We love magic and we love history. Ergo, we love Magic History. We love it so much that we went to see Lisa Cousins perform in the Magic Castle’s Parlor of Prestidigitation more than once last week.
Ms. Cousins is an accomplished performer, librarian along with Bill Goodwin in the William W. Larsen Memorial Library and has an infectious appreciation for the history of our craft.
She took audiences back to 1909 when the Lane Mansion – the physical home of the Academy of Magical Arts a/k/a The Magic Castle – was made ready for its first residents. In a well-scripted and delightfully presented show, audiences learned about some of the magic props and styles of the time.
Of particular interest to history buffs like yours truly, Ms. Cousins introduced us to Alice Roosevelt – daughter of Teddy – and her passion for magic. Along the way, we saw the types of magic being sold in brick-and-mortar magic stores and taught through books available to amateurs like the president’s daughter.
Ms. Cousins ended her performance with a wonderful effect set to music originally recorded on an Edison Wax Cylinder in which five watches vanished and reappeared.
The landscape surrounding the Lane Mansion changed almost as soon as the home was made ready for its first residents. The orange groves and dirt roads that made up the Village of Hollywood was claimed by studios and buildings for the nascent film industry.
It is fitting, Ms. Cousins observed, that the Lane Mansion would become a place where magicians could perform as their former venues transformed into “movie houses.”
Ms. Cousins promised to transport audiences back to 1909 and was entirely successful.
We hated to leave that magical time.
The show should be nominated for the Parlor Performer of the Year award.
Lisa Cousins and Arthur Trace are appearing side-by-side this week at the Magic Castle.
Ms. Cousins, who with Bill Goodwin manages the gem of the Magic Castle – the William W. Larsen. Memorial Library, will be performing in the Parlor of Mystery presenting magic from history. We are looking forward to learning more about what amused, baffled and entertained audiences at the time of Teddy Roosevelt.
Right next door, Inside Magic Favorite Mr. Trace will bring his incredible combination of great manipulative skill and perfect stage presence to what we predict will be completely full houses.
Speaking of which, one of the best things about the Magic Castle is that it constantly attracts so many non-magicians every night of the week. But the downside of such popularity is that seats fill quickly. We are accustomed to giving up our seat if a non-member is waiting. We assume there will be another opportunity to see the performer during one of our later visits in the week. For the non-magician guest, however, this may be their first or only visit.
Last week, we started to doubt our chivalrous approach. We missed out on Bob Cassidy twice – but ultimately saw him on our last try. He was fantastic – as expected. Mr. Cassidy is truly a master of his craft and we are thankful on behalf of all society that he chose to use his powers for good and not evil.
As a student of his DVDs, books (both ebooks and old-fashioned paper and ink) and commercial effects, we are familiar with his methods. And yet, even though he performed an effect he teaches on Mental Miracles, we were still blown away. That is to say, we knew what he was going to do, how he was going to do it and what he did but were still amazed. We didn’t see him do “it” or, for that matter, anything at all.
He is, as they say, really good.
Perhaps he really has special powers and has published the “secrets” to his tricks to distract from his special abilities?
Is that delusional?
We normally do not go in for conspiracy theories unless they involve movie stars or intricate secret societies with cool handshakes and funny hats populated by people who may or may not be in charge of the “real” government.
We also are reluctant to discount any conspiracy theories related to “reality stars” Honey Boo Boo and the Kardashians – there does not seem to be any other plausible explanation for their popularity.
We were sitting next to a fellow student of the great Mr. Cassidy and she was just as amazed. She too had read the books, knew how he was going to do what he was going to do what he did but didn’t see him do what he needed to do to get it done. She attributed this to his presentation and did not buy into our theory that he actually could read minds.
We wanted to engage in further conversation about the likely extra-terrestrial source of Mr. Cassidy’s power but she did not seem interested in continuing the discussion. Actually, she left so quickly we thought there might be a fire or a tiger behind us. Maybe she was just in a hurry. Yes, that is probably it. Unless “they” got to her and she worried about exploring the topic.
We gave up our place in line twice to see Bill Goodwin in the Close-Up Gallery and thought we would have a chance to see him on our third try. We were wrong and got boxed out.
Life is not fair.
