Over this week, early Doug collaborator Brian Lumley is going to be sharing more memories of Doug and, specifically, his time with The Magic Show. Enjoy!
Metamorphosis by Brian Lumley
The average person would not believe the level or intensity of the screw ups we had running The Magic Show. Especially in the beginning. On the other hand, if you are an experienced magician maybe you would.
The Magic Show was different from most shows of its day. It started and opened on Broadway at the end of the theatre season. Most shows started on the road, so the bugs could be shaken out of the performances and the staging. This allowed them to come into New York with a show fresh and ready to go when the Broadway show season opened at the end of the summer. For The Magic Show, this work had to be done in front of the main audience.
The Broadway audience was much riskier to do something like this with. The NYC audience was considered the most sophisticated in the country. Every audience had producers, directors and casting agents in them scouting the cast. Every performance the actors were auditioning for their next big chance. David Ogden Stiers is a prime example. He starred as Feldman the Magnificent in The Magic Show just before he landed his role in MASH.
A screwup on stage during the early performances could have a crippling effect. This is the time to make a legend and attract positive attention. Not to fall apart on stage and bring the curtain down. Rebound and recovery are mysterious arts of their own. They are a live actor’s emergency safety gear. Doug would constantly prove himself a master of these shadowed skills. Doug was never booed or discredited in my presence. Even when the illusions failed dramatically onstage, Doug got a warm applause at the end.
The big question for us during the first three weeks of the run was who was in charge of the magic backstage? Everybody in the theatre knew the average stagehand could not or did not want to deal with the built-in foibles of a magic act…Doug wanted us to handle the magic exclusively. But we Special Assistants (Glen Priest and I), were not IATSE members so the stagehands did not want us backstage.
The one person everybody trusted to evaluate the stage crews was a man named Charlie Zuckerman. Charlie had been working Broadway and its road shows as a props man since WW2. He knew everybody and everybody knew who he was. You either loved him or hated him…