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.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Amazing Phyllis Kirkham

Those of you who knew my parents, know that my father's common sense came from the woman he was married to for 47 years. They were High School Sweethearts at Battle Creek Central High. She worked with him in his entire professional career. My Father could be impulsive and short-tempered at times. He was also pig headed about a lot of things, yet if it was needed, my mother was there to calm him down, point out something that he was unwilling to see before, or back him up like a tiger. They were a team. Most professional magicians have the spotlight while their spouse moves in the background. It always seemed to me that my Mom got as much attention as she ever wanted from us, but she did step out front and center on occasion.

Houdini did a straight-jacket escape from tall buildings to draw attention to his upcoming appearances. My Dad must have thought it was a great idea, but he was an innovator and somehow managed to get my Mother to do the escape bit when they were touring around. I can't say for sure how many places they must have done this but in the early years before my older brother was born, they traveled extensively in the Western U.S. and this probably was featured in any town that was of sufficient size. 

Here she is at street level, this may have been in Battle Creek because the older woman here looks a lot like my father's Grandmother. I can't say for sure, and I don't know who the little girl would be. They may simply be bystanders who stopped to pose with the daredevil  woman.

In the late forties and early fifties there may not have been enough tall buildings in small towns to have the dramatic effect that Houdini would get from hanging off a skyscraper, so the next best thing appears to have been a hook and ladder from the local fire department. I can't imagine the red tape you would have to go through these days to pull a stunt like this. Back then, you might only have needed to ask at the fire house and get the chief on board.

If you watch the video above, you will hear some very dramatic music being played to heighten the sense of danger. From my point of view, hanging upside down fifty feet above the asphalt of the street intersection would be plenty dangerous enough. I wonder if there was ever a band or recorded music used at these events. Now a days, there are so many graceful performers working in places like Vegas, high above the stage and audience, we may get a little jaded as to how truly dangerous this stuff could be.

This shot gives me just a bit of vertigo by looking at it. You can see that there is some dramatic flare in the presentation with her arms outstretched once released from the jacket. My Mother must really have loved my Dad to do this kind of stuff. She comes from a family of five sisters who were all amazing in their own ways. The oldest sister, my Aunt Reba,  in in her late eighties and still plugging along. She is the last in the series of Lines sisters to be with us, but I have multiple cousins and second cousins that I have never met, who will know how my Mom could do something like this because they have met Aunt Reba. The Lines sisters were not shrinking violets.

Somewhere else in my dozens of boxes, I have a photo of my Mom standing with several other Magicians, getting ready to escape from straight jackets as part of a Hollywood promotion of the movie "Houdini " starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. When I find it I will add it to this post.  The producers of "You Asked For It", which my parents appeared on several times, might have been horrified to learn that my Mother was pregnant with my older brother Chris when she did this stunt on their show. How is that for being a trooper?


  1. Stalwart resident of 834 South Garfield for more than a decade. The Kirkhams were fabulous. I was only a child, but one day Mr. Kirkham decided to pour 86 pennies out of my nose. Before that, I didn't know his immense legacy. I knew them both as people. I love them still. Rest in peace. -- Matt Slimp

    1. Matt, we remember you and your family quite well. Thank you for the nice comments. I hope everyone in your family is doing well. Feel free to comment or contact us. Richard and Dolores Kirkham