Archive for November, 2009

Harry Kellar — the Dean of Magic

Monday, November 30th, 2009



 Harry Kellar-portrait 


Harry Kellar signature 

…the dean of magic


The Magic Castle, located at 7001 Franklin Avenue at the foot of the Hollywood Hills, is currently observing the centennial of it’s headquarters which was built by banker Rollin B. Lane in 1909. To celebrate, over the next couple of weeks I will post a biography of Lane and the history of the mansion and articles on magic and magicians in Hollywood. Today is a look at the dean of magicians, Harry Kellar, who upon his retirement, spent the last fourteen years of his life in Los Angeles and is also interred here.


 By Allan R. Ellenberger


Harry Kellar, known as the “Dean of American Magicians,” enjoyed both public recognition and financial success. His was the largest and most elaborate stage illusion show touring during the late 1800s and early 1900s. He is best known for his spectacular version of the Levitation, in which a girl mysteriously rises up from a couch, floats across the stage to the audience, then disappears into thin air. Upon his retirement in 1908, Kellar chose to spend his remaining years in Los Angeles.


Kellar was born Heinrich Keller on July 11, 1849 in Erie, Pennsylvania. The son of German immigrants, his father, Francis P. Keller, had been a soldier under Napoleon. At the age of ten, Harry was put to work and found employment at Carter’s pharmacy on North Park Row. One day, while experimenting with chemicals he knew to be off-limits, he blew a hole in the shop floor. Knowing his father would be harsh with him, he jumped aboard an outbound train and left Erie.


Now a vagabond, Harry performed a series of odd jobs and was soon taken in by a minister in upstate New York, who offered to adopt him if he would study for the ministry. However, it was a chance visit to a traveling show that displayed the conjuring of The Fakir of Ava that enchanted the youngster. Kellar later confided to Houdini that he “immediately got the urge to go on the stage… became very restless, bought books on magic and finally left my friend and benefactor.” Harry traced down the Fakir, became his assistant, and began his professional training.


After several false starts and some disappointing results, Harry became connected with the Davenport Brothers and Fay, celebrated mediums who were involved with the “Spiritualism” movement. Harry continued with the Davenports for four years as their business manager, learning the cabinet tricks and becoming more expert at them than the brothers themselves. During this period he traveled extensively throughout the United States.


Harry reportedly changed the spelling of his name to Kellar because there was another popular magician named (Robert) Heller and wanted to avoid any possible confusion. It wasn’t until 1911 that he legally changed his name to Harry Kellar.



Harry Kellar poster



Kellar was famous for his playbills and advertisements featuring imps and devils, implying, without totally stating, that his skills were really powers gained through dealings with dark forces. This enticing idea brought people to his show in droves.


In 1873, Kellar formed a partnership with Fay, former partner of the Davenport Brothers, and as Fay and Kellar, toured Mexico and South America, acquiring an extended knowledge of the magician’s craft. Combining Kellar’s old magic tricks with a Davenport-inspired séance, was one of their showstoppers. After a shipwreck in 1875 on their trip to England left them destitute, Fay left the act to rejoin the Davenports.


On his return to the United States, Kellar joined Ling Look and Yamadura, billing themselves as Royal Illusionists, setting out on a tour of South America, Africa, Australia, India, the Philippines, Japan and China. While performing in China in 1877, both of his partners died, and for a time he toured alone.


For five years beginning in 1879, he traveled with J. H. Cunard under the name of Kellar & Cunard, giving exhibitions in Asia and Egypt. In 1882, Kellar was performing in Melbourne, Australia and met a fan, Eva Lydia Medley, who wanted his autograph. Kellar was smitten and promised to correspond with her while on the road. They exchanged letters for the next five years.


Kellar specialized not so much in feats of sleight-of-hand, as in other branches of the magicians art, more particularly those involving the use of apparatus, many of which Kellar was the originator, and are still models in magic today.



  Harry Kellar poster

  Harry Kellar poster



One of Kellar’s more popular illusions was The Levitation of Princess Karnac. One version of this was later purchased by Harry Blackstone, Sr., who used the trick for many years. Others included the Vanishing Birdcage, the Vanishing Lamp, and his automation Psycho, which was a popular attraction wherever it played.


