That means the Get-Together, the homecoming for well over a thousand magic minded people; the event of the year for many. A fifty dollar registration; a six dollar bleacher seat; didn’t keep people away. As in all years, many spent the entire week there, waiting for things to happen. When we left mid-day Sunday; we saw many conventioneers walking about the streets, not anxious to leave.
The important features at Colon are the four evenings of “big” shows, held in the High School. Night after night, all the extra seats are sold out to those who cannot attend the entire affair – or to locals. This results in full or almost full houses, a condition envied by most annual show committees in various cities. Of course, the Bordners have a captured audience. For miles around, there are few movie houses, no live theatres, so they have little competition.
This was the year, on these big shows, of the “knowing look”, the year of the conspiritorial , confidential wink at the audience, especially right after having done something clever. It was also the year of the tossed head, sort of indication that “Thank God that one is finished” and a body signal for applause. Tom and Sherrie and their body language didn’t come over as strong in that department, with many other acts trying it out. Maybe I’m the only one who noticed it, in which case it is good I am the one who is writing this survey.
This was the year I had four occasions to get a lump in my throat. FOUR! There were a dozen, but there isn’t room here for too many sentimental touches. Karrell Fox, with his symphony of memories (despite the horrible lighting situation) touched most of us. Then, due to some stranger in the wrong seat or whatever, Howard Bamann sat thru two shows with an empty seat beside him. On Saturday night, at the moment when Recil always stepped on stage to pay off the refund to Karrell, young Greg Bordner strode forward and peeled off the money. ( It was a significant moment – I hope you caught it.) Even tho someone else may have been sitting there, in our minds there was a little empty space on the bleachers to my right, a spot that was always Millie Bouton’s. And so it went. But there are happy lumps too. Like when Chicago-area Mike Younger went up to get his first place trophy in the contest — after years of trying. And when 12 year old Chad Willow took a trophy, on his first try, laying the ground work for years of trying for the big one. I guess this is why we call it “homecoming”. These are all our dear people with whom we love to be re-united.
The Wednesday night show opened with Gordon Miller doing the big welcome scene that has become traditional. (Gordon worked in Chicago this past winter with excellent results. He has a fine mind for working out special event magic.) On the bill were Chris Jakway, Wilhelm Von Larsen and Princess Brunhilda, Kikuchi, Fantasio and Don Adams and Company. A nice variety, with people who know their business.
If you never heard of Wilhelm and Brunhilda, that’s the hoaxy act perpetrated by Bill and Irene Larsen, and very well done. When popular personalities try something, they can’t help but go over. Irene proved to be very popular with all the ladies, too, many of whom had not met her before. She was always the center of a laughing circle, a great ad for the famous Magic Castle which she and her husband operate.
No American performer has any props like Kikuchi , so even tho everybody envied the spectacular act, few will be able to build another like it . Fantasio was a great ad for his products, which of course were developed while he and Monica played the world in top spots. His last number (not yet for sale) with a candelabra with four holders , from which sprang, at arm’s length, four tall candles, won him instant applause. Acts all over the world are using his line of canes and candles , some of them right there in Colon.
Jay Marshall was the M.C. for Thursday, which was fortunate, He is difficult until he has done the job he came to do, and then sunshine if it goes well. It did. (Except for the fact that the big rabbit is supposed to be brought on in full view, with a complaint that people can’t see. Instead, the big rabbit was handed out as a lump thru the slit in the curtain. He kept an angelic calm all thru this, and made the transition without comment. Is this the ogre I know?)
Tim Star, manipulator from Sweden, now living here, did involved routines as only the Europeans have the patience to learn. John Kurtz and Maria of Milwaukee pleased the audience with a well organized act executed with props and manipulation. Jim Sommers and Jannine performed illusions, creating a lot of interest in their light bulb penetration. Dennis and Peg Metz were new to this audience and very pleasant to watch. Nothing could follow the Foan Family Circus which ended this show. These six young people from Colorado sing, dance, do magic, gags, stunts, juggling, you name it . Everybody in magic should see the Foan Family at least once in their lives — if for nothing else than to observe the creativity and inventiveness of some of our people. They obviously haven’t spent a lot of money – but the end result is great, and hilarious. At some time or other in their program, everybody takes a hand at everything, but young Barrett Fellker is their top juggler. Not only their top juggler — one of the best I have ever seen. I invite him now to be on my 50th Anniversary Show in 1981 – maybe all of them. Incidentally, his juggling brought on the only standing ovation of the evening.
