Thursday, May 7, 2009

Presto! Longest-running annual magic show in the U.S. returns

Margaret Steele has magic to do.

By Joe Maniscalco

(Published in the 5.7 issue of 27/Seven)

George Schindler was just a boy when he first witnessed the astonishing man in Coney Island who could make bottles disappear and catch fish with an invisible line.

Awestruck and immediately hooked, it wasn’t long before the Brooklyn kid was performing his own miraculous feats of magic at the JCH on Bay Parkway and getting paid a whole dollar to do it.

Today, Schindler, 80, is one of the most respected magicians in the country, if not the world, with 65 years of hocus-pocus packed away in his steamer trunk. He’s also dean of the prestigious Society of American Magicians.

On May 16, Schindler and a cavalcade of some of the most beloved illusionists of the last century like Carl Ballantine, David Ben, Mike Caveney, Scott Interrante, The Pendragons, The Amazing Randi, Margaret Steele, Johnny and Pam Thompson will perform at the The Society of American Magicians’ 100th Annual Salute to Magic at the Manhattan Center in New York City.

Throughout the long history of the Society of American Magicians, there have only been nine deans, and four of them -- Al Baker, Jean Hugard, Jay Marshal, and Schindler -- have been from Brooklyn.

“There’s great diversity here,” Schindler says from his home in Marine Park. “You don’t have the hustle and bustle of the city.”

From Al Flosso, the Coney Island Fakir, to David Blaine, the Brooklyn street magician, there would seem to be something in the multiformity of Kings County air that is especially conducive to prodigious prestidigitation.

Richard Steven Cohn is another a highly regarded and successful magician who also happens to hang his top hat in Brooklyn. For the last eight years, Cohn has hosted the popular “Night of Magic” at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture in Park Slope.

For him, diversity has indeed proven to be a key element in Brooklyn’s simmering cauldron of magical spells.

“Magic is always appealing to people because it has to do with dreams and the impossible being made possible,” Cohn explains. “That’s the immigrant experience, coming to the United States and being transformed.”

To be sure, there are also some very practical reasons for Brooklyn’s affinity with magic.
“In its heyday, Brooklyn was an entertainment hub on its own,” Cohn says. “There was work here.”
From the theaters of Coney Island, where Hugard once operated a theater and hung out with a fellow who would one day be known as Carey Grant, to the vaudeville houses that seemed to proliferate the borough, magicians had a stage to work their wonders.

Brooklyn was also a very cool place to be -- literally.

“In the early days before there was air-conditioning, a lot of performers would work the summer season at Coney Island, also Brighton Beach, Canarsie and Bergen Beach,” Cohn says.

Schindler honed his magic skills outdoors in Brooklyn parks under the tutelage of “Peter Pan the Magic Man.”

“Everybody loves magic,” Schindler says. “We don’t try to fool anybody. If we wanted to do that we’d be politicians. We entertain people.”

The public’s love affair with card tricks, escape artists and levitation continues to this day despite the ubiquitousness of computer-generated wizardry.

“In times like we have now, they’re looking for some hope, and wouldn’t it be nice to be like a magician and pull money out of the air?” Schindler muses. “People are just happy that somebody is out there doing some kind of miracle.”

While there isn’t a magician alive who wouldn’t relish performing on a stage where Houdini himself once challenged the unknown, working magicians like Schindler and Cohn appreciate rapt audiences in all their incarnations.

“The most lucrative magic of all is children’s magic,” Schindler says. “There will always be children. You’re never going to get rich but there are many magicians who work all year long playing children’s parties.”

Schindler, who has written numerous books on magic including “Magic with Everyday Objects” and “Presto Magic for Beginners,” believes that there has never been a better or easier time for youngsters to break into magic.

“The educational system is so advanced with the availability of DVDs and all the rest,” Schindler says.

And don’t think that because some have begun profiting by divulging magic’s biggest secrets on TV that magic will lose any of its mystique.

“I don’t know why people are even interested in that,” Schindler says. “It only hurts the guy who does it. It doesn’t hurt the professionals. All the explanations are incorrect anyway.”

To purchase tickets to the 100th Annual Salute to Magic by credit card, go to Tickets are $75 each. Groups of 10 or more are $65 each and may be purchased by calling Tom Klem. For information about tickets or to purchase tickets by check, call Tom Klem at 212-725-5258.

Proceeds from this event will go to the Ernst Relief Fund, which was established to aid magicians in distress.


Copyright © 2009 All rights reserved

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP