Fire damages Hollywood’s Magic Castle
The Magic Castle, the spooky headquarters for generations of stage magicians, was closed by a fire Monday that damaged the Hollywood landmark and shut down its Halloween activities, including a seance.
The blaze was reported shortly after 12:30 p.m. and took more than an hour to douse. Smoke rose from dormer windows at the height of the blaze.
No injuries were reported. There was no immediate word on the extent of damage.
On its website, the castle said it would be closed Monday night in order to assess that damage. Planned events had included a Halloween dance party and costume contest and a late-night seance to summon the spirit of Harry Houdini.
The ornate building with castle-like turrets was built as a private mansion in the early 1900s and had its ups and downs before it was opened as a private club for members of the Academy of Magical Arts in the early 1960s.
With a hillside view of Hollywood, the building has numerous theaters, bars and dining rooms that offer everything from sleight of hand to elaborate grand illusions.
The club, which is open to members, magicians and guests, prides itself on a show-biz spook atmosphere that includes a ghost-playing piano that takes requests and a hidden door that opens to the command “open sesame.”
The building has a large collection of props and posters from great magicians and an extensive library of magic. (AP)
Rollin B. Lane, and a little Hollywood magic
Rollin B. Lane (Photo courtesy of Ripon College Archives)
By Allan R. Ellenberger
While he is not well-known today, Rollin B. Lane was an early Hollywood resident; an admitted capitalist and philanthropist who donated large sums of money for parks, libraries and orphanages. However, if he is known at all it would be for a street named for his mother, and for the home he built a century ago, which is now one of the oldest still standing in Hollywood. One-hundred years ago Lane named his home the “Holly Chateau” but for the past forty-seven years the public has known it by its more celebrated name – the Magic Castle which celebrates it’s 47th year today!
Rollin Benjamin Lane was born on May 28, 1854 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the son of Leonard Lane and Olive Pickett. The family home was located on Algoma Street, however his parents divorced (or his father deserted them) and Rollins and his mother moved to nearby Pickett when he was two years old. His maternal grandparents, Armine and Anna Pickett, were pioneer residents of Pickett and Winnebago county.
Lane attended school at the old district No. 6 building which was built on land donated by his grandfather. He attended Ripon College and graduated in 1872. Later, he was for five years an associate editor of the old Daily Evening Wisconsin in Milwaukee before settling in Redlands, California in the winter of 1886.
There he invested in real estate and owned a 17-acre orange grove. With other investors he established the Union Bank of Redlands, of which he was cashier for five years. In 1890 Lane moved to Portland, Oregon, where he took part in organizing the Multnomah County Bank, of which he was president for three years, selling his interest in 1895.
In October 1896, Lane married Katherine Azubah Glynn, a teacher and the author of the fictional, “The Girl from Oshkosh.” Kate was born in March 3, 1864 in Bucktooth, New York to La Fayette Glynn and Mary E. Perry. She was also the great-granddaughter of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, the early American naval officer.
Lane, an ardent Republican, hastened his wedding to Katherine in order to return to California in time to vote in the presidential election for McKinley. Katherine evidently sympathized and consented to a hurried wedding and the couple left immediately for Redlands. There he purchased a house at the head of Center Street.
The Lane’s slowly made their presence known in Hollywood, reportedly moving there around 1902, making friends with influential people of the fairly new community. They attended the formal opening of the new addition to the Hollywood Hotel in 1905. It was during these times that he most likely became acquainted with local real estate icons such as the Whitley’s, Wilcox’s and other Hollywood pioneers.
Meanwhile, Lane continued with his California real estate investments including the San Fernando and San Joaquin Valley’s. In 1907, Lane became one of the backers of the new community of Corcoran in central California. Founded by H.J. Whitley, who also had a presence in Hollywood (Whitley Heights, Whitley Avenue), many of his associates in this endeavor were other Hollywood citizens including General H. G. Otis (Los Angeles Times), Arthur Letts (Broadway Department Store), and Dr. Alan Gardner (Gardner Avenue). Much later Corcoran became the location of the California State Prison, home to a number of notable inmates including Charles Manson, Juan Corona and Phil Spector.
Already transplanted to Hollywood, Lane began construction in early 1909 on his elegant Holly Chateau at the foot of the Hollywood Hills at 7001 Franklin Avenue. The original house was designed by the architectural firm of Dennis and Farwell in the French “Chateau” or Gothic Renaissance style and adapted from a residence in Redlands known as “Kimberly Crest” which has been preserved as a house museum.
