For the last 13 years I have often wondered why I was into Magic as a profession. Though I did do escape magic, mostly handcuffs, chains and ropes; I didn’t aspire to be the next Houdini. Magic itself. For me, was an escape.
My mother started me out with piano lessons almost as soon as I was able to sit up on a piano bench. Hours of endless practice, weekly lessons and more practice. I remember playing classical piano at concerts and in competitions well before starting first grade. I really didn’t hate music, or the piano, but I was only allowed to play classical music. Add in the hair cut that looked like a barber put a bowl on my head, a bow tie and some tight shoes, you can see how a kid at 4, 5, 6 and 7 years old wouldn’t like it. Hours of practice, especially when it isn’t something you even like is torture.
The summer after my 8th birthday, I was old enough to help my Dad for the summer. Dad was a house painter by trade, I learned how to use a sash tool and roller. After finishing our first apartment together, I went with him to get our payment. The owners of the apartment also owned Party Mart, which was the largest liquor and novelty store in Paducah, Kentucky. There I found my first few magic tricks. Party Mart had several boxed magic tricks. Plastic cup and balls with little white cotton balls, plastic egg vase, nails thru coin, a Svengali deck, a thumb tip with silk and a three card monte trick. Within a week or two I managed to master all of them.
Later that summer, my Dad painted the exterior of a real professional magician’s house. I remember him coming home and hooking a small flat-bed trailer to the truck and off to Barlow, Kentucky we went. That’s when I met Richard Price. Richard was gracious enough to let me go through all his out buildings packed with tons of magic and pick out a wealth of magic stuff. Tables, a huge square circle, a paddle trick, magic wands, an appearing cane, a temple screen, a milk pitcher, a fish bowl that could produce numerous dry items and many more things. Richard became my first mentor in magic. He showed me how to fan cards and do lifts. How to do forces and use a key card. He also propelled me onto the stage as a young professional magician. Richard encouraged me to read everything I could get my hands on that pertained to magic.
The thing Richard and perhaps even I didn’t know is, he not only allowed me to escape from my mother’s clutches as a young pianist, but he also allowed me to escape from the reality of my young life. A life surrounded by alcoholism, poverty and an overbearing hypercondriac mother. In real life I was the poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks. On stage or where ever I was performing I could escape into my imagination. I could be just like Doug Henning. The really amazing thing was, people actually paid me to do this. The audiences loved it. I actually made money, vice the piano where I simply got some silly blue ribbon or a certificate at some silly concert. I still remember my very first show, it was for a cub scout pack. I think they paid me $25.00 for a half hour show. Tony’s Magic Show was not only born it was on the road to success.
From that first show the business and my skill level began to grow. I travelled all around Western Kentucky, Southern Illinois and Southeast Missouri. Some shows were donated, but most paid between $25.00-$150.00. I purchased a few more effects each and every month and performed at malls, libraries, schools, civic organizations, fairs and festivals. Funny thing was I would spend hours in our garage practicing and imagining that I actually was this great wizard. We drove to Carmi, Illinois and bought 6 doves which were added to the show. Rabbits and even a ferret were later added. The animals were great assistants since they never asked about a raise or a day off.
By 1976 the show began to have repeat customers. I was a regular at the Paducah Public Library, Paducah Summer Festival, Noble Park, and at an amusement park called Kaintuck Territory. I had met many other wonderful professional Magicians. Bill Coomer, Bill Boley and the Amazing Conklins just to name a few. By High School, I was winning awards and talent shows, and I had even started thinking about a real assistant. I had money in the bank and was able to purchase all my own clothes including suits and tuxedos. Being on stage or in front of an audience for me still meant I wasn’t at home.
Once I graduated high school, and went to college, I slowed performances down. After a couple of years at a community college I joined the Army Reserve, moved away to SIU in Carbondale, Illinois and after meeting my wife I got married. At some point in those first 4 years after high school all my magic apparatus was gone. Taken away to an auction barn and sold for pennies on the dollar because, “I hadn’t used any of it in years and we didn’t have anywhere to store it.” Needless to say, I was furious. So furious I never did another magic trick after that.
Fast forward to 2002, my oldest son was getting married, and re-enter Bill Coomer into my life. I had been deployed in the middle east immediately following the events of September 11, 2001 and was home on leave for Mike’s wedding. Bill was the minister. The evening of the rehearsal dinner, there’s Bill over by the buffet line doing some really amazing things with a silver dollar. He looks over to me and says, “Hey Tony show them one of your card tricks.” I had nothing really, but I did remember how to find a selected card by, well by magic of course. Amazing after all those years I had one or two left in me. But, I did pull Bill aside and sort of explained that I didn’t do magic any more. Bill looked so disappointed. He invited me over to his house a few times and we had several discussions about magic and why I wasn’t doing it any longer. The last day of my leave Bill showed up at my house to say good bye. On the plane back to the middle east, I found a mysterious CD in my laptop case, it contained 52 different books on magic. Bill had slipped it into my bag with a short note that simply said, “Tony, here is some reading material for you. I remember how boring duty days were in the Marine Corps. Take care of yourself and never leave the magic behind. Bill.” Well, his ploy worked.
Magic was providing me an escape, again. An escape from the loneliness of being so very far from home and from my wife An escape from worrying about what I was going to do after that deployment; I was a reservist who had to shut down a successful HVAC business which grossed over 1/4 of a million dollars a year. An escape from worrying about protecting the fleet from more terrorist attacks. An escape, again from where I was. When practicing I was again, just like Doug Henning. I began to remember not only the joy magic had brought to me, but the joy it had brought to others. I really wanted to share some of that with my kids. Julie had me making a few videos for our youngest son, which I was mailing home every month with my latest attempts at new effects. I had a tailor in Bahrain make me some tuxedos, and I was able to replace a few of the long ago “lost effects”. It was certainly a year of changes, the tragedies of 9-11-01 changed a lot of lives and was much farther reaching than any of us realized on that day.
I ended up staying on active duty with the Navy and in 2004 performed an actual show. It was for a bunch of neglected and abused children on the Naval Base where I was working as a military police investigator. To my amazement, the show was a great hit with the kids. Shortly afterwards in 2005 I was off to Iraq for a year, then right back to the middle east for a third tour in 2006 and 2007. I haven’t performed since, at least with an actual act, but with retirement looming right around the corner, I am looking forward to getting back into it professionally. This time there will be no escapes, at least not from my life, escapes will strictly be from handcuffs, chains, ropes, and perhaps even a straight jacket or a trunk. My life is wonderful and I want to share that joy with others especially my beloved.