SPOOKSTERS OF MAGIC PAST AND PRESENT
Walter Hudson 1972
by Walter Hudson
From the mid 1940's through the early 1950's the Midnight Ghost Show was in its heyday. A well staged show earned its operator several thousand dollars a week providing he was able to endure the rat race of one night stands and the noisy, wild teenage audiences who were constantly seeking to have the"yell" scared out of them.
For two years I endured as an assistant to Ray-Mond the illusionist who had one of the most successful Ghost Shows ever to tour the United States.
The live Ghost Show as we knew it is now part of theatrical and magical history. I thought a discussion of this phase of the magic illusion show would be of interest to TOPS readers and so in this series I'll relate the staging of the Ghost Show, booking it, and some of the experiences encountered working in one.
It all started for me with this classified advertisement:
WANTED: YOUNG MAN ASSISTANT
FOR TRAVELING MAGIC SHOW.
NO EXP. NEC. WILL TRAIN, RAY-MOND
When I read the ad I had visions of working a large magic show similar to Bill Neffs or Blackstones. You can imagine my disappointment when I found out ours was a Ghost and Horror Show playing one night stands and at midnight!
I was not disappointed for long, because the next two years turned out to be the most enjoyable and unusual I would ever spend. And Ray-Mond was a great person and performer to work with.
Before describing the Ray-Mond show of the 40's and 50's, a few words about Ghost or Spook Shows in general.
Spook Shows gained considerable popularity in the late 1930's. however, the shows of that era were NOT the same as those big money makers of the 40's and 50's. The earlier shows appealed mainly to an audience in their late teens and early twenties. They were usually staged in a more dignified manner than the later ones. The pre-World War II show was an outgrowth of mentalism and spiritualism as staged by the performer. Early Ghost Show operators were Jack J. Clifford, Elwyn, Ja Clare (Jay Clarke), Marquist, and Boscart.
Their shows usually started on a serious note with a brief opening lecture. This was followed by demonstrations of psychic powers, mindreading, experiments in ESP, clairvoyance, etc. The next part of the program often demonstrated hypnosis, and was usually "faked." It was during this part of the act that several comedy situations were worked in and "spook" talk began. The performer might include a rope tie trick or a spirit cabinet routine.
The final part of the program consisted of a complete blackout, where, in the total darkness of the theater, ghosts would suddenly appear and vanish on the stage and over the heads of the audience; the rattling of chains and bones would lead to the appearance of skeletons. After three to five minutes of this the lights would come on and the performer would bid good night and the film show would begin; it was usually a "B" rated horror film.
What a contrast to the shows of the late 40's and 50's! Ghost Shows seemed to die out during the war years and when they were revived following the war what a metamorphosis took place! The audiences were much younger. The appeal had to be to the 14 to 17 year olds; the junior and high school crowd. Many of these kids had never seen a stage show. They wanted action...none of the psychic mindreading bit. Ghost meant HORROR, not tame Halloween spooks.
There had been probably a hundred horror films made during the war years and these pictures, made by Universal and Monogram studios, reintroduced the kids to Dracula and the Frankenstein monster. It introduced them to the Mummy, mad doctors, wild apes and gorillas. These were the things that the kids thought of as synonymous with fright. These were the characters that the magicians, who operated the Ghost Shows of the post war years, introduced into their acts. The Midnight Spook Show became the Midnight Horror Show.
With the addition of the monsters and vampires, the old opening lectures were scrapped by the majority of magicians. The kids wanted action and most of the time the crowd was rowdy and the faster the action began the more successful the show. Many magicians failed to realize this fact and tried to give their audiences a 45 minute regular magic and illusion show with about 5 minutes of blackout at the end, only to find out their shows were flops and often the kids went wild and tore up the seats and threw things at the stage and the screen. These shows turned out to be nightmares for the magician. More than one manager refused to book another Ghost Show because the first was so bad and cost him money in theater repairs.
Successful Ghost-Horror Shows of the post-war years included Dr. Silkini (Jack Baker), Bill Neff, McCarl Roberts, Dantini and Ray-Mond, to name a few. Bob Nelson was the first person to present a Ghost Show over radio in 1947. This C.B.S. network show did much to publicize this form of entertainment and helped Ghost Show magicians throughout the country.
Ray-Mond realized his old illusion show, which he had successfully used for years, would have to go. all his illusions were revamped with a horror theme. Most of the Ghost Show magicians were using one or two assistants. Ray-Mond would use four, two girls and two boys. There would be several costume changes and all the monsters would be included. The audiences wanted to be shocked and Ray-Mond's Illusion-Horror Show was going to do it!!
|Copyright @ Abbott Magic Co., All Rights Reserved