Tag Archives: Dick Zimmerman

Vaudeville? What’s That?

 

Back In Time

You may or may not know this, but Phil Matlin, owner of Perfect Magic is a ragtime piano player. He was always a piano player, that’s how he won my mother’s heart when he was 21 and I was 17, just a few years back, but that’s another story.

He was heavy into music and was musical director for amateur productions such as Oklahoma, Finnian’s Rainbow, Carousel, and the like. This was in the 60’s. In the 1970’s, when he went into the magic business, he met Dick Zimmerman who is a magician as well as a ragtime musician and historian. They discovered this mutual love of music and Dick tried to persuade Phil to call Mimi Blais,  a Montrealer and top  notch ragtime player and entertainer, to ask  her if she would give him lessons in ragtime. He was too shy to call her. But one day when she was playing on stage at the Montreal Jazz Festival , I insisted he go over to her when the show was over just to give her regards from Dick Zimmerman. I twisted his arm. He said something like, “Great show and Hi from Dick Zimmerman.” “Oh, you must be the magician that he is always telling me to call!” And somehow from there they got to speaking about lessons, which she said she didn’t give, but if he was any good she would coach him.

She invited him to her home to strut his stuff so to speak and when he sat down at the piano he was so nervous he couldn’t see the keys. He was playing for Mimi Blais. He hit all the cracks and I’m not sure if he cried but she understood. She said she was going into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee and left him alone where he pulled himself together and played. She agreed to coach him, so he learned from the best. She was a tough teacher.

And so began Phil’s career as a ragtime piano player which is a form of music which was popular in the late 1800’s and into the early 1900’s, before movies and later was played as background music in  silent movies. The home entertainment center in those days, usually consisted of a piano or other musical instrument. If you went out for entertainment you would go to a play, a concert or a vaudeville show. There were approximately 3000 vaudeville theatres in the U.S.A. and Canada during that period. Think Ed Sullivan Show. Every kind of talent performed, singers, dancers, jugglers, magicians, ventriloquists, comedians, acrobats, animal acts, you name it.  George Burns and Gracie Allen, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, Al Jolson, Jimmy Durante, Abbott & Costello, Milton Berle, The Andrew Sisters, Adele and Fred Astaire, Josephine Baker, Edgar Bergen, Fanny Brice are only a few that came out of Vaudeville. It was popular in the Roarin” Twenties, the time of flappers. And ragtime was the music of the day. Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag, written in the 1800’s  is still a favorite today.

So it was kind of natural that when Phil and Romaine became friends… Who’s Romaine? Don’t worry. That doesn’t bother him. When the Beatles first started out, and Bing Crosby first started out, people asked the same question. Who’s Romaine? Just kidding. Romaine is a world class manipulator, who has performed all over the world. He’s also a comedian and ventriloquist.

So when they came to be friends it was kind of natural that they put their talents together and created a two man show called “Back In Time”. It’s a throw back to the vaudeville days. Music,  Magic, Comedy, Ventriloquism, and a Sing Along. Now that’s Vaudeville!

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Filed under Perfect Magic, Phil Matlin, Romaine

Observations from my Son

The following blog was written by our son Brian, who has his own blog which is usually hilarious, called Panning For Gold. This particular blog  is his take on the parties we used to have after the Magie Montreal conventions and his accidental meeting with Bob Little many years later in Pennsylvania. Enjoy!

The Olden Days, The Golden Days

Back in the day (1979 – 1998) my father hosted an annual magic convention with Wim Vermeys.  One of the features that we always looked forward to was the after party. This party was always at our house and it was a time when the dealers, performers and lecturers could sit back and enjoy each other’s company without the magic monkey looming over our shoulders

The only rule was there was absolutely no magic at these parties.  I remember one time when my father and Dick Zimmerman of magic and Ragtime fame sat at the piano while a few of the magicians and their wives sang along.  The parties always amazed me, so many egos, so many personalities all crammed into such a small place and everyone had a great time.  To me, these parties seemed to be reminiscent of scenes played out in movies based around the 1920’s. Our house was the speakeasy only with no gangsters, flappers, illegal liquor, cigarettes, prostitution, the only contraband was magic.  Okay not exactly a party like the roaring 20’s but you gets the idea.

There was one magician, Bob Little from Hat borough Pa who attended all 19 conventions in the Magie Montreal series.  Bob was a magic dealer, a lecturer, and a performer.

Jump ahead many years.

When I first arrived in Pennsylvania I got together with a few of the local magicians and started a magic club.  As the club took root my wife and I decided to throw a party and invite the magicians along with some other more civilized guests.

The party which was a BBQ at our house quickly snowballed out of control.  My wife and I learned that not only were the local magicians attending, so were the Penn State Performers which included magicians, jugglers and clowns.

I used to work at a bank downtown,  I happen to be sitting in the lunchroom of the bank looking down the street and much to my disbelief I saw Bob Little walking down the road.  I had not seen him since the last convention, a good 5 years earlier.  I ran out of the bank and caught up with Bob.

Me: “Bob, remember me?”

He looked at me for a moment and said;

“Phil’s son?”

“Yes, how are you doing?”

“Aren’t you in the music business in Montreal?”

“No, I’m the other son”

“Don’t you have a magic shop in British Columbia?”

“I did, but I don’t anymore. I live here now.”

“Here? As in Pennsylvania?”

“Yup, I met a woman who attended Penn State and works for the university.  We got married and now I live up in the mountains.”

Bob at this point looked very confused but we chatted for a bit.  I found out he was in State College because as an alumni of Penn State he was being given some sort of an award and was asked to make a speech.  Also there was some party the next night that the magicians were taking him too.

“Ahh, that would probably be my party” Again he looked a little confused.  I shrugged and went back to work.

Saturday afternoon guests began to arrive.  There were jugglers juggling, magicians showing each other tricks, people were talking eating and being very noisy.  At one point I slipped inside to take a breather, and there was Bob all alone sitting on the couch. He looked at me a little confused by my presence.  I knew he was still trying to process me being here and not in Canada.

Bob; “This is a really nice place”

“Thanks”

“No really it is so nice up here.  I went for a walk in the woods the path is covered in moss and is shaded by trees you should really check it out.  I was told the owners have 11 acres.  Do you know who the owners are? “

“Bob, remember yesterday when I said I lived in the mountains and that the party you were invited to was mine?  Well here we are my party, my house.”

We sat for a moment, looking through the window two of the jugglers were juggling torches, magicians were in little groups showing one another card tricks,  a fire was going in the fire pit, the grill was fired up and spewing hamburgers and hotdogs.

“You know” Bob said, “The last time I was at a party that was anything close to this was at your father’s convention I miss those days”

As I sit back during this holiday season and think about all the twists and turns my life has taken me I find myself wondering where it all went, when did I do all that stuff? Where has the time gone?  How can my friends have grown children? How can my little sister have two kids? Where did it go? When did it all happen?  I don’t understand the difference between a 3G and a 4G network!  Did an inner city Jewish Canadian really go get a live Christmas tree from a tree farm in Central PA?  Was it really 25 years ago that my best friend and I were riding our bikes through the town of Hampstead?  Do I seriously get out the blow torch to fix the copper pipes in my own home? Did my wife seriously buy me the greatest winter boots and gloves so I could be comfortable while I am out SNOWBLOWING my driveway?  Are there not other people who are supposed to do that sort of work?

Bob, I too miss those days.  But I love my days now.  I love my wife, my family, my life.  I hope in another 25yrs I’ll be sitting with my wife missing the ‘old’ days and still loving the current ones.

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Filed under Magic, Magie Montreal