2000, my son Charles and I were invited by the TAOM 2000 President
Scott Wells to attend the TAOM convention in Dallas, Texas,
USA. And what a convention it was! You can read more on this
in another section. Eugene Burger once told me that it is
the people that make a convention. He was absolutely right.
During the convention I had several opportunities to spend
time with many wonderful magician friends, both old and new.
One of them was the great Bill Palmer and during one of our
conversations the name of Bob Blau cropped up. Imagine our
joy and pleasure a few hours later when my son Charles and
I were introduced to fine looking gentleman in a red beret.
A broad welcoming smile and an animated conversation ensued.
Much of what followed was a delightful journey into a secret
world that very few magicians in this world have had the privilege
of undertaking. However, as we neared the end of conversation,
Bob and his wife Thelma found out that after Dallas we would
be going on to Houston to perform; he extended a cordial invitation
for us to visit him at his home.
arriving in Houston, close friend and brother Magician, Ken
Neble collected us from my sister's home in Pearland, where
we were staying, and drove us a few miles down the road to
meet with Bob and Thelma. No sooner had the gates sprung open
and we were parking the car, down the path comes a sprightly
gentleman wearing his trademark red beret and around his neck
hung several medallions testifying to his illustrious 90 year
career in magic. This is not a mis-print. In October 2000,
Bob celebrated his 98th birthday! Forget any images of an
aged old man. Bob is far from that! He has a mind that can
rival any modern computer! Unless you are a true devotee of
the art of magic and been around for a while it is entirely
possible that many of you reading this may not have heard
of Bob Blau. It is precisely for this reason that I wanted
to share the experience. It is like finding a bottle of Latour
'57 and offering a glass to brother connoisseurs. When I suggested
the idea of writing an article on Bob for the site, Steve
Dacri was delighted. To quote Steve's words " this is exactly
what our site is all about - sharing the experience of magic!"
Bob's picture has been on the front cover of Juggler, MUM
and The Linking Ring magazines. He is The Dean of Texas Magicians.
The International Brotherhood of Magicians Ring 39 in Houston,
Texas is called the Bob Blau Ring. My son Charles and I are
honored and proud to be members. …
1 It was
really a fabulous evening visiting with them and we chatted
about all kinds of things and finished the evening in his
inner Sanctum. Bob and Thelma were gracious hosts and I consider
myself most fortunate to have been a guest at his home. What
follows is a summary of a memorable evening that needs to
be shared with all true lovers and connoisseurs of magic.
My sincere thanks to you and Thelma for your kind invitation
to visit your home.
me begin by asking you the obvious question, how did you get
started in magic? Tony, you and your family are entirely
welcome. I delighted to have you here. I've heard a lot about
you and your devotion to magic and I was very pleased to meet
you in Dallas. I am happy to have you in my home and to spend
time with you. Thank you for accepting my invitation to visit.
Well, my start in magic. I owe my start in magic to my parents.
They loved music and played the piano, violin and xylophone.
They were very extrovert types and loved going out to Vaudeville
shows, dramatic plays and circuses. Luckily for us, my two
brothers and sister, it meant that we were included in these
outings. My father had a small business and in exchange for
putting up a few posters and signs in his shop, he was given
free tickets. I got to see a lot of good stuff. Jugglers,
fire-eaters, knife throwers, mentalists, magicians, acrobats,
etc. I watched in amazement and was hooked.
old were you? Let me see. It all got started back in 1910
when I was eight years old. A whole different world came into
view. My mother made a mouse from a white handkerchief and
my eyes and my mind came alive with wonder and enchantment
as she manipulated it. My father showed me the 'Ball and Vase'.
I was truly hooked. The bug had truly bitten.
did you start doing your shows? Almost right away and
by the time I was 15 years old I was fairly well experienced.
In 1917, I used to entertain at Camp Logan in the Houston
area. The rest as the saying goes is history. Well, Bob the
saying in your case is most appropriate, it most certainly
was history in the making… and what a history!
must have some excellent memories of those days. Are there
any that especially stand out? Yes! Never follow a horse!
Back in the days of World War II I found myself performing
at a show at Ellington Air Force Base. My act followed Roy
Rogers and Trigger. It sure was a tough act to follow. On
occasions, I even had to watch my step! ..Also I remember
one time with the Spirit Cabinet. The ghost emerged in a flimsy
white covering and walked across a dimly lit stage. This time
the stage was so dim that she fell into the orchestra pit!
Thankfully, our music people were in the pit and were able
to break her fall and gently lifted her back onto the stage
were we continued the act. Among my many magic and juggling
performances I also had parts in Operas including 'MacBeth'.
The script called for me to be 'murdered' every night and
for a robust Italian baritone to fall across my prone body
as he finished his operatic lament. I don't mean gently collapse.
