The National Observer gave it a big half page, with photos, and called it the largest ever, which it was. The reporter for the Observer elected to avoid the ”names” and sought out opinions from the magical man-on-the-street. As a consequence, Chicagoan Terry Nosek, semi-pro with a mental act, received two columns of quotes. If Terry had known his remarks were to go into that much lineage, he would probably have been too flustered to speak. As it was, magic came off fine and so did Terry. Bob Little was caught by the Observer’s camera, and also showed up in the article.
As always, it is amazing how well 1314 plus human beings can settle down into the limited facilities of Colon and environs. No place seemed too crowded – I saw an empty seat near me in the auditorium. The temperature, always a subject of remark, was a direct ratio between the struggling air-conditioning and the packed-in humanity. They had it worse back-stage, and even worse inside the monkey-suits. Since only monkeys get into fur suits on hot nights, that seems to be THEIR problem.
1976 was the year of the women and more specific, the year of the platformed bosom. One of the things that turned St. Paul off when he went to Rome was the bare-bosomed gals. In the centuries since then we have come close, but never quite, to that fashion. I am beginning to wonder what’s just ahead. I was proud of the ladies in the shows this year —they were just great. Sometimes they WERE the show.
The ladies had sparkle, movement, audience rapport, beauty, and lots of theatrical know-how. And there were lots of them –all sizes, all kinds of costumes, blondes, brunettes, red heads, you name it, the gal was there…and the audience loved them. After sitting thru the shows at Colon, I can firmly say, “I enjoy being a girl!”
Wednesday night again this year was kept important and exciting-no longer the slow start into the Get-Together. This year, as befitted 1976, there was a tremendous, flashy, dropping down of a big colorful back curtain, explosions, smoke, fire, confetti, bursting bouquets, and general excitement, all designed by Gordon Miller of Abbott’s. And this was before anything else had happened. How could they follow that? Well they sure tried, and many times they succeeded.
To begin: Howard Flint was M.C., with a fine bill, Gordon Miller; Tom Mullica; Tim Wright; Gene Anderson; Jack Barrows; Neil Foster, recovering from his heart attack of last February had gone into an extensive month of rehearsals polishing the act he took to Argentina two years ago. He sported a handsome Goucho hat. The crowed showed their appreciation with a standing ovation. After intermission, Howard introduced Jay Marshall; Jim Sommers; Janine: and Harry Blackstone Jr. who appeared for a section of the program each of the four nights, each time in a stunning bugle-beaded tuxedo of different color and obvious astronomical price. He is a living lesson to the up-coming magician –THIS is how you must look, dress, talk, act, perform. The audience was very appreciative of the Wednesday night bill, enjoying the new things, and welcoming whole-heartedly the familiar things they demand at these shows.
Dorny was M.C. Thursday night, and since we cut a birthday cake with him most years, we know he left 80 behind a while back. He was also stage director for all the shows. Here he was, standing straight and tall, delivering lines, making quips, bringing on the acts and getting hands for them with vigor. His acts were Tim Wright, a young man on his way up, and proved it to his many friends in the audience; Sam Berland; Abel and Marina Pabon, who are professionals from Puerto Rico and dazzled all with their smooth style of presentation; Harry Blackstone, Jr.; and Kramien and Company. We wrote about Stan Kramien in these pages before, but this was his first Colon appearance. Roll Buffalo Bill, Barnum and Flo Ziegfeld into a ball and you’ve got Stan Kramien. He is a born performer – A Mr. Show-biz in voice, delivery, performance, and stage craft. His girls were so well-trained it was beautiful to see. Kramien is good-looking in a John Wayne manner —just rugged enough to smack of the West, where indeed he comes from. I was impressed by the fact that although he didn’t do any tricks I hadn’t seen some time or other, he sold them like a real pro.
Let’s digress a moment here. If Recil were to say to the registrants at the Get Together: “You can buy your entire ticket for only $5 if you will submit to being unable to discuss anything that happens for the entire week,” nobody would come. I am convinced that the thousands of hours of conversation that are engendered by what is seen and heard at Colon are a prime attraction. People love to talk. For $35 they get four full days of talk inspiration, and they can start after they have only been there for an hour. By Sunday, Oh! Brother!.
On this premise, the end of the Kramien act gave everybody a shot in the arm, talk-wise. Kramien announced he was selling his entire show, routes, props, everything in fact but those gorgeous assistants, to Dennis Loomis. He was using this stage to do a sort of “Kellar Thurston” type of thing. Dennis came out in a blue and white beaded costume, looking a little slight in stature alongside the really big Kramien. Kramien wished him well, shook hands with him, and being a Westerner, offered him a peace pipe to seal the bargain. Dennis, being of another culture, waved a handkerchief printed with a Marijuana leaf over the peace pipe, and the gesture was over. Dennis ended the show by doing one illusion of his own.
