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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Magicians of old » » Willard the Wizard (2 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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jakeg
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I just watched a 5 minute film about the Willard the Wizard Show.. although it's not the same huge extravaganza, it's in, I believe, the 5th generation presented by the same family.

In its heyday it traveled in 17 railroad cars doing a tent magic show, and was a regular throughout some of the southern states.

I'm wondering why we don't hear more about them. The YouTube movie was quite fascinating.
Dick Oslund
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Hi Jake!

I never saw Willard either. Growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I was lucky to see carnie and circus sideshow magicians, with names on the banners, like "Mysto". I also saw many school assembly performers, like Harold Sterling, C. Thomas Magrum, Roy Shrimplin, Stuart Ross, Roy Mayer, Loring Campbell, and Stanley Susan. Once in 1945, when I was 13, my parents and I drove about 6 hours to see Harry Blackstone, pere, at the old Davidson Theater in Milwaukee. (I thought that I had died and gone to heaven!)

I heard of Willard, but, he toured below the Mason/Dixon line!

In 1978, my dear old friend, Bevely Bergeron, wrote a book ("Willard The Wizard, World's Greatest Magician") It sold very well. It was the real story of Willard. I believe that Bev published it himself.

If you wish, PM me, and, I'll "duke you in".
SNEAKY, UNDERHANDED, DEVIOUS,& SURREPTITIOUS ITINERANT MOUNTEBANK
jakeg
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Hi Dick
That little movie really got me curious. If I remember correctly, the tent show basically covered 3 states.
Sending you a pm
Dick Oslund
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My old buddy, Bevely Bergeron grew up in southeast Texas. He had the opportunity to work on the Willard show. He had the opportunity to KNOW Harry Willard. I just spent almost an hour, leafing through the book that Bev wrote, about Harry, and the Willard family. What an experience!

I must make a minor correction, however. Apparently that 5 minute story of he Willard show, said that the show had reached a point where the show traveled on 17 railroad cars. The show actually peaked out at 17 trucks. It was as circus folks termed it, "a motorized show". And, the trucks weren't the size of 18 wheelers today. Some of the trucks were "house cars". One truck became the stage, and, one truck carried the props. The "cook house" was part kitchen, and, part folding chair transporter. Another carried the canvas which became the tent theater.

Sketches in Bev's book, "Willard the Wizard" show the center poles of the tent setting up, first. If the sketches are correct, it was a bale ring top, which required a canvasman with knowledge and experience to get it up and down. (A push pole top is much easier.)

So! 17 railroad cars, or 17 trucks! Many towns that Willard played were miles from a railroad!
SNEAKY, UNDERHANDED, DEVIOUS,& SURREPTITIOUS ITINERANT MOUNTEBANK
jakeg
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Very interested no stuff. I wonder how many other large traveling magic shows were on the road, and how the business end of it worked. Were they more or less like carnies or circuses ?

I find the traveling shows along with vaudeville, the traveling preachers, the old carnies to be a fascinating side of show business.
Michael Baker
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This is another "must have" Willard book...

https://nnmagic.com/store/magic-books/wi......charvet/

I have 2 original Willard posters (Harry Willard). When I lived in Alabama, I was friends with Bill Stevenson (W.A. Stevenson). He was a member of our local magic club and was friends with Harry. Bill told me some great stories about Harry.

You may not be aware, but Michael Ammar's wife, Hannah is Frances Willard daughter (Harry's granddaughter).

Jake, you'll have fun studying the old tent show magicians, the Chautauqua shows, the tall grass magicians, and those others who forged out a living on the road, sometimes under brutal conditions. (We think we've had hard shows??!! Read up on guys like John C Green (Green the Magician), or Augustus (Gus) Rapp.

This book on him is my favorite magician bio.
https://www.stevensmagic.com/shop/life-a......pp-book/
~michael baker
The Magic Company
jakeg
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Michael, I have a small box of handbills brochures and business cards of magicians dating back for a long time ago. When I look at it I kind of think about all those that went before us that almost no one even remember any more. Any of these guys were the people they paved the way for what we are doing today.

