Monthly Archives: April 2018
Okay, so it’s finally time to tell the story.
I met and had dinner with David Copperfield a couple of weeks ago. Is this a big deal? To me, absolutely yes.
I have talked a lot about my mentors, Jeff McBride and Eugene Burger. You’ll hear more as I learn from Eugene’s successor in the school, Larry Haas. I have talked of my experiences in the Mystery School. I have talked about how all of this has had such a profound impact on me and the magician I have become and continue to become.
But how did it all start? David Copperfield.
When I was a kid I spent a couple of summers with my aunt and uncle. My brother and I were “on loan” to them so they could see what it might be like to have kids of their own. My parents got a break, they got an experience, and my brother and I got a vacation.
One day I remember watching TV and seeing David Copperfield for the first time on television. I watched him do the Dancing Cane. I watched him do the Dancing Silk. I watched him dance. Lot of dancing going on. But it was magic that stuck with me. Not the dancing part, but the actual magic part. To this day I still want to do the Dancing Cane (and I’ve been slowly working on a piece for myself based on work I’ve done with Jeff) as well as the Dancing Silk. I love animations and levitations, and that’s in large part because of David.
So, here I am many years later, and through some magic magazine or forum or discussion or something I hear about the fact that David is building a magic museum filled with props and devices and memorabilia of famous magicians. Names you’ve heard. Names you’ve never heard unless you are a magician too. And I dream about being able to go there someday even though I know it’s a private museum and so not very likely.
And now, just recently, I learn that Jeff and two of his “apprentices”, Will and Jordan, are “on loan” to David to work on the museum. And I say “Wow! I’d heard about that place! I wish I could see it someday!” And everyone is very sad for me because they know that David isn’t really going to open the place up to the public, it’s his private museum after all. And this is okay really. I don’t mean to make it sound like I was gaming for a way in or anything like that because I really wasn’t. I knew what the story was.
But a boy can dream.
The next morning I wake up in my hotel room and as I go about my morning routine I check my phone for messages, texts, etc. and sure enough I have a text from my mentor Jeff. And he says “don’t make any plans for tonight, I’ll tell you more later.”
I’m sworn to secrecy for the duration of the class because I am being given a special treat that no one else is able to indulge in at this point. That evening, after class is over I rush back to my hotel and get myself fed and cleaned up. Then I get a text saying “Come pick me up” and I go get Jeff and we go to David Copperfields warehouse.
Now you need to understand something here. City blocks in Las Vegas are huge. Really huge. And as near as I can tell, David’s warehouse fills one up. The place is massive. And when I walk in I’m immediately looking at the actual stage illusions he’s used over the years. Stuff I’ve seen on TV and in shows. Stuff I’ve watched over and over again on DVD.
And we walk along and through another set of doors and here I am inside the museum.
I can’t even begin to describe this. I still don’t exactly understand the enormity of what I am looking at. But I’ll get to that as I go along here. Just join me for the ride.
But immediately there are a couple of plastic folding tables with old props strewn about and for at least the next hour or two I am here to help Jeff, Will, and Jordan sort through them, help put stuff away, and clean.
I promise you that never in my life have I ever been so happy to do chores, nor will I ever be so happy to do them again.
While doing these tasks Will’s phone rings. He answers it on speaker. It’s David. He’s calling from back stage of his show. Like mere moments before he’s going to be going on stage, he’s calling, just to check in and see how things are going.
DAVID “FREAKING” COPPERFIELD IS CALLING JUST TO CHECK IN BEFORE GOING ON STAGE!!!!
(Okay, calm down. Breath.)
So, we fall in to the process of sorting through things, cleaning, reorganizing, and I kind of loose myself in the whole process. Will takes me around a little bit as we’re moving some stuff and I get into another room where there are rows and rows and rows of shelves of things that haven’t yet been organized just waiting and one of the things he points me at is a whole rack of antique magic lamps.
Okay, I’m not talking Aladdin here (although for all I know there is a shelf full of those kind as well), but rather the first step in the eventual creation of movie projectors. Big wooden boxes with bright lamps and big lenses and racks of hand painted glass slides that used to be used to tell stories, some of which were even “animated” by virtue of having multiple pains of glass that would be slid in to place so that the image might transform.
Imagine being in a darkened theater space, a bit of smoke in the air in front of a wall and a lantern throwing an image of a man into the space that, with the shift of a lever, suddenly becomes a demon. Imagine what that would be like back in the mid to late 1800’s. Yeah.
I have one of these myself. A tiny little thing, but precious.
David has a rack full of full sized ones and another rack stacked high with the individual glass slides for who knows how many stories. He doesn’t know. Not yet. That’s one of the many reasons why Will and Jordan and Jeff are working away here, to organize and delve into the depths of magic history accumulating inside these walls.
