Thursday, September 12, 2019

Ted Colteaux - The "Secret Man"

You may never have heard of Theodore "Ted" Colteaux.  I hadn't before coming across his throwing card.  Yet The Linking Ring noted in 1995 that "his influence in magic was so prevalent that it is impossible to measure."   Thus, I've borrowed the moniker "The Secret Man" from a classified ad run by Colteaux in that same periodical in 1925 -- some seventy years earlier -- as it's a particularly fitting appellation.

Colteaux was born in 1907, and started performing magic while attending elementary school in Bloomington, Il.  By 1924, while still a young teenager, he began contributing pieces to magic magazines, offering workman-like hints, tips and suggestions to fellow practitioners.   He met Houdini and Thurston, and corresponded with legendary magicians including Ted Annemann.  By 1926, he began offering equipment for sale in The Sphinx, and by the 1930s created the Colto Magic Trick Company, which offered standard equipment and original effects.

But was Colteaux any good?  This is a question I sometimes grapple with when writing about lesser-known performers.  Here I found an unusual answer:  Colteaux was a featured performer at the 1932 IBM convention, where he shared the stage with, among others, John Booth, Len O. Gunn, Brush, Harry Cecil and Marquis.  In the months that followed, his presence on that stage (along with these others), created a small controversy in magic magazines as some complained that less skilled performers would be discouraged from participating in Convention contests, when magicians like Gunn, Brush, Booth and Colteaux, described as "tough competitors" were "stealing the cake."  Having been compared to some top names in the field, once can assume that Colteaux was a formidable presence on stage.  

Colteaux touring with his sister, c. 1935.
In 1931, a columnist in The Linking Ring observed that Colteaux "has been on a buying spree, and we think he intends to put on a full evening's show."  Indeed, he soon hit the road, becoming a performer with the Wiere and Wayne Vaudeville Troupe and later performing in Chautauqua.  He became known for scriptwriting, ventriloquism and classic magic pieces, like rag pictures (featured on his throwing card below), nested alarm clocks, card flourishes and billiard ball manipulation.

He had two throwing cards, both of which are seen here.  Both cards feature "Jimmy," his ventriloquist dummy.   One card has a vintage Bicycle back and is standard size; the second is oversized with a printed text back with period graphics.  Over the years, I've encountered a great deal of Colteaux memorabilia.  

From Billboard, 1948
Eventually, when full-time magic could not support his family, he became a salesman for the Beich Candy Company, a position he would hold for the next 40 years, and used magic to further his sales. And his passion for magic never waned.
He became deeply entrenched in the International Brotherhood of Magicians, holding membership number 365 and was part of the Order of Merlin. Reputed for his "infectious and lovable approach to performing,"

Colteaux continued to practice and teach the art that he so loved until the 1990s. He died in 1995 at age 88, having been active in magic for three quarters of a century.


Thursday, August 15, 2019

The "Other" Carter and his 10,000 Cards

When I first obtained this charming card sporting art deco graphics from a contact in Europe, I harbored some hope that it represented an artifact from the illustrious career of Charles Carter "The Great" of "Carter Beats the Devil" fame.  One suspects, however, that if Carter the Great had produced a throwout card (and I believe he hadn't), it would have showcased some colorful graphics produced by the artisans at Otis Litho.  Also, the numberless four on the reverse seemed puzzling.   The European purveyor of this card told me that it either belongs to Carter the Great or a German magician he called "Herr Carter," born in 1880, which wasn't much to go on.

But I found him.  Scattered references in periodicals throughout the 1930s identify this gentleman as a performer billed at various European venues as the "Magician with 10,000 Cards," and sometimes "100,000 Cards."  His act, consistently described as spectacular, revolved around skilled manipulations with the front and back palm, as well as a torn and restored card effect using a giant paper card.   One correspondent noted that Carter could produce as many as 27 cards simultaneously from his fingertips. Showgirls assisted as he performed a fine color changing plume and handkerchief routine.   Most notably, for our purposes, Carter gave a remarkable demonstration of card throwing, presumably scaling cards such as the one featured here, out into the audience.  But his finale was most memorable: thousands of cards dropped from the ceiling of the theater, while a curtain dropped with hundreds more sewn to it.

Magicians criticized Herr Carter, though, for his
exposures.  Apparently, after providing a deft demonstration, he revealed the workings of the front and back palms to his audience.  He also exposed the secrets behind his color changing plumes and handkerchiefs.  Several reporters, over a period of years, decried this practice, claiming that is undermined the performer's fine act.  At one point, a magic magazine reported on charges of "exposure" lodged against him by a German magic organization.