Kellar returned to the United States in 1884 and began appearing alone and played here continuously. Eventually Eva arrived in America and played the cornet in the show and began learning about magic. They were married on November 1, 1887 at a church in Kalamazoo, Michigan and she continued to play an important role in his shows.


Kellar’s strength was his presentation. Over the next twenty years, he became one of the best known magicians in the world and once performed “The Nested Boxes” illusion at the White House for President Theodore Roosevelt and his children.


On May 16, 1908, Kellar retired and in a grand onstage ceremony at Ford’s Theatre in Baltimore, removed his cape and placed it on the shoulders of his chosen successor, Howard Thurston. Not long after, Kellar and his wife retired to Los Angeles where his sister Anna Marie lived. They bought a house at 698 Wilshire Place (demolished) and it was here that Eva died sometime before 1910.



Harry Kellar and Houdini



At the end of his career, Kellar befriended Harry Houdini, who idolized the elder magician. Houdini was a frequent guest at Kellar’s Wilshire Place home. Much of what is known about Kellar comes through Houdini, who conducted several interviews to help chronicle the history of magic. Houdini, in his fight to unmask fake mediums, once admitted that there was only one man who knew more about them than he did – Dean Harry Kellar.


Houdini once announced that he would perform the bullet catching feat, which had already killed several magicians, at an upcoming convention of the Society of American Magicians. Kellar got wind of it and fired off a letter. “Don’t try the damn bullet catching trick,” he warned, “no matter how sure you may feel of its success. There is always the biggest kind of risk that some dog will ‘job’ you. And we can’t afford to lose Houdini.”


Few men were more stubborn than Houdini, but he was no fool. He knew that Kellar had investigated the stunt himself and assumed that there must be more than enough reason for such strong advice. Houdini quietly withdrew his plan.


On September 7, 1917, a banquet in Kellar’s honor was held at the Angelus Hotel on the corner of Fourth and Spring Streets. After the meal, each magician gave exhibitions of their skill. Kellar demonstrated his famous “Kellar Rope Tie” and string tricks, and even those who assisted could not solve them.


Two months later, on November 11, 1917, Houdini convinced Kellar to perform once more. The event was an enormous show held at New York’s Hippodrome to benefit the families of soldiers who perished when the USS Antilles was sunk by a German U-boat.


After his performance, Kellar started to leave, but Houdini stopped him, saying that “America’s greatest magician should be carried off in triumph after his final public performance.” The members of the Society of American Magicians helped Kellar into the seat of a sedan chair, and lifted it up. The 125-piece Hippodrome orchestra played “Auld Lang Syne” while Kellar was slowly carried away.



Harry Kellar grave



At some point, Kellar moved in with his sister Anna Marie Buck at 460 S. Ardmore Avenue (demolished) near S. Normandie and 5th Street. It was here that Harry Kellar died after a brief illness on March 10, 1922. He was interred at Rosedale Cemetery but his grave was unmarked for almost 80 years until 2001 when the Academy of Magical Arts, who are headquartered at Hollywood’s Magic Castle, placed a stone there.



Click below to view a 16 second film of Harry Kellar with Houdini.





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Hollywood Christmas Parade

Sunday, November 29th, 2009


2009 Hollywood Christmas Parade


Christmas parade 2009


Just a few photos from the 2009 Hollywood Christmas Parade. Sorry, I didn’t stay for the entire event so I didn’t see the Big Guy…..


Christmas parade

Hollywood Christmas Parade Grand Marshall: Susan Lucci



Christmas parade



Christmas parade



Christmas parade



Christmas parade



Christmas parade




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Holiday Art Sale

Saturday, November 28th, 2009


Riddle’s “holiday art sale”


Riddle's art


The best part about this sale is that in congruence with these tough economic times, Riddle has created about 100 pieces that are priced between $20 and $150 dollars! Many of these designs that will be priced in this range sell in Europe for 3 times the prices that they will be available at this sale.
There will be something for everyone at the sale.
From simple objects of utilitarian beauty to the obscure. 
Sunday-November 29th
11am to 6pm

940 Maltman Avenue


310 990 9182


Riddle's art


For more information, click on the following:



Get there early because the good stuff will go fast!



