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.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Giant Guilliotine

This is a performance of the Giant Guillotine by Kirk Kirkham on the "You Asked For It" series, some time in the early 1950s. Again, I think the camera placement is a little problematic for this illusion and it loses some of it's effect as a consequence. My Dad sold the original Giant Guillotine some time in the late sixties or early seventies. He first acquired it in the 1950s. Since he bought the Will Rock show and the Thurston illusions that came with it in 1954, I assume this clip came right after that, so probably 1955.

This is a shot of it in my Grandparents backyard. That would be my mother's parents. While my folks lived out here in Southern California with my Dad's folks in the 1950s for long stretches of time; when they were not on the road, they stored equipment they had purchased at the house in Battle Creek. I remember as a kid going back to Michigan each summer and while we were there, digging out crates and having them shipped back and forth across the country.

I don't have any memory of my parents ever using this prop on stage. For the nightclub act they had, they used a Lester Lake style head chopper that I still own. That would probably explain why he was able to part with this piece of equipment. I do know that the prop came with the Will Rock equipment, what I am not sure of is whether it was a Rock original or if it had been part of the Thurston show. When looking on line I found some intriguing material that explains only a little about it's history.
I had always believed that the prop was sold and then after we had owned it, it moved on and was ultimately used in the Alice Cooper shows in the 1970's. My Dad was not a big rock fan (except for Elvis), so I was surprised when he went to see Cooper at the Forum in Los Angeles in 1973. I think I remember him saying he went at the invitation of the magician that had provided the guillotine that Alice was using. I know he thought the rock concert was basically a big "Spook" show like he had done back in the 1950s.

The shot on the right here is with some other props he was storing in Michigan. That is either Ed Deland , a friend of my Dad's or my Uncle Dick who was married to my mom's sister Betty. (Hey, any of my cousins who can tell let me know). Anyway, I was always under the impression that the prop we had once owned was now owned by Rock star Alice Cooper. While I was doing research, I found this exchange with James Randi, who is a magician and is credited with obtaining the prop for Cooper. This comes from a Web site devoted to Alice Cooper and other shock musicians.

He says it was built based on the Will Rock model. That suggests that it was an entirely new prop. Again I am not sure what to believe, I have heard contradicting claims on this for years. Another exchange I found came from a magician named David Alexander. I knew David, he and my Dad had been good friends, and then had some issues and then were friends again. He called me ten years ago right after my dad had died and we spoke for about ninety minutes about all things Kirk Kirkham. He had some great stories to tell. Here is the post on a magic forum that I found from him.

I tried to e-mail him and then I sadly discovered that he died just a year ago. So I can't elaborate on the story he must have heard at some point. Again, one of the reasons I am putting this blog together is so that If others have stories or information or corrections, they can post them so I can be clearer.

Here, Randi seems to be saying that it is indeed the original Rock Guillotine, and that he never built other illusions that had been talked about with the Alice Cooper production. Regardless, I think it is all interesting as a show business story with some intrigue and a lot of fun.

I'm going to finish off this post with one more photograph. This is another one that was taken in Michigan, If the above picture is Ed Deland, then I am guessing that the girl in this picture is Carol Deland his daughter. On the other hand, it could be one of my cousins. It is not a very clear shot, so if anyone recognizes yourself, please step up and confess.

I just found one more shot on the set with Art Baker so I will add it here at the end.

Addendum: I have been contacted again by an old friend of my Dad, he says that my father sold the illusion to Ed Smith, and that it was probably after Ed was murdered in Hollywood that the prop probably moved on to it's eventual place in the Alice Cooper Show. Ed Smith was a collector of Magic Illusions and a good friend of my Dad. I remember him quite well, he was over at the house in East L.A. quite a bit when I was a little guy about nine or ten. He teased me about something one time and I remember making a Vac-u-form sign with a skull and cross bones and his name on it to give to him.  I also remember him taking my Dad and I to a Chicken Dinner Restaurant that he wanted to invest in, it was a broiler based franchise that I don't think ever took off. He bought several illusions from my Dad, and then sold them back to him and then would buy something else. They were a little bit like kids with trading cards. Ed was killed by two robbers in Hollywood right outside his apartment building. I thought I remembered where he lived, and I was sure I saw the building again in the movie "Pretty Woman", of course that could just be the years playing tricks on me.  My Dad's friend says that he last saw the Guillotine in 1970 when Ed Smith tried to sell it to him. I am also told that it appeared in the movie "The Stripper" with Joanne Woodward. 

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