On Broadway they wanted the “Bed of Horrors” bigger with longer teeth. This meant extending the four posts 4’ at the top and replacing the spikes with new ones 12” long. Now the top had to drop further, slide over a new seam, land smoothly and level, plunging the spikes through the bed for an ideal completion. Of course, this didn’t happen with any regularity, and there was nothing we could pinpoint as the cause of the problems.
Sometimes it would jam part way down. Sometimes it would make it down the post but land off centre with some of the spikes sticking through the holes and some sticking into the bed itself. The spikes missing the holes were taken care of by drilling larger holes in the bed, but the post and sleeve balancing and alignment was next to the ultimate frustration. The extra height meant that a winch had to be added, and the safety releases had to become part of the act. More things to get in the way, and in the way they got.
To perform this illusion in The Magic Show the onstage assistants wore “Goon” costumes with peaked hoods that covered their faces. Like the Shadow costumes, they could only see through two small eye holes. Performing this illusion was a complicated setup for them — they had to dance downstage with the unit, then seize the magician and lock him onto the bed. Next, (they had to) display the chained performer 360° by spinning the unit with him on it. Then they danced “Horrors” back upstage, set the unit, drew the curtains, and released the performer.
Once the magician was out of harms way, they had to clear the safeties and finally deal with the releases. These detailed exacting motions added stress to the dancer’s responsibilities. They had to handle and operate the illusion in a specific order without the assistance of the magician, while still making the performance look good. The dancers mastered this illusion, and took it on as their piece.
The situation with the “Bed of Horrors” became very testy on Broadway because Doug’s claim and reputation as the Magical Director was threatened. Being in control of his part of the show was a very important position to maintain for his future plans. The pressure fell on me to make this unit function properly.
I worked on this illusion every day; problems with the unit would follow me with every incarnation of it. The only thing I could think of was getting it square and in alignment with itself. I experimented with lubrication, wires, turnbuckles, and excessive use of a 12-pound sledgehammer. I had the steel ringing so loud in the Cort Theatre one summer’s day in 1974 that Doug had to come out and tell me to stop because he couldn’t meditate.
The “Bed of Horrors” caused trouble wherever it went.
“Horrors” was the most depressing illusion of the show for a long time. Even the stagehands felt some empathy for me. They were glad it wasn’t them that was dealing with it and the problems it caused. I always felt nervous about the magician having to end up under the spikes jammed part way down the posts to finish the illusion. Sometimes Doug would do this if it jammed high enough. This jam occurred several times, and was not appreciated by anybody. On the national tour, Peter DePaula refused to sit under it when it jammed, and came around from the back of the illusion. I can’t blame him.
I couldn’t believe the reactions of Jackie O.’s security team when she came on June 20, 1974. The first time they inspected the backstage the spiked piece was down. It looked innocuous to them then. Once loaded with the spikes eight feet in the air it was a different story. They didn’t want it performed because it looked too menacing.
Doug explained to them that every real magic show has a frightening, death-defying illusion in it. This was an important part of the performance as there were dance and song numbers leading up to and during the illusion. He threatened to stop the show if it didn’t go on. That night, Horrors cooperated.
To Be Concluded…
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.