Martin Lewis, we’d last worked together in the early 70s at Earthquake McGoon’s in San Francisco. Martin was an excellent entertainer and went on to do cruise ships and open for Debbie Reynolds in Lake Tahoe. Martin was also an inventor, craftsman, and a knowledgable historian when it came to vintage parlor apparatus. In the 90s he got married and settled into a pleasant domestic situation in Riverside, California – where he produced a fine line of exclusive props sold under the Magikraft Studios banner, the same name as a UK company started in the mid 1930s by his father Eric Lewis. As a teen I knew Eric – also an outstanding performer, craftsman, and historian – who way back when, introduced me to his talented son Martin. Artists beget artists as locksmiths often beget locksmiths. Before passing in 2022, Martin Lewis published Making Magic, an up-to-date book detailing all his marketed material and routines, chronicling a lifetime of magical achievements. I highly recommend it. Although Martin visited Magicopolis a few times, our contact had diminished over the years, and by 2017 we had lost touch entirely. It was time to change that. I needed Martin’s help.
“Who is this?”
I rolled my eyes. Surely Martin hadn’t forgotten me, we’d known each other fifty years.
“Steve Spill, your only true friend.”
This was followed by a pause that made me think the phone had gone dead, but Martin broke the silence.
“It’s been a while.”
“Yeah, when was the last time I saw you, two, three years ago?” I asked.
“I haven’t heard from you in seven years,” Martin confirmed. “Does my pal Spill call me to just shoot the breeze? Nah. Why are you calling me now? Did someone die?”
“No, no, everyone’s alright. Hey, Martin, easy. I know I was lame at keeping in touch, but it’s a two-way street, my friend. I haven’t heard boo from you either.”
Martin continued to bust my balls, and was enjoying it.
“Did you invite me to the Magicopolis 20th Anniversary Show? No, too much trouble. Great way to maintain our friendship, amigo.”
“Okay, Martin, I’m guilty. It’s all my fault. Can we move on now?”
“What do you want?”
“I’m looking for some help, for old times’ sake. If you won’t do it for me, I understand. All a guy can do is…”
“What do you need?”
“Have you heard of the TV show Storage Wars?”
“The one where buyers bid on abandoned storage lockers without knowing what they’ll get.”
“That’s the one. I’m doing the show next week. One of the regulars gotta magic collection, I’m supposed to put a dollar value on what they bought.”
“So what do you need me for?”
“The producers sent me some photos. There’s a vintage-looking item I’m not familiar with. I thought you might help me identify what it is and what it’s worth.”
“I’ll do it.”
“Meet me for dinner tonight and we’ll talk. Market Broiler. Riverside. 8PM.”
Riverside is in the Inland Empire about 75 miles southeast from where I was as we spoke, at the urban coast known as Santa Monica. It was a shlep, but I trekked out to Martin’s favorite Riverside eatery. During the delectable seafood dinner we talked about our futures and our funniest memories together. Martin helped me with my work assignment, casually informing me about the prop I didn’t recognize and its worth with a sorta steely competence. We had a blast. I’ll always be happy that I once knew Martin Lewis. I wasn’t one of his close friends, but when I was with him, Martin made me feel like one of his close friends. There was no doubt that it might be quite a long time until we’d get together again. But I had no idea it would be forever. That was our last supper.
I’m asked a lot what the best part of being a magician is.
And it is this:
To be a part of a subculture where everyone is eager to help their brethren, even those members one has never met. To be part of a historical continuum, a secret society with it own language and customs. To enjoy the instant gratification of spreading astonishment and laughter.
I’ve been hustling a nicely paid living outta this life for a long time. For me, being a magician has been a forever love affair, with moments both sublime and ridiculous. And like a love affair, looking back you remember the happy times best – the things that drew you in, attracted you in the first place, and keep you interested.
Do you know what this is?
The Flying Cage is a classic effect which was a feature in many 19th century acts, including Chung Ling Soo. This one was manufactured in the late 1800s by the Joseph Bland Company.
Also known as The Mystic Box and The Fairy Cage & Box, this iconic piece of apparatus is a must-have for any collection of antique magic.
These seldom appear for sale, and are often missing pieces. This one is complete. And the effect is a fooler.
The performer displays a decorative pedestal stand with an open square frame at the top, together with a separate box that has a hinged lid. Inside the pedestal frame is a bird cage. The cage is removed and shown all around, as the skeletal pedestal frame may be examined by a spectator.
The lid of the other box is opened and the performer removes a large cloth. The box is shown completely empty and the lid closed again.
The performer now covers the birdcage with the cloth and lifts it back to the pedestal frame where it is dropped back inside with an audible clank.
A wand is waved or a shot is fired, and when the drape is removed the pedestal frame is now completely empty! The cage is gone. The cloth may be tossed to the audience.
The performer reopens the lid to the other box and slowly removes the solid birdcage from within. A miracle.
Magician/mentalist Joseph Heller originally designed this, but it was stolen by several other magicians who featured it in their acts. Heller, or “JoJo” as his friends called him, died penniless as a result, choking on a pickled herring at his son-in-law’s bris in 1878.
Due to A&E Networks copyright policy I’m unable to post a video clip. For those who’d like to take a gander at my stint on Storage Wars, it can be viewed online. Season 10, episode 24 – 666: The Sign of the Profit.