Interestingly, I wasn't the only one who thought there could be some confusion between Herr Carter and his more illustrious namesake.  In 1931, for example, the Sphinx identified this performer as "Carter (not the American)."  Sources suggest that Charles Carter, a magician AND a lawyer, got into a dispute with the German conjurer over use of the name, but was persuaded that Herr Carter's use of the name predated his own and dropped the matter.

And before we leave Charles Carter "The Great", in May 2018, I had the pleasure of attending a gathering at the home of magician/historian Richard Cohn.  This writer and fellow contributor Tom Ewing posed in front of one of Carter's fabulous 8-sheet posters which adorns a wall in Richard's fine home:

Tom's the one on the left.  Over his right shoulder is a black-and-white photo of a very young and unbearded Richard performing as "Riccardo the Great."

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Howard Thurston – 150 Years Old Today!

Some months back I had a post entitled Thurston - Some Throw-Out Card Trivia concerning items that I had found on Howard Thurston, arguably magic’s greatest “Throw-Out Card King” of all time. Since then, I have continued my research for additional items of interest in terms of trivia. Here is some of what I found.
On January 31, 1926, the Pittsburgh Press ran an ad in the newspaper for Thurston’s “Perfect Breather”. This was an anti-snoring device that Thurston was marketing in hopes of financial gain. Like many of his investments outside the magic arena, it was not a success, and finding one of these devices today is difficult as they are quite rare. Below is the ad, an image of an actual “Breather”, and a throw-out card also used to advertise the device.
The Morning Call of Allentown Pennsylvania for December 6, 1928 wrote about Thurston, “He is still regarded as the greatest card magician in the craft”. They went on to say, “In the difficult feat of throwing cards to all parts of the theatre, Thurston has no rival.”
I particularly like when I can find images of Thurston in action with his cards. Below are a couple of new ones that I have found. These are from very early in Thurston’s career.
Thurston gave a demonstration of his card throwing skill on September 22, 1931, by throwing cards from the top of a skyscraper, the Foshay Tower in downtown Minneapolis. According to the Minneapolis Star, "Thurston hurled 1,000 cards from the tower to demonstrate his prowess, and 100 of these contained free admissions to two persons each to see his performance at the Minnesota”.
I have done further research on the lawsuit brought against Thurston when an errant throw of a card injured a spectator in the audience at one of his shows in Detroit. The following article appeared in the News-Palladium in Benton Harbor, Michigan on April 14, 1927.
Thurston had a number of throw-out cards made advertising Miller Tires. He even created a revolving tire illusion to be used in company promotions. It spun “in the air with no apparent means of support”. Below is an advertisement and an article from the Harrisburg Telegraph for November, 1916 in which the illusion was being shown at the Sterling Auto Tire Company. For good measure I am including one of Thurston’s Miller Tire Cards.

Finally, today is the anniversary of Howard Thurston’s birth. He would have been 150 years old today. In recognition of this historic occasion, I have been saving this post for today. Happy Birthday Howard!

Friday, July 5, 2019

Tex Hobgood – "World’s Only Cowboy Magician"

A lot of magicians have come up with a gimmick, or a presentation, to make themselves better known and remembered by their audiences. Tex Hobgood claimed he was the “World’s Only Cowboy Magician”. The Linking Ring in July 1945 said about Hobgood, “Here’s a character for you--does magic in full cowboy regalia, chaps, ten gallon hat, etc., and is a clever chap at that.”

I have only seen this one throw-out card for Tex. It was produced for a specific appearance at Lambros Marine Room in Chester, Pennsylvania. It has a cartoon illustration of Tex on the front, and has a red Aviator playing card back.
Harvey “Tex” Hobgood was born in 1902 and naturally hailed from the great state of Texas. Hobgood performed quite a bit during the 1940’s and into the 1950’s. He performed in many states, and I found several references to him in various newspapers. When he played in Pampa, Texas as seen below, he was on the bill with Mel-Roy, a well-known mentalist and mind reader of the day. The other ad is for a drive-in movie theater in Akron, Ohio.
The Pampa, Texas Daily News for Apr. 18, 1943 and The Akron Beacon Journal for Sep 13, 1949.
The below photo of him was in the Amarillo Globe-Times for May 3, 1943, accompanied by this anecdote, which relates to it being during World War II. “H. Cowboy Hobgood, who has a saddle bag full of magic, says all tricks in which he used to use rabbits or other livestock have been shelved for the duration. ‘I produced a rabbit at a USO show in Omaha’, he said with regret, ‘and the rabbit was mobbed. Someone had rabbit stew that night. So because the rationing regulations endanger the lives of the rabbits, I have eliminated those tricks.’” 
Harvey “Tex” Hobgood was married and his wife was named Leona. Leona passed away in 1968, followed by Tex in 1979. Their final resting place is back in Texas, in the city of Fort Worth.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Earll R. Muddiman – Engineering the Magic Within!