Lane house drawing that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on January 23, 1910
A two-story frame and cement plaster house, Holly Chateau has a large basement and a finished attic under a mansard roof. The home initially had seventeen rooms including a roof garden and sun parlor. The basement contained a laundry, fruit and storage rooms and two large gas furnaces which heated the house.
The halls, staircase and library were made of quarter-sawed white oak; the dining room was of mahogany and the den in natural redwood and of Turkish design. The parlor was decorated in white enamel with gold decorations in the Louis XV style, while the balance of the house, including the bedrooms and five bathrooms had white enamel finish. A large billiard room occupied the third floor. Other features included French windows, five or six fireplaces and carved mantels.
The Lanes shared their wealth with causes that were closest to their hearts. Because of her interest in community parks, Katherine was known as the “Tree Lady.” Lanewood Avenue (named after Lane’s twice-married mother, Olive Pickett Lane-Wood), in Hollywood, is still lined with large pine trees which Katherine most likely planted since the Lane’s once owned the land.
Lanewood Avenue, named after Olive Pickett Lane-Wood, in Hollywood. The pine trees that line the street were most likely planted by Katherine Lane
She was chairman of the tree-planting committee that procured 360 cherry trees from Japan for planting in and around Griffith Park. Working with the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Katherine is responsible for the planting of the landmark palm trees that line Wilshire Boulevard.
Katherine was elected president of the Hollywood Women’s Club and was also the founder of the Round-the-World Club, Lane Tree Club, Perry Art Club and The Juniors, and a member of the Hollywood Club, Oshkosh Club, Ebell Club, Women’s Press Club, Daughters of the American Revolution and Casa Del Mar. She was also the official hostess to the Wisconsin delegates of the 1932 Olympics, which were held in Los Angeles.
The Lane’s adopted a son sometime after moving into the Chateau in 1909. The 1910 census does not mention a son, however in 1920, twelve year-old Rollin B. Lane Jr. appears. Some have assumed that explains a $25,000 donation for the construction of a building for the Los Angeles Children’s Home Society, but not much is known about the adoption.
Discord came to the Chateau in mid 1923, when Katherine filed for divorce against her 69 year-old husband. In her complaint she charged cruelty and named another woman, asking for $750 a month in alimony. A restraining order was issued to prevent Lane from removing anything from the house. However, after a meeting between the couple and their lawyers, a reconciliation was arranged and Lane returned to living at 7001 Franklin Avenue. However, it appears that Lane atoned for his sins the following January when he took Katherine and their son on a world cruise. This was followed by a tour of Alaska two years later and another world tour in 1927.
The passport photo for the Lane’s first world tour. Rollin, Rollin, Jr and Katherine Lane
As the movie industry invaded Hollywood, the Lane’s kept their distance and refused to hobnob with the communities new residents. There have been legends about cowboy star, Tom Mix riding his horse down the mansion’s staircase (this story seems to follow him at several Hollywood residences) but it never happened. Also, the story that actress Janet Gaynor once lived at the Chateau are also false.
The closest the Lanes came to acknowledging the entertainment industry was celebrating the birthday of composer, Carrie Jacobs-Bond, which was held at the Chateau for several years. Bond, who also lived in Hollywood, was a songwriter probably best known for composing the wedding standard, “I Love You Truly.”
It became Katherine’s custom to celebrate Bond’s birthday with a garden party. During their world cruise in 1924, Katherine was on the Indian Ocean and the ship’s orchestra played “A Perfect Day,” – a Bond composition – and being so far from home, it touched her heart and there she decided that if she reached home safely, she would give flowers to Bond, honoring her living presence instead of her memory.
One birthday celebration in particular, August 11, 1925, more than 300 people gathered on the Chateau grounds to observe Bond’s 64th birthday. Among those who attended were George H. Coffin, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce; real estate developer, C. E. Toberman; impresario, L. E. Beyhmer, and many others from Hollywood society. While no film people actually attended the festivities (or were invited), telegrams of felicitations were received from Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and “other celebrities.”
In May 1929, Rollin Lane presented his alma-mater, the Ripon College Board of Trustees with $100,000, to be used to build the Lane Library. Lane, his mother-in-law, Mary Glynn and Katherine attended the cornerstone laying ceremony in June 1930.
Unidentified woman, Katherine Lane and Rollin B. Lane at cornestone laying ceremony for the Lane Library at Ripon College (Photo courtesy of Ripon College Archives)
Rollin B. Lane laying the cornerstone of Lane Library at Ripon College (Photo courtesy of Ripon College Archives)
The year before Lane gave $20,000 for the construction of a new school building and auditorium in his hometown of Pickett, named the Armine and Anna Pickett Memorial School, after his maternal grandparents. Today it’s known as the Pickett Community Center. “It was quite the party when he came back to dedicate it,” said Mary Callies, researcher and treasurer of the Center. “There were endless parties; everyone wanted to be with someone who knew somebody in Hollywood.”
