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, January 6, 2012

Shirley Temple Theater

Several years ago I was looking for a copy of the Hollywood Palace Episode that my Dad Had appeared on. I knew it was in 1966 but the exact date was not in my memory. I then did what most people now do without thinking about it, I went to IMDB and typed in Kirk Kirkham. This is what came up:

As you may notice, there are a couple of other references as well. He did a lot of television but it is not well cataloged. Not listed are all the episode of "You Asked For It" and "Truth or Consequences" and "The Steve Allen Show" as well as numerous others. One thing that was listed that I had never heard of was the Shirley Temple Storybook Theater. He was listed as Magician, so I assumed it must actually be him. I hesitated many times about buying the series because I was sure he was only in the show for a couple of minutes, but over the holidays an opportunity came up to get a copy at a fairly inexpensive price, so I went for it. I was right, he has just two brief scenes in the episode based on "Madeline". Apparently, she has run away to the circus and in the morning she is greeted by as assembly of variety performers; there is an acrobat, a juggler, a fire eater and the magician.  I was surprised to see that the episode is in color, because it was 1960 and color TV was not yet standard. I do seem to recall however that NBC made a big deal out of color being a huge part of their network so that may explain why.  The sequence here actually featured Kirkham more than any of the other circus folk, he does a nice bit of slight of hand that was mostly lost because the camera director did not seem to know how to shoot it. He looks very distinctive in this part with a fake mustache and goatee.

When the commercial break ends, the camera comes up on him immediately, performing a vanishing cane into silk trick and then the kids take center stage again. He did this effect at the beginning of the fast opening to most of the shows I worked with him on.

There is some dialogue as the kids talk about how tough it is for other kids who don't get to live in the circus, and how when they are grown ups they won't make their own kids go to school. While that is going on, my dad is in the background doing some more slight of hand that again, the director of photography had not staged very well. The truth is that the show was low budget and changed stories each week so they probably had to do a lot of this stuff on the fly.

He finally brings the kids in to help him prepare a pudding. They add some flour and vinegar and then a lighted candle to the pan.

And then Ta Dah:

The flames shoot up and the pan is filled with fire. Magician Kirkham covers the pan and then opens it to see if the pudding has come out and of course it is a large white duck. 

This shot shows the duck as it fly's off the table. We had a lot of P & L equipment in the collection and this Duck Pan was probably one that they made. The only times I ever saw my Dad use this type of prop were for kids shows because the live animals were always a hit with the little one.

The costume he is wearing looks like a combination of one of his tuxedos and then a red sash and epaulets are added to it. We may have had a cape with red satin lining but I do not remember it so it may have been a studio contribution as well. It was designed to look "Magician-like" for television. Although he had only a brief couple of scenes, he was listed third in the credits, right behind the little girl who played Madeline. He must have had a good agent.

The IMDB listing also has him a production manager for Plan Nine from Outer Space. I have no idea if that is actually him or if there is someone else with the same name that worked in Hollywood. I do know that he worked with Vampira on some TV stuff and she is in Plan Nine, and it would not surprise me a bit that he hooked up Ed Wood and his rag tag band of cheapo film makers with some material they used in their movie. He never spoke of it to me so I am only speculating. If any of you know if the Kirk Kirkham listed in the credits for Plan Nine is indeed my father please let me know.

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