And I’m crying again at how cool these things are.
And over to this side there are something like 50 ventriloquist dummies, sitting on little chairs in semi-circles facing one big rocking chair with one of the most famous ventriloquist dummies out there; Madam. Did you know that David was learning to become a ventriloquist before he got in to magic? I did. But here was a lot of evidence, just in case you didn’t know…..
So David calls again to let us know he’s on his way over (HE’S ON HIS WAY OVER!!!!!! *SQUEEEEEEEEEE*) and we go in to over drive to clean up the last few things. Mostly we’re sorting stuff that we’ll need David to tell us what he wants done with.
And then David shows up.
Now you need to understand something. When you’ve seen David on TV or even if you’ve seen his live show (on tour or in Vegas), every single second he is performing the greatest magic he knows; to look like David Copperfield. Because the guy who walked in to the room wasn’t 19 feet tall with wind blowing in his hair and smoke billowing around him. All that stuff is for the show.
Nope. This guy who walked in was actually shorter than me, dressed all in black, wearing a black winter coat bordering on parka, and slightly hunched over and shuffling. He looked like the pleasant older gentleman you might run in to at the park feeding pigeons. A complete dichotomy of the image of the super human being he has been for my entire life.
Which is not to say that he didn’t have an immediate charisma and charm. Far from it. He is still completely the handsome and powerful presence you would expect, but on stage he is a sorcerer and here he was more a shaman, to use archetypes we study in the school. And no, that isn’t even the fan-boy in me speaking up. It’s just literally the case.
On the drive over Jeff had given me a few tips on dealing with David, specifically not to go all fan-boy on him (perfectly understandable and I can tell you that I did absolutely everything to remain as respectful and on my best behavior as I possibly could), that he doesn’t really like being chatty, but if I showed my appreciation for where we were and what we were doing that David would be very appreciative of that. And Jeff knew that this is what kind of person I would be because “DAVID COPPERFIELD’S PRIVATE MAGIC MUESUM”!!! I would be in a place filled with so much awesome that I have spent years and years and years of my life learning about, there simply wouldn’t be any other way for me to be.
So, where was I? Oh yeah, David shows up.
Now, if you’ve seen his show you know that he likes to indulge in some pretty silly humor. You would think that this might be scripted in to his show, and basically it is, but it’s scripted as examples of real life, because he seems to have that very same silly humor in real life. You all know that I perform under the name Santiago. So when David shows up Jeff introduces me, saying “this is one of my students, Santiago.” And I swear to you, without missing a beat David Copperfield walks up to me, extends his hand and shakes mine as he says —
“So, your last name is Chile?”
DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD IT IS NOT TO GROAN IN THE FACE OF ONE OF YOUR BIGGEST HEROES WHEN HE LANDS A JOKE LIKE THAT AS YOUR FIRST REAL INTRODUCTION????????????
Let me tell you —
IT’S ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And now I’m standing in one of the most awesome places I have ever been in my life, shaking hands with someone who I have idolized pretty much my entire life, and of all the ways I have imagined it might be like to meet him, never once did I ever consider the possibility that it might happen OVER A PUN ABOUT MY NAME!!!!!!!
(As I write this tears of laughter are spilling down my face.)
Okay, deep breath. There is no such thing as a snappy come back here, and all I can do is chuckle and acknowledge that I’ve just been punked, and that I am actually totally fine with it.
While I am recovering from this David proceeds to show us how he became the borderline BILLIONAIRE (Seriously, he is almost now worth a Billion Dollars – like maybe two more shows or something) he is by becoming the total professional that he is, inspecting the work we’ve done, the decisions we’ve made, making some suggestions for what he wants to have happen next, and generally checking everything out. And that’s when the next bit of coolness happens.
Sitting on a counter top are three packages of an illusion that David performed on one of his earliest television specials. One he did with Loni Andersson as the special guest star, and the prop involved a poster of Loni in a bathing suit that was hanging on the walls of many a teenage boy back then. The routine is called “Bathing Beauty” and literally by sheer coincidence earlier that day Will and I had been discussing the method for that effect in relation to a piece I’ve been noodling over for about a year now. He knows how it works and suggested that the method to that effect might be the answer to how to accomplish the effect I’m working on.
David picks them up and asks why they are sitting there. Will says “Oh, Santiago and I were just talking about that effect earlier today.” And I say “Yeah, that’s the one you did in your special with Loni Andersson”. And then it’s something along the lines of “They were just sitting here and we weren’t sure what you wanted to do with them since they probably don’t belong in here.”
David says “Here, take one,” as he hands me one of the packages, “and we’ll put these others away over here for now.”
