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.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Stretching a Woman

This was an illusion that was a signature part of my Father's illusion show. He performed it on most of the convention shows we did, and he did it on television several times as well. This was one of the props that he acquired from the Thurston show via Will Rock. In it's original form it had a large spider on the facade and it looked quite old fashioned. When he did the illusion on the Hollywood Palace, he reconditioned it and gave it a contemporary look, featuring a black background and purple infused silver piping that gave the  appearance of  a series of infinity lines stretching out to the sides of the stage.

I know that many magicians are proprietary toward the illusions that they perform. Some of them created the effects and then saw others copy it and perform it under a different name. There were several times in the 1960s that my Father had attorneys send cease and desist letters to magicians that were doing an illusion like this. I suspect that one of the reasons he was on the outside of a few magic circles had to do with his confrontational style in pursuing such claims. In the 1970's, a magician from Atlanta I believe, had purchased one of the several versions of the Thurston prop that my Dad owned. Dad probably tried to obtain every version that had been associated with Thurston as a way of protecting his claim. So if Tampa or Dante had had a version of the stretching a woman, my father probably owned it at one time. Anyway, my Father's agreement with the magician from down south had been that he would not perform it in the Western region where my Dad still hoped to keep it exclusive to his own show. This performer was invited to be a part of the annual "It's Magic" and he wanted to bring the prop and do it as part of the show. Once again, lawyers were invoked, but I seem to remember that it was all handled quite amicably in the end, with the acceptance by both parties that this would be a one off booking and that the previous agreement would continue. Of course I was not in on all the wrangling so maybe I have this wrong. (The magician from the south was Abb Dickson).

There is a nice shot of the illusion featured in the Magic Magazine article that came out last month. In that performance my Mother was the woman who was stretched to incredible lengths. She was usually the victim or partner that was used in the presentation of this trick, but she was not the only person who took part. The performance on the Hollywood Palace show featured Phyllis, but not Phyllis Kirkham, instead it was Phyllis Diller. She was of course the groundbreaking female comedian, who had the wild hair and cackling voice. In the presentation on national television, she improvised a lot of lines and prompted some improvisation from my Dad as well.  She was a good sport and apparently really enjoyed working with my Dad. She invited him to work with her in Vegas but he turned down the opportunity. He had done Vegas with Orson Welles back in the 1950s and I guess did not want to get dragged into a similar situation. My older brother Chris was 15 when they did the Hollywood Palace, I was eight and my younger brother was four. Dad did not think living in Vegas for several months at a time or permanently was a good idea for a family like ours. It must not have offended her, in the DVD documentary that came out about her a few years ago, this presentation with my Father was included.

The English Invasion band Herman's Hermits was also on the show that week and my Brother Chris got to meet them at the height of their career. I have a pictures of him backstage with the band  and when I lay my hands on it I will add it to this post. He got to work the prop on TV and that is pretty neat. If you watch the video of the performance, you will see him pretty clearly. The Hollywood Palace was a West Coast version of the Ed Sullivan show, it featured singers, dancers, comedians and assorted variety acts. It was produced by Bing Crosby's company and rather than having a single host, The Hollywood Palace had rotating hosts, some of whom hosted once and others hosted several times. The show aired on Saturdays and it was on the ABC network. The stairs that are seen in the video are at the end of our bed right now, to allow the dachshunds access.

In December of 1971, I had my turn to be in the act with this prop on stage at Magic Mountain. We did the main stage for two weeks during the Christmas season. The stage where we worked was called the Showcase Theater, and I think that the idea was that Magic Mountain would try to have Celebrity performers on a regular basis. The marque of the theater is featured in "This is Spinal Tap" where the band is listed as supporting the puppet show.  The park was brand new at the time, opened only for about six months. Since the admission policy was unlike Disney, once you were in the park you had access to all of the attractions. I had a great time riding the roller-coaster and the log ride as much as I wanted between shows. I remember that my Dad tracked the exact mileage to the park everyday and that it was fifty four miles one way.

We worked with three celebrities during the run of the show. Shari Lewis was the first, she had Lamb Chop and Charlie Horse doing their bits and then came out and was the woman who was Elasticized by my Dad in his part of the show.  The second week we worked, the celebrity act was Tim Conway and McLean Stevenson. They did a comedy routine. I knew who Tim Conway was but this was right before Stevenson was cast in the TV version of M*A*S*H. I can't remember anything about their act except that it was funny. Tim came out and he became the Elastic Man for the rest of our run in the show. In order to make it funny and to keep his feet clear on the prop, he wore a pair of florescent orange socks. Of course I had a pair as well and I always referred to them afterwards as my Tim Conway socks.

1 comment:

  1. I think this was 1966, if memory serves me well... I had to go something with my Dad which is the reason I didn''t get to go...
    But i sure remember your Dad...
    Jim Stratton...