Abbotts 41st Get Together 1978
by Frances Marshall
A replay of the 1978 Abbott Homecoming
If you think that title lacks dignity, you may be right. But let me tell you that a comment along that line, using the same words, uttered by Bill Boley's chicken, got the biggest laugh of the entire Get-Together. Plus it got Bill Boley a contract for 1979...at another convention. The reason the crowd laughed so loud and long was because it was in entire empathy with the statement. I am sure Recil doesn't know how important his personal influence is at the conventions. He keeps a low profile but people know he's there. They know he has - if you will - busted HIS tail on their behalf, and has done it for many years. His one moment in the limelight - on Saturday night, when he makes the annual refund for the annual malfunctioning trick, is about the only time everybody sees him at once.
People enjoy working to make the Get-Together a success, and if we have to move our tails a little in the effort, that's all part of the fun. And 1978 was (another) success - verbal comment was at least 98% favorable.
Many, many people considered Virgil and Julie, the high point of the week - and I agree. A few (mostly younger people) sighed for one more long haired kid vanishing one more cane, producing one more dove, repeating over and over the same tricks ad nauseam.
Sensible people were pleased to see tricks, by Virgil, they had never seen before. Julie is a marvel in her field - I know of no one who duplicates her performance. The act didn't move at flash speed -' how could it ? The spirit seance was an education in magical history, as were the other tricks, the Spirit Paintings, the Chess Knight's Tour, etc. Some one like Henning will come along, take one of those tricks, revamp it to suit television, and every magician in the country will lust after it . Meanwhile, those who witnessed the Virgil and Julie act saw magic as it was in the days of it's previous greatness, at the time of it's last peak. They also saw a man and woman who know their trade, who have worked around the world, who have been on more stages than almost any living magician you can name. Recil, you picked a winner in that act, and we want you to know we appreciated it.
On the opening night show, popular Rick Johnsson was M.C., to introduce Gordon Miller who again performed an original "welcoming" act. Bob Little, who could stand a few more feathers on his plucked dove costume, Tina Lenert, very capable mime, Tom Ogden just back from a Mississippi River Gambling Boat Show and in fine fettle, Paul Driscoll and Company. The trouble with magic conventions is that the same acts go round and round and you start to see the same ones over and over. To most people I talked to, Paul Driscoll was a "new face". Since he is a sharp boy with good looks, pretty assistants, lots of nice looking magic, he will not stay new, because conventions and shows desperately need talent. But, this time, he was new. He obviously had spent a lot of time with his assistants and tried for new angles, fast bits of business (like the lid of the big dove pan being tossed into space over the girl's head, for another girl to catch). Everybody looked very show-biz, with lots of smiles and choreography. In the Sub Trunk, his version of it , a smiling girl in blue went in, and at the climax of the trick, apparently the same smiling girl in blue came out. It was not the same girl, but back of the sixth row in that huge auditorium, they all looked the same. Paul Driscoll has a lot of money tied up in the act, and he hauled all the props and people up from Texas. It was a good showing by a newcomer and we wish him lots of luck in getting where he wants to go.
On Thursday night, Dorny Dornfield acted as M.C. - and here again the audience showed how much in favor of this booking they were. The years sit lightly on Werner, and he went thru his jokes and gags like the pro he is, with no hesitation and go groping for names. If he had a minute's trouble, he turned it into a laugh. Magic needs its patron saints - and Dorny is surely one of them. Dorny introduced Steve Spain, Guel pa Corday and Company, Greg Otto, and Tommy Curtin. I would never want to follow Tommy Curtin -- this guy is such a great juggler he carries the audience in the palm of his hand. We always say that the variety acts always stop the shop, no matter how great the magic acts are -- and in this case, it was true. The applause was loud and long. Nothing could follow but the intermission.
Virgil and Julie took over the second half, with outstanding results, as we have mentioned. Guel pa Corday were another of those substantial professional acts with substance -- definitely something to offer, that you knew at once had played vaudeville circuits and location engagements where management was tough, and you had to produce. The young people did great - beautiful manipulation, well routined acts in the Ger Copper tradition, but as you watched them, you knew the difference. I think it is a flow of confidence that exudes from the long experienced performer -- and it can only be gained by serving your time on stage. Guelpa and Corday did a piano act that everybody loved - a real novelty by a fine musician. (She played again at the Never- Too-Late party). Then Guelpa did, like Virgil, some tricks never seen before by the under thirty crowd. Laurie Ireland used to do a watch routine close to this one, but Guelpa had ideas of his own and they all clicked with this audience.