I have a real love for vaudeville, services, and variety shows, and find them fascinating. As I see it, most magic shows are updated vaudeville acts. It's easy to see how a person can get into magic will ventriloquism dancing or singing, but I often wonder how somebody wints up with some of the really unique acts are that are out there. The writing of routines also fascinates me.

I'm not very original. Maybe that's why I find it so interesting.
Michael Baker
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Jake,

I have a sizable collection in general, but have a modest group of similar handbills and flyers. I see tons of this kind of ephemera for sale, usually pretty cheap. I don't buy everything, but I will occasionally pick up something is it strikes my fancy, or if there is some relevance, like someone who lived close to me, etc.

A lot of these guys were weekend warriors, same as today, doing really good shows, but on a part-time basis. Others still, were more significant in their careers as magicians (or variety performers).

It's a little harder to hide these days, and there are many outlets for magicians to associate with one another, even if only by someone's name reaching far and wide. While magic organizations certainly existed long ago, if a performer was on the road making a living, he may not have had the same level of fame among magicians at large. Someone may be known to their friends and close peers, and certainly by the audiences that they entertained. But, outside of those circles, their names would never be on par with the likes of Houdini, Thurston, Dante, Blackstone, etc. Sometimes the only thing we have to know that they were there at all, are the occasional flyers and newspaper clippings that survived.

I'm like you, I love seeing these bits of history. I was also happy to see that Dick Oslund chimed in here. Find guys like him, and listen to their stories. I've been fortunate to meet and speak with many magicians like him, those who have been around long enough to relate stories and experiences that will likely vanish with them.

BTW - I rarely come to the Café anymore. If you are on Facebook, look me up.
~michael baker
The Magic Company
Dick Oslund
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@#%% ! I wrote up a couple of anecdotes on the MacDonald BIRCH show, and, also, the C.A. George Newman show. Then I started editing, and deleted the whole thing!

I'll get back in a couple days, and try to reconstruct my "magnum opus" (?)

Jake! Ya left out the "med" shows! There's a great book: "Six White Horses and a Brass Band". It's the 'story' of medicine shows.
TOBY SHOWS also deserve a mention. I was offered a job on one (Neil Schaffner's) eons ago, but, my schedule was full.

Then, we should not ignore SHOW BOATS, either! --a specialized, "rep" show! My friend, Tommy Windsor worked on one.

See ya down the road!
SNEAKY, UNDERHANDED, DEVIOUS,& SURREPTITIOUS ITINERANT MOUNTEBANK
Dick Oslund
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Jay Marshall had a couple of great anecdotes. I'll try to crank up my memory banks.....
SNEAKY, UNDERHANDED, DEVIOUS,& SURREPTITIOUS ITINERANT MOUNTEBANK
foolsnobody
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Quote:
On Jul 15, 2017, Dick Oslund wrote:
@#%% ! I wrote up a couple of anecdotes on the MacDonald BIRCH show, and, also, the C.A. George Newman show. Then I started editing, and deleted the whole thing!


Dick---I am very interested in reading your MacDonald Birch stories, having read a brief description of his act in "Programmes of Famous Magicians" by Nelson Hahne, put out by Magic Inc. (A terrific resource by the way!)
Dick Oslund
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I have only one or two on Birch that I can easily remember. I'll make it a point to write them. --Nothing spectacular, just, neat and fun things.
SNEAKY, UNDERHANDED, DEVIOUS,& SURREPTITIOUS ITINERANT MOUNTEBANK
JNeal
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There is a fine book on Mac Birch; "Birch- The Master Magician" by Thomas Ewing. Also, Genii did a cover story with lots of articles in the late 1960's
visit me @ JNealShow.com
hugmagic
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There is a great book called Mud Shows and another called "Step Right up" by Dan Mannix (sp).
Richard E. Hughes, Hughes Magic Inc., 352 N. Prospect St., Ravenna, OH 44266 (330)296-4023
www.hughesmagic.com
email-hugmagic@raex.com
Write direct as I will be turning off my PM's.
Dick Oslund
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At one time, I think I owned more copies of "Step Right Up" than anyone in the country!!! If I recall correctly, the Harper edition was a "book of the month", in '50 or '51. So, it had a wide circulation!