On Friday night, Welshman Trevor Lewis held forth as M.C., with unusual gags and display of talents few suspected. (He does an English music hall bit with a uke, George Formby style, that’s a wow). He fronted for Mark Brandyberry, Pete Biro, Tom and Sherrie, Monsieur Brunard ( I never saw him before and he proved to be something else in the line of a vent!), with Harry Collins and his slick, sophisticated act to finish.
Californian Mike Caldwell did the M.C. honors for Saturday — in fact it was too much! With Mike to open and Karrell to close, the human body can’t take all that invitation to laughter. Jeff Hobson, Divad and Company with illusions, Dale Salwak, (a great ad for the Chavez school!) filled in the first half and then Karrell took over. Karrell paints with a broad brush, but some of the biggest laughs come from his subtle reminders of things that happened during the week. The audience laughed loud and long at the milk streaming around the place, “Doug Henning” burlesqued (that kid is getting tall, isn’t he?), the line of costumed unrecognizable characters trotting across stage … and many other happenings that could only be Saturday Night Live at Abbott’s. One wonders how Karrell keeps up with it, year after year, always with the laughter reading at high.
The days were full, too. Early on Wednesday morning, a group gathered at the cemetery. Karrell Fox read a memorial for Jack and Ann Gwynne, as their urns were buried in close proximity to their old friends. This was their request and granddaughter Beth carried it out.
The showroom was opened for a dozen hours a day, and always full of lookers and buyers. Daytime lecturers included John Cornelius, Trevor Lewis, Ron Bauer, Mike Caldwell, Pete Biro, a prestigious group for the advancement of learning among magicians. Close-up people included, Steve Aldrich, Trevor Lewis, Pete Biro and John Cornelius.
On Friday, for the benefit of the Lion’s Club, an extra matinee featured Stan Kramien and Company, an 0ld favorite at Abbotts, and a full time professional who can do no wrong. Neil Foster conducted the talent contests, winners in which were
1st Place: Mike Younger
2nd Place: Franz Harary
3rd Place: Art Benjamin
4th Place: Steve Biller
5th Place: Chad Willow
6th Place: Tom Glinski
7th Place: Rich Hill
Further, the standing trophies and awards were presented on Saturday after the shows. The comedy trophy must have been a problem for the judges, because Mike Caldwell was so hilarious, but Trevor Lewis held his own in that field, and emerged the winner. Dale Salwak earned the Bill Baird award for manipulation and the top award, the Jack Gwynne trophy, is now the honored possession of Dave Seebach who is the mastermind o f Divad and Co. As is customary, the Magic Ministers, the ventriloquists, the Invisible Lodge, all held their own sessions at prescribed times. Two ladies parties were given, with a flurry of prizes, so no lady went out empty handed. Bingo and refreshments kept them happy. For the first time at the American Legion, the Senior Citizen’s Bash was held, beginning with an excellent brunch and followed by a wild entertainment made up of seniors and their friends. Howard Bamman, Bob Lewis and Alan Meldrum were the leading figures in a little orchestra that involved others in the course of the party. We never did get a drummer, but it would have been hard to hear him anyhow, at some moments. The only improvement on the event would have been not to have other events following so closely. However, it was great and we (spoken as a senior) are appreciative of Eda Mae and Recil setting it up.
It is impossible to give you, on paper, a taste of the flavor of Abbott’s, a feel of the touch of so many handclasps in friendship, the warm glow of the streets and restaurants as magicians wander all over, talking, discussing, eating, drinking, visiting, looking up old acquaintances in the many little cottages spread along the lakes, in the houses trailers, in attics and spare bedrooms of the villagers.
You have to be there to appreciate the American Legion every night, bars full to capacity, a sea of tables of happy, noisy people, eating, drinking, joking, and now and then, even doing tricks. Not only the American Legion, but the Magic Carpet, and various other gathering – watering places.
Only at Abbott’s … a private home like Jerry Conklin’s, rented out to private friends, and going public (by invitation only) on Saturday night. This time, they ran off, in the front yard, a most fascinating compilation of slides taken over the years at Abbott’s and blended together with music as only a professional (David Linsell) could. It was 2 A.M. and quiet country houses up and down the street were dark. The noise was bad enough, but the projector shot a bright light into windows. Only at Abbott’s! At the risk of being redundant – there is no magic event like it!!!