That’s Entertainment!

From Miscellaneous Handkerchief Tricks That You Can Do : Including a fifteen minute act “The Silky Slicker” by George De Lawrence, published by Gerald Heaney, Berlin, Wisconsin, 1921.  Pages 32-33.

You absolutely cannot succeed in these modern days of “jazz” and “goloshes” by merely being a magician; you must be an entertainer; therefore I have furnished patter, some of which has stood the test and is absolutely dependable, based on actual experience.

I am going to take up a minute or two of your time and a little space to illustrate this fact, and it is fact that keeps many a magician out of work, and those playing small time from getting onto the “two-a-day.” This applies equally as well in regard to the semi-professional entertainer and club worker.

Mr. Geo. W. Adams, for thirty years on the stage as a comedian, comedy juggler, etc., who is deeply interested in magic as a hobby, while discussing magicians pro and con, made a remark along these lines:
Vaudeville Magician Jack Gwynne

“A Magician, if he be the cleverest in the world, can not succeed on the American vaudeville stage unless he is capable of entertaining his audience. If he is a comedian so much the better.”

A man in the business thirty years, I believe you will agree with me, knows pretty near what the public desires, and if you cannot fulfill these desires, you will not get ahead.

Jud Cole, who is well known to magical enthusiasts, and whose chief stock in trade is his pleasing personality and witty “patter,” was telling me some of his experiences just as this manuscript was drawing to a close.

While in New York City one of the largest Keith Agents “caught” his act. In talking with this gentleman afterwards, the conversation was something along these lines:

The agent asked Mr. Cole to come up to his office. Jud asked him how he liked the act. The reply was, “Very good.” Mr. Cole then asked him how he liked the tricks. The agent’s reply was to the effect that they were all right. After further conversation Jud asked him point blank about a certain trick. The agent replied that he had forgotten what he did; in fact, he could not recall one trick. Here is the information as handed out by one of Broadway’s largest agents:

“In big time, it does not matter what you do. If you look neat, have a good voice and amuse the people, that is all that is required.”

Just look at the magic acts on Big Time—read this statement over, then cut it out and paste it in your hat.

A few notes:  The “small time” (as in “He’s strictly a small-timer”) was the lowest rung of the vaudeville ladder, playing small towns, perhaps in makeshift venues, continuous performances, for little money.  Next up was the “medium time,” the “two-a-day” shows that played in actual theaters.  As the name implies, acts would only go on twice a day. Then there was the Big Time, which played major cities in luxurious theaters, patronized by the middle and upper-middle class, where performers could earn thousands a week.  The biggest of the Big Time theaters was the Palace in New York City, flagship of the Keith-Albee circuit, at the corner of Broadway and 47th Street.

The Keith (later Keith-Albee) circuit was one of the major vaudeville circuits.  hiring acts to appear in the various Keith theaters.  Other circuits included the Orpheum, Pantages, and Dudley.  An act that was picked up by a circuit could expect to be on the road, moving from theater to theater, for 40+ weeks a year.  Keith-Albee and Orpheum eventually merged, and morphed into RKO Pictures, which is with us today.

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