Yup, he just handed me free material like it’s nothing. And I guess to him, in a way, it basically is. It was product he was selling. He can certainly afford the generosity. But at this point, honestly, he’s known me for approximately 90 seconds. So I’m still recovering from the joke and he’s now giving me gifts, and he’s doing it simply because he can and he knows that such generosity is the way to build relationships. He doesn’t know me but he knows that I am here and that I wouldn’t be if Jeff, Will, and Jordan had even the slightest doubt of my character.
Next he happens to pick up a black folded card, something large enough to hold postcard sized material and he opens it up. He shows it to me and asks “Do you know what these are?”
I smile. “Oh! Yes, those are samples of the cards you used in your ‘Orient Express’ special. The interactive piece with the TV audience where they ended up deciding which train car you were going to vanish! I love that one!”
He smiles and I have the distinct impression that I have passed some kind of test.
And now, after a bit more by-play and conversation, he wants to give me the tour. Well, he wants to test things and the best way to do that is to give me the tour.
You see, this is more than just a museum. It’s an interactive tour, and he’s done more than just put things on display, he’s created a theatrical experience. Well, duh, right? I mean come on, what else would this man do?
So he’s got a little handheld box with a bunch of buttons on it. It’s presets. He’s got sound and lighting cues all set up for this whole museum. It’s a guided tour of magic history, both general and personal, and the docent is David Copperfield.
Here is how it goes. Starting at the front door you come in to a large room almost completely pitch black. A low light shines from the ceiling straight down on to a single glass counter like you find in any department store and David is behind it. The counter is filled with some very old magic props, books, and instructions of various kinds and on top are a few more items. David tells you that this counter is the one from the old Macy’s where he bought his first magic trick, which he then performs for you right there. In the background you can here the kind of music and voices you would have heard in a Macy’s at the time.
Then, the lights come up for the rest of the room and you find yourself standing in a recreation of the original Tannen’s Magic Shop. This is where David went next after depleting all that Macy’s had to offer. When I say that this is a recreation, I mean down to every last detail that can be mustered from David’s memory and every old photography (lovingly kept in a photo album on the counter) that he has. The huge U-shaped glass counter is filled with the same kinds of effects that would have been available at the time, and the walls have floor to ceiling cases just like the ones from Tannen’s brimming with magic collections of various name magicians at the time. The room is filled with the sounds of a busy shop filled with magicians and enthusiasts. Every inch of every shelf is covered with things that any magician devoted to the history of our art would look at and be filled with wonder and imagination. There are more beautiful secrets in this one room than I could ever hope to study in my life time. Which would not stop me or even slow me down from making a serious, concerted, and very determined effort.
But there is more….
You see in the back corner of this room is a doorway blocked by crushed red velvet curtains, something so completely in tune with the old theaters of a time I wish I could have seen, and in the Tannen’s of yesterday that led to “The Stock Room”, which is what David refers to as the space beyond this point as well.
But while Tannen’s stock room was probably a very tiny space that held plain boxes of things to go on the shelves, here is something very different.
Now pause for a moment and consider this — in today’s world we consider hand crafted items to be of great value. We appreciate the time it takes to produce something that is strong, sturdy, and beautiful in it’s construction. But it wasn’t that long ago when hand crafted items were the norm. That while industrialization was in it’s infancy, it hadn’t really touched the markets for specialty items and goods. And there aren’t that many items one could point to as being much more “specialty” than magician’s props.
Magicians around the turn of the 19th century especially were creating their shows and if not building things themselves, certainly were employing builders, craftsmen, and artists in order to create the unique items they were using, as well as producing in limited quantities the things they were willing to sell. These collections would, as you might expect, be named for the magicians who were responsible for their creation.
Okay, got that? Good.
Now, imagine walking in to a long room, maybe 30 yards by about 10 yards wide. Imagine that in this room are shelves arranged lengthwise in multiple rows in this room and that they go floor to ceiling.
Imagine you turn to one section and in your hands you are holding a large book, a couple of inches thick, most of which are pictures of all of the props ever made by and for a magician named Theo Bamberg, who performed under the name Okito. You open the book and on the first page you see a particularly beautiful box used to produce doves on stage. It is decorated in reds and golds with Chinese Dragons and characters on it. You look up and right in front of you is the box. You look at the next picture and it is another box that is used to produce lanterns and brightly colored banners. You look up and right in front of you is that box. And on and on, page after page, in the exact order the shelves in front of you carry upon them all manner of small, medium, and large lovingly hand crafted magical items of a magician whose greatest trick was to convince the world that he wasn’t a British man but an Oriental one, and that all of his illusions were “mystic secrets of the Orient.”
And then you can repeat this process for the Thayer Collection, and the Fantasio Collection, and, and, and….