Mr. Goodwin was named the Magic Castle Close-Up Performer of the Year at the last awards ceremony and a really nice guy. He runs the Library as if it were his own and all members are his good friends with whom he is willing to share the incredible collection.
We were very disappointed that we could not see him perform. We pouted and thought unkind things towards those who did get to see him – including one member who said he saw him perform twice last week.
We didn’t mean anything bad to happen to that member but at the same time we were jealous, envious and would not have wanted him to win the lottery.
We engaged in self-loathing – still legal in California – for our negative thoughts and tried to ease away the pain with a large Diet Coke. We drank it too quickly and got brain freeze and, seconds later, the hiccups.
We were clearly being punished for our evil envy. We accepted the hiccups like the martyr we were trying to resemble and moped our way back to our little apartment behind the dog treats bakery on Santa Monica Boulevard.
Our two cats could tell something was wrong. They were trying to say something but their powers of communication are rudimentary. We asked them to be more clear or at least more concise or at least to speak one at a time. Cats don’t accept criticism well and they meowed in a manner to suggest the communication problem was ours and not theirs.
As we fell asleep on the inflatable mattress we realized what they were trying to tell us: they had punctured the mattress.
We fell asleep, hiccupping, on the shag carpet and rubber mattress wondering how we could have ever thought we had suffered a wrong. We did see some great shows – just not all that we wanted to see – we did have a wonderful Diet Coke – evidenced by our hiccups 22 seconds apart – and we had cats who were willing to warn us of problems with our inflatable furniture – although reluctant to admit their complicity in those problems.
Outside the window, we could hear life going on. Tomorrow (today) is a new day and this week will be a new week with great performers to see at the Magic Castle. Our cats curled up at the foot of the sheet of rubber that was our bed and we could feel their purring. They were content. Our hiccups ended and peace fell upon us.
Joining the Magic Castle has been a wonderful experience and a great opportunity to meet people who share our passion for Magic. Lisa Cousins works keeping the prestigious The William W. Larsen Memorial Library the fantastic resource it is for all members of The Magic Castle. We are honored that she allowed us to print her essay in our humble magic news outlet. You can read more about Ms. Cousins in an article published on LosAngeles.com.
Harry Houdini is remembered first as an escape artist, but he was also a “séance-buster” who despised fraud in the séance room, and did all he could to expose it. His 1924 book, A Magician Among the Spirits, is an account of his experiences with the spirit mediums of his day, and in no case did he discover anything but scams and shams and magic tricks. He conducted his investigations with both an open mind and a wishful heart, as it was the death of his mother that led him to his inquiry into the realm of spirit in the first place. He sincerely hoped that life continued after death and that communication with the departed was possible. He was mortified to discover nothing but hokum, and morally outraged that bereaved people were being fleeced by con men using standard magician’s effects.
While he maintained that he was not a skeptic, his activities as a debunker inspired several generations of skeptical magicians to embrace him as their mascot. There is a branch of magic called “gospel magic” where standard magic tricks are presented with a religious-instructive twist, but in the main magicians are a skeptical bunch. They have direct experience with how easily people can be tricked, controlled, manipulated, and deceived, and using Houdini’s example as something of a guiding light, are in general quite dismissive of spirituality in any form. This is all perfectly understandable, but for someone like myself, an avid reader and tremendous fan of spiritual literature for decades before I took up the study of magic, I entered the world of magic and magicians and found myself a stranger in a land already famously strange.
I don’t “believe in God.” I experience divinity every minute of every day. This has nothing to do with what becomes of us when we shed this mortal coil; this is strictly here-and-now. What’s more, I have zero interest in persuading anybody to join me in my opinions. I don’t see truth as some kind of numbers game, where stacking up the believers makes a truth any truer; indeed, I’m fond of Oscar Wilde’s observation that “A truth ceases to be true when more than one person believes it.” Even if I ardently wished to make you see this splendid world as I view it through my enraptured eyes, I couldn’t do it anyhow. It’s too late, too unique to myself, the road was too long and full of surprise twists to fill you in on all the parts that contributed to “the making of” my point of view. In other words, do your own studying. Or not. Continue reading “Guest Contributor Lisa Cousins: A Spirit Among the Magicians”→