Archive for the ‘Los Angeles History’ Category

Harry Kellar — the Dean of Magic

Monday, November 30th, 2009

LOS ANGELES HISTORY

 

 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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The Malibu Colony

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

LOS ANGELES HISTORY

Living chic by jowl in the Malibu Colony

 

 Bing Crosby's Malibu house

Bing Crosby’s Malibu Colony home in 1931. The first to sign a lease was Swedish silent film star Anna Q. Nilsson. (Malibu Lagoon Museum)

  

There’s plenty of Hollywood money — and history — packed along that fabled sandy stretch of Malibu.

 

By Veronique de Turenne
Los Angeles Times
October 18, 2009

 

When Cheronda Guyton, a senior vice president with Wells Fargo, used a foreclosed home to host lavish parties last summer in the Malibu Colony, she broke more than a few company rules. But by caving to her craving for the beach life, the now-fired bank executive joined a long line of people aching to lay claim to that fabled stretch of sand.

 

Located in the heart of Malibu just up the coast from Surfrider Beach, the famed Malibu Colony is a half-mile stretch of 100 or so homes that sit inches apart on the shoreline. They’re luxurious retreats outfitted with outdoor kitchens, private cabanas and seaside teahouses. The roster of residents reads like the credits of the world’s biggest ensemble movie. And the price tags, which start in the high seven figures, climb ever upward.

 

To be sure, the century-long history of the land has always been rich and star-studded.

 

Click here to continue reading

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Catalina Steamer to be Scrapped…

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

LOS ANGELES HISTORY

SS Catalina is seaworthy no more

 

Catalina-steamer

 

The once-proud steamship, which ferried millions of passengers to the island town of Avalon, is being cut for scrap after sitting for years in Ensenada harbor.

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By Bob Pool
Los Angeles Time

 

In the end, the Great White Steamer was a great white elephant.

 

The island town of Avalon didn’t want the SS Catalina, which for 50 glorious years ferried about 25 million people to its shores. Neither did the Port of Los Angeles, or harbors in San Diego, Vancouver and Honolulu. And, finally, neither did the Port of Ensenada.    (Click on ‘Continue Reading’ for more)

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L.A.’s First Subway…

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

LOS ANGELES HISTORY

The colorful saga of Los Angeles’ first subway tunnel

 

 Belmont Tunnel 

Paul Morse / Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Conservancy conducts a tour of the subway tunnel once used by the Red Cars that ran between downtown and Glendale Boulevard near 1st Street.

 

After rail service ended, the mile-long route was used as a storage site for survival rations and impounded vehicles, as a movie set and then as a giant graffiti canvas.

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Steve Harvey
Only in L.A.
Los Angeles Times
 

What a strange ride it has been for L.A.’s first subway.

 

Shut down in 1955, the Belmont Tunnel went from being a commuter route for rail passengers between downtown and the Westlake district to a storage site for survival rations, a holding cell for impounded vehicles, a movie set and, unofficially, a giant graffiti canvas and field of study for urban explorers.

 

Along the way, the mile-long subterranean route acquired an aura of mystery.    (Click on ‘Continue Reading’ for more)

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Los Feliz Murder Mystery…

Friday, February 6th, 2009

LOS ANGELES HISTORY

On a Los Feliz hill, murder — then mystery

 

Los Feliz murder house

 Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times
The hilltop Los Feliz mansion where Dr. Harold Perelson killed his wife and then himself in 1959. It has sat vacant ever since.

 

Inside a mansion, it’s as if time stopped in 1959 when a doctor killed his wife and then himself. Gifts still sit, unopened. Why?

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By Bob Pool
Los Angeles Times
February 6, 2009

 

It’s a murder mystery that has puzzled a Los Feliz neighborhood since 1959.

 

The criminal-case part was solved quickly enough. Homicide investigators found that Dr. Harold Perelson bludgeoned his wife to death with a ball-peen hammer, savagely beat their 18-year-old daughter and then fatally poisoned himself by gulping a glass of acid.    (Click on ‘Continue Reading’ for more)

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LA Archives Bazaar…

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

The 3rd Annual Los Angeles Archives Bazaar

 

 

 

Larry Harnisch
Los Angeles Times

 

Anyone who has researched Los Angeles history knows that the material is spread all over the city and not always in the most logical spot. For example, items from the early history of USC’s medical school are housed at UCLA. The archives bazaar, sponsored by L.A. as Subject, is an annual gathering to show off Los Angeles history and provide a clearinghouse for researchers, whether they are working on a scholarly project or family genealogy.

 

The list of exhibitors shows the amazing diversity of the city’s many archives and libraries. Of course, the better-known collections, like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Autry National Center, Los Angeles City Archives, Los Angeles Public Library, and UCLA Special Collections, will be represented.

 

But that’s only the beginning. Consider these groups, which will also be taking part:

 

Boyle Heights Historical Society; Chinese Historical Society of Southern California; Filipino-American Library; Japanese American National Museum; LA84 Foundation–Sports Library; Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum; One National Gay and Lesbian Archives; Orange Empire Railway Museum; Society of California Archivists and the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Library and Archive.

