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, 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.