I mean really fall. This baritone wasn't exactly gentle as
he threw himself upon my prone body each night! After a few
performances I was almost murdered for real when his weight
began to crush me. Many a time I had to whisper to him " your
weight is killing me". Well, that showbusiness. I could tell
you lots more but the problem is no one would believe it!!!!
right Bob. Most likely they wouldn't. You have some great
stories. Can you tell us a little more of those days and your
links with The Society of American Magicians and The International
Brotherhood of Magicians ? Sure. Back in 1920, Fred Furman,
Simon Kottwitz and I started a small magic club. We also had
a publication called 'The Texas Trixter' and in the October
1924 issue I published a card trick using the classic force.
In 1930, with the help of Harry Redan, the club was Chartered
as SAM Assembly 19. Harry who was a Member of SAM Assembly
1 in New York had recently moved to Houston. In 1929 I joined
The International Brotherhood of Magicians and in 1945 with
the help of several Houston Magicians I organized IBM Ring
39. They have honored me by calling it The Bob Blau Ring.
you must have known some of the legends of magic. Which ones
are the most memorable? Quite truly all of them. The greats,
the not so greats, the ones who would become great. Many wonderful
memories and events. Here are just a few :- Leon Hermann -
one of several from this famous family. Horace Goldin - performing
' From Film To Life' . I suppose this must be the first ever
' Shadow Box Illusion '. Herbert Brooks - card manipulations
and his feature ' The Canvas Covered Trunk Escape' Doc Nixon
- 'Where Do the Ducks Go?' Jack Merlin - ' Rising Cards From
a Glass'. Held by a spectator standing in the aisle. ..3 Hugh
Johnston - Billiard Ball Manipulator . Truly unforgettable.
Houdini - The last time I saw him was in the summer of 1926.
His act included the needle trick and sensational escapes.
He escaped from a locked cell in the Harris County jail. Also
a strait-jacket from the Chronicle Newspaper Building. Nate
Leipzig - Superb card manipulation. Wowed us with coin and
card magic. I even drove him to one of our Club meetings.
Thurston - A man who made stage magic look like real magic.
Blackstone - When I first met him, Harry Jr. was two years
old! Carl Rosini - Great illusions including a Great Dane!
Paul Rosini - Delightful manner and great card magician. Amac
- A real class act with an original illusion ' Find The Lady'.
Based on the 'Three Card Monte' three cards about six feet
high, stood vertically on a stool on stage about five feet
apart and a live lady assistant popped out from behind the
card. Chris Charlton - Clocks appeared , vanished, multiplied,
diminished, enlarged and all with ringing tones. Nobody slept
while he was on!
think magicians and lay people will both agree that the name
Harry Houdini is the name that is most likely to be the first
to spring to mind if someone is asked to name a magician.
Do you agree ? Rhetorical question really. But I know
what you mean. I consider myself very fortunate and privileged
in meeting and witnessing the performances of many of the
leading magicians of this century. I first met the great Houdini
back in 1916. A real thrill for a kid of fourteen. Several
policemen secured him in a strait-jacket for his upside down
escape from the Chronicle building. An Uncle of mine was the
Chief of Police at the time and as I was known to most of
the policemen I was allowed to get close enough to the great
one to grab his hand. Ten years later in 1926 was the last
time I saw him. He was performing at the Majestic Theatre.
It was at this time that he began to feel the pains in his
stomach. From Houston he went to Detroit where he suffered
his final illness and passed on. ….
31st 1936 holds a special meaning for you. Can you share some
of this with us? Some of it yes. Mrs. Harry Houdini and
Edward Saint, The Director of the Final Houdini séance sent
me an invitation to attend the final Houdini séance. Much
of what happened that night will stay a closely guarded secret.
I'll share it will you. But Tony, I'll extract a promise from
you first. I think I'm the only one left to talk about it.
I will share some of the evening's events with you personally
on the strict understanding that you will never write any
of it down or include it in any written material. You may
only talk about it only to those whom you personally deem
worthy to hear. Tony, I entrust this secret to you. ( author's
note: as I have given my word I will not say any more on the
subject. Suffice to say, that Bob's recollection of that evening's
events was literally astounding ! )
you have done all kinds of magic, indoors and outdoors, not
to mention allied arts like dramatic theater, acrobatics and
juggling but you are best known for your sealed billet reading,
X-Ray vision, Spirit Slates and of course, your signature
piece, the famous Spirit Cabinet. Is there any one that you
loved the best? Truly, I loved them all and still do.
Our family did a lot of magic in Amusement parks. These were
small permanent buildings or tents for various shows. Our
family troupe of seven occupied one of these buildings and
we presented such things as 'The Girl's Head on a Sword' and
'The Spider Girl' - ( head in the middle of a tinsel web)
. We also did the Pulse Test, Thayer's Hand, and the Dr.Q
Slates. At other times in the summer season we presented '
Daisy - The Educated Shetland Pony'. The little horse would
solve mathematical problems called out by the audience by
tapping on the ground with her front hoof. At other times
we presented 'Tina - The High School German Shepherd Dog '.
The dog would bark answers to questions from the audience.