 

The bazaar will also include screenings of films, presentations on genealogy, teaching sessions and  book signings by William Estrada, “The Los Angeles Plaza”; Jonathan Gold, “Counter Intelligence”; Carina Monica Montoya, “Filipinos in Hollywood”; Icy Smith, “Mei Ling in China City”; Jervey Tervalon, “Lita: All the Trouble You Need Understand This”; and J. Michael Walker, “All the Saints of the City of Angels.” 

 

The Los Angeles Archives Bazaar will be held at USC Davidson Conference Center, 3415 S. Figueroa (at Jefferson Boulevard). Free. Parking at USC Parking Structure D is $8. Visitors can get free or discounted admissions to museums in Exposition Park.

 

For more information (PDF): USC-Archives-Bazaar-2008

 

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Story Behind ‘Changeling’…

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

‘Changeling’ revisits a crime that riveted L.A.

  

 

The Walter Collins case would end up becoming the O.J. Simpson drama of its day.

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By Rachel Abramowitz
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 18, 2008

 

ONE OF the most notorious crimes of Jazz Age Los Angeles began quietly enough with a lost boy.

 

But the Walter Collins case would end up becoming the O.J. Simpson drama of its day, a horrifying crime that inspired a media frenzy and captivated the Southland. What started as the real-life tale of a missing child would eventually take on a much larger significance in the then-burgeoning city. Though the details may have faded into the miasma of time, its commentary on corruption and abuse of authority, on female empowerment and on the ultimate price of justice, continues to echo throughout the canyons of L.A.’s collective memory.

 

In the middle of it all was Christine Collins, Walter’s mother, a victim turned unlikely heroine.   (Click on ‘Continue Reading’ for more)

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(more…)

1932 Olympics in Los Angeles…

Friday, August 8th, 2008

OLYMPICS SPECIAL

 

1932 LOS ANGELES OLYMPICS

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

With tonight’s opening ceremonies of the Games of the XXIX Olympiad being held in Beijing, China, I thought a look at the 1932 Olympics would be appropriate. The games of the Tenth Olympiad which were held in Los Angeles from July 30 to August 14, 1932, contributed the greatest series of athletic events ever held in the United States up to that time. Here is a look at some of the highlights.

 

 

Aerial view of Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremony (IOC/Olympic Museum collections)

 

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE 1932 OLYMPICS INCLUDE:

 

  • The crowds set records, starting with the 100,000 people who attended the Opening Ceremony
  • The 1932 Olympics were the first to last 16 days. The duration of the Olympics has remained between 15 and 18 days ever since. Between 1900 and 1928, no Summer Olympics was shorter than 79 days.
  • At the victory ceremonies, the medal winners stood on a victory stand and the flag of the winner was raised.
  • Official automatic timing was introduced for the track events, as was the photo-finish camera.
  • 14-year-old Japanese Kusuo Kitamura won the 1,500m freestyle to become the youngest male in any sport ever to earn a gold medal in an individual event.
  • Ivar Johansson, a Swedish policeman, won gold medals in both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. Another Swedish wrestler, Carl Westergren, won his third Greco-Roman title, each in a different division.
  • In the spirit of fair play, British fencer Judy Guinness gave up her hopes for a gold medal when she pointed out to officials that they had not noticed two touches scored against her by her final opponent, Ellen Preis of Austria.
   

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PICTORIAL EVENTS

 

  

 

 

Los Angeles, Coliseum Stadium, 30 July 1932. Opening Ceremony, Charles Curtis, US Vice-President, declares the Games of the X Olympiad open.

 

(Credit: IOC/Olympic Museum collections)

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 ABOVE: Argentina’s Juan Carlos Zabala, winner of the marathon, ahead on the first lap of the track (IOC/Olympic Museum collections )

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Crowds gather under several international flags at the Olympic Village in Baldwin Hills during the 1932 Olympics. This Olympic Village, the first ever to be built, served as the residence for the male athletes. Female athletes were housed at the Chapman Park Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard. (LAPL)

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ABOVE: Los Angeles 1932, Games of the X Olympiad. Personalities and competitors in transit: (L to R) Duke KAHANAMOKU, Miss Earhart PUTMAN, Paavo NURMI, Douglas FAIRBANKS and Arthur JONATH. (Credit: IOC Olympic Museum Collections)

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21-year-old American Babe Didrikson qualified for all five women’s track and field events, but was only allowed to compete in three. She won the javelin throw and set world records in the high jump and the 80m hurdles.

  

 

 

(Credit: IOC Olympic Museum Collections)

  

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ABOVE: Los Angeles, August 1932. General view of the Olympic Stadium during an equestrian event at the Games of the X Olympiad.  (Credit: IOC Olympic Museum Collections)

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Los Angeles, Coliseum Stadium, 14 August 1932. The IOC President, Count Baillet-Latour, closes the Games of the X Olympiad.

 

 

(Credit: IOC Olympic Museum Collections)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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