You may not know it, but this performer designed one of the largest, most complete steel making facility in his time. It didn't take magic, but if you asked his bosses, they would disagree. His name was Earll R. Muddiman. He was born on July 17, 1896. He graduated Carnegie Tech in Pennsylvania with a BS degree in Engineering in 1923. It was the same year he started working for one of U.S. Steel's subsidiaries. How did his interest in magic begin? It was a local undertaker who gave him his first push. When Muddiman was only twelve, a local undertaker thought since young Muddiman said he was interested in magic, the undertaker's extra top hat would perfect gift since it was used in both professions. That one special offering opened up the door for Muddiman. With hat in hand, Earll started to create a magic act that was eventually enjoyed by audiences of all ages. 

As his knowledge grew, Muddiman thought he should include an escape act. Considering escapes were still popular at that time, it seemed to be the perfect idea. Unfortunately, he found fairly quickly his newly added act may have been better left to those with more show experience. As the story goes, Muddiman devised a mailbag escape where a self-created locking device would seal him in a canvas covered mail-type oversized bag. As he attempted to escape the confines of the bag, an announcement that refreshments were being served to all. His audience was easily more interested in the refreshments being served than watching the possible escape by Muddiman.  So, unbeknownst to Muddiman, they left him, struggling to liberate himself on stage. When Muddiman finally made his amazing escape, he found himself alone. Even the stagehands had gone. After that one performance, he dropped the idea of becoming the "next" escape artist. As a side note to those collectors out there, that same mailbag escape creation of Muddiman's was sold at auction not that long ago. There's a good chance the new owner may not have an idea why it was the only one of its kind (well, until now). 

For those who are reading this who might be old enough to remember the original weekly Sunday television show called, "Candid Camera", Muddiman came up with an idea for creator Alan Funt to use on one of the shows. The idea was titled, "Squashed Car" and it showed people trying to open their car doors when parked cars have blocked them from getting into their car. Muddiman even received a check from Funt for fifty dollars (Who knows, maybe you can find the clip on YouTube).

As an engineer, Muddiman was able to come up with his on creations as well as replicate those ideas he saw in the magic catalogs. His repertoire expanded as well as his performance record. He lived in Levittown, Pennsylvania. He performed for clubs, small groups, schools, and hospitals. He held to patents that he submitted in 1942 and 1943. In 1957, he went so far as to copyright one of his idea for his business card. 

In 1961, Earll created another great card that included a trick great optical illusion effect that instructed the holder to place their nose on a drawn “x” on the middle of the card and it would look like the drawing of the cartoon man holding a cigar on one end of the card was not able to smoke the cigar on the opposite side of the card. Earll Muddiman passed away on July 1, 1966 and is buried next to his wife, Dorothy (who passed away in 1989) at The Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Friday, June 14, 2019

In Memoriam: Thomas Blacke (1966-2019)

 It saddens me to write this post after the sudden and untimely passing of my friend, Tom Blacke, earlier this year.  (Typically, at the time of his tragic demise, he was serving as a volunteer at the FFFF convention in Batavia, NY).   I had long wanted to write this post, as Tom's talent and devotion to magic and passion for collecting and magic history well warranted an entry on this site.  I wish I had gotten to this sooner.

According to one bio available online, Tom, who was born Thomas J. Carrier:

"had a multi-faceted career and life. First and foremost, he was an extraordinary entertainer, including magic, escapes, pickpocketing, mentalism and hypnotism performing around the world. He was featured in numerous periodicals, news and television shows around the country. He was nominated for Lecturer of the Year at the prestigious Magic Castle. The Harvey Award was bestowed upon him by the Invisible Lodge and he held numerous world records, one of which is on permanent display at the Guinness World Record Museum in Niagara Falls, Canada. He was a member of the Magic Circle of London, Magic Castle of California, New England Magic Collector's Association, Society of American Magicians, International Brotherhood of Magicians, International Escape Artists and the elite FFFF (Fechter's Finger-Flicking Frolic). On May 23, 2011, he received his very own Ripley's Believe It Or Not! cartoon for the fastest escape from handcuffs underwater. He was, also, a former member of the Friars Club in New York.
He was a former personality(Tommy J) on local radio and announcer for the former Newport Grand Jai Alai.

