Friends, a little earlier today the Retroist made an announcement, down here in the Vault. It appears that Harry Anderson passed away today at age 65. I have to tell you in all honesty, I sat here in the control booth and had to fight back some tears. You see, Harry Anderson was indeed a role model for me in my youth. Thanks to his role as Judge Harold T. Stone in the hit NBC series, Night Court. I became a huge fan of magic, stylish hats, and of course the crooning of Mel Torme.
I truly idolized Anderson. I attempted to adopt his sense of humor in interviews and roles on television. As well as his style of clothing, soon after entering Junior High School, I was always sporting a fedora. Even his hair style is something I attempted to copy. My Family barber was rather taken aback when I brought in a photo of Anderson, asking him to style my hair in a similar fashion.
I suppose it was Harry Anderson’s craft in stage magic or illusion that endeared him to me the most. I was certainly surprised that I never caught any of his 8 appearances on Saturday Night Live. However I did manage to see him perform a few times on The Tonight Show. Like in this 1987 episode, where he entertains Johnny Carson and the audience with a levitation trick. One that was developed by Daniel Dunglas Home, an 19th century physical medium.
Kudos to Johnny Carson of course in that clip for knowing how to go to commercial in style. One of the things I also appreciated about Harry Anderson was his honesty. He never shied away from talking about his days as a con man. A street magician at the tender age of 17. A fast-talker much like the character he played in Cheers. All in all, he appeared in 6 episode as Harry ‘The Hat’ Gittes between 1982 and 1993.
From his roles in the 1988 remake of The Absent-Minded Professor, Tales from the Crypt, Stephen King’s It, as well as Dave’s World. I followed Anderson through them all and was always entertained. It’s hard to lose an idol but at the very least we have so many of his performances left behind to enjoy. Obviously we will dim the lights in the Vault’s auditorium in his honor.
Take a moment and enjoy Harry Anderson explaining how card tricks work. In addition while on the set of Night Court!
I know we’re all thinking about Christmas TV specials right now. Those of us who have stopped thinking about Halloween Christmas specials are, anyway. But there were other specials on TV besides the Christmas and Halloween ones. There were also the non-holiday-related David Copperfield TV specials.
I don’t know how many of these specials there were nor over how many years they aired (Ann Gillian says they have been airing for nine years in one of the videos below), but I do know that I watched and love several of them. Here are my favorites:
The flying special. I wondered for years how Copperfield pulled this one off. Even knowing (thanks to this video), I still think this is one of the best presented illusions ever.
I’m not sure which one this was, but I remembered this segment. I think it was the opening of the show, and I always think of it rather than Footloose anytime I hear “Holding Out For A Hero”.
I was kind of disappointed in the Alcatraz special because David clearly used staged illusions rather than real escape techniques. That was my uninformed opinion, anyway, and even if it isn’t legitimate, I still remained slightly disappointed in this one. I still remember it, though.
The disappearance of the Statue of Liberty blew my mind. So did Morgan Fairchild.
The Retroist has shared quite a few embarrassing stories from his childhood with us in the podcast, and I thought it was time for me to do the same. When I was in grade school (maybe 3rd grade?), I did a magic act for our school talent show. I went on stage and performed a few tricks. I had no costume, no repartee with the crowd, and no real talent, and I accordingly got no applause. Not from my fellow students. Not even from the teachers. The auditorium was deathly silent as I stumbled my way through my act and even more silent as I took my bow and sat down. It remains one of my greatest shames to date. What possessed me to do such a foolhardy thing? Spooky Tricks by Rose Wyler and Gerald Ames.
Spooky Tricks was a book I had somehow gotten my hands on in those young days. It blended two things I was quite fond of: magic and ghosts. The book not only instructed you how to perform some simple tricks, but it illustrated these instructions with some very evocative pictures of specters and other spooky things.
I recently acquired a copy of this book. I hadn’t remembered that it was “An I CAN READ Book” (and I was really surprised when I discovered it was), but I had remembered just about everything in it. I found memories on every page. There are things from this book I still do today, such as put a tube to one eye so I can see “holes” in my hand. There are too many pages I remembered to show here, but this is a small sampling.
There was also a ghost helper called Willie who featured in several of the tricks, and a two-headed ghost who popped up in the beginning and end. They were more charming than scary, and I stared at their pictures for long amounts of time.
Looking at Spooky Tricks today, I think it is a strange thing to give kids. Even though it isn’t dripping with evil, it is still a little off in its talk of spooks and death (there is one trick in which you “stop” your pulse), and I probably wouldn’t give it to my daughter. I’m glad nobody stopped me from getting it back then, though. I’m glad I had it. I just wish it hadn’t convinced me to do that magic act.
Find a lot more great scans from Spooky Trickshere.
I had a real thing for toy “friends” when I was around 10 or 11. I wanted an E.T. I wanted a Gizmo. I wanted a Rub-a-Dub Doggie. I wanted a Fizzgig (even though I’m not sure one was ever made). I wanted all these toy characters not just because they were popular items at the time but because I really thought they would be friends. I thought if I got an E.T. or Gizmo, it would talk with me, pal around with me, maybe even lead me on grand adventures. It was inevitable, then, that I would want a Magic Wiggly Worm as soon as I saw one by the check-out counter of our local drug store.
Magic Wiggly Worms went by all sorts of names (as you can see in the picture above, which calls it a “Magic Twisty Worm”), but they were all the same basic toy: a colored piece of soft pipe cleaner fabric (Hot Pink Heather says it is chenille) with two eyes and a long nose. Pretty un-special. What made it so enticing, though, was the packaging’s promise that it would slither all over my hands and arms. Why would it slither? Because it was sentient, of course! It was self-aware! It had intelligence! And that meant it could be a friend, the kind of friend I was always searching the toy aisles for.
As it turns out, the Magic Wiggly Worm wasn’t sentient at all. It just had a piece of fishing line attached to its snout. That line was nearly invisible, so you could pull it around your fingers to make it look as though the worm were moving. I was pretty disappointed to discover that. I was even more disappointed by the fact that I could never master it. I could never make the worm move around my fingers or anything else. I could only drag him across the floor.
So the Magic Wiggly Worm was yet another in a long series of unfriendly friend toys. But that didn’t keep him from find some small place in my life. I carried him to school for awhile in my backpack, and I’d play with him every so often. No, he didn’t have the magic or the sentience I thought he would, but he did have something I found lovable. Maybe it was the eyes.
The Masters of Mischievous Magic bring their illusion/bacon fat based comic stylings to a very 1980s Comic Relief (just check out the mustache on Robin Williams). The most amazing and magical thing is this video has to be Penn’s hair.