The “Bed of Horrors” was a bad dream come true — it just would not work with any guarantee. The canopy slid down the four posts guided by four sleeves of square tubing about a foot long welded to the corners of the canopy frame. This action was inconsistent. The sleeves had a clearance of about one-quarter-inch all way around the posts. The gap was shimmed with Teflon pieces for slipperiness, but this did not work all the time. If anything was slightly off square the canopy jammed.
“Horrors” always released the magician. But, the spiked canopy would jamb 50% of the time as it slid down the posts, and never in the same place or the same way. The unit was well made, but not quite rigid square and plumb. It would flex in and out of square as it moved or something was not inline, probably a combination of both. Being on wheels and not triangulated it would shift and spring. We had cables and turnbuckles all over the place, except where we needed them in the front and back. In the front, they obscured the view for the audience, and in the back, they were in the magician’s way. The cable bracing could not do the job, and was removed.
The first time we performed the “Bed of Horrors” in Spellbound was the December 19th preview. We demonstrated it at the beginning of the show by dropping it on to a cardboard cut out shaped like a man. The cardboard stuck to the spikes like a piece of wood full of nails. The Shadows pounded it off the spikes in front of the audience then they showed them the holes. It looked like a target from a shooting range.
This first performance of Spellbound was about two-and-a-half hours long. Several things had to be cut, and that display was the first.
Maya, the Goddess of Magic, rode the unit out on stage sitting on the illusion’s top crown. She was perched on it throughout the illusion performance. Our magician would speak to her, and she would answer with hand signals. She had to hang on tight. When the canopy landed, the whole unit jumped and shook.
Doug wanted a dramatic burn with a candle to the release rope. This method took far too long. It took so much time, Doug and I had full conversations while the rope was burning. For the first performance the burn was so slow he told me to blow on it. I lifted my hood, started blowing and the audience broke into laughter. I was told to stop, and put my hood back down. There went the drama.
We tried wax then naphtha gas on the rope, but they both caused a large flame making it a fire hazard. Doug loved the drama of the burning rope. So, it was kept as part of the act for a couple of shows, until it was proven undesirable.
Finally, the candle was nixed, and replaced with a pull knot. But, not before the performance where Doug had to scramble. The last time we tried burning turned into a near miss. The rope holding the canopy had been made so thin (so it would burn quicker) that it let go too soon. He had to dart out of the way and almost fell off the unit. Safety for this illusion was in its infancy, and there was no emergency locking mechanism. From that point on, the safety bars were left in until the magician was in the clear.
To Be Continued…
Special Thanks to Brian Lumley
Magic Show Splash Page Photo:
Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. “The Magic Show, 1974 May” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1974.