In Memorium: Thomas Hardy III

 

Tommy Hardy (1928)

It is with great sadness that we report that Tom Hardy III has passed away. Tommy, as he known to those who knew him, was the father of Tom "Li'l Tom Hardy" Hardy IV.

He was 92 years old at the time of his passing. Tommy began his magic career working in the family act as an assistant to both his father Thomas ("Thomas") Hardy II and grandfather, Thomas ("Big Tom") Hardy.

At the age of seven, he and his father toured with Big Tom's show throughout the United States and Canada and were contemporaries of Houdini, Hermann, and Kellar. Big Tom's act was in the classic style with the magician as dapper gentleman making things appear, disappear, and change in a drawing room setting.

Tommy worked on stage as the bellhop or messenger characters. After an unfortunate falling out with Big Tom, Tommy's father Thomas broke from the show to tour first through out Central and South America, and then Europe.

Unlike Big Tom's show, Thomas portrayed a befuddled, drunk magician, unsure of his power or methods. This was his character both off and on stage. Thomas, who pronounced his name "Somath" because of a severe speech impediment acerbated by his constant drunken state, was a critical success in Guatemala and Costa Rica.

He was held over for six weeks in the Manhattan Club in pre-Castro Havana. His vanishing and reappearing lit cigars was copied by many U.S. magicians but usually with sufficient safety devices to prevent the incessant burns suffered by "Somath."

"Somath" is still the only man to attempt a tongue palm of a newly lit corona-size cigar. He was also one of the few men with three nostrils not caused by a birth defect.

At the age of 17, Tommy, or "Sthoomy" as his father called him, followed in his family's tradition and broke from the show to begin his own career. Tommy was lured from the show by his first wife, Klasse van Movin.

Klasse van Movin

Miss van Movin was of the "Dancing German Gals" vaudeville troupe performing on the same bill as Tommy and his father before the breakup. In recently released court-appointed psychiatric records, Tommy noted his attraction to Miss van Movin was in spite of their inability to communicate in a common language:

"Her movement on stage, her dance, is the language of love. My eyes, then, become my ears to hear what she says to me with every bump and grind."

The two were married in 1920. It was Tommy's first marriage and Miss van Movin's third or fourth. The couple had to annul the bride's "psychic marriage" to a disembodied, androgynous spirit Miss van Movin met through a seance.

Psychic marriages were common during this time — the heyday of Spiritualism – where young women would marry spirit voices met during seances. Often, the marriage would end in heartbreak when the bride…

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Tommy Hardy (1928)

It is with great sadness that we report that Tom Hardy III has passed away. Tommy, as he known to those who knew him, was the father of Tom "Li'l Tom Hardy" Hardy IV.

He was 92 years old at the time of his passing. Tommy began his magic career working in the family act as an assistant to both his father Thomas ("Thomas") Hardy II and grandfather, Thomas ("Big Tom") Hardy.

At the age of seven, he and his father toured with Big Tom's show throughout the United States and Canada and were contemporaries of Houdini, Hermann, and Kellar. Big Tom's act was in the classic style with the magician as dapper gentleman making things appear, disappear, and change in a drawing room setting.

Tommy worked on stage as the bellhop or messenger characters. After an unfortunate falling out with Big Tom, Tommy's father Thomas broke from the show to tour first through out Central and South America, and then Europe.

Unlike Big Tom's show, Thomas portrayed a befuddled, drunk magician, unsure of his power or methods. This was his character both off and on stage. Thomas, who pronounced his name "Somath" because of a severe speech impediment acerbated by his constant drunken state, was a critical success in Guatemala and Costa Rica.

He was held over for six weeks in the Manhattan Club in pre-Castro Havana. His vanishing and reappearing lit cigars was copied by many U.S. magicians but usually with sufficient safety devices to prevent the incessant burns suffered by "Somath."

"Somath" is still the only man to attempt a tongue palm of a newly lit corona-size cigar. He was also one of the few men with three nostrils not caused by a birth defect.

At the age of 17, Tommy, or "Sthoomy" as his father called him, followed in his family's tradition and broke from the show to begin his own career. Tommy was lured from the show by his first wife, Klasse van Movin.

