Steve Short at the Modern Mystic League
Reviewed by Brian Lead
A near-capacity audience assembled for Anne Walmsley’s MML President’s Day, members being augmented by friends and family as well as special guests Debbie and Irene – the niece and step-sister of Johnny Hart, who was to provide the main focus of the afternoon.
We welcomed back (for his fourth visit) Steve Short with his lecture on ‘Johnny Hart – International Star of Magic’, based upon his book of the same name which has received five-star reviews.
The glittering career of Johnny, of course, is of particular relevance to the Modern Mystic League, as Johnny was allowed to join the club under age in 1959 following a stunning display of magic skill, and went on to become the first Young Magician of the Year, established by the Magic Circle in 1961.
Steve displayed documents relating to Johnny’s early life before tracing his rise to international stardom, inspired by Channing Pollock and promoted by Harry Stanley. Before long, he was appearing on the iconic ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ in America, returning on six more occasions; usually with his animals but once with his dancing cane and Zombie.
Steve has sourced rare clips of Johnny’s television appearances, including those with David Nixon and on the ‘Good Old Days’, and it was a pleasure to witness again his natural charisma and immediate engagement with the audience. It was also a delight to hear the story of Larna Sneezum, the girl who wrote to say he should have a female assistant and ended up on stage with him herself in that capacity without any previous experience, ultimately becoming his wife. Their subsequent family of a girl and three boys was further extended by a menagerie of numerous budgies, a cat, a cockatoo and four dogs, all of whom found a place in the act.
True to the title, Johnny Hart became an international star, working in the Paris Lido as the Gay Deceiver and performing at the prestigious MGM Hotel in Reno for two years. At the Cirkus Schuman in Copenhagen he was driven into the ring in his Rolls Royce, and he later had a Bentley, an Excalibur (registration J HART) and a Volvo, which he would vanish along with a motor bike; so he wasn’t solely a manipulator.
Steve spoke of Johnny’s season at the Magic Castle in London with Zee, and showed film of his highly original ‘double sawing’ illusion which resulted in the tops and bottoms of the two girls changing places, as witnessed by the colours of their bikinis. This version we saw was in a performance with Michael Barrymore, shamelessly but fruitlessly trying to up-stage the master.
But Johnny really came into his own with more intimate items. He could produce budgerigars at his fingertips like billiard balls, and in one lovely David Nixon sequence he replicated Nixon’s use of a clockwork budgie with one of his own real birds to locate a chosen card.
This was a wonderful afternoon, thoroughly enjoyed by all, including several guests from a nearby care home who recalled many of the acts mentioned.
Steve himself has an engaging delivery, and managed to include a couple of tricks of his own in what proved to be another memorable event, further enhanced by a celebration buffet. Chairman Roger Woods concluded the day by expressing thanks to both Steve and Anne on behalf of all present.
© Brian Lead, November 2018