Welcome to the Calvacade of Magic Presented By Kirk Kirkham

My Father was the Magician known professionally as Kirk Kirkham, his real name was Charles and many folks called him Chuck. He lived from 1926 to 2001. He was an active professional performer from the time he was sixteen years old. Magic was the only living he ever had. He toured with the USO after World War II, did the spook show circuit and television extensively in the 1950's, did thousands of club dates, school shows, and more television in the 60's, continued performing in the 70's but also became a well regarded prop maker who produced equipment for other magicians and attractions around the country.

Currently, David Copperfield has the largest private collection of illusions in the world, but prior to his success and collection, my father may very well have been the previous holder of that title. He owned parts of Thurston's Wonder Show of the Universe and Mysteries of India. He acquired much of the core of his collection from Will Rock back in the early 50's but continued to add to it the rest of his life. He knew and worked with Harry Blackstone Sr., Percy Abbot was a mentor to him. Dante was a personal friend, and he owned famous illusions that belonged to all of them.

My goal is to keep his legacy alive here in cyber space, and provide some historical context to the Southern California Magic scene in the 60's and 70's. I have had virtually no contact with the Magic world since my Mother passed away in 1994. My Dad suffered from Alzheimer's in his last years and he could not write the book that he always said he would get to someday. I don't know enough about magic to write competently concerning history, practice and technique. I can however provide an historical context for my Father, a man who knew almost everything about magic during the 20th Century. He had a huge library, subscribed to dozens of magazines, and had met every important magician of the second half of the century. He was consulted by many of the experts that now make up the intelligentsia of the magic community. He was also a mentor to many fine magicians and scholars of magic. I hope to hear from some of those people as a result of this blog.

Welcome to the Magical World of Kirk Kirkham.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tihany Crystal Casket

Back in 1971, we moved out of a great house we had lived in for two years in the Mid-Wick track of Alhambra. My Dad had built quite a bit of equipment for himself and for others in the driveway because the neighbor called the cops if he used the garage. It was a strange attempt to use a zoning code to keep work from being done there. It may have been one of the reasons my parents decided to leave, although they had done much to repair the house after the previous renters had trashed it. If they had bought the house then, there would have been a huge windfall because it was a great property and in the 70s and 80s, the value appreciated substantially. Anyway, we ended up in the apartment building that my folks lived in for most of the rest of their lives. There was very little room when we first got there but over time we acquired access to storage and basement rooms that proved very helpful. Still needing a place to work, my father leased a garage that was on a big vacant lot just four blocks from the apartment.
Les Smith, the owner of Owen Brothers magic, also in Alhambra, and just a few blocks south of where we were living, was a friend of my Dad's at the time. He let my father store some of our furniture and appliances at the warehouse where the factory was located. We did not expect to be in the apartment long and it was a nice gesture on his part. This was around March 1971. A few weeks later, a magician named Tihany, visited Owen Brothers and was conducting some sort of business when Les Smith blew his stack over something. Apparently he was pretty cantankerous. He threw Tihany out of his place and told him to take his business elsewhere. My Dad knew Tihany and he came to see us. We had gone down to Mexico several years before to see Tihany's big show. He toured in a giant tent with a very nice Vegas style theater inside. There were circus acts and animals but most of the show was Tihany and his illusions. Anyway, Tihany needed an illusion and Les Smith did not want to make it the way Tihany had requested. He asked my father if he would build it for him. Well, this was the end of my Dad's friendship with Les Smith. He explained to Mr. Smith that Tihany had come to him, after he had been rudely thrown out by Mr. Smith. My Dad needed the work and took on the assignment, figuring he was not stepping on anyone's toes, but failing to recognize that reason does not always rule in these situations, and that business does frequently interfere with friendship.

Not only did Les Smith end his friendship with my Dad, he sold our appliances and furniture. This began a bitter professional rivalry. Any time my Dad could take a job away from Owen Brothers, he was happy to do so. He had been close to Carl Owen and frequented the business when he was alive, but after Smith took over and we had this nasty bit of business, that company was also dead to him. I think a lot of our business in those years consisted of magicians who had similar run ins with Les Smith. I know that my Dad was short tempered as well, and he knew how to carry a grudge, but I also know he was quick to forgive and forget if given a chance.

The prop that Mr. Tihany wanted was a crystal casket to be used for a production box lifted off the stage. I don't know what it was that Les Smith didn't like about the request, but my Dad built a very nice prop in the dilapidated garage on the corner of Fourth and Linda Vista. I remember the orange and yellow plexiglass that we used, it was not nearly as classy as the clear glass that we had used on a similar prop a couple of years before. However, it was the seventies and anyone who lived in those times knows how those orange tints crept into all kinds of places. I have seen some ugly furniture and wallpaper with the same orange and yellow colors. It screams 1973.

That is my brother Kirk in the glass box that would be lifted off the base on stage for the girl to appear in. I may very well have taken the picture of my Dad in front of the garage where he built this, I don't quite remember. I do remember that Tihany was quite pleased with it and he and my father remained friends. We did build some other props for him in later years as well. I also have Tihany to thank for my first rifle. He was with my father when he was shopping for a birthday gift for me. I think Tihany talked my Dad into it and may even have paid for part of it. I still have the lever action .22, and I think of my Dad and Tihany, every time I see it in the closet.

This is a page from the program for the Tihany show. It was an impressive presentation. I don't think we built the cage illusion pictured here, but we might have. I know that we constructed at least two of these in the early seventies.

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