing more than a sock and two ping-pong balls on a string said, "Take what you got and fly with it."

Sunday
May272012

The California Magic Club Celebrates 700 Dinner Shows


Thank you to everyone who shared this magical weekend with us while we celebrated our 700th show! Can you believe it? Yes, 700 magic shows since we first opened in 2004! Incredible!

As we were preparing for the weekend, a beautiful bouquet of flowers was presented to us from the 500 block of Main Street, our new home since 2011. The very wonderful Dick Duncan of Martinez stopped by with the gift on behalf of the group in congratulations of our exciting milestone.  Many, many thanks to the dear people surrounding us! Your friendship and enthusiasm is greatly appreciated.

To help us celebrate, Magician Kerry Ross joined us on stage. This veteran performer, comedian and magician has appeared all over the world, from cruise ships to television appearances and all places in between.  We enjoyed two full nights of happy guests — good food, great drinks and grand entertainment! 

Another big thank you goes out to the California Magic Club Family who make our fun supper club all that it is — magic is alive and well here in the heart of downtown Martinez!

Tuesday
Mar132012

Q&A Session with Magician David Hirata


Our club is very excited to present the magic of David Hirata [ thingsimpossible.com ] this Friday and Saturday night. As the first magician to receive a standing ovation in our new club location on Main Street, it was sure time we followed up with him from our last Q&A session. This Saturday night is sold out, but tickets are still available for Friday night — check out our ticket page. Have a question for David? Post a comment below, and we'll get right back to you!


Who was your biggest influence when you got involved in magic?

I grew up in the ‘70’s, when Doug Henning was the big star of magic.  Every kid magician copies his heroes and Henning was a good role model for me—because while I couldn’t copy his modern hippy persona, I loved the way that he performed his magic to be amazing, to “create a sense of wonder,” as he put it.

Tell us a little about the style of your magic show.  What part of your show means most to you?

I think there are some faint echoes of Doug Henning in my onstage character, someone who is basically saying, “Look, I’m going to show you some amazing things, and we’ll all have a wonderful time together.”  A lot of magicians focus on comedy magic—a natural choice, since a lot of magic is inherently funny.  While I tap into that natural humor in magic a lot, first and foremost I’m out to amaze and enchant.  In that sense, the part of my show that matters most to me is what happens in the audience’s minds afterwards on the drive home or at the water cooler the next morning.  I want that “Wow!” feeling to linger.

What is your favorite memory of California Magic Club since we first opened in 2004?

I love being at Cal Magic, so I’m constantly accumulating new “favorite memories”!  Here’s a recent one:

A few weeks ago, Cal Magic’s onstage headliner was Bobby Vegas (the alter ego of our own Robert Kane).  During his set, Bobby ran into a problem that could have utterly ruined part of his act.  But he instantly improvised a bold workaround on the spot, and, from the audience, the act looked exactly like it should have—to me, it all looked like “business as usual”.  After the show, when Bobby told me what had happened, I felt tremendous awe and respect for his showmanship and professionalism in that almost disastrous moment.  Getting to be a part of moments like that is one reason it’s such a privilege to be at Cal Magic.

What is the biggest challenge in developing a stage show?

Creating the experience of Magic for the audience (as opposed to mere “tricks”) is a challenge because all of the secret manipulations, machinations, and contrivances have to be completely invisible to the audience.  Doug Henning used to say that, in practicing sleight of hand, “the hard must become habit, the habit must become easy, and the easy must become beautiful”.  To create a good magic show, every single moment of deception must live up to that standard.

To put it another way, Gerry sometimes compares the performance of magic to a swimming duck;  i.e., looking at it from the surface, you see a bird gliding gracefully across the water.  But under the surface: little webbed feet, kicking like mad.

Tell us about the first magic trick you learned to perform.

At the risk of sounding pretentious, I think that one can “perform” and one can “Perform”.  When I learn the secret to a magic trick and master it well enough to fool an audience, I can certainly “perform” it and have fun with it.  But after I have “performed” a piece of magic many times before audiences, I can deeply understand the piece—all the differences that a one second change of timing or a half centimeter shift in finger position can make.  That’s when I’ve learned to “Perform” the piece.

So the first magic I learned to perform was the old “severed” finger in a box trick, which I learned from an oddball magic book in my school library(!) called Spooky Tricks (What can I say—I was a 7-year-old who liked monster movies).

The first magic I learned to Perform was probably the linking rings.  It took me about 20 years of performing it to learn to perform it.  And I’m still learning.

What do you think will change about the art of magic throughout the next five years?

I think that a good magician will always be entertaining and amazing to an audience.  But obviously, technology is changing everything, including magic.  In the world of high tech, we can see how hundreds of people are creating new “apps” for smart devices.  It’s not like twenty years ago, when most computer software came from just a few companies.  There’s a lot of creativity to be found in the iTunes marketplace for instance, and it’s not just from big music stars and entertainment companies.  So technology has made it possible for many, many new ideas in magic to be created and distributed on a level never seen before.

What’s your favorite quote and why?

From the great filmmaker Federico Fellini: “Life is a combination of magic and pasta.”  Aside from the fact that I love performing magic and a good plate of spaghetti, I like this offbeat way that he said, “lighten up a little…and don’t forget ordinary pleasures”.