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James Agee’s 100th Birthday

Friday, November 27th, 2009


James Agee


James Agee




  • BORN: November 27, 1909, Knoxville, Tennessee
  • DIED: May 16, 1955, New York, New York
  • CAUSE OF DEATH: Heart attack
  • BURIAL: Agee Family Farm, Hillsdale, New York



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Thanksgiving in Hollywood, 1931

Thursday, November 26th, 2009


How Hollywood stars celebrated Thanksgiving in 1931




Hollywood’s basis for Thanksgiving sometimes ranged from gratitude to an indulgent fate for the renewal of an option to thanks for a new divorce. But whatever the individual cause for thanks. the favored of filmdom in 1931 joined the rest of the country in celebrating the Thanksgiving season.


Marlene Dietrich observed the holiday entertaining a few guests and, for the occasion, allowed little Maria to dine with the grown-ups. Others who celebrated quietly at home were Dolores Costello and John Barrymore who entertained Lionel Barrymore and Helene Costello; Kay Francis and her husband, Kenneth McKenna; Buster and Natalie Talmadge Keaton, their two sons, and Norma and Constance Talmadge; Vivian Duncan and Nils Asther and their new daughter, Evelyn. The Robert Montgomery’s, also assisted their young daughter (five-week old Martha who died at 14 months of spinal meningitis) in her first Thanksgiving, while the Reginald Denny’s also had their young son to initiate.


Ruth Chatterton and Ralph Forbes travelled to Arrowhead for the occasion. Marie Dressler, accompanied by her house guest, Lady Ravensdale, and Claire du Brey, drove to the desert and dined at the La Quinta Hotel. Wallace Beery spent Thanksgiving in New York, as did Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.


Clark Gable spent the holiday in the mountains. Jimmy Durante cooked his own turkey, decorating it with  an original dressing, but declining to reveal the recipe.


Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels celebrated the day in San Francisco with the opening of Bebe’s play, The Last of Mrs. Cheney. Janet Gaynor was Europe-bound, accompanied by her husband, Lydell Peck and mother. Maurice Chevalier  was joined by his wife, actress Yvonne Vallee,  for his first Thanksgiving. Tallulah Bankhead arrived in town for formal dinner plans. Two new sets of newlyweds — June Collyer and Stuart Erwin and Carole Lombard and William Powell — observed the day at home.


Victor MacLaglen presided over a huge dining table which was a part of the Tuder furniture imported from England for his Flintridge home.


From several places across the country, the Will Rogers clan collected in time for turkey. Will, Jr. was home from Stanford, and Jimmy arrived from Roswell, New Mexico.


Wherever you are and whatever your plans, I hope you have a fabulous Thanksgiving. 



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Frances Dee’s 100th Birthday

Thursday, November 26th, 2009


Frances Dee


Frances Dee




  • BORN: November 26, 1909, Los Angeles, California
  • DIED: March 6, 2004, Norwalk, Connecticut
  • CAUSE OF DEATH: Complications from a stroke
  • BURIAL: Unknown



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Harry Blackstone in Hollywood

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009


The Great Blackstone




Hollywood-Endings tells of celebrities who have died within the environs and boundaries of the community of Hollywood


The Magic Castle, located at 7001 Franklin Avenue at the foot of the Hollywood Hills, is currently observing the centennial of it’s headquarters which was built by banker Rollin B. Lane in 1909. To celebrate, over the next couple of weeks I will post a biography of Lane and the history of the mansion and articles on magic and magicians in Hollywood. Today, when magician Harry Blackstone retired, he moved to Hollywood and settled in an apartment just a few blocks from Grauman’s Chinese and the Magic Castle.


By Allan R. Ellenberger


Harry Blackstone, regarded as the last of the great golden-age magicians, and ranked with such wizards as Houdini, Herrmann the Great, Harry Kellar and Thurston, died at his Hollywood apartment on November 16, 1965 after a four-month illness.


