Abbotts 31st Get Together 1968
by John Braun
We don't know how Recil and Neil do it, but they DO - year after year! Each year we go away saying "This Get-Together was the best I can remember. What will they do for talent next year?" But each year they come up with a Get- Together that tops all previous years! Before the week had ended on August 17th, over 900 magical enthusiasts had registered, and this is a crowd to put into a community of around 1,200 population; you get the feeling you're at the State Fair on a day that breaks all attendance records!
Many groups came on Sunday, rented cottages on the lake, and made the affair a vacation week. But the magical activities began officially on Wednesday evening, Aug. 14th, with Phillip Morris and his' 'Wonderful World of Fantasy" as the "Night Before" show in the High School auditorium. After Recil Bordner's welcome, and Dorny's "backstage voice" introduction, Phillip Morris's first half, "The Wizard of Oz," Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion, swept through a kaleidoscope of magic which included a Head Chopper, a Headless Girl illusion, a Trunk Substitution and entertaining magic with special appeal for children. The show is nicely mounted, draped and costumed, and Phillip has a way of capturing his audience.
The one and only Monk Watson came on after intermission with some of his specialties - rope and handkerchief magic, then his Orchestra Rehearsal down at the railroad station. The orchestra has been augmented; the effect, riotous hilarity - and Recil presented him with a trophy as Colon's Magic Ambassador of Good Will, which was seconded by a rising vote of approval by the audience, for this was pure entertainment - Monk was never better!
The second half of the Phillip Morris Show, "Here Comes the Circus," nicely costumed, featured the Vanish of Tille the Tiger; a spelling routine wherein the little girl spells her v/ords correctly and the little boy always misses; Chapeaugraphy; the Land of Araby; large goose in Sword Cabinet emerges unharmed, and aprettygirlisproducedfromthe same cabinet; a girl is levitated; after the Chinese Sticks, the show closes with a nicely costumed patriotic tableau which includes the production of the Statue of Liberty, flags and stirring music. (Tommy Windsor wrote a very good review of the show in the June, 1968 TOPS).
The Elementary School auditorium had been converted into a display and sales room, and demonstrations and auctions of bargain packages went on there until the wee hours. Stan Lobenstern., Bob Lynn, George Kirken-dall, A & B Magic Co. (Alexander Great) also had displays, and Paul Stadelman had a special display of Vent figures and books. Across the hall was the "Book Room" with Gordon (Mike) Miller in charge. And Magic went on and on, until dawn, for this was a partying crowd.
While demonstrations took place as usual on Thursday morning at the Elementary School, the first Vent-O-Rama session was held in the Abbott plant auditorium, with Paul and Ron Stadelman and the Berlin Brothers (publishers of Vent-O-Gram) in charge, and an interesting session it was. Mike Stratton won the "Under 16" Paul Stadelman Trophy, and Gary Collins the "Over 16" Trophy. The Berlin Brothers outdid Abbott and Costello with the "Who's on First" routine; one contestant's vent figure did bird calls and imitations, distant voices, and all sorts of unusual things. A most interesting session, for the "art of throwing the voice" is fast gaining in popularity.
The showroom was a busy place all afternoon, what with demonstrations and auctions conducted by Duke Stern, Karrell Fox, Roy Kissell, Neil Foster, and others.
Thursday evening, Aug. 16th brought the famous Ken Griffin Show to the High School auditorium, and what a treat it was. After a fast, colorful opening a variety of magic followed at a fast pace, then Roberta with "Artistry in Cloth;" the Buzz Saw illusion, in which a section of Roberta's arm is cutaway and lifted out, replaced and miraculously restored; much fun with two boys, followed by pop corn trick and a whistling contest. One lad wound up with "water on the brain."
