Barry Gibbs Remembers Tommy Windsor

The Parker Theater in 1948

Barry Gibbs is back with his recollection of more than the Tommy Windsor show and its influence on his life. In this essay, you are transported to your first exposure to the magic of live magic.


TOMMY WINDSOR
(A Lost Magic Era)

It was the summer of 1948 and I was 5 years old. I was living with my Grandparents, as my Mother and Father had divorced. My Grandfather Charlie was my best friend, and he would always protect me from my Grandmother’s yardstick when I had managed to get into “mischief”. One Monday Grandpa Charlie said he was going to take me to a “MAGIC SHOW” on Saturday at the Parker Theater in downtown Parkersburg, W.Va.

The announcement didn’t go to well with my Grandmother as she was a “die hard” Church of Christ member and in those days Church of Christ members did not believe in going to any form of a theater. My Grandfather prevailed though, and finally Saturday morning came, although to me it felt a year had passed by since his announcement about the magic show.

We got on the city bus, which stopped right in front of our house and headed to downtown Parkersburg. The Parker theater was about a…

The Parker Theater in 1948

Barry Gibbs is back with his recollection of more than the Tommy Windsor show and its influence on his life. In this essay, you are transported to your first exposure to the magic of live magic.


TOMMY WINDSOR
(A Lost Magic Era)

It was the summer of 1948 and I was 5 years old. I was living with my Grandparents, as my Mother and Father had divorced. My Grandfather Charlie was my best friend, and he would always protect me from my Grandmother’s yardstick when I had managed to get into “mischief”. One Monday Grandpa Charlie said he was going to take me to a “MAGIC SHOW” on Saturday at the Parker Theater in downtown Parkersburg, W.Va.

The announcement didn’t go to well with my Grandmother as she was a “die hard” Church of Christ member and in those days Church of Christ members did not believe in going to any form of a theater. My Grandfather prevailed though, and finally Saturday morning came, although to me it felt a year had passed by since his announcement about the magic show.

We got on the city bus, which stopped right in front of our house and headed to downtown Parkersburg. The Parker theater was about a block from where we got off the bus and by the time we arrived at the theater, the crowd was growing, and waiting for the ticket office to open.

As we stood in line I marveled at the posters in front of the theater. There were posters of Tommy Windsor and also posters announcing the movie Bambi. It wasn’t just a magic show, but also the theater was showing 10 full length cartoons as well as the movie Bambi.

Finally we worked our way to the ticket booth, purchased our tickets and headed inside the theater. The smell of fresh popcorn hung in the lobby air and Grandpa bought us both popcorn and a coke. We headed down the slanted floor of the theater and found seats in the 5th row, center.

The stage was a true old vaudeville stage, as for years, until its demise, many vaudeville acts had performed there. The stage curtain was a huge velvet burgundy curtain and as I was closely watching I could see the curtain moving from the activity going on behind it in preparation for the beginning of the magic show.

Suddenly, without warning, the house lights went down and a booming voice announced “ladies and gentleman the magic of Tommy Windsor”. The cheers and applauding erupted as the curtain opened and Tommy began his act. It has been 55 years since I saw his show and I still remember him producing gorgeous feather bouquets, spring flowers, silks, etc. His routine with Hippity Hop Rabbits had the kids in an uproar, screaming, “turn it around”, so loud the building reverberated from their voices. I remember him doing the card picking duck and bringing a boy on stage and doing “Disecto”.

Then there was a slight break as the curtains closed. A few moments later Tommy emerged from between the curtains carrying a “little boy”. The little boy turned out to be a ventriloquist doll and in a matter of a few seconds he had us all laughing so hard that we were crying with the antics and patter with the vent doll and the audience. Then his wife joined him on stage and she also had a vent doll. She was great too!

Soon the dolls were put away and Tommy began doing magic again. At one point in his routine he picked up a popcorn box from the edge of the stage, ate some popcorn from it and then proceeded to place a white silk in the box, only to have it turn red, then he tore the box open to show it empty. Years later I bought one of his famous “Pop Corn Dye Boxes”, as well as the book written about it and I used it in many a performance.

The show finally ended with Tommy and his wife taking their well deserved bows, and the audience buzzed with excitement all the way through the first of 10 full length cartoons that followed Tommy’s act., as well as the movie Bambi.

Yes, that was the day I got hooked on magic. When we got home my Grandfather taught me my first magic trick of how to vanish a penny in a folded handkerchief. I practiced and practiced the trick and would show it to anyone who would watch.

Tommy Windsor and Friends

Years later, in 1960, after moving to Baltimore, working for Phil Thomas and then returning to W.Va., I traveled to Marietta, Ohio and met Tommy and his lovely wife personally. I told him that he was the first magician I had ever seen and all about his wonderful show, and how he had inspired me to get into magic. He and his wife were very friendly, and he encouraged me to continue on in magic.

As I reminisce now, I wonder where all the Tommy Windsors’ of the world have gone? Where are the Saturday afternoons at the theatre where you can be transformed into a world where you can watch a great magician/ventriloquist perform live, 10 full length cartoons, a Disney movie, and polish it off with fresh popcorn and a coke?

I honestly believe that the “good old days” were better, and it is a shame that the innocence of that age is lost to us all, especially our children and grandchildren today.

Barry M. Gibbs

Copyright 2004

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