On Friday, Mike Caveney did the honors. Earl Ray Wilcox is no newcomer to this crowd, but he works so hard and so very, very well, no one worries about having seen him before. One can only consider the countless hours he must have put into that superb manipulation and marvel. We might say the same for Bob Downey, on the same bill. He, too, is an-every-3-or-4 regular for Recil, but it takes that many times to try to imagine not only "where do the doves go?", which he invites you to do, but where in the devil they come from in the first place.
Vito Scotti, people tell me, has been in movies and on TV. He did a pantomime act with skill and smoothness, and proved he was an actor. I see hardly any movies and little TV, so I apologize for not knowing him. Besides Vito, who was very well received, the bill included Col. Bill Boley, whose black crow didn't seem to keep the same sex judging by Bill's patter. Some jokes referred to his chasing girls, some to laying eggs. Or maybe I was laughing too much to get all the lines. Boley is very, very funny and since he will be appearing at other conventions next year, you will get to see him if you missed this time. The evening wound up with Bob Meyers & Company, another young man anxious to go the Kramien route, or follow the Blackstone tradition. An unusual opening had his girls with masks, and some dance numbers. The act went well and the audience were pleased. The group were well rehearsed, which is very important when more than one person constitutes an act. The marvel of Karrell Fox's Saturday Night Instant Replay of the Get-Together is that they are NOT rehearsed - and everybody knows it - yet nobody has ever yet knocked anybody down, or trod on other folk's toes, or walked off the front of the stage. They come and go on what seems to be cue, and everybody seems to know what they are doing. All, obviously, a direct result of bustin' their tails for Recil.
On Saturday night, Jack Pyle (cover boy of the combined August-September issue of TOPS) worked the "old pro" bit to the hilt by being charming, affable, professional, talented, and entertaining. He introduced Bill Tadlock, long a favorite on these shows with all different tricks; Jeff Wawrzaszek with a revised version of his former act, beautifully staged, costumed, and executed; Marshall Brodien and Cookie, mad men from Bozo Circus with a hilarious act, not to be missed, including the pie in the face of the debonair M.C.
Sid Lorraine gave the audience a hard time -- caught them so bad it was painful, including yours truly. Sid works a funny medicine pitch built around the product "Fraznia," but as everybody knows, Sid has a few years hung on him, and standing up on that stage, warm in spite of the air-conditioning, a man can get a little overcome. His voice began to fade out, he cleared his throat, then got hoarse again. Some one near me said, "Why doesn't that stage crew hand out a glass of water?" and people around me were restless. I felt very uncomfortable. Sid is'my old, dear friend, and what if he brought on a heart attack with strain? I had to force myself to sit still . Just when a thouand people were about to stand as one, and yell out,"Water! For God's sake!" that son of a gun Sid took a fast swig of Fraznia, and blasted the audience with a full-throated line of conversation on the merits of Franzia. They could have killed him! Of course, later, everybody said they knew it was a gag --- but I was in the midst of that audience and heard the murmurs.
Harry Blackstone, Jr. was the surprise act of the evening, gorgeous in another of those hand-beaded suits, and Playboy smooth with his tricks. One of them was the Light Bulb Cabinet he introduced recently, and which is no doubt destined for the full evening tour he will now begin. Karrell Fox and the Instant Replay of 1978 Revue were their usual hilarious selves, some of it very, very good, some groaners, and all of it well thought out. Recil paid off when a trick didn't work; Bob Lewis played the banjo inside the spirit cabinet which collapsed on him. Abb Dickson capered around in Pampers and turban, Rick Johnsson got laughs for the third time that week, and other happy souls added to the fun. I think I saw Max Maven darting around the general pandimonium, but you can never be sure unless they have a speaking line. Karrell insists on several years of apprenticeship in the IRR before he lets anyone do a specialty gag.
