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November 04, 1973 - Image 3

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1973-11-04

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magazine editors:
marty porter
tony schwartz
contributing editor:
laura herman



hooks-pages 4 & 5
profiles-page 5
perspective-page 6
week in review-page 6

Number 8 Page Three

November 4, 1973





world's largest magic

fa c to:ry:
By. Laura Berman
COLON, Michigan
SKELETONS PAINTED on the black ex-
terior of the world's largest magic fac-
tory conjure images of the whirl of activity
that must begoing on inside. After all, Colon
-a town some 80 miles from Ann Arbor-
is also known as the "Magic Capital of the
But visions of a mad phantasmagoric
assembly line complete with men in tails
and top hats furiously producing rabbits
vanish when Recil Bordner, the president
of Abbott's Magic Company, appears at the
He has no magic wand, no cards up his
sleeve. No, Recil Bordner is a man in his.
early sixties with graying hair and baggy

Talking s
s down i


the magnificence of various magicians are
yellowed, those bright flowers curling down
at the edges .. .
LATER IN the day a magician will say:
"It is the magician who has to put the
magic into it, the tricks themselves are
empty," but for now the display seems more
garish than glorious, and the entire room
has an aura of faded extravagance.
"The days when a magician could travel
with a show and make a living are pretty
much gone," he says. "Most of our cus-
tomers today are amateurs and many of
them are professional people - doctors,
lawyers., dentists-who have the time and
money to take up magic as a hobby and
a way of entertaining their friends."
Magic enjoyed the height of its popular-

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Blackstone's presence

still lurks about in Colon.

There is a street named after him and he is buried
here. As co-founder of Abbott's he is remember as
a brilliant but stubborn man. "No magician could
put together the kind of act that Blackstone had,"
Recil Bordner says.
NAWI MM55mimm225..ww. .....................................@%2%#s82%%%##&i~iisis

n Colon
)-ny in 1934. When Bordner arrived in
'oloa a few years later, Blackstone and
Abbott were no longer on speaking terms
and he took over the great magician's po-
'sition as a partner in the firm.
HILE MAGIC performed in a grand
and lavish style is not as common as it
once was, Abbott's will still manufacture
tricks worthy of a Blackstone on special or-
der. For example, THE VANISHING ELE-
PHANT can be had for $1200 if the magician
allows 6-8 weeks for delivery and provides
his own elephant. More modest is CUTTING
A GIRL IN SIXTHS which costs a more af-
fordable $320.
While Bordner still professes some inter-
est in magic ("I stayed up to watch 'Hou-
dini' on the Late Show the other night."),
and originally wanted to pursue it as a ca-
reer, his present interest in Abbott's Magic
Co. is strictly financial.
Since the death of Percy Abbott in 1959,
Bordner has headed the firm and while
he hasn't revolutionized the operation of
the company, he has expanded, advertising,
enlarged the staff and increased profits.
Under his management, the annual magic
show held in Colon each August has be-
come one of the most important magic
events in the country. But after a lifetime in
the business, he has no illusions about the
mystique of magic.
"It takes practice and skill," he says.
"Bit it also takes the right personality and
"If this were still Blackstone's time," he
svs. "Neil Foster could be the most fa-
mo-s magiciin i nthe country. In my opin-
'nn he is the best."
BUT THIS isn't the time of Blackstone
and instead of travelling across the
country with a horde of assistants and magi-
cal paraphernalia, Neil Foster is the vice
oresident of Abbott's. He works from nine to
five in another of the company's dingy
rooms, editing the monthly magic trade
1TW17ine calleds Tops.
Foster is soft-spoken and undistinguish-
P'' looking and Bordner's characterization of
the introverted magician immediately
comes to mind. But there is more magic
than that to Foster: he has the drive and
the love for magic that makes his work
transcend craft to the level of an art.
"When I was nine," he recalls, "my
parents took me to see Blackstone at a lo-
cal theatre and it changed my life. It was
the first time I can remember my parents
letting me down - they couldn't explain
his tricks. And I was overwhelmed. Since
then, I have had a driving urge to do
"But you don't get good until you have
spent a lifetime working and practicing.
Magic is like playing a violin. Anyone can
play a violin but not everyone can get
music out of it."

Neil Foster is considered to be one of the greatest magicians in the world. "The secrets themselves are unimportant," he
says. "The magician puts the magic into his act. Anyone can play a violin but only a few can make music."

