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The Magic Castle is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year, having opened back in '63. I joined back in 1980 right after I went up to see my then-current lady friend get sawed in half and levitated by a fine magician named Chuck Jones, no relation to the famed cartoon director. (But this Chuck Jones did have a cartoon connection: For a time in the sixties, he had a daily kids' show on KCOP Channel 13 where he did tricks and hosted cartoons. He is still touring with a sensational magic show and occasionally playing the Castle.)
I would never have thought I'd fit in with or like a place where you had to wear a jacket and tie — at least in the evenings. But I was at the Magic Castle for about three minutes before I said to myself, "Self, you've gotta join this place." I signed up as an Associate Member and was later upgraded to Full Magician status. I was there for the years when the food was pretty mediocre and am now there for the years when the food is pretty good.
You can dine at the Magic Castle. You can drink, too though I don't. Mostly, you see magic. There are several showrooms around the place and there are also areas where impromptu performances are likely to materialize at any moment. I often go to see some "name" magician perform and on the same visit, find myself impressed and/or dazzled by someone I never heard of before.
One of the most amazing things about the Castle is that it's still there, as wonderful as ever. In the years since I've joined, we've seen it through one crisis after another — most of them financial though Halloween before last, they had the place decked out to appear via lighting effects as if it was on fire…and before they could launch those effects, it actually did catch fire. There have been hostile takeover attempts and lawsuits and squabbles but all seems to be copacetic these days. The current administration with Neil Patrick Harris as our president, is doing a first-rate job and the place has never looked better.
The one thing I miss? There's a little sofa in the front parlor and for about the first decade of my membership, you could usually find a gentleman named Dai Vernon seated on it, ready to chat with all who came by. Dai, who was born in 1894, was called The Professor by those who didn't know him well enough to call him Dai. He knew everything about magic and had in fact invented (or at least perfected) all those tricks that every magician learns and struggles to perform in a new and different way. With little prompting, he would tell you of the time he did a trick that stumped Houdini or any of a hundred other anecdotes…and if you showed him a trick (something I never dared do) he would show you how to do it better.
Dai passed away in '92 but apart from not having him around, the Castle has everything a lover of magic could want. Here's a quickie tour from The Today Show on Friday morning…