Day-to-day life, though slower, continued at Holly Chateau for the Lane’s. Around 1936, Lane became ill and rarely left the house. On August 23, 1940, Rollin B. Lane died of a stroke in a small corner bedroom of the Chateau. He was 86 years-old. Funeral services were held at the Hollywood Cemetery Chapel and burial was in the family plot next to his mother.
Katherine continued to live at 7001 Franklin Avenue until her death at the Glendale Sanitarium on December 9, 1945. She was buried at Hollywood Cemetery between her husband and her mother (who is unmarked).
The Lane family plot at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Below are individual markers for Rollin B. Lane, Katherine Lane and Olive Pickett Lane-Wood (Photos: Allan R. Ellenberger)
During the years after Katherine’s death, the Chateau was divided into a multi-family home, then it was a home for the elderly and lastly it was altered into a jumble of small apartments. In 1950, Harry Stafford, a stage and screen actor, died in one of the rooms. The Holly Chateau stayed in the Lane family until it was sold to Thomas Glover in 1955.
The fate of the house was in question until Milt Larsen, a writer on the NBC game show, Truth or Consequences and his brother William, obtained the house for use as a club for magicians – a long-time dream of their father. After months of restoration, the Lane mansion was transformed into what is known today as the Magic Castle.
Forty-seven years ago today (January 2, 1963) at 5 pm, the Magic Castle opened its doors to members. It became a mysterious mansion with secret panels, a piano played by a ghost and weird overtones of magic. The mystifying features of the place began with the entrance, a secret panel known but to members. The “Invisible Irma” room boasts a regular piano and plays tunes at a verbal command.
Original posters of Houdini, the Mysterious Dante, the Great Leon, Thurston’s “Wonder Show of the Earth” and Brush, “King of Wizards,” decorated the Blackstone Room, where card tables are provided for sleight-of-hand experts.
The mansion has been altered since the days that the Lane’s lived there – both inside and out. Street lamps that adorn the driveway once dotted the original Victoria Pier in Venice. Decorative cast iron frieze work on the canopy overhanging the door was part of the entrance to the Masonic temple at Wilshire and La Brea. Paneling in the main dining room was taken from the shutters of the Norma Talmadge Building that used to stand on Sunset. And the chandeliers in the Palace of Mystery once hung in the first Bullock’s in Southern California.
What would Rollin and Katherine Lane think of the transformation of their mansion? The room where Rollin Lane died is now the Houdini Séance room – perhaps one day Rollin will attend (or already has) to whatever goes on there and make his thoughts known. In any event, the only way you can see this magical place is if you know a member. If you ever have the chance, take it. You won’t be disappointed.
Special thanks to George W. Siegel, the architectural historian for the Magic Castle and to Bill Goodwin, librarian and Lisa Cousins of the Magic Castle for their help with this article.
- Book/Film News , Hollywood Pioneers | Tags: Alan Gardner, Arthur Letts, Carrie Jacobs-Bond, Dennis and Farrwell, Glendale Sanitarium, h j whitley, Hollywood Forever, houdini, janet gaynor, Katherine Lane, Lane Library, Magic Castle, Milt Larsen, Olive Pickett Lane-Wood, Ripon College, Rollin B. Lane, Rollin B. Lane Jr., Thomas Glover, Tom Mix, William Larsen
HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY
Caryl S. Fleming, an immortal of magic
Caryl S. Fleming (above) does not find a rabbit in his hat (Photo: IBM Ring #21)
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, I will post a biography of Lane and the history of the mansion on January 2, 2010, the 47th anniversary of the organization’s opening. Today, the last in a series of articles on magic and magicians in Hollywood, is about Caryl S. Fleming, a banker and one-time film director whose true love was magic!
By Allan R. Ellenberger
Since the early days of film, Hollywood has always been the land of make-believe where tricks and sleight of hand are evident in almost every frame. Hollywood has also been a friend to the magical arts – Harold Lloyd was a lover of magic and held meetings in his expansive estate in Beverly Hills. Other Hollywood celebrities such as Chester Morris, Sterling Holloway, Ramon Novarro, Johnny Mack Brown, Gene Raymond, Max Terhune, Bert Kalmar and Edgar Bergen also had an interest in magic.