For the rest of the week, countless yards of conversation were unrolled on the subject of Stan and Dennis, conjecture how it would work out, wonderment about it all. Stan left a little zinger in his last remark to the audience, “I’m going back to the State of Washington, take a year off, and build a big, new show.”
Friday night brought a new subject of conversation. Mike Caldwell emceed a program of Dale Salwak, Bob Mason, Harry again, Richard and Marie Suey (former South Americans now living in Puerto Rico), L.L. Henri, Ken and Roberta Griffin. Dale Salwak was the recipient of last year’s Jack Gwynne Traveling Trophy. Bob Mason’s Punch and Judy act rolled the people in the aisles when he asked the boy volunteer (Darin Fox) what his father’s occupation was…answer, “A car salesman.” Richard Suey has to own all the Merv Taylor cages still in existence. He says he bought them one by one, years ago, and treated them very kindly. They looked new and really filled the stage. On Saturday night the Sueys were awarded the Gwynne Trophy. The Sueys and Pabons performed during the ten day Festival of Magic in Argentina with Neil Foster two years ago. The Griffins are well known to Abbott audiences and were welcomed back as old friends.
M.C. Mike Caldwell had to fill the chinks here and there by doing a trick. At one of these points, he began one of his pet routines, “The Mexican Hat Dance,” and called up a small boy from the front row. Twenty minutes later, Mike was panting from exhaustion, the kid had been on every square foot of that enormous stage, he countered every remark Mike tried to make. And the audience was torn between wanting to laugh, and wanting to deliver a good spanking. They got a great lesson in how to handle an obstreperous show-off child who is only one fifth your height and a tenth your weight. You can’t kill him and the act must go on. Mike doggedly kept the trick going and emotion ran high in the crowd. He got a standing ovation and a wave of applause that threatened to bring down the basketball stands. I am not keen on standing ovations but this one was what standing ovations are all about. And Mike showed what being a professional is all about.
Peace returned by Saturday night, when the show ran without incident. Carl Garray was M.C., returning by popular demand after his appearance here two years ago. He was excellent – professional and crowd pleasing. He brought on Earl Wilcox, Tom Mullica, Tom and Sherri, and Harry Blackstone Jr. Harry and his beautiful wife, Gay, presented the Floating Light Bulb that would have made Harry Sr. right proud. Garray and Tomio followed with their act and received a well deserved standing ovation. Karrell Fox finished off the Saturday Night Fox Frolics. Tom Mullica broke in a new comedy routine which went well. The only really different trick in the entire week was performed on this program by Pete Tappan and Joe Palen, doing “The Eclipse.” This strange illusion delighted the audience and got a great response.
Karrell had worked out a laughable series of lampoons on the weeks shows and had the audience relaxed and happy during his segment. His troupe of comedians don’t mind getting squirted on, thrown at, or knocked down, and this year many of them were stripped down to make it easier. One poor fellow sat in a monkey suit for part of the hot time. Karrell worried some of the audience, because he wore a beautiful summer suit in a light color, and milk, eggs, ink, etc., are handled very loosely and freely during this Saturday night fling. He came thru unscathed for a well deserved standing ovation from a delighted audience, and now he has a year to think up something new for 1977.
Daytimes are busy at the Home-coming. Lectures were given by Stan Kramien, Ben Tallman, and Gene Anderson. The Vent-O-Rama for those interested was held three mornings, as was the talent contest, a meeting of the Magic Ministers, and of course the continuous demonstrations and sales at the Elementary School. The ladies enjoyed two afternoons of bingo, prizes and refreshments, activities led by Jeanne Foster, Merrillyn Merrill and myself with the aid of Kathy Ryan. Among other things, a gross of panty hose were given away to happy winners.
The Colon Lions Club special matinee featured this year school performer Dick Oslund and Bi-Centennial showman, and his company, the Amazing Conklins. Harry Blackstone Jr. acted as M.C. and since everybody concerned was a pro, the show went well. The Conklins were showing The material they had been using this Bi-Centennial year, and which will be replaced with a new show this winter. Dick Oslund was a one man seminar for those studying for a future in working for the school children. His day to day work in this field shows and was profitable to watch.
Close-up performers, arranged by Gordon Miller, worked in the air conditioned auditorium on Saturday afternoon working at four tables with spectators on raised bleachers in front of each table. They were Obie O’Brien, Bruce Florek, Gary Pattee, and Gordon Miller.
For the first time the Clarke Crandall Traveling Trophy for comedy was presented to a very surprised Karrell Fox by Neil Foster.