pants and battered black shoes. He looks
something like Bill Kennedy.
And after 40 years of buying and selling
illusions to the nation's magicians, Bord-
ner readily admits that magic is "wearing
a bit thin" on him by now. "Why don't you
take a look around?" he suggests.
THERE IS no evidence of magical en-
deavors. The office is dark and clut-
tered with file cabinets and copies of old
magazines. The black dial teleiiones sit
silently on a metal desk and one light bulb
hangs grimly from the ceiling.
But in the next room, it's all there: the
silk top hats, magic wands, gorgeous mul-
ticolored bouquets of paper flowers, red
satin stands.
The catalogue Abbott's publishes is sit-
ting opened on a counted. The illustrations
are old-fashioned, drawn in the early car-
toon style of "The Katzenjammer Kids".
And the names of the tricks are overblown
and a trifle hokey. THE ULTIMATE DOVE
Huge posters on the walls proclaiming

ity during the 20's when vaudeville was show
business and Blackstone emerged as some-
thing of a legend, perhaps as the most fa-
mous magician of the century.
BLACKSTONE'S presence still l u r k s
about in Colon. There is a street named
after him and he is buried here. The island
where he made his summer home carries
his name. And a portrait of him hangs in
Bordner's office.
"No magician today could put together
the kind of'act thatdBlackstone had," Bord-
ner says. "He traveled with an entourage
of 20 people - he even had an animal boy
to take care of the ducks, rabbits and van-
ishing horse."
"There are two kinds of magicians,"
Bordner explains. "There are the intro-
verts who use magic as a way to reach out
to people because they are uncomfortable
tlking. And there are the extraverts, like
or local character Monk Watson, who want
to be the center of attention."
"Blackstone was a stubborn man, your
bombastic type of magician," he says. To-
°Qther with the Australian magician Percy
Abbott, Blackstone founded the magic com-

ANDAS IF to prove his point, Foster
sweeps a deck of cards off the table,
rolls them backward the length of his arm,
fans them and throws them into a waste-
basket. And then, somehow, retrieves the
entire deck in midair. Then he repeats the
trick-adding variations. Throwing away
half the cards and producing an entire deck,
pulling card after card from the air, all
within arm's reach - he is only standing
three feet away. This isn't a card trick,
it is magic . . .
Unlike most magicians who "pick up"
magic from whomever they can, Foster at-
tended a formal school for magicians called
the Chavez College of Manual Dexterity and
Presdigitation. While it has a name that
sounds as if it were invented by the fraud-
ulent Duke in Huckleberry Finn, Foster
insists it was invaluable to his career. He
taught there for a while, then went on the
road, and a few years ago settled in Colon.
FEEL something akin to reverence when
I think about magic," Foster says. "I
take it very seriously. When I see some
standup comic using cheap tricks in his act
or just a bad magician, I feel it is a sacri-
Monk Watson, another Colon resident,
would disagree. Magic has always been a
side act. For Him, Monk Watson is the
He comes bounding into Abbott's looking
natty in a mustard-colored sports jacket and
gleaming expensive shoes talking a mile a
minute. He is not an artist, but an 83-year-
old mass of pure exuberance and show-

The room is cluttered ("a mess", he
cheerfully admits). There is a flapper dress
hanging from the window, an old Victrola,
trophies, plaques, photographs of Monk
Watson in various attire-always perform-
" PLAYED with Else Janis-the greatest
vaudeville singer in the world-from
'21 to '22 coast to coast. We played at the
Globe, at the Gaiety, at the Hippodrome. I
directed an orchestra, Monk Watson and
the Keystone Serenaders it was called,
and we broke all records at the Grand Ri-
ver,' in Detroit."
Monk talks nonstop, in a continual banter:
he understates, overstates, builds his sen-
tences to dramatic conclusions - and
emerges the showman always.
"I had this stooge working. for me in
Detroit, he wanted to dance in my act
and I let him. The roof of his house burned
down this summer and it cost him $750,000
to replace: back at the Rivera I was pay-
irg him $150 a week."
Monk pauses dramatically, savoring his
next words. "Maybe you've heard of him,"
e sys. "His name is Bob Hope."
"IN 1930," Monk says, "the bottom fell out
of show business and I turned to magic.
But it will be back, it's got to be back."

But for now, Monk performs at conven-
tions and clubs and private parties; in the
afternoons he retires to his personal vaude-
ville museum, turns on his tape deck and
remembers the way it once was.
Meanwhile at Abbott's a community of
magicians works-and waits for conditions
to improve. The Amazing Conklins, a hus-
b -nd and wife team work downstairs in the
craftshop making tricks; Gordon Miller, a
virtual storehouse of magic information,
works in the stockroom; Len Babs Arturo,
the company's cabinet maker, is an expert
,t Houdini-style escape tricks.
Together with Neal Foster - the greatest
ma-nniplative magician in the world - and
Monk Watson, these magicians comprise an
incredible store of talent in a town with a
.opTlation of less than 2,000.
THEY WORK together, perform for each
other, and produce illustions that gather
d-st on showroom shelves.
Laura Berman, Contributing Editor of
the Sunday Magazine, first visited Colon
for its summer magic show four years ago
-at the behest of her father. He has since
become an accomplished amateur magician.
She has not.

ken fink

"I was born in Jackson and lived there
for awhile. I wanted to be near my mother."
Monk doesn't have to be prodded to talk
about himself. He's his favorite subject and
it is hard to separate the fact from pure
HE BEGAN practicing magic when he
was eight in churches and produces a



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