It was originally published in serial form in "Colliers" magazine, in the '40s. It was titled, "Memoirs Of A Sword Swallower". I remember reading it in "Colliers". Later, I found a copy of the Harper edition.

On the road, I would, when I had time, visit the various thrift shops to be found all over the USA. Sometime in the '60s,everyone in the country must have cleaned out their book shelves simultaneously! I would find "Step Right Up", regularly. --Sometimes, two in one day! I had a suitcase full when I finished a tour! I started sending them to friends all over the country.

I may have sent one to Jay Marshall, knowing that he was a bibliophile. I do remember our talking about Mannix's book, because Jay said, "The opening sentence is a "grabber": "I probably never would have become America's leading fireeater if Flamo the Great hadn't happened to explode that night in front of Krinko's Great Combined Carnival Side Shows." I agreed with Jay, 'cuz I had been a carnie fireater, myself, when I was about 16. I did magic, fire, and lectured on the "big snake" (a 15' python).

The story was about as true as any book of its type. I did note one error. Mannix mentioned a "double row of center poles". A double row of center poles would have "resulted" in a flat "roof"!

I've worked on mud shows, too. I was on the advance on three of them, and, clowned with one. I managed the late Tim Deremer's "Ape" show about 30 years ago, and, even managed a "Pig Racing Show" for three seasons, playing fair dates from Oregon to New York. (I "got" sawdust in my shoes!)
SNEAKY, UNDERHANDED, DEVIOUS,& SURREPTITIOUS ITINERANT MOUNTEBANK
jakeg
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It seems to me that writers have careers similar to that of show people. If they're lucky, they a best seller, then, unless they are spectacular, the books and the writers fall into oblivion.
Dick Oslund
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Mannix wrote another book. I don't remember which book came first. It was titled "Backyard Zoo" or something. He loved animals.
He died, perhaps ten or fifteen years ago. I THINK he lived in the Pennsylvania area.
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Anatole
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A copy of the book _Step Right Up_ that Richard and Dick mentioned is currently listed on eBay:
http://www.ebay.com/itm/STEP-RIGHT-UP-Da......3utY5jxi

Mannix's _Memoirs of a Sword Swallower_ is also on eBay:
http://www.ebay.com/itm/Memoirs-of-a-Swo......cUBYTaAW

Could they be the same book published under two different titles?

alibris.com also has copies of _Step Right Up_:
https://www.alibris.com/booksearch?keywo......&hs.y=33

----- Sonny
----- Sonny Narvaez
Dick Oslund
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It's about 70 years ago, Sonny! "Step Right Up" was originally published in serial form in "Colliers" magazine, in the '40s. About 20 years ago, George the Giant (side show friend whom I met in Bakersfield, CA in the '80s) showed me a paper back "magazine size" copy of "Memoirs Of A Sword Swallower" with "period pictures of characters mentioned by Mannix. I should have ordered one! The pictures alone were well worth it!

I would be interested in knowing what $ they sold for!
SNEAKY, UNDERHANDED, DEVIOUS,& SURREPTITIOUS ITINERANT MOUNTEBANK
Anatole
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The eBay copy has a "Buy it now" price of $8.21 and the alibris price range is from $2.55 (good) to $8.25 (very good; reduced from $20.00)

So I just placed an order for the $8.25 copy from alibris

BTW, Dick, did you know Jimmy Steele? He was with one of the circuses--sideshow I think--and dropped in at Earl's shop once back in the mid-60's when the circus was in town. IIRC, a photo of him with a Miss America was on the cover of an issue of _The New TOPS_

----- Sonny
----- Sonny Narvaez
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