One of the Grandest nights of my life Part two

Sunday morning I stumbled down to Hollywood Blvd for some coffee and a light bite. I felt I should fortify myself for a Sunday afternoon rehearsal at the Avalon Theater Hollywood and Vine in the heart of Hollywood.
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I ride to the Avalon with a fellow nominee/member of the board of trustees. I pump him for information but no one is tipping any information. However, I am getting a strong indication that I should think about what I might say in accepting the award. I am still cautious but I begin to think about what I want to say.

The Avalon is a grand old Hollywood landmark that is very comfy inside. There are booths and boxes that line the sides and the back of the Orchestra section. An ornate balcony wraps around the house. Behind the balcony is a bar and lounge area that is elegantly furnished with large couchs and chairs. I am very impressed with the choice of this as the venue. This refurbed theater is nothing short of grand. It is by far the best venue for this event I have ever seen. I regret not having any pictures of the inside but it was very intimate and wonderful.

The ringleader of the group is Neil Patrick Harris. He is to be the main emcee for the evening. He has done an amazing job of touting this ceremony on Ellen and Late night with Craig Ferguson. Besides being a talented actor he is also a pretty good magician.

An interesting diverse group are assembled in the Avalon Theater. There are a lot of people I recognize and a lot more that I don’t. We began the walkthrough and once I figured out what I was supposed to be doing and where I was supposed to be doing it, I snacked on a sumptuous buffet and then I was ready to get back to the hotel to rest.

Sleep was not happening. I was totally over caffeinated so I quivered in my room til it was time to make my way to the ‘thea-tah’. I began to wrap my mind around the fact that I might just win the thing tonight! I have prepared remarks for the past few years on the off chance that I might be called. Surprisingly, some of the previous thoughts came to the surface again. I patch together some thoughts.

Not wanting to have a car to park and then drive home later, I took a cab to the Avalon. The outside of the place was swarming with tuxedoed men and elegantly gowned women. Very Glamourous. Guests numbered in the 500-600 range. There was a palpable buzz in the air that added a bit dreamlike quality.

I really miss having at least one of my kids here for this.

As a nominee, I made my way through the press line, with cameras snapping like crazy, huge video cameras and folks with microphones asking inane questions. Verbally sparing with Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight personalities, I made my way through the gauntlet.

Finally made my way into the place to find my seat in the front. The air was electric. The orchestra section was where the nominees and other luminaries were seated around little cocktail rounds- 5-6 per table. It was veritble who’s who in magic. They had a great group playing fabulous music that just enhanced the vibe. The show started just a few minutes past 7 as Neil Patrick Harris, a solid television personality and a member of the board of directors at the Magic Castle emerged from behind the curtains to start the evening. NPH has done a tremendous job of elevating the visibility of the Magic Castle and the awards show. .

The opening act was a Korean kid that did an unbelievably fast paced act with cds, a cd player and headphones. This is a act that is virtually impossible to describe so I won’t try. What I can tell you is that nearly everyone in the room was out of breath when this kid stopped.

The first category was lecturer of the year and that went to Jeff McBride. Then, following a few fellowship awards it became time to award the closeup magician of the year award. The producers of this show wanted to mix it up a bit so all five nominees for Closeup were back stage and we were introduced with the next skit.

Here’s what happened… David Regal went out into the crowd to have a card selected and signed. He then came back on stage where I was to receive the deck with the card in it and do some thing sneaky. Lots of comedy and laughs later, I handed the deck off to Jason Latimer who did more sneaky stuff. He handed it off to Andrew Goldenhersch who did more sneaky stuff.(all presented BTW in a very exaggerated and cartoonish way). Andrew then handed the deck off to Jon Armstrong, who then whips out his wallet all ready for the reveal but that doesn’t work, it’s not in there. Then from twenty feet away, Mac King a Las Vegas headliner and one of the emcees reached into his jacket to reveal a Raisin Bran box (a key part of his Vegas act) and said, “Maybe I can help.” and he opened the box. Christina Hendricks (from Madmen) opened the bag of Bran and pulled out the signed card.
Hopefully, what started out to be a gag, still fooled the audience.

Following each of our parts in this skit, we assembled back stage and waited for the announcement. I was still apprehensive, having tasted disappointment before, but when Christina announced my name I thought my head would explode. I stepped into the spotlights with what must have been a huge grin. I spied the coveted wooden box and began to tremble as it was handed to me.

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My acceptance speech was short and to the point.
“Thank you… thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. That’s for tonight and for all the other times I have been in the room and havent had a chance to get up here and say thank you to the Academy for even putting my name on the list. It is an honor just to be on this list with these guys and I appreciate it.