The Head Chopper in Ken Griffin's hands takes on new dimensions, for his pretty girl assistant gets her head chopped, and the boy runs off stage when SHE screams. Ken and Roberta do a fast Trunk Substitution, Ken emerging with a costume change. After a ludicrous dance by Jack DeHolt, Ken performs a Linking Ring routine with a stage full of youngsters, and closes the first half with The Floating Princess - one of the best levitations I've ever seen.
After intermission, Ken opened with a silk production, then the Disembodied Princess, Sawing a Woman in Half (new version - you just can't believe it even though you KNOW what happens!), Rice Bowls, Visible Block Thru Hat, and Roberta's E. S.P. demonstrations, wherein, eyes sealed and taped, she describes and reads articles during a' 'round trip" through the audience. Jack DeHolt's unicycling and juggling interlude was entertaining; Ken manipulated cards in the Thurston manner; then the Stamp Album trick, ladies hanky from ink bottle to potato, and the final mystery, the " Haunted Totem Lodge" illusion. Ken packs more magic into his show than one would believe possible; I haven't named half the tricks he did. The show is a polished job, moves fast, and always, entertainment is the goal. Even little Tina DeHolt, who celebrated her 8th birthday on August 15th, works like a veteran trouper in her role as an assistantl
"Back at the ranch" demonstrations and auctions held forth, and many were the bargains carried away; there was much "meeting of old friends" one sees only at these gatherings; and two characters, Stewart James and John Braun who had heretofore spent so much time in the "Book Room" the customers began to suspect they were shills, found themselves dispossessed. The "Book Room" didn't open that night, and Messers James and Braun had to repair to other quarters to continue their gabf est.
So much went on Friday morning that I was unable to get around to all of the goings on. I went to the Vent O Rama session, where Bill DeMar lectured, stressing handling the dummy, and demonstrating his Luke the Reluctant Lion, the Frog who sneezes, belches , wipes his nose on the operator's sleeve, and injects much other humor into his antics. Paul Stadelman then acted as M. C. for a panel of experts - Bill DeMar, Bob Neller, Howard Olsen, Jack Coates and Earl Gotberg. Mr. Gotberg answered questions about figures and vents; Bill DeMar demonstrated his bit where he whistles in a bottle, imprisons the sound by capping the bottle with his thumb, then lets the sound escape; Bob Neller demonstrated the pronunciation of difficult words; Olsen and Coates answered questions, but I became so intrigued that I forgot to take notes. I'll never be a vent, but don't ever think the art isn't based on scientific rules and knowledge, for it definitely IS! The Berlin Brothers IVA Trophy was presented to John Arvites for originality, and the Dummy prize went to Curt Erickson, adjudged the most deserving lad. The session closed with the Berlin Brothers doing a double vent act - two performers, two dummies, and some unusual effects - even four part harmony!
While the Vents were meeting, the Magi Ministers were also meeting at a church auditorium across the street from the Elementary School, and later that day, Rev. John de Vries gave me a special showing of some of the apparatus he has designed and built for the more than 800 Gospel lesson performances he gives for the schools in Michigan each year. His Dove Cage Vanish, Levitation (built around Daniel in the Lion's Den), the special brass lota that holds two quarts yet looks unbelievably small, his Square Circle, the Noah's Ark, the Egyptian Frog God and Snake that turns into a Rod, each piece specially designed and beautifully built and decorated - enough to make one's mouth water!
Mercer Helm's Lecture at 2PM in the Showroom held a large crowd in spite of the heat, and Mercer knows his business. His approach to a career in magic has been built on sound principles, and the novice who looks to magic for a career would do well to follow Mercer's advice.
While Mercer lectured, the ladies held a Coffee Klatch at the Colon Grange Hall, and attendance must have been good, for not many came to the showroom. I was at the showroom, not at the Coffee Klatch, so if I'm wrong about any of the details, please excuse it, for I'm going by what it says on the back of my badge!