Klasse van Movin

Miss van Movin was of the "Dancing German Gals" vaudeville troupe performing on the same bill as Tommy and his father before the breakup. In recently released court-appointed psychiatric records, Tommy noted his attraction to Miss van Movin was in spite of their inability to communicate in a common language:

"Her movement on stage, her dance, is the language of love. My eyes, then, become my ears to hear what she says to me with every bump and grind."

The two were married in 1920. It was Tommy's first marriage and Miss van Movin's third or fourth. The couple had to annul the bride's "psychic marriage" to a disembodied, androgynous spirit Miss van Movin met through a seance.

Psychic marriages were common during this time — the heyday of Spiritualism – where young women would marry spirit voices met during seances. Often, the marriage would end in heartbreak when the bride learned the disembodied spirit could not care for them financially or even emotionally.

In Steve Trager's outstanding book on this subject, Ephemeral Nuptials: An Exploration of the "Psychic Marriage" Fad's Life and Death (New York: Dover Books (reprint) 1954), he notes:

"young vulnerable women were taken in by spirit voices and their promises of physical, emotional, and financial stability. Ironically, the local law enforcement would often arrest the spirit medium for this fraud as opposed to the spirit voices themselves. It is commonly known that Houdini was working at the behest of many spirit voices to get them out of otherwise binding marriages by proving that they did not exist."

Tommy's marriage to Klasse was not to last. Within a week they were divorced and their marriage was also annulled. He learned that his beloved wife was still meeting with her spirit voice – although "just as friends."

Tommy was heartbroken and poured his energy and meager savings into performing magic on the progenitor of cruise ships. Although many passenger of the rum-running craft found the lack of lights and constant swerving through U.S. and Canadian costal waterways to be an imperfect venue for magic, Tommy thrived in the job.

He performed a "spook act" while the running lights were extinguished – usually as the open craft would approach port – and perform parlor magic while three miles off the coast. He credited this training for his ability to perform a complete stage show in total darkness. A talent now disregarded as unnecessary by younger magicians.

"It is not a useless talent," Tommy told Genii Magazine for their cover article, "if performing for the blind, most of today's magicians wouldn't stand a chance." Genii Magazine, "Tommy Hardy – A Magic Fossil," June 1975 (actually published August 1975).

The rum running entertainment coordinators often booked the young, sea-worthy magician on two or three ships a week, each making five or six round trips between international ports. During one fateful excursion, Tommy entertained Joseph P. Kennedy of Massachusetts with both the spook show and an underwater handcuff escape.

The first routine was planned, the second was not.

<!–page–>Coast Guard and Treasury Agents stopped the Pride of Bacardi off the coast of Rhode Island and arrested the crew. During rough seas, both the future millionaire and young magician fell into the Atlantic while bound with handcuffs.

Big Tom Hardy – The First in a Magical Family

Tommy was able to free the Kennedy scion and then himself. They were picked up by one of the other runners and taken to the safety of Boston Harbor. In return for his quick-thinking and even quicker rescue, Mr. Kennedy promised the conjuror a life-time supply of alcohol, sufficient financial backing to start his own tour, the "accidental" death of his former first wife's spirit lover, and an introduction into Boston society.

As a result of this encounter, Tommy was well on his way to becoming the drunk, well-known, jealous lover, magician for which he is so well known.

Tommy's first touring show was called "What Wuz That?" and featured all new illusions. The tour almost ended before it began however, when other magicians claimed the illusions may be new but were stolen. A federal court in Camden, New Jersey, initially entered an injunction against Tommy prohibiting his travel outside of the court's jurisdiction.

Tommy's financial backer and friend placed a call to President Hoover, and the injunction was lifted. The 1928 tour was a smashing success. The "What Wuz That?" show played to sell-out audiences from New York's Radio City Music Hall to the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles.

In each town, Tommy would engage local authorities to have him bound in handcuffs or packing boxes from which he would inevitably escape.

Some magic purists claimed he had stolen this concept from Houdini – who died just two years earlier – but Tommy would reply, "he's not using the act now. Last time I checked, he was holding his side, screaming like a girl, and calling for his mother."

This reply rankled magicians who felt the comments disrespected the great magician and was in poor taste. Tommy felt confident and rebuffed his critics, "why don't you get a real job instead of criticizing? The job of a critic is to stand by and watch someone else dig a hole and say it isn't dug right. That's no kind of job. Get a shovel and dig your own holes."

