The Bed of Horrors: Part Four
©2020 Brian H. Lumley
Another “Bed of Horrors” came from Owens for The Magic Show national tour. It had the same set of problems as the original unit. All the changes that were made for the Broadway illusion were incorporated into the design of this piece, but it still jammed half the time.
January 1975. During a dark day of the national tour at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven Connecticut, I was working on the road “Horrors” backstage. Meanwhile, the dancers were on the deck going over some fancy moves and choreography. For some reason, they couldn’t keep their footing. They were slipping and sliding all over the place and constantly being berated by Grover, the director.
I was backstage at the same time doing a combination of adjusting, hammering, and lubricating the unit with aerosol silicone then dropping it over and over again. It still jammed about fifty percent of the time.
None of us were having a good day. I was frustrated that the unit wouldn’t fall properly. Grover was frustrated with the dancers. The dancers were frustrated that they couldn’t get their steps and balance right. We were all getting tired of the noise I was making.
It was the usually glum, seventy-five-year-old house props man that saw what was happening. I didn’t realize it, but while spraying the unit, I was lubricating the stage with the overspray. He had been watching the whole incident from the side and figured it out a lot faster than I did. Of course he thought it was a riot, something Charlie Chaplin would dream up. I found him doubled over with laughter beside a leg drape. One of his comments was; “You made me laugh so hard I thought I was about to have a heart attack.” I had made a real mess of the floor, but he was my friend and had what I needed to cleanse the stage.
Once the deck was wiped free of silicone then washed with a mixture of water, wax and Coca-Cola; the hoofers tried it again. Now they could move like deer across the stage. Everybody was impressed with their movements. Now everybody liked what they were doing, and they looked very good.
In the end, Grover and his terpsichorean team were so relieved to find out it was me and the silicone that was making them look bad, they took me out to dinner that night. I was grateful they had a good sense of humor. The truth was the dancers had to work so hard to correct for the slipping they improved their performances.
I wish I could have said the same about “Horrors.” It still jammed half the time. I didn’t get a complete silver lining in my cloud that day, but I made an old man that never smiled laugh.
By late April of 1975, we had both the Broadway and touring units under control. Finally, the illusion settled in, the square & plumb aligned, the flexing seemed to adjust itself and the unit worked well and consistently. By the beginning of that summer, the “Bed of Horrors” had become so regular everybody forgot that it took a year and a half of constant aggravation to get it to cooperate.
The Broadway dancers used to love whipping this menacing device around the stage. The casters I put on were good quality and allowed for free movement. They would skate the piece down so close to the front of the stage it would make the audience in the first rows jump. I jumped the first time I watched the illusion come thundering down the stage at me. “Horrors” was very effective in the context it was performed.
It was a very satisfying moment when we realized they were both working flawlessly, but I still kept my eye on them. Neither the home illusion nor the road unit gave us any more technical problems after the spring of 1975.
At one point while I was on the road, the Broadway unit either dropped or threw a spike. The tine was found sticking out of the hem of one of the stage legs on stage right. It was protruding from a hole that was used to load the chain at the bottom of the curtain trim. It is understandable that the spike entered the larger hole, but how? If the skewer was thrown by the bed landing it flew across the stage, because the unit was performed on stage left. A simple answer is that one of the stage hands found the spike, thought it was a curtain weight and slipped it in with the chain. Nobody knew when it happened, it is a mystery to this day. The “Bed of Horrors” truly deserved its name.
The “Bed of Horrors” was a monster. It caused lots of trouble, but it looked very good when staged properly. Does this sound like a “magician’s curse” to you?
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.