When it came time to eat, one had a number of choices. The Lutheran Church held smorgasboard dinners each evening; the Eastern Star had a turkey dinner; the Legion held the traditional fish fry, the M & M Cafeteria served meals constantly and there was The Magic Carpet; there were restaurants in Sturgis, Coldwater, and Nottawa, and others even I don't know about. No one went hungry - at least not for very long. And the food was good, too!
The Friday evening show was one of those the magical enthusiasts dream about and seldom see. Clarke "The Senator" Crandall was M.C.; Miss Wilma Rench was at the organ - her 17th year as Get-Together musical director; Dorny was stage manager, and the house was packed. Dale Salwak opened the show with a manipulative act - golf balls, card fans and manipulations and a very nice Zombie. Crandall, interrupted by Jay Marshall and Len Carrion, managed a nice card fanning routine before he brought on Bob Neller and Reggie, a vent act to end all vent acts, for Reggie sneezes, whistles, sings, yodels like a professional yodeler, recites tongue twisters that give the experts trouble, and for a closing number Neller sang a song without the dummy just as a ventriloquist would sing it ~ "Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!" He brought down the house.
CrandalFs Card on Sword with lady from the audience assisting, turned out to be a masterpiece, and Mrs. Maifeld will long remember it, I'm sure! Tom and Sherrie delighted with dove catching in net, then half a dozen more appeared from nowhere; the Dove Through Glass Plate, the Dove Cage Vanished into "thin air", and the act closed with the Temple of Benares. A fast, entertaining and flawless presentation.
After intermission, Crandall presented his Cards and Plate routine. He contributed this to Tarbell Vol. 6, but you just have to see him do it to realize what a gem it is. Kim Kee, who is really Mr. Alexander Great of A & B Magic Co., then came on as a kindly old Chinese conjurerwithsomeunusualmagic -paper turned into goldfish, a seemingly endless paper chain was produced from his mouth; then the Dove Plates produced a dove which changed to silk scarfs on being placed in a little dove cote. His Candle to Bouquet and a "Dream of Wealth" presentation closed the act.
Crandall's Cut Rope routine fooled everyone, including the Senator himself, but this interlude served to ready the stage for Jim Sommers, with novel magic and sophistication - Stretched Rope, Changing Spot Card, the Diminishing Cards, a "Bunny" version of the Bathing Beauty, the Miser's Dream, the Thought Projector, Eddie Joseph's unusual padlocked chain release, and an expanding clock production for the finish. Explaining that his club act usually ends at this point, he next presented the famous Zig Zag illusion, a most puzzling illusion seen heretofore only on TV.
CrandalFs Borrowed Rings and Pretty Can routine proved hilarious, as might be expected, and again he had a charming lady as volunteer assistant.
The show concluded with the fabulous act of Norm Nielson - card fans and manipulations, interlocked finger card productions, more fans and a veritable whirlwind of cards produced from both hands; then the superb Floating Violin and Bow, which plays as it performs its Zombie-like gyrations on a large foulard, finally coming to rest on his arm. His Miser's Dream climaxed with a coin ladder that tinkled musically as the coins were poured down the steps of the ladder, and Norm received a standing ovation, for we had seen magic we will remember for a long, long time!
There were auctions and demonstrations after the show, and "The Late Show", provided by Suzy Wandas Bennett - movies of previous Get-Togethers, the late Dr. Bennett and his Card Fan act, Kalanag, and other films of interest, projected by Jim Hanning at the Abbott plant auditorium. And there was much close-up magic at the Legion Hall. Stewart James and John Braun found themselves still dispossessed, but they found another loitering place, for they are resourceful "shills".
Saturday morning, the merchants of Colon were holding sidewalk sales; there was an Art Fair on the village common; 900 magicians plus the townspeople were milling around, trying to get breakfast, get to the showroom or to the Abbott plant, or to obtain from someone the secret of that trick that fooled them, and which they couldn't go home without; they were taking pictures, movies, and the place really looked like the State Fair going full blast. And the weather was just rightl
Saturday afternoon, while the ladies were attending a matinee at the Opera House in Coldwater, "Senator" Clarke Crandall presented his "Stroll In" to a packed house. This was a monologue loaded with a kind of humor you won't find anywhere else in this troubled old world we live in, and the Senator has a special knack for brightening up ones' outlook and making him laugh until he hurts. I hope the tape recorder addicts got this on tape for it should be preserved for posterity!