Blackstone was born Harry Boughton on September 27, 1885, the fourth of eight children of a Chicago florist. In 1897, he saw his first magician – Harry Kellar, doing a rope escape trick. The young boy was captivated and began the slow process of learning sleight of hand.


In 1904 he began his stage career, when, with his brother Peter, he appeared in an act called “Straight and Crooked Magic.” Later, he shortened his name and the act was billed as the “Bouton Brothers.” The brothers toured the vaudeville circuit where Harry became the “master magician” of the act..


Later, he changed his stage name to Frederick the Great, however, during World War I, that name became unpopular. One day he was standing in front of the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago talking to an agent about changing his name. The agent pointed to the hotel marquee and said: “There’s your new billing – Blackstone the Great.”


News that Blackstone and his mahogany magic wand would be appearing brought pleasure to young and old, for Blackstone was a superb technician who could devote a two-hour stage show to nothing but tricks.








“It (magic) doesn’t need to be sleight of hand. It’s nothing but pure psychology – applied in the right place.


“If the leaders of the world would turn their talents to a little more magic, or psychology, there wouldn’t be so much hurt and misery. Politicians are nothing more than magicians anyhow. They put people under a spell.”


— Harry Blackstone


Blackstone was primarily an illusionist who shunned the use of trapdoors, mirrors or wires. He could saw a woman in half, make her float above ground and then thrust her into a cabinet lined with lighted light bulbs that could pass through her body. He used the same cabinet to cut the woman into three separate but equal parts.


In the Hindu rope trick, a boy climbed a rope and disappeared. The dancing handkerchief was just that – a borrowed man’s handkerchief placed on the floor and made to dance to a foxtrot.


Another trick was the vanishing donkey, in which a live animal disappeared before the astonished eyes of the audience. Using dozens of rabbits in his act, he once estimated giving away 80,000 of the creatures during his career.


When he would dine with friends, he liked to startle them by reaching into the air and finding oranges or bananas there, or by taking a salt shaker and violently pounding it through the table and reaching underneath to bring it up.


Blackstone once performed at the White House for President Calvin Coolidge. He stole the President’s fountain pen, pulled a rabbit from the pocket of Secretary of the Treasury Andrew W. Mellon and palmed the wallet of Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg.


“This man’s a magician,” the President dryly remarked. As he left, Blackstone made the pistol vanish from the holster of the guard on duty.


Blackstone retired in 1959 and moved to Hollywood two years later. He made two known appearances after that – at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium for a “It’s Magic” extravaganza and was the subject of the television show, This is Your Life, hosted by Ralph Edwards, both in 1960.



1749 N. Sycamore Avenue

1749 N. Sycamore Avenue, Hollywood where Harry Blackstone died in his apartment on November 16, 1965. (NOTE: This is a private residence. Please do NOT disturb the occupants)


Harry Blackstone moved to 1749 N. Sycamore Avenue, apartment 19, in the heart of Hollywood, just a few blocks from Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Magic Castle, where he reportedly made appearances during his last few years.


During the summer of 1965, the 80 year-old Blackstone took ill and spent a month in Good Samaritan Hospital. On November 16, he died in his N. Sycamore apartment, apparently from pulmonary edema. At his bedside were his wife, Elizabeth, and his manager Charles McDonald. His son, Harry Jr., also an accomplished magician, was on tour in Florida.


There was no funeral, however his body was cremated at Hollywood Cemetery and his cremains sent to Colon, Michigan where a service was held. Harry Blackstone was buried at Lakeside Cemetery in Colon.



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Q&A with Mark Vieira at Alternative Film Guide

Monday, November 23rd, 2009


Irving Thalberg: Q&A with Mark Vieira


Thalberg & Shearer


Entertainment blogger, Andre Soares has a revealing question and answer session with Irving Thalberg biographer, Mark A. Vieira on his site, The Alternative Film Guide. Here is a snipet:


“Author and photographer Mark A. Vieira, who’s been a friend for a number of years, has recently written no less than two books on Irving G. Thalberg, the young MGM mogul whose high-quality productions earned him both a reputation as Hollywood’s “Boy Wonder” and a special place in Oscar history as the name attached to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences‘ Memorial Award given to “creative producers whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production.” Thalberg even inspired a F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, the unfinished The Last Tycoon.”