Among his other life time achievements, he was an accomplished ten pin bowler, an avid duck pin bowler and member of the National Duckpin Association, as well as, author of several books on magic and non-magic related "

I first met Tom in 2016, when I visited Ray Goulet's museum and shop where he was, as was his habit, donating his time to help that esteemed magic establishment continue operations.   Tom introduced me to Ray, and secured an invitation for me to attend the Yankee Gathering that fall, where I met, among others, co-contributors Tom Ewing and Gary Frank, and we soon concocted the notion of creating this blog.  Thus, in a large sense, Mr. Blacke was responsible for Propelled Pasteboards.  

As seen on one of his promotional cards above, Tom held world records for escape feats.   He was often billed as the "World's Fastest Balloon Artist," a remarkable talent he demonstrated at the NEMCA convention.  

He served as an active member of NEMCA and was an avid magic collector and historian.  In fact, Tom shared with me a piece of artwork from his collection which is quite remarkable: he owned the original draft artwork (seen here) for Ricky Jay's Cards as Weapons poster, something we will be featuring in another post.   He obtained that artwork in a most remarkable way: in a world of eBay, magic auctions and crazed bidding, Tom politely asked the artist for his draft, and the artist obliged.  

On a personal note, Tom was a kind friend whose company I always enjoyed.  He will be missed.

-Judge Brown
Brown and Blacke, circa 2016

Friday, June 7, 2019

Master Eddie Abbott “The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century”

This post is about what is probably the youngest magician we have covered here on Propelled Pasteboards. He went by the name of Master Eddie Abbott, and his story is an interesting one. Eddie Abbott’s card is slightly oversized, is on heavy card stock, and is blank on the back. Whether it can be called a throw-out card is a matter of opinion.

Abbott’s card advertises an appearance at Girard’s Wonderland, which was often referred to as a curio hall.  It was in Buffalo, New York, and it was known for having some unusual acts in its day. This appeared in the Buffalo Evening News for April 27, 1898. A troupe of trained goats heads the bill!
There is basically nothing on young Master Abbott in the magic magazines that I have access to. He was written up however in H. J. Burlingame’s Leaves from Conjurers’ Scrap Books which was published in 1891. Gabe Fajuri included Abbott in his book on child magicians entitled Child Prestidigitators: Precocious Magicians: Wonders, Marvels, & Prodigies published in 2001. Both books have a brief history of Abbott, and mention the fact that Abbott was given much praise for his ability.
My first thought was, if Eddie Abbott was so good, why is there not more on him in the magic journals? Maybe it was because adult performers did not think he warranted the attention, or maybe it was just that there were not many magic magazines in the late eighteen hundreds. Looking at the newspapers of the time seems to confirm what Burlingame had to say about Eddie Abbott. In the following article, they called him “The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century”.
From the Santa Cruz Sentinel for September 17, 1890 and the Topeka Capital for June 23, 1892.
In May of 1889, The Times in Philadelphia said the six year old Eddie will perform at the Carncross Opera House and will be “performing some of the most difficult feats of the older illusionists”.  In October of that year in Carlisle Pennsylvania, this ad ran in The Sentinel newspaper.
Master Eddie was assisted by Prof. H. J. Abbott, who was his father. Also on this bill were Harry and Mildred Rouclere, very well-known magicians and mind readers of the era. Not bad company for young Master Abbott. Two months later, Abbott was performing at B. F. Keith’s Bijou in Philadelphia, and with him on the bill were Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Cohan. For those readers who enjoy the movie Yankee Doodle Dandy, you know that the Cohans were the parents of George M. Cohan, one of the most famous performers and song writers on Broadway in his day. Abbott was referred to as “the infant rival of Kellar and Herrmann”. Once again, Eddie was in very good company!
In January of 1893 Eddie Abbott is playing at Tony Pastor’s Theatre in New York. Tony Pastor was a legendary Vaudeville impresario. Pastor was known for giving the great Harry Houdini one of his big breaks in 1895, but Eddie played there first. Here Eddie is going by “The Only Boy Magician”.
It appears that once the twentieth century arrived, Eddie Abbott changed the type of performance that he gave, from that of a magician, to being billed as a “Monologue Comedian”. That was how he appeared at the Ninth and Arch Dime Museum on November 24, 1901 in Philadelphia. I can only assume that this was the same Eddie, as there is no more mention of him as a magician, and the venues seem of the same type for the Eddie Abbott listed. By May 10, 1908 in Washington D C, he was calling himself a “Character Monologist” at the Surprise Theatre on Pennsylvania Avenue. Since it looks as though Eddie was born around 1883, he would have been 25 and an adult at this time. The references to him start to disappear after this period, and I have not been able to discover what became of him.
One thing is for certain. Master Eddie Abbott really did make a mark as a child magician for a few years in the later part of the eighteen-hundreds. There was a lot more written about him in the newspapers than I had expected. Maybe he really was the rival of Kellar and Herrmann, and deserved the billing of “The Wonder of the Nineteenth Century”.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Burgette – “Weird Wonders”