This comment further rankled both magicians and ditch diggers. Plus, some church leaders thought it might be considered off-color. At the conclusion of "What Wuz That?" tour, Tommy professed his love for a sleight dancer, Dot Robinson, he met while performing in Chicago.

Unfortunately, the dancer was already married and to a magician no less. Their affair was torrid and yet secretive. The dancer/magician's assistant told her beloved Tommy that she had to travel to England to perform in her husband's show.

Dot told Tommy, "if only something were to happen to him, I could come back early." These words rang in Tommy's ears. He was familiar with Chung Ling Soo's act and knew there were several places in the routine where something "could happen."

He and Dot set about to cause that "something" to "happen." When word came to the Hardy Lake Forest, Illinois summer home that Billy Robinson a/k/a Chung Ling Soo had been killed during his performance of the Bullet Catching Trick, Tommy was genuinely surprised.

He told a confidant, "we were planning to put sand in his final fish bowl production. He produces a twenty gallon fishbowl from beneath a foulard to start the second half. He actually has to lift the darn thing with a harness attached to his upper thighs so he can waddle to the front of the stage and produce it. With sand filling it instead of water, he would surely rupture."

He broke up with Dot shortly after her return to the United States. "I would never want to be with someone who would kill their husband to marry me. What if they meet me when we're married? Would she kill me to marry me too?"

<!–page–>Dot proclaimed her innocence to her paramour but it was in vain. The next ten years were tough for all of America and for performers especially. The Great Depression set in and while the rum running entertainment agents still called, Tommy could not get himself to return "to where I came from. I want to go up, not throw up."

Tommy found his relationship with Joe Kennedy died along with his other opportunities. His former sponsor was appointed by FDR as ambassador to England and necessarily distanced himself from those associated with less than honorable past activities.

Within months, in a fit of depression and self-pity, Tommy finished his life-time supply of alcohol and sold his props to buy passage to Europe.

This was a trip that would change his life forever. Tommy's voyage across the Northern Atlantic took seven days but as he noted in his unpublished memoirs, "it seemed like a week."

During "the week" as he called the time aboard the HMS Queen Victoria, he reconsidered his life and his goals. He also planted the seeds that would one day bring him renewed fame and a paternity suit.

Missy Vanderbilt Hardy (1941)

The fame coming as the performer of the largest touring show in Europe. The paternity suit, involving Thomas "Li'l Tom Hardy" Hardy, came two years later when his "companion" for the voyage, Elizabeth "Missy" Vanderbilt claimed Tommy was her son's father.

Once in England, Tommy sought out Joe Kennedy and found him at the Ambassador's residence. The two spoke of the past and photographs Tommy made of their time together aboard the rough hewn deck of the Kennedy family's ships.

Their friendship was renewed and the financial backing returned. Missy Vanderbilt, daughter of Commodore Vanderbilt, loved magic and magicians. She was, in Houdini's words, "some kind of freaky, rich, groupie." See, Houdini: A Magician Among the Ladies (New York, Simon & Sons 1926).

Once the only daughter of the Commodore learned there was a magician on board, she sought him out and paid for his upgrade from steerage to first class. The two were inseparable during the remainder of the journey, often dining in Tommy's new stateroom before strolling the promenade deck to work up an appetite for "desert."

Tommy was devastated by the paternity suit and immediately protested that he had been nothing but honorable with his patron. He worried that the young Vanderbilt's connections and money could sway a jury to side with Missy but felt the fact that his putative son was born eight months before the cruise helped his case.

His attorneys presented a Hobbson's choice: he could either marry Missy and thus give the child a name and prevent her testimony under the spousal immunity law; go through with the lawsuit and risk losing all of his honor and money; or perform as a gay magician in Reno and then Las Vegas.

Tommy ruled out the last option because Las Vegas had no hotels or casinos.

He agreed to marry Missy and welcomed his new son to their humble home in North Carolina – the Vanderbilt Castle. Missy Vanderbilt Hardy's knowledge of magic, magic acts and magicians was welcomed by the Hardy clan in a direct and inverse relationship to her own family's disapproval.