Caryl Stacy Fleming is a name which may not be as familiar to the magically-challenged, but yet he was the major reason for the well-being of conjuring in the Los Angeles area from 1933 to 1940.
Fleming was born on October 13, 1890 (although his grave marker reads 1894, official records give his actual year of birth as 1890) at Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the son of Frank Fleming and Grace Rosemary Stacy. As a child he moved with his family to Chicago, where his parents were divorced by the time he was 10 and his mother ran a boarding house on Michigan Avenue.
It was in Chicago that a family friend — the dean of magicians, Harry Kellar — sparked his interest in magic. He would spend time at Ed Vernello’s magic shop, learning the basics of conjuring.
In 1910 he moved to New York and was educated at Columbia University. He soon found work on the legitimate stage and in early motion pictures. Around 1916 he married Constance Ethel Norton and they had a daughter, Marjorie Gladys Fleming in August 1917. That same year, he was employed by Film Craft Corporation in New York City as a motion picture director. His final film as a director was The Devil’s Partner (1923) which starred Norma Shearer. This was Shearer’s last film before being signed by Louis B. Mayer Productions (later Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios).
Eventually Caryl and Constance were divorced and he left for California in 1927 while Constance and Marjorie remained in New York. By all accounts it was a bitter divorce and reportedly he never saw his ex-wife or daughter again.
In California, he became involved with banking and was a director of several institutions, while still devoting himself to the organization of magicians. He was president of the Pacific Coast Association of Magicians and the associated International Alliance of Magicians and was a member of more than fifty magic clubs.
He was one of the founders and a one-time president of Los Magicos which met on Wednesday nights, sometimes at his Beverly Hills home. Caryl was the perfect host and loved to manufacture gimmicks in quantity and pass them out to his friends. He was a true friend to magicians everywhere and wanted to have the whole world share the fun he had found in magic. A lover of animals and an ardent amateur photographer, he also dabbled in chemistry and developed a rope cement and several chemicals for use in card tricks.
Caryl Fleming, 2nd row, far left with glasses. Bess Houdini in center front row.
In October 1936, Fleming attended the tenth, and final, Houdini séance which was held atop the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood. A close friend of Bess Houdini, Fleming sat in the inner circle with her and other distinguished magicians in a final attempt to contact her husband. However, no message was received from the great Houdini and it was announced that no further attempts would be made by his widow.
Many individual magicians were helped by Fleming’s counsel and directions. His advice was always constuctive, and usually in a humorous way. When he did not like some part of an act, he would say so and then do everything to help the magician change the act for the better. He was a stickler for accuracy. He credited audiences with having too much knowledge to allow a magician to get away with false claims.
On Labor Day, September 2, 1940, Fleming was entertaining at his Beverly Hills home (924 N. Beverly Drive). He was showing some card tricks to a friend, Joe Evedon when he suddenly complained of indigestion. He drank a glass of bicarbonate of soda but said that it didn’t seem to help. Then without warning, he slumped into Evedon’s arms and died from a heart attack just a month shy of his 50th birthday.
Tributes poured in from around the country:
“Caryl S. Fleming was the true magician,” wrote Edward Saint, past-president of Los Magicos. “He recognized neither race, creed, nor color; and his magic vision drew no geographical borders. Anyone, anywhere in the world, if they had the love of magic in their heart, Fleming called them ‘brother.’ He was of the world, for the world, of magic.”
Bess Houdini wrote:
“Marble may coldly mark the name and passing of our friend Caryl, but the memory of his prodigious efforts and intense love of magic, the warmth of his handclasp, and his kindly friendliness is engraved on our hearts as one of the Immortals of Magic.”
Fleming’s funeral service was held on September 4th from Dayton’s Mortuary in Beverly Hills. Amidst an array of floral tributes, more than 250 magicians gathered to pay last homage. A Universalist minister spoke first (Fleming’s great-great-grandfather established the Universalist church). Then, Bill Larson (the father of Milt and William Larson, founders of the Magic Castle in Hollywood) spoke to those gathered:
“Caryl would have been successful in anything he wanted to undertake,” Larson said. “His achievements in the fields of the theater and motion pictures were pronounced. Retiring, he turned his genius to magic. In a few short years he built, in the West, one of the largest and most prosperous organizations of magic the world has ever seen.”
Gerald Kosky then gave the S.A.M. ritual and wand breaking rites. Later Caryl S. Fleming was interred in the Cathedral Mausoleum at Hollywood Cemetery.
