John Calvert 100 år den 5 augusti!

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John Calvert: Magician of the Century
by Kim Mason

On August 5, John Calvert turned 100 years old. In the last few
years, he has semi-retired, cutting appearances down to small
performances, lectures and guest appearances for magic clubs and
conventions around the world. But his 80 years on tour make his
act twice as long as the second longest running act in magic and
the longest running stage act of any kind.

During his career he performed in every major theater in the
world, made some 40 movies during Hollywood’s golden age and
lived through exploits on land and sea that are the stuff of
legends. His vast career and adventures lead the nation’s largest
manufacturer of magic tricks and kits to recently bestow upon him
the title Magician of the Century.

For a long time after John Calvert started performing magic
tricks, he believed he was faking what real musicians could
really do. Today, the Bowling Green resident understands magic is
the art of illusion and 80 years of performance have taught him
that for success, even more important than the trick is the
connection to the audience.

Born Madren Elbern Calvert in New Trenton Indiana on August 5,
1911, Calvert attended his first magic performance at the age of
8 when his father took him to Cincinnati to see Howard Thurston.
Without ever having read a magic book, he began to create tricks,
the first, making an egg appear from under a boy’s coat for his
Sunday school class. By 18 he was on tour around Kentucky towns
with his assistant Gyp the Wonder Dog and had made his first
profit, $2.65.

Throughout the depression into the 1940’s his show grew as did
his notoriety through daredevil publicity stunts. Calvert told
Chris Britt, President of The John Calvert Society Of Young
Magicians in 1998, ”I had the heaviest show; I carried more props
than anybody else in America. I had the biggest, but not the best
show.

It wasn’t until I went out to California and I cut my show down
into a smaller show, got rid of a lot of worthless props. I was a
demonstrator of illusions, in other words if you didn’t like this
one, maybe you’ll like the next one. But when, I cut the show
down to where I had to go out and sell John Calvert and present
the illusions and entertain the audience, that’s when I became a
success.”

But even his slimmed down version was a large show. As it grew
and the tour expanded he changed his mode of transportation:
first traveling by car, then adding a trailer, then a truck, then
a semi-trailer truck. Soon he had moved to an airplane, then a
DC-3 and eventually a fleet of a dozen planes. Eventually he
would purchase a yacht from Henry Ford that was built for Ford’s
son Edsel.

Calvert sailed the 100 foot vessel to Hawaii, Japan, Singapore,
the Philippines and Australia. In the years since yachts remained
his favored mode of transport and by 1998 he had a ”pure triple
crew world cruising yacht with a cruising range of three thousand
miles” and claimed to have performed magic in every country with
a theater in the world except Russia.

His stage show opened with a fast routine of many tricks he calls
”variety magic” for about three minutes. This was followed by
shooting a woman out of a cannon into a space capsule and cutting
a man’s head off with a buzz saw. Calvert says he was the
originator of sawing off heads with a buzz saw. In the Hollywood
years, it was Danny Kaye’s head he sawed.

The comedian would come out dressed as Hitler and crew dressed as
marines would grab him and put him in the buzz saw, then put his
head in a sausage grinder producing German Wieners. Another
signature trick he says he originated is having his wife since
1982, Tammy, play an organ as they float above the stage and then
the audience. Tammy joined Calvert some fifty years ago in
Singapore and immediately joined the act, shortly afterward, the
two married.

But Tammy was not his first wife. His previous marriage began
when he played the Capitol Arts Theater. The ticket salesperson,
flattered by his attentions said ”Aren’t you going to kiss me?”
To which he replied ”Maybe you’ll get a chance someday!” He goes
on to explain that he’s ”only been sorry once ever since”, as in
Kentucky once you kiss a girl, you marry her. His daughter
continued to live in Bowling Green, and thus he chose it when he
was finally ready to settle down a bit.

In the forties Calvert got his big break in Hollywood as Clark
Gable’s hand double, performing sleight of hand movements Gable
was unable to learn for Honky Tonk. The film lead to a contract
with Columbia where he acted in and directed many films, most
notably playing the Falcon in three pictures. But he cites his
most memorable times during the period as when he directed Paul
Newman in his first film, starring opposite John Carradine in his
last film and all the good times co-hosting parties with his next
door neighbor, Errol Flynn.

Calvert’s biographer, William V. Rauscher refers to him as ”a
real life Indiana Jones” because of the dangers he has survived
in his travels. He’s survived hurricanes and attacks at sea and
also performed in Nashville the same evening he crash landed his
plane.

It is rumored that Calvert once proclaimed there wasn’t a port in
the world where he didn’t know someone at the dock when he pulled
in. Bowling Green is lucky that this amazing talent chose it as
the place to drop anchor.

The John Calvert Magic Club:

The John Calvert Magic Club was formed in 2010 by Calvert’s
friend Ricky Childress and a group of fellow performers from the
area who hope to someday become a charter club of the
International Brotherhood of Magicians.

Childress, who performs magic and clowns as Noodles says that the
club is open to related artists as well such as ventriloquists
and balloon animal sculptors. They currently meet the 4th Monday
each month at the First Christian Church 1106 State St. at 6:30
p.m. The current focus is on fellowship, but Childress hopes to
begin having teaching and showing sessions as well as speakers
once the club has been established.

Kim Mason

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© Copyright 2011 Alan Watson
www.magicnewzealand.com
www.watson.co.nz
www.corporatemagic.co.nz
www.magician.co.nz

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