Modern psychologists have opined her libidinous desire to stalk magicians was her method of getting back at her wealthy, proper family. Interestingly, her son was accepted fully within the Vanderbilt fold thus giving rise to the rumors that Li'l Tom Hardy was the result of a liaison with a non-magician; perhaps a wealthy banker or blue blood.

The newly formed family became a newly crowned success in American theater. Their two and a half hour show toured with approximately same success Tommy had enjoyed earlier in his career. He moved to a new phase in his career with the new tour. Instead of performing other people's illusions, he performed illusions his wife had stolen from magicians.

Because of her power and the reluctance most married magicians have in admitting they traded the secrets to their best effect for the company of a young, rich, beautiful magic groupie, there were no complaints in the magic community.

<!–page–>The "Seriously, What Wuz That?" tour was intended to last one year but carried on for some 22 years. By some accounts, it was one of the largest traveling magic shows in the Southeastern United States.

Young Tom followed in the family's well-established tradition of: learning magic; performing as a stooge, bellboy, messenger or wild chimp-boy; and breaking with the show to start on his own.

Before Tom left his father's tutorage, he developed the talent necessary to carry on the Tom Hardy name. Unlike his father, however, he found a love for mentalism and psychic phenomenon.

Mrs. Tom Hardy III (1956)

His father had no tolerance for this type of magic – perhaps due to his earlier experience with spiritual voices and all things ephemeral. In 1962, Missy Vanderbilt Hardy left the show to return to the family's North Carolina home while her husband continued to tour with a new staff of nubile assistants and a tendency to drink too much.

When asked by the Atlanta Constitution for his favorite non-magic hobby, Tom responded famously, "binge drinking." The Commodore passed away in 1965 and with his death, Missy Vanderbilt Hardy was free to pursue her dream of framing her husband for some hideous crime to have him imprisoned and thus free her to divorce and re-marry.

North Carolina did not permit divorce absent proven infidelity, insanity, or incarceration for a "capital crime of offense considered to be 'hideous' or 'horrendous.'" This goal was not to be met, however.

Before Missy could frame her husband, he was caught coming out of a Howard Johnson Motor Lodge with two of his assistants, a pocket full of wuffle dust, and no pants. Their divorce soon ensued. Missy proclaimed to Town & Country magazine, "the happiest news I ever received was that he had no pants. I had hope again."

Missy joined her son's act as an assistant, a partner in their two-person telepathy routine, and manager. Their success continued as readers know. Tom Hardy became an established dean of magic and a permanent fixture at virtually all of the major conventions for the next fifteen years.

He occasionally lectured on show structure, innovation, stage presence, and the history of the Hardy magic family. The first president Bush presented him with a Presidential Medal of Honor for his "contribution to the performing arts and the beverage industry."

Tom considered this moment one of the high points of his career and life. He told the trade journal Beverage World, "I had three loves in my life: my wife, my magic, and booze. My wife left me, my magic failed me, but booze stayed with me through thick and thin."

In the last few years, Tom tried to reconcile with is wife and son but found his efforts rebuffed. After being dismissed from the Society of American Magicians and the International Brotherhood of Magicians, he turned his attention to performing for school assembly shows throughout the South.

Fortunately, Tom had all of his old props. Unfortunately, he no longer had assistants with whom he could perform his magic. His determination to carry on in spite of this limitation, lead to his final moments in the public spotlight.

Initially, he would have young people from the school audience join him on stage to perform the illusions. As he escorted the young men and women to the stage, he would quickly explain what they needed to do.

This method brought mixed results. In the last 18 months of his school tour, four students were injured falling from levitation platforms, two received flesh wounds from the impromptu Temple of Benares sword placements, and one was nearly killed in a Bullet Catching routine.

Tom's death this week is a profound watershed in our profession.

Gone is the last contact to the glorious past of not only magic but also American history. He wanted to die in his sleep, he said.

It is not known whether he was asleep as passed from this mortal coil – the coroner's report cannot be completed until all of wreckage is reassembled by the National Transportation Safety Board as is the protocol in cases like this.

Certainly, the Greyhound Bus Company should be commended for giving a senior citizen a job despite objections from the passengers and their surviving family members.

Tom Hardy III came into this world as he left it: full-throttle and filled with enthusiasm for a new adventure.

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