To continue reading, click HERE for Andre’s introduction and the Q&A with Mark Vieira.



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Sardi’s Restaurant – Then & Now

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009






6313 Hollywood Boulevard


Sardi’s restaurant opened in 1932 and was the sister of New York’s Sardi’s and was designed by the world-renowned architect Rudolph Schindler in International style with metal and glass. This was a favorite restaurant of many stars including Charlie Chaplin, Maurice Chevalier, Wallace Beery, Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford. Below is it’s current incarnation.







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Irving Thalberg Films at Egyptian

Saturday, November 21st, 2009


 A day of Irving Thalberg at the Egyptian




In collaboration with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences exhibit “Irving Thalberg: Creating the Hollywood Studio System, 1920 – 1936


Co-Presented with the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles



Grauman’s Egyptian Theater

Sunday, November 22, 2009

2 pm



Author and Thalberg expert Mark Vieira will present a 40 minute illustrated lecture on Irving G. Thalberg prior to the double feature of pre-code features. Ben-Hur, Flesh and the Devil, Tarzan the Ape Man, Grand Hotel, Mutiny on the Bounty, A Night at the Opera, The Good Earth—most filmgoers even today have heard of these Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer classics from the 1920s and 1930s, not to mention the remakes they spawned. Yet few know the name of the young genius behind these masterworks, Irving G. Thalberg. Nicknamed the “Boy Wonder,” Thalberg was running Universal Pictures at the age of twenty and M-G-M at twenty-three. Thirteen years later, he was dead. During that brief span, from 1924 to 1936, he supervised more than four hundred M-G-M films; made stars of, among others, Norma Shearer (whom he married), Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Lon Chaney, and Greta Garbo; gave Hollywood careers to stage legends from Helen Hayes to the Barrymores; and elevated film to the level of fine art. This groundbreaking new book tells the story of Thalberg’s short but productive life and confirms his role as the prime architect of the Hollywood studio system.


That Thalberg was a cinematic genius is undisputed. It was he who pioneered many of today’s filmmaking practices, including story conferences, sneak previews, and the resulting retakes. Indeed, it is not every year that the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award is presented by the Academy, but only when the Academy’s Board of Directors wishes to honor a special producer, one whose work reflects “a consistently high quality of motion picture production.”


Thalberg Pre-Code Double Feature – Not on DVD:


SKYSCRAPER SOULS, 1932, Warner Bros., 99 min. Dir. Edgar Selwyn. This pre-code gem is a surprisingly modern treatise on sex and money: Warren William plays a married skyscraper magnate who sleeps with his secretary (Maureen O’Sullivan), while another suitor (Norman Foster) tries to win her heart. Look for future gossip columnist Hedda Hopper as William’s wife! With Art Deco sets by Art Director Cedric Gibbons.


FAITHLESS, 1932, Warner Bros., 88 min. Dir. Harry Beaumont. Tallulah Bankhead plays Carol Morgan, a spoiled young woman whose father’s fortune is wiped out by the depression. She refuses to accept reality, however, and refuses to accept the love of middle-class suitor Robert Montgomery, who’s baffled by the way she prioritizes money over romance.


Hosted by Mark A. Vieira, author of Hollywood Dreams Made Real and Irving Thalberg. Book signing with both Vieira’s Thalberg books at 4:30 PM in the lobby (between films). Reception before the program from 12:30 – 1:30 PM at Larry Edmund’s Book Store just east of the Egyptian at 6644 Hollywood Boulevard.


The major gallery exhibit at the Academy features photographs, documents, poster art, props and costumes from many of the famed motion pictures overseen by Hollywood’s original “Boy Wonder.” Exhibit curated by Mark Vieira is open through December 13th. Free admission.



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