This award is really for my kids who have all been out here at various times for this event. It’s for all the times that they watched me climb in the car and head off to work in the evening… hopefully this will help to show them that I wasn’t just jerkin’ aroundpodium-shot-w-kristin

You know that these are strange times that we are living in right now. So now, especially, I am blessed to be doing what I love to be doing and tonight I am doubly blessed because it seems that you love what I do as well. Thanks again.”

From here on out, I was floating several inches above ground and the rest of the evening was dreamlike.

I was ushered off the stage by the ‘award goddess’ and went right to the photo set up for a bunch of photos with Christina and Mac. I stumbled out side into the twilight and noticed I was trembling as I punched the number to call home and tell them the good news. It had been eleven years since I received my first nomination so this was a real mark in time for me.
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The award for bar magic I received in 05 was a crystal thing… very nice and unique because it was the only year that they gave these particular awards… but it wasn’t the wand.

Handmade by one of the world’s leading illusion builders, John Gaughan, it is Brazilian rosewood with African ebony tips and sterling silver rings encased in a beautiful Hawaiian Koa wood box. It is a treasure-made even more valuable by what it represents.
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Standing in the alley out back of the theater, I texted a few people with the good news, tried to compose my self a bit and reenter the room. The show was still going on! The dreamlike quality was enhanced by a couple of strong cocktails and the rest of the evening was a bit of a blur as I flitted from person to person, luminary to luminary. A late night swing by the Castle probably wasn’t advisable, I was pretty lit at that point but I was kidnapped and had little to say about it. I am pretty sure I didn’t embarrass myself there to the late night crew… but all the precincts haven’t reported back yet!

I eventually stumbled back to the Gardens and somehow made my flight home from LAX on Monday noon.

Doc and Milt Larsen the founder of the Magic Castle

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It was truly one of the grandest nights of my life.

Dust off the bridesmaid’s dress

It’s springtime in Hollywood California and it’s award season again. The Grammies are this weekend, the Golden Globes were last week and the Motion Picture Academy Awards are right around the corner. The Oscars recognize the best and brightest stars in their industry. Their show is a well hyped. It is hard to escape the buzz in the media. 

 

A slightly lesser known academy flies just in the shadow of its bigger glitzier cousin. The Academy of Magic Arts is also based in Hollywood at the Magic Castle.  It, too, awards the best and brightest in in the magic industry. Two weeks after the Oscars on March 8, the much anticipated envelopes will determine the winners in magic categories. 

 

This year’s ceremony will be hosted by Neil Patrick Harris who is a talented magician (among all his other talents). Thanks to Neil, The Late Night with Craig Ferguson show has featured magic recently and every night he mentioned the awards ceremony on national TV.

 

I recently received word that the academy has once again nominated me for Closeup Magician of the Year. The other nominees aren’t household names but in the magic world these are considered to be best. I am seriously humbled by the academy and their nomination process. I will be travelling to Hollywood on the weekend of Mar 8 for the ceremony. 

 

My first impressions…?

 

1.) What impresses me most is the other names on the list. While the names may not mean much to non magic folks, they are some heavy weight people.

 

2.) This is the 12th nomination in 11 years. I am humbled that the Academy feels that I deserve to be on the list. 

 

3.) Despite 5 consecutive nominations, 5 consecutive requisite trips to the alter and 4 consecutive disappointments, I feel compelled to make the trip again. I am NOT bringing any of my kids with me for this one. Each of my kids has been along for one or more of these ceremonies and this year, I simply can’t afford to have one of them along.

 

4.) My (always the…) bridesmaid outfit is getting tattered after all these trips to the alter. But this year will be fun and I am just jazzed to be invited to the party.

We never know who we’ll meet or how we will impact the people we meet.

“The joy of being a magician is that you never quite know what is

going to happen next or whom you will meet. I suspect that this

surprise factor is one of the things we most enjoy.”

 

This is a quote from a magician pal of mine. It is very eloquent and sums up one of the more fun aspects of this profession. 

 

Sometimes our ‘little tricks’ mean much more. A year ago this month I was contracted to fly to Chicago to work for a family gathering of some importance. A birthday was mentioned but exactly whose was never really clear. George and Martha (not their real names) had seen me at the Tower for years back in the 80’s. Their family now stretches to three generations. The grand kids are now in their teens and early twenties and some barely remember me but their parents were teens when I first met them.

 

As a ‘passionately Catholic’ family, the eldest generation produced 5 healthy children who are all well educated and professional people  and hence had a slew of kids of their own. So this gathering was a pretty significant family get together at 30 people. George had said he wanted this to be real festive. Apparently Martha had gotten some bad medical news and they wanted to have some fun together, fully realizing this might be one of the last times they might all spend together as a family.This whole aspect was played down for the most part and probably not  known to all of the third generation.