All that is what happened at night! Daytimes were full. Neil Foster conducted what amounted to a week-' ferret out the five winners honored Saturday night. The winner's names were: 1st place Jeff Hobson, 2nd Chris Jakway, 3rd Greg Schultz, 4 th Larry Clapp and 5th Mark Brandyberry, There were thirty six entrants, every one striving hard to be the best. Kramien told me he was one of the judges, and he often found it difficult to decide when the young people had put so much into their entry, ( He also said that he felt he ought to go over his own show with a cold heart, tossing out the too familiar and the obvious. After watching so many acts for so many days, and seeing how the same tricks got put into use, over and over, he had a chance to take the audience's viewpoint on i t . )
Congratulations to Neil for putting himself in the contestant's shoes, and making a real stage production out of the contests. This i s how they do it in Europe, and we all know what truly great acts develop out of the kids who enter contests.
Karrell Fox, David Ginn, and Rick Johnsson delivered the featured lectures on three separate days. They all have something of value to impart, and the conventioneers felt they profited by attending these talks. The ventriloquists held forth each morning in the showroom behind the office, so the visitors seeing about tickets, etc., also got a good earful of "square on Sundays, round on weekdays" patter. Among other professional vents attending was Sandy Rings, featured in last year's shows.
Close-up experts included Rick Johnsson, Phil Goldstsin, Jack Pyle and Robert Downey. The special benefit matinee for the Colon Lion's Club featured David Ginn and Bob Kramer and Judie. Ralph Mills conducted a magic minister's session on Saturday. A great improvement took place this year when the ladies' parties were moved to St. Barbara's Catholic Church. This gave us the use of a lovely airy building, air conditioned, plenty of room and facilities.
Bingo was featured on Thursday and Saturday, with a half hour of entertainment each day. On Thursday, Max Maven (Phil Goldstein when he's doing card tricks!), presented a program especially arranged for the ladies, with mental magic and fortune telling intertwined, and lots of lovely ladies t o take part. (A coterie of cohorts asked and were granted special permission to sit at the back of the room and observe.) Max Maven was Ted Annemann all over again, charm and all. A very good job. On Saturday, Kari Hunt, assisted by Doug, charmed the girls with her presentation of masks and costumes depicting various famous women. The fascinating part about it is that Kari made all the masks she shows, and runs a short film showing how she did it. The program was an excerpt from her full program which she presents to women's clubs, etc. She worked for 5 years on "Masquerade Party" on New York Television. Everyone enjoyed Kari and Doug (who interposed a little magic here and there.). The Grange ladies served their excellent finger sandwiches and cookies after each bingo session.
St. Barbara's church made a fine location for the "Never-Too-Late" party on Friday. This is a brunch, served by the Altar Society, followed by a program. Every seat was taken, and this year we were honored to have Eda Mae and Recil Bordner in the group. A banjo band made up of Bob Lewis, Howard Bamman (on guitar and one man band), Monk Watson on his wind instrument, Bill Watson, Monk's son, on banjo, and Roy Krizan on Banjo. Inez Blackstone played piano part of the time, with fill in by Alan Meldrum and Mrs. Guelpa. Community singing followed the excellent brunch, then gifts for the oldest lady and gentleman. The program was just great -- because it was very impromptu, and every one on it was a "Never-Too-Later." Lots of laughs, lots of fun. Participants included Robert Carl son (Bainbridge, N.Y.), Ernie Covell, Canada, Forrest Kuhns , Vernon Cook (Portland, Ore.) with an original magical theme poem, Bob Lewis and Florence Guelpa in one heck of a duet on banjo and piano, Howard Bamman, Armand from Michigan, Martelle from Illinois. Then we had a "down memory lane" series of photos shown from the opaque projector -- all old magic show biz photos. This aspect of the program can stand improvement, because the room was too light, and we didn't have a proper base for the projector. If we repeat this next year (with new photos, of course), we will try to set the machine in a different way. In any case, the 130 odd people plus the entertainment/steering group didn't mind and everybody left happy -- urging us to do it again next year.
Did we mention that the Abbott magic showroom moved to the school for the duration, seemed to do a whirlwind business, with all the clerks and helpers moving their tails for you know who?
And so we wind up another great Abbott Homecoming, as we leave Sturgis and turn West on the Indiana Toll Road. We stopped en route to say goodbye to Bill Baird who was buried near the Blackstone monument in the Colon cemetery on August 8th. Mile after mile slants past our windows as the car proceeds toward Chicago, and the gates to the World's Capitol of Magic close softly behind us for another year.
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