SPOOKSTERS OF MAGIC PAST AND PRESENT
Silkini Asylum Of Horrors
by Walter Hudson
The haunting magic month of October has passed us once again and we have several spooky bits to share with you.
One of the best known and most widely traveled spook shows in the country was Jack Baker's "Dr. Silkini's Asylum of Horrors." At one time he had seven units on the road, each hosted by a well known magician or actor.
In a recent conversation, he recalled a time in the 1940's when the Asylum was playing several dates in New York City. One night after a performance Blackstone, and a scout from the Shubert Theater Enterprise came backstage and wanted Jack to do a legitimate Broadway play with his Frankenstein's monster character. Baker was doing so well financially with his spook revue he turned down the offer.
Last October he had a chance to appear with a legitimate play. . .for one night . . .and he came out of semi-retirement to do it. David Richmond who, with Jack Hall, authored the Off-Broadway hit "The Passion of Dracula," contacted Jack and asked him to appear one night after the regular performance at the Cherry Lane Theater. Jack did and as Dr. Silkini he wowed them with the old spook stuff!
David Richmond had played the part of Dracula for several seasons with the Silkini Asylum of Horrors, and now stars in this N.Y. production. A London edition of "Passion of Dracula" opened Aug. 23 at the Queen's Theatre with George Chakaris in the title role. There are currently two Dracula plays in N.Y., one on Broadway and the other Off-Broadway. Both productions have received rave reviews from the critics and are in their second season.
Baker recalls an unusual incident which happened in N.Y. back in the 1950's. He needed someone to play the monster so he was more than pleased to hire a young man who wandered backstage one night looking for a job. Two weeks later the show was playing the Century Theater in Baltimore when an F.B.I, agent came backstage and asked all sorts of questions about the newly hired monster. The agent requested Baker to keep quiet about the investigation. Three weeks later the F.B.I, returned and arrested the man who was later charged with espionage.
Baker remembers the war years as being the most difficult to play. The main reason was the gas shortage and he had to cut down on personnel as he had only one car he could use. He and his wife, Margie, would pack the back of the car with props and play small towns. Just before show time he would go out in front of the theater and walk up and down the ticket line until he spotted a tall young man. He'd approach the guy and ask to talk to him privately for a few minutes. He would offer him a job on the spot for the one date. So the guy who came to see the Frankenstein monster ended up being the star of the show for the night.
There are hundreds of unusual incidents that Jack could tell and at 64 years of age he is still eager to return to the road with one last tour of his Asylum of Horrors. Here's hoping he does.
Real blood flowed Halloween night at Westgate Mall, Spartanburg, South Carolina, complete with Dracula making sure each victim held nothing back. Actually, victims were donors to the Red Cross blood bank, recipients of the usual orange juice post-bleeding and of the less usual opportunity to shake hands with and be photographed beside Dracula.
The Promotion was the idea of Mary McCrary, mall promotion director, who said the local blood bank representative came to ask for use of the mall's community booth. "We started joking around, and I suggested we should draw blood on Halloween and call it Dracula Night." There was a man in nearby Greenville, South Carolina that McCrary hoped to hire for the Dracula role. "I understand he puts 100 per cent into the part, even to the point of having a local dentist install realistic fangs."
You've heard about T.V. spin-offs. That is where the character of one program is used to start a new series. Well, I feel a little like the producer of the original show must feel when a spin-off turns out to be a hit. Several years ago I did a series in TOPS called, MURDER AND MAYHEM AT MIDNIGHT. This started as a three part article on spook shows. Reader response was so encouraging the series ran for a full year! Even today we occasionally get comments on the articles. At a magic convention recently Karrell Fox suggested I put the series out in book form. I am happy
to report there was one reader, Mark Walker, who was bitten by the "spook show bug" after reading the articles. He wrote to me and I sent him all the material I had. He became so interested he began doing research on the subject. Today, he probably knows more about the topic than anyone else. He has an enormous collection of spook show memorabilia and has just completed his first book on the subject, SPOOK SHOWS ON PARADE. It is fascinating reading about the bygone shows and each chapter in his book is written by the performer himself, or someone who played the show. Walker reports on the adventures of Valleau, Ray-Mond, Silkini, Francisco, Neff, and McGill. He includes dozens of illustrations and rare photos. Thirty two photos are full page and many have never appeared in print before. SPOOK SHOWS ON PARADE is a unique contribution to magical literature. This is a beautiful spiral bound book you will enjoy.
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