The very first time I went to the Hollywood Magic Castle, I didn’t get in. It was the occasion of my 25th birthday, and it was to be a surprise. Cal Howard, a fellow Disney gag writer and friend of mine who knew Milt Larson (co-owner of the Castle with his brother Bill), had arranged the visit for me and my entire family. On the appointed evening, I was told to get all dressed up, and ask no questions. My mother, sister, brother and girlfriend threw me in the car blindfolded, and drove me to the Castle – we got as far as the anteroom. They wouldn’t let us in because my brother was only 16 at the time, and Castle rules state that no minors are allowed.
For a split second, I toyed with the idea of leaving Brian on the sidewalk outside but then I thought better of it. My mother wouldn’t have liked that. So we all got back into the car, went home, and cried.
The two rules that the Magic Castle have always adhered to are the strict dress code, and the “no one under 21” rule. Even though I was greatly disappointed that night, I think the no minors rule is a good one, as is the dress code. The Magic Castle is really a night club, and kids don’t belong in night clubs. And when you dress up you feel special, which is exactly how you should feel when going to a place as special as the Magic Castle. Two good rules I hope they never dispense with.
Since that aborted first visit I have been back several times through the years, and each time it’s terrific. For one thing, they actually let me in beyond the anteroom now. This last time I went specifically to see a wonderful magician (it occurs to me that the term “wonderful magician” is redundant. If a magician isn’t full of wonder then he isn’t doing his job). This particular magician also happens to be family on my wife’s side (and if I catch him on my wife’s side again I’ll brain him). His name is Jamy Ian Swiss.
Jamy is world-renowned as a sleight-of-hand magician. His specialty is close-up card magic, which, when done right, is probably the most amazing of the magic arts. I always loved magic from the time I was a kid. As a matter of fact, the very first book I ever read was a book on the life of Harry Houdini. I played with doing magic tricks as a boy, like many other kids do. Remember the famous Chinese finger trap, the amazing flipping penny trick, and the ever-bewildering plastic King Tut who refuses to lie down in his sarcophagus?
Jamy loved magic as a kid too but in his case, Jamy had the natural talent, acute dexterity, and unwavering determination to stick with it long enough to make himself one of the very best sleight-of-hand artists in the business.
We had seen Jamy perform in New York at the Rainbow Room a few years ago, and his act was a knockout, so I was anxious to see him again at the Castle. We went with friends Lee and Carol Delano. Lee is also a member of the Magic Castle, as well as an accomplished actor and comedian who toured with Sid Caeser for many years. So we were surrounded by famous and talented people. As a matter of fact, I was the only one there that I didn’t know.
In addition to Jamy, we saw some other terrific magicians, including close-up wizards Rich Cowley and Tony Picasso. Years ago I had the good fortune to see Dai Vernon perform in the Close-up Gallery of the Castle. Vernon was the master of sleight-of-hand close-up magic, and revered to this day by professional magicians all over the world. What he could do with a deck of cards was unbelievable. I saw him work miracles with three cups and three balls.
Harry Houdini often boasted that if he saw a card trick performed three times in a row he would be able to figure it out. Vernon then showed Houdini a trick, where he removed the top card of the deck and placed it in the middle, and then turned over the top card to again reveal the original card. Houdini watched Vernon do the trick seven times, each time insisting that Vernon “do it again.” Finally, Houdini’s wife and Vernon‘s friends said, “Face it, Houdini, you’re fooled.” For years afterward, Vernon used the title “The Man Who Fooled Houdini” in his advertisements. Vernon made the Magic Castle his home in the last years of his long life. He was 98 when he died in 1992.
The man who fooled Houdini is gone now but the Magic Castle still has what it takes to keep audiences fooled night after night. It’s a great place to go for dinner, entertainment, and a large dose of pure, unadulterated magic. The only catch is you’ve got to know a member to get in. But if you do, and if you’re over 21, and you get all dressed up, well… just like magic, you’ll find yourself in for one heck of an enchanted evening!