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, February 17, 2013

Theater Fantastique

It has been a while since I posted anything and I do want to keep the blog active, but I am waiting for some material to come back from on loan, and some help in digging out more stuff from the shed. meanwhile, I had scanned these photos for a post on the Summer show at Lake Gregory in 1971. I do have additional material on it and I will put it together at a later time but for now, here is a preview of our Summer adventure.

My Dad always wanted what today's Vegas performers have, a long term venue that is mostly under their control. At one point he had talked to the owners of the old Rialto Theater in South Pasadena, and considered turning the warehouse at the old location of Owens Brothers into a Theater Annex for the steakhouse next door. In 1971, he and a group of investors tried a Summer Season show in the local mountain resorts near Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead. They scouted locations and were impressed with the numbers of visitors to Lake Gregory and the local village. They rented a tent and turned it into a venue for evening entertainment and weekend matinees.

This is a publicity shot in the local paper, mentioning the show and the slogan that they had used to promote it:
"Back Again for the First Time, Family Entertainment In Nostalgic Tent Show Surroundings." 

I remember when we first set up having some passerby asking what time the meeting was. They thought we were a revivalist church.

The show was promoted with two big banners across the main street through town, one near the narrow road that lead to the village and one right outside the back of the theater.

The shows were supposed to be nightly with Saturday and Sunday Matinees. Lake Gregory had their worst tourist season in years that summer. The crowds at the Lake were small so the crowds at the shows each night were also sparse. Some evenings we played to 40 to 50 people. The busiest nights were the three days around the July 4th weekend. We had between 300 and 400 each night, but it was not enough to sustain a large continuing operation. After the holiday, we dropped down to Thursday through Sunday shows. We also finished in July rather than the end of August which was the original plan.

The "Magic Circus" tent was fronted by a nice entry with a beautifully lettered sign.
At night it was lighted with floodlights to direct people to the main entrance of the theater.

In this next shot my dad is showing the set up to a couple of magic friends. Harlan (Torchy) Towner is on the left, and I don't remember for sure the name of the guy in the middle, although he does resemble Bill Keeler, I can't sat for certain that it is him.

Also in front of the Entryway were several large photos blown up from the shoot done for Argosy Magazine back in the 1960s. These were mounted on 4 X 8 sheets of plywood and stood up with triangular leg stands. I have not been able yet to find a shot of them. All of this was across the parking area for the lake which was just North of the location.

We had a pretty good sized group working the show that summer. My Mom, younger brother and I all worked. There were two Japanese Students that I think were connected to the magician Shimada in some way, who also played assistant and stayed on the property for the summer in tents behind the theater. They were both very nice but did not speak a great deal of English. Tina Cosko, the daughter of one of my Dad's friends in the IBM Ring 21 or Los Magicos, also worked the show. She was three or four years older than I was and she had done some of the other big shows that we did earlier that year at the Ebell theater. I think that is her walking across the lot in the daytime hours in the shot on the left. She of course was sawed in half and levitated on a nightly basis. I think her Dad was one of the backers of the show as well. All of us hung out quite a bit at the A&W stand on the corner west of the location.

The interior of the tent looked like a regular theater. We had taken the shopping center stage and adapted it to the front of the house. In the back there were risers that were supposed to be inexpensive seats for the crowds but since the theater was not usually packed, most people ended up down front close to the stage on show nights.

At some point during the run my Dad had severe sinus and back issues. He was often bed ridden during the day and managed to get up for the shows at night. For the family and Tina, we had a cabin that we had rented for the summer at the top of the hill just up the street from the grounds of the show. It was very convenient. When we stopped working every night of the week, we commuted back down the mountain to the apartment in Alhambra, usually Sunday after the show and then returned Thursday mornings.

We posted handbills and posters all around the town. Some had the rainbow spectrum background without any graphics. There was also a peach background poster that had some nice graphics used in other promotional material. Here is what that looked like.

It was a great experience but not a big money maker. The really nice part of it was that we did the show so regularly that things moved pretty smoothly and the show never lagged because of some problem with a set up. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do and they were well rehearsed. If we had taken the full evening show on the road, it would have been a burden on the family. This was another case of Dad making a decision to do the show in one spot so that we could have a fairly normal life. He had come back six months earlier from traveling with my older brother Chris on a Circus tour. They had to caravan with the troop and sleep in a trailer. I think my Mom laid down the law and said no to that kind of tour. Kirk and I needed to be in school. So the summer at the lake was a compromise.


  1. That is Bill Keeler with Kirkham and Towner. We both assisted him in Crestline, it was a great time and I loved all his fabulous illusions! Connie Keeler Mcleod

  2. Thanks Connie, I thought that was him, glad to have it confirmed.