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January 21, 1994 - Image 77

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-01-21

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.


Photo by Daniel M. Lippitt

Got You

Illusionist Harry Blackstone can
make it disappear before your eyes.



t is believed that the first ma-
gician born in colonial Ameri-
ca, Jacob Philadelphia, was
Jewish. The father of legendary
illusionist Harry Houdini was
an Orthodox rabbi. Yet anoth-
er theatrical trickster, Ramses
the Great, had been a kosher
These bits of trade informa-
tion were pulled out of the hat
of Harry Blackstone Jr., who
entertained, discussed his lat-
est literary project and gave out
autographed posters of himself
at the 42nd annual Jewish
Book Fair in November at the
Maple-Drake Jewish Commu-
nity Center.
"There's perhaps a
greater sense of humor
among Jewish magi-
cians," said Mr. Black-
stone, 60, who is not
Jewish but who has
done considerable re-
search for The Black-

Blackstone can be

stone Book of Magic
and Illusion. 'There's
a lighter quality, and
they seem much
more involved with
the entertainment
Also the author of
There's One Born
Every Minute and
My Life As a Magi-
cian, Mr. Black-
stone's participation in the
Michigan event was his first ex-
perience with a Jewish-spon-
sored book fair.
Finding that the program
seemed youth oriented, he in-
vited a large group of children
to assist with the vanishing
birdcage, one of several se-
quences in which he included
members of the audience.
"As people have an opportu-
nity to enjoy magic, they should
do so as a form of entertain-

ment, not as anything more spe-
cial than any other kind of per-
forming art," said Mr.
Blackstone, whose career began
at the age of six months, when
he appeared in and disappeared
from the illusions of his magi-
cian-father, Harry Blackstone
Sr., the Great Blackstone.
"I'm a little concerned that
there seems to be an interest in
the cabalistic aspect of magic,
which I dislike and heartily dis-
agree with. The magic that we
enjoy is the kind of magic that
makes smiles appear on peo-
ple's faces."
Other tricks that he learned
from his father and has taken
to stages around the world in-
clude the floating light bulb, the
dancing handkerchief and the
buzzsaw. He works with his
wife, Gay, a former TV dancer
whose talents were spotlighted
on the "Dean Martin Show."
"I was in broadcasting for 18
years," said the theater arts
graduate of Swarthmore Col-
lege, where he became a friend
of then fellow student and now
U.S. Senator Carl Levin. "I was
producer of the 'Smothers
Brothers Comedy Hour."
After the show was canceled
because of the censorship con-
troversy with the network, Mr.
Blackstone returned to the field
of magic, making a movie with
Tommy Smothers — Get to

Know Your Rabbit.
"Tommy and I went on to do
a show at Caesar's Palace," said
the entertainer, who was born
in Colon, Mich., since named
the Magic Capital of the World
by former Gov. James Blan-
chard and used as the annual
meeting place for professional

"The magic was so well re-
ceived by the reviewer in Las
Vegas that I took the review,
immediately went to New York,
put a show together and ended
up on Broadway with the
longest-running magic show in
the history of New York the-
After that 1980-81 engage-
ment, there were many televi-
sion credits including "The
Second Annual Magical Musi-
cal Halloween," 'The Children's
Royal Variety Gala" and "The
Blackstone Family TV Special."
Along with talk show ap-
pearances, he was on the PBS
series "Square One TV," where
he taught young people by com-
bining conceptual mathematics
with magic. In a quite different
capacity, he has portrayed the
recurring character of Dr.
Mephisto on NBC's "Santa Bar-
Mr. Blackstone, chosen three
times as the Magician of the
Year by the Academy of Magi-
cal Arts, compares the skills
used in illusion to the skills used
in sales.
"Magic is really applied psy-
chology," said the showman,
who has designed a line of mag-
ic kits. "You learn how to read
body language and personali-
ties and anticipate the direc-
tions people will take, both
verbally and visually.
"If I were to take something
like a pen top, hold it and con-
centrate on it, I can make it dis-
appear because I know exactly
what the actions of people
watching will be.
"As people are looking di-
rectly into my eyes rather than
looking at the pen top, I know

He's studied Jewish magicians.

that their gaze is away, and I
can do that by making eye con-
"You do the same thing in
sales. When you make eye con-
tact with somebody, that's the
time when you can sell them.
That's the time when you can
ask for that implied approval of
a signature on a contract.
"You learn how to focus on a
stage or in a room or in a busi-
ness presentation, which is one
of the reasons so many magi-
cians are invited to be part of
new product introductions be-
cause we know how to direct at-
tention to the important parts
of products."
Mr. Blackstone, who still has
property in Michigan, celebrat-
ed the 100th anniversary of his
father's birth in 1985 by donat-
ing the original floating light
bulb designed and built by
Thomas Edison and the origi-
nal. Casadega cabinet used in
the spirit handkerchief illusion
to the Smithsonian Institute in
Washington, D.C.
His was the first donation in
the field of magic accepted by
the institution.
Very interested in fund rais-
ing for children's causes, he and
his wife have donated a room-
ful of incubators for premature
babies to Hadassah Hospital in
"I've been invited to go to Is-
rael this next season," Mr.
Blackstone revealed. "We were
invited to go because of our fund
raising for Hadassah and B'nai
B'rith." ❑

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