 

It was held in one of those wonderful downtown Chicago ‘joints’ on a Sunday afternoon. The Erie Cafe has a grand back room which we had to ourselves. Martha looked as vibrant as I have ever seen her so the whole idea of her being sick was pretty much not an issue. There were photo albums of the latest events in the grandkids lives, a wedding, their graduation pics, and also pics of George and Martha’s wedding about 50 years before. I was secretly thrilled to see a couple of pics in their scrapbooks of The Tower and a young magician working the crowd.

 

For cocktails, we assembled the teenagers mostly in the front and the rest gathered around as I stuck Kati’s card under my drink repeatedly much to the delight of the adults in the room but mostly to Martha. When I’d glance at her, she would be lit up. All smiles, her spirits danced that day. 

 

Over a wonderful meal, I got to know them better. They all live within 50 miles of each other so this is a tightknit group. A lot of  love was in that room that afternoon and I was thrilled to be a part of it.

 

After dinner, I did a stand up show and then basically played and told stories for the rest of the evening.  

 

It was a grand day. 

 

A few weeks ago, I got a call from a lady in Chicago who talked to me about doing something for a significant birthday gathering…”like the one you did for George and Martha”. She was good friends with them. As we spoke about her event, she asked me if I knew that Martha had passed away around Thanksgiving. The news stopped me in my tracks for a moment.

 

Memories of the get together at the Erie Cafe came flooding back and my thoughts drifted to that wonderful family who had just lost their matriarch. Once again I felt honored that I was asked to provide the fun at such a poignant family gathering. 

 

So we don’t know whom we might meet…or what will happen next…or what joy we might bring to someone with our ‘little tricks’. 

 

I love Red Skelton’s thought that ‘Clowning is a noble profession’.

That thought bouys me up on days when life catches up with me.

New Year’s eve in Aspen 08

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New Year’s Eve in Aspen

The holidays here in Aspen are always a crazy time. Every day that passes after Christmas day brings more and more people into town. This influx of tourists from all corners of the world usually culminates with a huge NY Eve celebration. Most of the restaurants toss out their regular menus and devise a special ‘over the top’ menu with a ‘prix fixe’ that is often very hefty. Fireworks, launched off the face of Ajax are scheduled at 830 and again at midnight, are spectacular as they reflect off the snow.

The chefs order in large amounts of premium seafood, beef and exotic game to dazzle the crowds. The employees of the clubs and restaurants all look forward to this night to help make the monthly nut. It is not unusual for this one night to pay the rent for the month. It’s a huge night.

This year, as people came off the slopes and headed for the hot tubs to relax before the big night and employees were polishing the silverware, the police reported several ‘credible’ bomb threats at the local banks. As a precaution, they cordoned off the downtown core-16 blocks of restaurants and clubs- and forced evacuation of the hotels and condos in this area.

Bomb squads were brought in to deal with these bombs that turned out to be very real bags of gasoline with fuses designed to be set off by cellphones. As twilight faded into the evening, it became evident that this was going to be a bizarre evening. The first seatings of the core restaurants were cancelled. Then the 830 fireworks were cancelled. Swarms of police enforced the yellow tape borders of the downtown area. All the folks who had expensive reservations began to scramble for alternative plans as it became evident this was not going to be your standard NY eve in Aspen. Eventually the midnight fireworks were also cancelled.

To call NY eve in Aspen a disaster would be an understatement.

Turns out a disgruntled local character who lead a checkered past with run ins with the police and local authorities, finally flipped out. Jim Blanning had many run ins with city hall as well as he was involved with mining claims and property rights. He even spent some time in the slammer. His mining experience made him an explosives expert. Exactly what set him off this time will never be known as this whole bizarre scenario ended with him driving to the outskirts of town in the middle of the night where he downed a sixpack of beer and then blew his head off.

I am not a fan of NY eve to begin with.After 27 years of ringing in the new year at the Tower, I have grown to detest ‘amateur night’. Unless I am making a huge paycheck that night I would much rather be home and in bed when the ball drops. Luckily I was not affected by this lunatic. I did a little cocktail party in Snowmass and was finished by about 8 PM and I headed home. I was between the sheets as this crazy scenario unfolded in Aspen.

In these crazy times, ya just never know what surprises lurk around the corner.

A dangler in Vail

 

 

A Vail Dangler

Contrary to reports, this is NOT me.

I haven’t been on the slopes in years… besides I would never wear a green jacket like this…

The official news story goes like this. Mercifully they have omitted his name!
A skier was left dangling from a chairlift at Vail resort after he became stuck upside-down with his ski trousers round his ankles.
Photos show the man naked from his waist to his knees, swinging from one leg, and still wearing both skis.
He became entangled shortly after boarding the Skyline Express lift.
The lift was stopped and reversed about 12ft (3.6m) before he was freed by the Vail Ski Patrol, Vail Resort said in a statement about the 1 January incident.
The resort operator said the 48-year-old man was suspended for about seven minutes, but was uninjured.