Shelves and shelves and shelves and not single square inch remains uncovered by a treasure.
I take a few moments to gather myself because I want to sit down and play with every single thing in this room but I can’t and the amount of self control it takes to keep my hands off is nearly more than I can take.
But there is more….
Through another curtained doorway I stepped, but this time I have travelled back in time and to a deeply secret place.
The oldest magic shop in the country is a place called Martinka’s Magic, founded in 1877 in New York City. And I’ve just found myself in the back room. A place that held it’s own little theater, with rows of wooden benches. On the stage is magic of the era including the Blooming Rose Bush, an effect where a plant grew roses right before your very eyes. Martinka’s existed before The Society of American Magician’s did. The SAM was founded in it’s back room.
The greatest magician’s of a by gone age congregated there including Alexander Herrmann, Harry Kellar, Howard Thurston, and Harry Houdini.
And here I was standing in a place in time I have never even thought to dream of being able to consider going to.
And yup, I’m crying again.
It’s all coming at me so fast and not a single thing I’ve seen so far isn’t the most beautiful artifact I have ever seen in my life.
But Jeff is pushing me. Why? Because David has disappeared through another curtained doorway and I’m falling behind.
Yes, there is more….
I step in to a room that almost seems like an actual museum now. I’m confronted immediately by a large glass case with a mannequin in it wearing a very distinctive tux. Well, distinctive to me, and to almost any magician whose spent any time looking in to the history of stage illusion and most especially the dove act.
Because now I’m looking at the tux belonging to Channing Pollock, the man who practically created the modern dove act and all the special props and tools used. Every magician who does a dove act today owes it to Channing. Straight up plain and simple. A number of years ago I got to spend an entire day hanging out with Channing and Eugene who were friends in Channing’s home in Half Moon Bay at the time. A lavish house literally built on a cliff face overlooking the ocean. I spent the day in awe listening to two old masters and absorbing everything I could.
And here, preserved in a giant glass case is his stuff.
And behind me is the same kind of display for a magician named Al Flosso.
And another display for Dante.
And another for Doug Henning.
And on and on and on and on and on…….
And we stop at another doorway but David stops me. Because this room isn’t ready to be shown yet, but I can see full scale stage illusions and a giant billboard poster for Herrmann, and another for Dante, and it’s not hard to guess what is going to be happening in here. So we turn back, and work our way to the beginning again. And I am in heaven. I have seen a place very few people are ever going to see.
You see, this museum is David’s private museum. It’s the result of his love for the art he has devoted his lifetime to. And it’s not going to be a place that the public, for the most part, will even be able to appreciate. Because to the eyes of someone not in the know, all of this stuff is pretty, and cool, and even interesting, but chances are that the average person will not also be inspired, touched, moved by the miracles contained in these walls. If anything, like everything else about magic, unless you are truly devoted to this art, this life, then all you might find are the secrets that will spoil the magic for you.
The burden of magic secrets belongs on the shoulders of magicians. We derive our joy in magic by watching you when we perform it. But a place like this should remain available only to a select few.
I hope that I comported myself well. You see I know that Jeff is diligently working with David in the hopes that a select few of his students will be able to visit as well in the future. I don’t know if that will happen or not, but maybe, just maybe, by being as devoted as I am, as respectful as I was, maybe David will allow future Mystery School students to take a step into this beautiful space as well. But as far as I know, I was the first one of the Mystery School Students to see this, and I am deeply humbled by the experience.
In the meantime, the journey back to some level of reality took place as we moved back to the starting point of the museum and the space I had become familiar with over the past several hours now.
And there, waiting for us on a table, was the biggest, greasiest, most delicious pepperoni pizza I have ever had. Seems David was feeling a little hungry after his show and had his personal assistant order while we were on the tour.
So there we sat, David, his assistant Maria, Jeff, Will, Jordan, and I, having a pizza party, talking shop, and just hanging out.
The evening is coming to an end and I ask David if I can have a picture with him. He says yes, and I settle in next to him, break out the phone and set it up. He takes it from me and performs the greatest magic trick he’s ever done. In the split second between smiling for the camera and returning it to my hands he transformed himself into the 19 foot tall man of magic I have always known him to be for the picture you see above, handsome, charismatic, and every inch the reason I wanted to be a magician in the first place.
I thanked him as profoundly as I could for the privilege I had been given that evening and he smiled and thanked me for coming and for appreciating what he had shown me.
I drove Jeff home and then got myself back to my hotel at about 1:30 am, but sleep would elude me for some time. I began to think how was I ever going to be able to tell this story, and it’s taken me all this time to find the words.
They only scratch the surface.
Nevertheless, that was my dinner with David.