When I do research on a magician who had a throw-out card, or a “Good Luck” card, I try to find a performer who had mentions in the magic magazines, or the newspapers of their day. William Burgette was a long time magician and had a history in both.

Burgette had an interesting “Good Luck” card, with his portrait on the front, and on the back he refers to his show as “Weird Wonders”. It also lists three of the effects that he was doing at the time, as well as his contact information.
William L. Burgette was born on May 24, 1911 in Elyria, Ohio. It is said that he gave his first magic show when he was eight years old. From there, he continued to perform for many years. Besides doing magic, Burgette also did escapes. He lived in several cities in Ohio during his lifetime. In 1940, The Billboard stated “Burgette the Magician, assisted by Mrs. Burgette and Rena Azzar, with A. C. Spitler on the advance, brings his season to an end at the Paramount Theater, Fremont, O., May 11. Operating within a radius of 150 miles of Fremont, Burgette played 42 dates on the season.”
Burgette was a long-time member of the I.B.M. and had these three mentions in The Linking Ring early in his magic career. He was “heralded as ‘Ohio’s Favorite Magician’”.

The Linking Ring from February 1930, March 1931, and June 1940.

Burgette got his share of press coverage too. The following three clippings are from The Sandusky Register for January 27, 1931, the Kingsport Tennessee Times for December 3, 1940, and the New Castle Pennsylvania News for March 6, of 1942.
William Burgette was a charter member of I.B.M Ring 189 in Galion, Ohio. He was very active in the Ring over the years and was named “Knight of the Year in 1974”. His obituary in the Mansfield News-Journal on January 23, 1976, mentioned his Broken Wand ceremony at his funeral services. The obituary also mentioned that William Burgette had also been a former shoe store manager, besides being a professional magician.
I will end this post with a nice review of Bill Burgette in The Linking Ring back in May of 1968. It was written by the late Terry Harris who was Secretary of Ring 189 at the time.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Francis the Famous

This post falls into the category of some performers featured on this blog who had their own scaling card but about which very little is known. Our subject is Francis G. Cuttle. A thorough search through Ask Alexander, and (something any conjuring historian of worth should utilize), I was able to turn up a little background. This is odd for someone who billed himself as “Francis the Famous!”

Cuttle’s card features his photo with the caption above it, “The Young Wizard.” He does look fairly young in the picture. To the left is his signature and, like many show people in the early part of the previous century, inquiries could be addressed to the New York Clipper, the newspaper for all things show business. The reverse side is not by one of the larger commercial card companies, but is attractive and pink in color.

Cuttle was most closely associated with Columbus, Georgia. In October 1930, the magicians of Atlanta, Georgia gave their fall benefit show in the auditorium of the Women’s Club. It was sponsored by the Atlanta Child’s Home. The bill was filled with local magicians including DeVaughn (a female magician); Mac and Frances; Albert Harrington, Homer Hulse, Dr. F.E. Van der Veer; Julian Boehm; and others.

No, Cuttle was not on the bill, but The Linking Ring covered the event in their November issue and noted that after the show the magicians had the pleasure of meeting Francis G. Cuttle of Columbus, Georgia who had heard of the show and traveled 200 miles to attend. He was identified as an, “ex-magician,” who was known in his professional days as, “Francis the Famous.” That’s it.

We also know Cuttle was married. According to The Atlanta Constitution, his wife, Annie Robinson Cuttle, died Monday December 18, 1934, after a long illness. She was born in Lowell, Mass., and her body was returned there. She had lived in Columbus since 1910. And one last interesting note – she was survived by her husband Francis and one brother — wait for it — William E. Robinson of Atlantic, Mass. No, not THAT Robinson, but an interesting twist to a story without a lot of details. Cuttle now arises from near obscurity to near visibility among Propelled Pasteboard's panoply of prestidigitators.

Tom Ewing