The Geek Life: The Magic Castle (Mania.com)
By:Robert T. Trate
Date: Wednesday, February 22, 2012
The Geek Life is a weekly look at what is happening in the Geek Culture. Movies, Comics, Books, Video Games and TV Shows encompass more than just release dates and reviews. This week the Geek Life visits The Magic Castle.
Before I go into my visit to The Magic Castle, I have to explain how I actually got into The Magic Castle. I was working at my regular job (a mild mannered waiter) when I noticed a man sitting at my table with a Star Tours polo on. Always looking for an “in” with people, I asked him if he had been to the new Star Tours ride in Disneyland. He replied that he had but this was an old shirt from when it originally opened. He then relays to me that he had done some work on it. I then informed him that I had recently been to the Presidio in San Francisco and got a first hand tour of Lucasfilm (trust me that would be its own Geek Life if I were allowed to talk about it). The gentleman smiled at me and said he had been to Lucasfilm, too, only it had been the ranch (Skywalker). All the while he did work on one of the Ewok movies. I smiled at him and asked “really?” He said it had been while but “yes”. To trump me one further in our Geek pissing contest, he then asked me if I had the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade soundtrack. “Of course” I replied. It was one of my favorites. Now, around the time of mentioning the Ewok movies, he had reached into his wallet and pulled out a tiny card and began to write on it. He then looked at me and asked “Bob, have you heard of The Magic Castle?” I promptly replied “no”. He then handed me a card (pictured below) that had his name and member ID# on it and told me to check it out. To be honest with you, and not to the kind Geek gentleman who sat before me, of course I had heard of The Magic Castle. It was one of the most exclusive clubs in all of Hollywood. So exclusive you have to have a member invite you. As it turns out, that is just what happened to me.
So what is the Magic Castle? “The Magic Castle is the private clubhouse for the Academy of Magical Arts, Inc, a very special organization devoted to the advancement of the ancient art of magic. The purpose of The Academy is to encourage and promote public interest in the art of magic with particular emphasis on preserving its history as an art form, entertainment medium, and hobby. Beginning with a charter membership of 150, the Academy has grown into a world-renowned fraternal organization with a membership of nearly 5,000”. – The Magic Castle’s official website. If invited, one can have an exquisite meal and see several different magicians perform throughout the night.
I wondered why a place packed Magicians wouldn’t allow Joe Public to walk in off the street. Even then, why not charge such an exuberant price for everything that most people would stay away? After living in LA for the past several months, I have learned that all douchebags out here have money. They are willing to spend money on anything trendy, hip, or simply just because it is exclusive. The brilliance in having The Magic Castle’s members invite people to their club is that they can weed out these douchebags. There won’t be a Jackass on his cell phone during the show to take that all “important” call. No one will heckle the magicians. Above all, they’ll pack the house with like minded people who can fully appreciate The Magic Castle. I was allowed to invite 7 other people with my pass and took full advantage of my opportunity to walk through the hallowed halls of such an exclusive club.
Immediately one can see that this is going to be a different kind of evening. It is a fine old world house and does indeed have that castle-like appearance. Upon checking in, you find yourself in a room with only one door, the one you came in. The words “open sesame” allow you a secret passage into the next room and now you know you walked into someplace magical.
Pictures are not allowed in The Magic Castle nor are any videos allowed to be taken. This not only adds to the mystique of the castle but protects the magicians, as well. Within the first few minutes of being in the lounge I felt as if I just walked into The Haunted Mansion at Disney World. Everything had an aura to it. An aura of being old and, forgive the pun, magical. After dinner and some exploring of the castle I realized this wasn’t a theme park ride or a mass produced restaurant chain. No, this was old Hollywood personified. Upon seeing an autographed picture of Cary Grant on the wall I knew this was a place of legends and I was standing in it.
If you are not a member, you have to place reservations for dinner. In getting dinner you are also given a ticket that guarantees you admission to one of the shows. My first show was in the “Palace of Mystery” (1 of 5 rooms). John Carney and Avner the Eccentric entertained us with old school illusions. John Carney did several gags with his slight of hand approach, but it was Avner that took it all the way back to Vaudeville. Avner never spoke and if he had, it would have ruined the illusion and magic of his performance.
Our next show took us into the bowels of the castle to “The Peller Theatre”. The atmosphere was different as if we were now in the Johnny Carson Tonight Show era. The first magician, Jon Armstrong, related to us by being self deprecating and that he had a vast knowledge of comic books. The second magician, Fitzgerald, was a hipster and extremely proud of it. Both magicians had an incredible chemistry with each other and the audience. I didn’t even notice I was standing the whole time as I laughed at these two masters.
I was able to get in at least three shows that evening. I am told that with dinner three shows is an accomplishment. I was invited up on stage for the third and final performance at the “Close-Up Gallery” (pictured above). Helder Guimaraes wanted two witnesses for his card tricks and assured us that anyone could do what he was doing. It was all “practice” he kept telling us. His first moments on stage were simple and a joke followed too quickly to put us all at ease. What we did not know at the time was he had set us up for his final trick.
I do have the opportunity to return The Magic Castle again; please don’t ask how. There is a séance for Houdini every year, but I probably shouldn’t get my hopes up for attending that. My experience at The Magic Castle reminded me of the power of real world illusions and that too often we are either wowed or bored with movie special effects. These magicians, each incredibly different, stood in front of me and dazzled me with card tricks, humor, and simple physical comedy. In a word, it was magical.
Robert Trate was never so happy to lose a Geek pissing contest in his whole life as he was the day he got his card to the Magic Castle. Robert writes three weekly columns for Mania: the DVD Shopping Bag, the Toy Maniac, and The Geek Life. Follow Robert on Twitter for his for Geek ramblings, Cosplay photos and film criticisms.