Magic in Los Angeles

peg1-stars-hollywood-signWhen I first moved to Los Angeles as a bright-eyed 20-year-old, I was looking for magic. The perfect surfaces I saw in movies screened in warm theatres on cold Midwestern nights seemed real to me, and I could live amongst them, if only I travelled West. So I did. I packed up my tin can of a car with all my worldly goods, drove through a mountain rainstorm/landslide in the Rockies, and by some small miracle, arrived in the City of Angels in one piece. What I discovered, over the next few years, was that my promised land of milk and honey was really one of smoke and mirrors.

I have to laugh at the me of 10 years ago. What did I expect? That people just happen to age better in Hollywood? That the sets in movies are real? That Los Angeles is a pristine locus amoenus? My naïveté must have censored out the reality of plastic surgeons, building façades and litter-lined gutters. But I quickly learned about the space behind the curtain, and LA became my beloved real home for 6 years.

On a trip back to California from my home in England this month, a friend invited me to witness some real magic in an old mansion in Hollywood. From a European perspective, “vintage Los Angeles” may seem like an oxymoron, but I believe that vintage is in the eye of the beholder. Plus, a 100-year-old castle in Los Angeles is old. I’m speaking of the Magic Castle, which is a Chateauesque mansion nestled in the Hollywood Hills that houses the Academy of Magical Arts. This is a prestigious private club where some of the world’s top magicians perform nightly for lucky guests who have been invited by a member magician of the club. In LA, it’s all about having “friends of friends,” and on this particular evening, I was in.

The Magic Castle

The Magic Castle

The structure itself was built in 1909 and was modelled after the Kimberly Crest House in Redlands, California. Its journey from mere mansion to Magic Castle started in 1961, when two brothers, performers Milt and William Larsen (Jr.), leased the castle and turned it into a magic headquarters of sorts. In 1962, William Jr. created a non profit corporation, and POOF!…the Magic Castle was born.

Castle interior

Castle interior

In order to enter the club, we stood in front of a façade bookshelf wall and whispered the magic words before the wall slid open, revealing a lush interior of mahogany woodwork and vintage relics. After we ordered a few drinks at the bar, we made our way into one of the smaller theatres, which held around 20 people. I’ve always been a fan of spectacle – before my turn at the Castle, I would have chosen the big stage shows – but I am a changed woman after seeing Chris Korn perform in the close-up gallery. I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of his “assistants” (I think the bright yellow dress I was wearing had something to do with that), so I was sitting 2 feet away from him the whole time. The trick that I most remember went as such:

He asked an audience member for a $1 bill, on which he requested I write my name and the date. I surrendered the $1 bill to him, and he made it disappear (keep in mind, I’m inches away from him and am scrutinizing his every move). He then produced a lime, which I inspected and verified. It was an ordinary lime with no cuts or marks. As he cut into the lime with a knife, I watched as the juice poured out, and he only cut around the sides (so there was no opportunity for him to open the lime and sneak anything in). He presented me with the lime and asked me to twist off the top. When I did, embedded into the fleshy centre of the lime was my $1 bill.

This is what I was paid for assisting Chris Korn.

This is what I was paid for assisting Chris Korn.

I was shocked, amazed, baffled…I was impressed. For me, it was magic, but what I appreciated almost as much was his showmanship. He was a genuinely entertaining person to watch; there is no doubt that he is a true artist, as are the other magicians who roamed the Castle, ambling up to you in the bar and blowing your mind with the turn of a card. One such gem of a man is Bill Joslin, who I met towards the end of the evening. This is a man with stories, and he effortlessly wows you with his deck of cards while he tells you of his time in Vegas. Forty years ago. With Frank Sinatra. I could listen to this man talk forever and probably would have stayed until Neil Patrick Harris (the President of the Academy of Magical Arts) mobilised a security team to drag me out of there. But my husband got there first. He probably knew I was getting ready to ask this lovely man to marry me.

We departed Los Angeles the next morning on an international flight back to England, but I left my former home with the discovery that magic really does exist. Whether it’s in the form of seeing old friends and realising that 8 years doesn’t change friendship, finding beauty in the cracks of a façade, or recognising a true artist tucked in the corner of an old mansion, the magic is there. And even if 100 years isn’t very old for my European friends, I refer you to my definition for vintage: Of lasting interest and importance.

When we’re gone, I do believe what remains is magic.

Photos are not allowed inside the Magic Castle, but I took a sneaky selfie in the ladies room.

Photos are not allowed inside the Magic Castle, but I had to take a sneaky selfie in the ladies room.

2 Responses to “Magic in Los Angeles”
  1. It doesn’t matter what you write Marie, I love to read it. I know I’ve said it before but it takes me anew every time. You have a wonderful (and seemingly effortless??) way with words that makes a topic that I might have otherwise breezed over, enthralling. I’m really glad you enjoyed your visit home,will you be vintage-framing that dollar bill? 😀

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