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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And now another in our occasional series of photo walls. These are collections of snapshots you might see posted on the walls of a small business. Today our photo wall curators, the father-daughter radio team Mal and Jennifer Sharpe, visit a site in Los Angeles that's known to magicians across the world.

Mr. MAL SHARPE (Photo Wall Curator): All right, Jennifer, this is mysterious. We're here in the foyer of the Magic Castle. This is like a private magician's club.

Ms. JENNIFER SHARPE (Photo Wall Curator): Yeah, well, the founders invited us in.

Mr. SHARPE: Where are they?

Ms. SHARPE: They told me to look at the bookcase and to say, "Open sesame."

(Soundbite of creaking)

Mr. SHARPE: The bookcase opened.

Ms. SHARPE: Hey.

Ms. BLAIR LARSEN: Hi. Welcome to the Magic Castle.

Mr. SHARPE: Yeah, who are you?

Ms. BLAIR LARSEN: I'm the outlaw, Blair Larsen. I just married into magic.

Mr. SHARPE: All right.

Ms. BLAIR LARSEN: Pleased to meet you. I wanted to introduce you to Princess Irene.

PRINCESS IRENE: Well, welcome to the Magic Castle. This is an honor having you here.

Mr. SHARPE: And you are?

Mr. LARSEN: I'm Milt Larsen.

Mr. SHARPE: You're one of the founders of the club.

Mr. LARSEN: That's me.

Mr. SHARPE: And you are?

Ms. BLAIR LARSEN: Dale Hindman.

Mr. SHARPE: Hi, Dale.

Mr. DALE HINDMAN (Magician): Hi.

Ms. SHARPE: Do you guys mind if I take some pictures of you?

PRINCESS IRENE: No. We thought you'd never ask.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHARPE: Well, I just wanted to describe: we are all wedged in a staircase. This photo wall is like -

Ms. LARSEN: It's the staircase that leads to the office.

Mr. SHARPE: So what's your favorite picture here.

Mr. LARSEN: Mine's up here. This is Marvin Roy, Mister Electric, who my grandfather trained. He started out doing an act all with light bulbs. His final trick was he would swallow eight little light bulbs and some string, and 40 light bulbs came out on the string, all lit. And that was his claim to fame.

Mr. SHARPE: But it was your grandfather, like, probably stuffed the first light bulb down his throat.

Mr. LARSEN: Yeah, yeah.

Ms. SHARPE: What's going on in this photo up here?

Mr. LARSEN: Oh, that's Richard Cardini.

PRINCESS IRENE: Cardini did the most fabulous act with cigarettes.

Ms. SHARPE: What was his cigarette thing?

PRINCESS IRENE: Well, he would just constantly produce lit cigarettes, and no one knew where they came from.

Mr. LARSEN: Was that his real name, Cardini? Oh, I mean they all go by that, you know, the Great Cardini, the Great Fakini, you know.

PRINCESS IRENE: Johnny Carson started out as a magician and he was the Great Carsoni.

Mr. LARSEN: There's another name I remember from my childhood and here's apicture of him in 1939, Mandrake the Magician.

Ms. SHARPE: He's got a cloud of cigarette smoke in front of his face.

Mr. SHARPE: Are magicians mysterious when you get to know them, Irene?

Princess IRENE: They're very mysterious.

Mr. SHARPE: Really; how?

Princess IRENE: They have this certain aura about them.

Ms. LARSEN: I wanted to point out some of the pictures of Irene as a magician's assistant back in the day.

Mr. SHARPE: You were one of these women who . . .

PRINCESS IRENE: Yes, whenever they needed an assistant then who did they call? You know, I've been sawed in half and levitated and you name it, you know. We get burned alive. We get twisted, you know.

MAL SHARPE: I have a question here though. The Chinese women here; was magic a big thing in China?

Mr. LARSEN: A lot of very wonderful magic came from China and there were magicians here in America who made a living pretending to be a Chinese act with the headdresses, the robes, and all of that.

Ms. SHARPE: There's just a lot of great mustaches on the wall.

PRINCESS IRENE: Magicians love mustache. Look at Milt.

Mr. SHARPE: Milt has a mustache.

Mr. LARSEN: I have a mustache.

Mr. SHARPE: What does it lend to magic?

Mr. LARSEN: Elegance, stature, handsomeness, all of that stuff, right?

Mr. HINDMAN: People that don't have mustaches are really nothing.

(Soundbite of people laughing)

Mr. HINDMAN: And I hate to say that about you, but it's a, you know.

Mr. SHARPE: There's a guy in some sort of an Indian outfit or something.

Mr. LARSEN: This is actually the Indian rope trick where the Indian magician would take a piece of rope that was limp and it would float up and then he would climb up the rope and he would vanish at the top of the rope.

MAL SHARPE: Who's this guy with the cigar and . . .

PRINCESS IRENE: Ernie Kovacs, you remember him?

Mr. HINDMAN: Mother's an agility in here getting her head chopped off.

Mr. SHARPE: By Ernie Kovacs?

Mr. HINDMAN: By Ernie Kovacs.

Mr. SHARPE: Did you ever have your head chopped off, Irene?

PRINCESS IRENE: Yes, many times. Many times. You keep very still.

Mr. SHARPE: And then when the chopping block comes down?

PRINCESS IRENE: Well, you let out this huge scream, and of course by some miracle your head is still on even though you can see the plate go through your neck.

Ms. SHARPE: I like this photo here with all these hoops and this woman with this kind of fluffy bouffant.

Mr. LARSEN: She's obviously almost like a Playboy Bunny type, and nobody really is watching the Chinese linking rings at that point, but . . .

Mr. SHARPE: Is the assistant there sometimes to distract?

Mr. LARSEN: Oh, absolutely.

Mr. SHARPE: Is that true, Irene? I mean sticking out your butt or something?

PRINCESS IRENE: Not so much the butt; the breasts. We stick out the breasts.

Mr. SHARPE: Really?

PRINCESS IRENE: Yeah, it's true.

Ms. LARSEN: There's a word for it. Tell him what the word is.

PRINCESS IRENE: Misdirection.

Mr. SHARPE: With your bosom?

PRINCESS IRENE: Right.

Ms. LARSEN: I want to say something about the assistants because Dante and I are producing a movie, a documentary called Women In Boxes. And we've interviewed over 20 assistants. We're digging for are there any catfights; have there been any? And it comes that the catfights are all the magicians are the prima donnas. And the women really, really care about each other.

Mr. SHARPE: So to get into the magic castle, what did we say to get in the door here?

Ms. SHARPE: Open sesame.

Mr. SHARPE: So what do you say when you want us to disappear?

Ms. LARSEN: Get the hell out.

(Soundbite of Music)

BRAND: Pictures of Mal and Jennifer Sharpe's visit to The Magic Castle in Los Angeles are at our Web site, NPR.org.

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