We did a lot of shows and even a few big shows including some
at the Houston City Auditorium. For these shows the sponsor
paid for authentic Oriental costumes for us and we did the
fish bowl production and other Oriental type effects. But
I suppose my signature piece if you want to call it that is
the Spirit Cabinet. Much of its success I owe to Cathie Orozco
my 'medium'. I am pleased to say that this number has delighted,
entertained, mystified, enchanted and baffled audiences. Much
of the methodology that I used in the Spirit Cabinet was my
of The Spirit Cabinet, my friend, Spanish Magician Luis Boyano
won a FISM 2000 award with a version of The Spirit Cabinet
and later whilst I was chatting to Billy McComb and Jay Marshall
they both told me that it was the fastest they have ever seen
it done. Have you heard news about this? .. Well Tony,
I have heard a lot about this and I'm delighted that Luis
has done such a great job. I know you were part of the backstage
team at FISM 2000. As you know I wasn't at FISM 2000 but I've
been to a few FISM conventions. I first wrote about the Spirit
Cabinet back in 1985 in my first ever book entitled ' Bob
Blau's World of Magic' and I've expanded upon it in my next
book published in 1994 entitled ' Spirits on the Stage and
More Guarded Secrets Revealed'. Bill Palmer was the catalyst
that inspired me to write both books. Since their publication
I have a stack of letters from quite literally all over the
world and even a few from Luis Boyano.
that sure does explain a lot. You really are the secret within
the secret. How does it feel to be the Oracle, the Sage, The
Master and the Original Source all rolled into one? It
feels like you are talking about someone else. But I guess
it is very nice to be thought of as all those things. Magic
has been good to me and if I can put back a little that makes
me feel real good. I don't think anyone will think I'm boasting
if at almost 98 years old I refer to myself by my nickname
" Jack of all Tricks". ( Bob was 97 at the time - he turned
98 in October 2000 )
point Thelma, Bob's wife comes into the living room and suggests
to Bob that we move into his Inner Sanctum while she organizes
a little more refreshment. Bob then takes me to his Inner
Sanctum and hanging on the walls are literally hundreds of
Awards, Diplomas, Certificates and photographs. A treasure
trove. A magical museum. Living history and testimony to a
magical career spanning several decades. Bob then opens a
cupboard and produces six stage suits, immaculately preserved.
He proudly shows each one in detail and tells me some magnificent
stories that come to life as he demonstrates each one. I can't
help thinking that I will be indeed be grateful if I am half
as energetic as he is when I get to his age. Much later after
all the props and costumes have been shown and talked about
Bob turns to me and pays me the greatest compliment that I've
had in my life. He tells me that I am one of the most enjoyable
magicians he has ever met and then gives me a signed copy
of his last book together with a few guarded secrets and then
to top it all he asks me to choose one of his stage costumes
as a gift and souvenir of our visit ! Despite my protests,
he politely urges me to accept. Thanks to Bob I now possess
a priceless magic artifact. We come back out to the living
room and I'm sure if I live to be a 100, I doubt if I would
have a more fascinating and interesting time within the portals
of magic history. I feel truly honored and privileged. In
my hand, inside a suit carrier carefully hanging on a hanger
is a piece of magic history. We chat some more about the Spirit
somewhere that you were involved with boosting the attendance
at a Spiritualist Church. Do you want to talk about that?
Sure. It all started when a member of a Spiritualist Church
saw one of my public shows and was fascinated that we were
able to " make contact with the Spirits in such an effective
and dynamic manner". He told me that they could never get
that kind of response from the Spirits at their services!
As you can imagine all I could do was politely smile and thank
him. Much to my surprise a few days later I received an invitation
to attend their church and " spice up" their services a bit!
.. It is indeed ironic to think that spiritualists, who were
members of a church that Houdini says was founded on the admitted
and confessed deceptions of the Fox Sisters should come to
an admitted trickster to obtain the phenomena they needed
for their services. It was around that time that I learned
the art of 'cold reading' from watching them. They had mastered
the art far better than any magician could ever imagine.
there any parting words of wisdom that you would like to share
with fellow magicians Bob? Sure. But wisdom from an acknowledged
trickster! Well, why not? I think that if you truly want to
entertain an audience no matter how big or small you have
to prepare yourself well in advance. Like all performers magicians
should understand that they are involved in a theatrical art.
A sense of purpose and a sense of dramatic wonder must be
transmitted. Enchantment, that's the word. Above all, don't
forget to entertain. Bring joy and wonder to people - that's
your job. It's also your job to enjoy your job! I would also
like to share my favorite quote :- From Shakespeare :- Henry
IV - Part 1, Act III, Scene 1 :- Glendower : I can call the
spirits from the vasty deep. Hotspur : Why, so can I, or any
man; But will they call when you call for them ? Did you know
that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes
was also badly fooled? Good fun this magic business !!! Bob
broke into wonderful laughter at this point. His laughter
like his personality and his magic is infectious. We all joined
in with his laughter and for a goodly while, the Spirit of
real magic hovered in that room and wove its spell of enchantment.
Sadly, the time had come for us to leave but we did not leave
empty-handed. We left with a sense of awe and admiration.
We left feeling deeply honored that we had shared many precious
moments with one of the true living legends of magic. It is
my sincere wish that with these few words of mine that some
of that feeling has been transmitted to you.
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