Fleming left an estate worth almost $100,000 to his mother, Grace R. Glaser but bequeathed only one-dollar to his daughter Marjorie, who resided in Glenmoore, Pennsylvania. It was understood that a property settlement, making provisions for his daughter and former wife, was effected when the Flemings were divorced several years earlier.
Fleming’s mother, Grace is interred below him. She remarried shortly before her death in 1948.
In 1947, Fleming’s mother, Grace, married James E. Miller. When Grace died just a few months later in February 1948, she left her considerable estate to her new husband. Grace’s secretary, cousin and Irva Ross, Fleming’s fiance at the time of his death, all were named benefieciareis under an earlier will. They contested the new will, claiming that Miller, who also had an alias, had married the wealthy widow in order to obtain control of her property. The court awarded each of the three contestants a specific amount and allowed Miller to inherit the remainder of the estate.
The Caryl S. Fleming Trophy for the most original amateur trick of the year was soon created and awarded yearly. In 1938, Fleming had helped charter the International Brotherhood of Magicians Hollywood RING 21 which, after his death, was changed to the Caryl Fleming RING 21 and is still in existence today.
A year after his death, a tribute in Genii magazine memorialized Fleming saying:
“Years will pass. But the name Caryl Fleming will remain firmly in the minds of magicians. We, along with hundreds of others of our conjuring craft, will see to that.”
I would like to thank Bill Goodwin of the Magic Castle for providing biographical information on Caryl S. Fleming for this article.
- Book/Film News , Hollywood Forever Cemetery | Tags: Bess Houdini, Bill Larson, Caryl Fleming RING, Caryl S. Fleming, Chester Morris, edgar bergen, Edward Saint, Grace R. Glaser, harold lloyd, harry kellar, Hollywood Forever, houdini, Knickerbocker Hotel, Los Magicos, Magic Castle, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, MGM, Milt Larson, Norma Shearer, Pacific Coast Association of Magicians, Ramon Novarro, Rollin B. Lane, William Larson
LOS ANGELES HISTORY
…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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Book/Film News , Los Angeles History | Tags: Academy of Magical Arts, Angelus Hotel, Davenport Brothers and Fay, Eva Lydia Medley, Fakir of Ava, Harry Blackstone Sr., harry houdini, harry kellar, Hippodrome, houdini, Howard Thurston, J. H. Cunard, Ling Look, Magic Castle, Robert Heller, Rollin B. Lane, Rosedale Cemetery, Theodore Roosevelt, Yamadura
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.
Magic — one of filmland’s chief sources of pastime
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 commentary by film star, Colleen Moore that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on November 27, 1927.
By Colleen Moore
Los Angeles Times
November 27, 1927
I never realized until I became interested in the art of magic how many other persons in the screen world are also fond of sleight of hand. I supposee it remains one of the most fascinating hobbies in existence and once you become more or less familiar with it you realize what a widespread thing it is.
I heard the other day that the Prince of Wales is intrigued by it. When he was in Canada not long ago (Max) Malini, the well-known magician, was in his party. Royalty has always been prominent among the devotees of legerdemain.
I wonder how many know that there are a number of magazines devoted to magic? There is one magazine called the Sphinx which seems to be read by magicians everywhere. The Linking Ring is another. In England the Magic Wand and the Magician lead the field. In these, new tricks are described and the activities of magical societies are announced.
Everywhere there are organizations of magicians. The Society of American Magicians, of which the late Houdini was president, has a membership of 1,500, with branches in all the big cities. The International Brotherhood of Magicians also has a large membership. There are two societies right in Los Angeles — the Los Angeles Society of Magicians and the Hollywood Mystic 27.
I have discovered that among others Harold Lloyd, Neil Hamilton, Raymond McKee, King Vidor, T. Roy Barnes and Burr McIntosh are interested in the practice of conjuring.
I am told that throughout the world there are great magical repositories where the apparatus is manufactured and sold. There is one in Los Angeles that turns out beautiful illusions, as well as smaller tricks and it is like an Aladdin’s palace of wonder.
For the person who does not boast some other accomplishment, such as singing or instrumental music, magic is a wonderful form of social entertainment. Nearly everyone enjoys books on the subject and I can assure you that there is a lot of psychology involved. One’s wits are increased and observation developed. I am sure a great magician is a wonderful psychologist.
I wonder how many outside the art realize that one of the world’s greatest magicians lived and died in Los Angeles. I refer to Harry Kellar, known as the dean of American magicians. For years he was one of the foremost exponents of the art, a rival of the late Alexander Herrmann and succeeded by Thurston.
I don’t expect to become a profound student, but I do find a lot of relaxation and amusement in the art, which has as one of its slogans, “The closer you watch the less you see.”