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Chinese New Year

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Feb 21st, 2010
Feb 21


Chinese New Year parade 



Some scenes from yesterdays Chinese New Year parade held in LA’s Chinatown















Harry Kellar — the Dean of Magic

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Nov 30th, 2009
Nov 30



 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.





The Malibu Colony

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Oct 18th, 2009
Oct 18


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



Lost Angeles…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on May 7th, 2009
May 7


Honoring the lost areas of Los Angeles


 Bunker Hill 

Los Angeles Times
The Union Bank Square building takes shape above Bunker Hill Victorians in a 1966 photo.

Heritage Square Museum in the Arroyo Seco tries to keep memories alive of what passes for historic L.A. — or is that an oxymoron?


Hector Tobar
Los Angeles Times
May 7, 2009


Imagine we could dismantle the skyscrapers on Bunker Hill and step back in time to the downtown Los Angeles that was.


In place of soaring glass and steel, we find the squat wood frames of Victorian mansions and humble clapboard apartments hugging old palm trees. Studebakers and Fords with bulbous bodies and chrome ornaments glide down the streets, guzzling gas.


Just about everyone smokes, including the down-on-his luck writer gazing out from his room at the Alta Loma Hotel. He daydreams about the novels he will write, and takes the Angel’s Flight to the bottom of the hill, where he frequents one of the city’s many cafeterias.


“Los Angeles, give me some of you!” John Fante writes in his 1939 novel “Ask the Dust.” “Los Angeles come to me the way I came to you, my feet over your streets, you pretty town I loved you so much, you sad flower in the sand, you pretty town.”


Click here to continue reading this Los Angeles Times article



Catalina Steamer to be Scrapped…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Apr 1st, 2009
Apr 1


SS Catalina is seaworthy no more




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.


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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End of the World?…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Mar 22nd, 2009
Mar 22


A world of end-of-the-world predictions



Performing Arts Special Collections, UCLA
In “Earthquake,” Charlton Heston and Monica Lewis try to get out of a tough spot. Destruction also rained down on L.A. in “War of the Worlds” and “Independence Day.”

End-of-the-world predictions and tales of catastrophe have long been part of the Southland’s culture.


By Steve Harvey
Los Angeles Times
March 22, 2009


On Sept. 21, 1945, Pasadena minister Charles Long and his followers stayed up all night, reading Scripture and waiting for the world to blow up, as Long had predicted.


“Many had sold their possessions, paid their debts and made peace with their neighbors,” The Times reported.


To their considerable surprise, the sun greeted them the next morning. The minister matter-of-factly explained that he had made a “minor error in his calculations,” The Times said.


Sixty-four years later, there still seems no end to end-of-the-world forecasts.    (Click on ‘Continue Reading’ for more)


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L.A.’s First Subway…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Mar 14th, 2009
Mar 14


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.


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…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Feb 6th, 2009
Feb 6


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?


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…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Oct 23rd, 2008
Oct 23

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




Story Behind ‘Changeling’…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Oct 19th, 2008
Oct 19

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



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


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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