Mike Caldwell was M.C. for the Saturday Night show; his somersaults must be seen to be believed, and he's a very funny guy, too!
Bob Mason opened the show with the best Punch and Judy show I've ever seen. He brings up a little boy to act as Punch's helper, and the way the lad gets drawn into the act is something to see. An excellent act that plays very well to young and oldl
Mercer Helms next, with dove from balloon, Center Tear and dove from the crumpled paper; the Twentieth Century, and two more doves; the Multiplying Candles; Zombie; another dove - then the dove bag and cage of doves vanish. Silks from opera hat and big flag on staff climaxed a clean, well presented act.
At this point the Great Michael exhibited "another quality Abbott product;" a cut and restored handkerchief routine wherein the hanky expands, shrinks, and does everything except become restored; thenhe juggles, does the apple eating bit, and leaves you limp with laughter. The Great Lyle and Barbara followed - lovely appearance, smart act - cigarettes, cane, silks, red silk, green bag,- no, green silk, red bag - the Bathing Beauty, Candle Color Change, Blooming Bouquet, Balloon to Candle to Cane, and the Vanishing Radio. Fast and entertaining magic!
Mike's "segue" into the intermission via camera was novel, and after intermission Reneaux came on with some of the smartest dove magic I've seen. There's the Flame to Dove, Card Manipulations, card fans, more doves from nowhere, a dove vanished by being tossed away into the air, multiplying candles, hat coil production, dove from hat, dove bag production in which the bag is tossed into the audience, and the final production of two doves under impossible conditions. Never saw anything like it!
Karrell Fox assisted by Duke Stern were next to closing, and as one might surmise, the act was riotous burlesk from start to finish. The Norm Neilson Floating Violin, but the cloth came away revealing Duke crouched behind it doing the fiddling; then Dove-O the Great, the father of Modern Dove Magic; the Torn and Restored Newspaper; Vanishing Bowl of Water; the Change Bag; the Bullet Catching Trick, in which Recil assisted and finished with teeth missing - so much fumbling with the Cabinet of Benares that Jack Gwynne jumped on stage and indignantly wheeled it off; the Lota Bowl, and the ill fated Vanishing Glass of Milk, in which Duke was virtually drenched with milk; and the closing number, the card in the pie. The pies were meringue pies, and you've guessed it - Duke repeatedly got the pie in his face - until finally Karrell made one ill calculated move and dived into a face full of pie (quite by accident?) I have never seen a funnier pie-in-the-face routine, even by the experts of days gone by! The boys received a standing ovation, and there was much cleaning up to be done before O'Dowd and Sondra could close the show with their nicely presented illusion act. The Doll House - first their little daughter, then Sondra; big Botannia; Rabbit Production; Silk Production, Umbrellas and Flag; Rabbit Vanish; the new Sawing Through, and the Trunk Substitution. A whirlwind of color and speed! Then back to the showroom for the final session, saying good-by to old friends, and preparing to leave, tired out but happy, with a notebook full of notes that will take until next year to decipher!
As usual, I came away with pleasant memories, and wondering where the talent for the next Get-Together will come from. I met many I had known only by correspondence; I saw old friends again - fellow enthusiasts I have known for 40 years. I saw new tricks, and learned a few that delighted me. I find myself deeper in debt than ever to the Abbott staff, for I caused them unplanned trouble in getting me to Colon. They are most efficient, dependable, and hard-working, and all of this so visitors like me can enjoy a magical holiday the like of which cannot be found elsewhere. The good Lord willing, I'll be back for the next Get-Together, and for now, my best thanks to all who made my visit memorable!
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