Gay Blackstone carries a name that has worked magic for more than 100 years. The widow of famed magician Harry Blackstone Jr., whose father was a contemporary of Harry Houdini in vaudeville, today serves as president of the Academy of Magical Arts Inc. The headquarters is the Magic Castle, a mansion perched above Hollywood. The building functions as a working museum of the art's long history. Blackstone first came to Los Angeles in the late 1960s as a dancer. After working in a Bob Hope USO show and as a "Goldigger" on "The Dean Martin Show," she became the stage assistant to her future husband. Since his death, she has led Blackstone Magik Enterprises, which produces corporate magic shows and acts as a consultant for TV productions and concert tours. The Magic Castle has five bars, a restaurant, and three theaters, and remains a private clubhouse people can't just show up and watch a show. A new corporate membership category now gives event planners the "Open Sesame" at the door.


Question: How did you get into the magic business?


Answer: My first magic was with Orson Welles on "The Dean Martin Show." I thought he was going to kill me.


Q: A scary person to work with?


A: He was so creative that he never did the same thing twice. I was petrified I was going to mess it up. I was immersed in a tank of solution in front of the audience and he stopped to talk to a producer. I knew that if I came bursting out, I would destroy the illusion and be killed and fired all at the same time. One of the stagehands finally thought about me and pushed me off stage. It seemed to me I was there for hours; it was probably five minutes. At that point, all 92 pounds of me told Mr. Welles he wasn't a very nice person. He started to laugh, and then stopped. He said I was right, that he wasn't considerate, and we became friends until his death. I went to Spain with him to make a film. I learned a lot from the man especially to make sure you have a contract.

Q: What was the turning point in your career?


A: When I did my first project with Harry, I discovered he was unlike any other performer in the world. He was first and foremost a communicator. Magic was only a premise for being on stage. I worked with him for three years before marrying him. If it hadn't been for Harry, I wouldn't have continued in the world of magic. From that point on, my life changed.

Q: When was this?


A: 1971. In 1972, we did the first full evening magic show that ran for a long period in Las Vegas seven days a week, two shows a night for eight months. We got married in '74. We toured and went to Broadway in 1980.
We still hold the record for the longest-running magic show in Broadway history.

Q: You married into a magic family. An eccentric experience?


A: Yes. I also married someone who was 17 years older than I was, who had four children. At that point I was 21, and I suddenly had a stepson 16 and girls 12, seven and six. There was never a dull moment. Harry was the only husband I ever had, so the expectations weren't there it was what it was.

Q: But you were also his assistant on stage. Have you ever been sawed in half?


A: I was cut in half with a 36-inch saw, and I wasn't covered you could the saw blade going through me. I was shot out of cannon. I was turned into a tiger. I became the Statue of Liberty. I was turned into a rose bush. How many people can put that on their resume? Harry just stood there while I did all the work.

Q: Nostalgia seems to figure highly in magic's appeal, but tell me about the business of magic today.


A: Magic is more successful now than ever in history. For many years, the business followed a seven-year cycle of ups and downs. For the last 15 or 20 years, we haven't had a down period. Right now there are several feature films coming out with magic themes: "The Illusionist" with Ed Norton. "Scoop" with Woody Allen and "The Prestige" with Michael Caine and Hugh Jackman.


Q: How has the business changed?


A: People used to think you had close-up magic or stage magic. Today you have as many types of magic as music. You have David Blaine's street magic, Criss Angel's magic, the Houdini escape magic, the close-up card magic, stage magic, arena magic. Then you have magic not done by magicians. For years, we created special effects for rock tours, but it was all magic, from New Kids on the Block's "Summer Magic," to Alice Cooper's "Welcome to My Nightmare."


Q: The right magic for the right situation?


A: Two years ago I did a piece for Andrea Botcelli. It was punctuation for his performance. You have a wonderful voice that's blind, and in this situation, I wanted the audience to enjoy it and not worry about him. I didn't want pyro or anything that would make him look endangered. He always wears a scarf, so at the end of one segment, he hit his final note, leaned over for a bow and pulled off his scarf. With a movement, it changed color. He flipped it back over his head. The audience went wild. Yes, you can make the Statue of Liberty disappear, but sometimes something as simple as a scarf changing color becomes magical.


Q: How do companies use magicians?


A: There are corporate magicians who make $500,000 to $750,000 a year. They do sales events not so much motivational as stage shows, masters of ceremonies, hospitality suites. People like David Farr and Jon Oliver can make $30,000 a day with all expenses covered.

Q: Why has magic always been a man's profession?


A: Through the ages, there have always been a few women. But for some reason, boys were always more fascinated with magic. The ones who never grew up became magicians. Women were always the assistants, in part because the wardrobe for magicians is not the flattering clothes most women want to wear you need a lot of hidden pockets. Now, with more styles of magic, it works better. Today we have many more women magicians. Still, it's still less than one percent, but it has grown from one tenth of 1 percent.


Q: In this age of computer-generated imagery, do you find audiences are jaded to magic? Is it harder to invoke that sense of wonder?


A: No. The other night I saw an illusionist. There were pieces that were computer generated, film magic and real magic. On the real magic, there were gasps from the audience. For the other, the reaction was "That's nice." Audiences in this day and age are sophisticated; they know the difference.


Hearing the giggle of a three-year-old when a coin is pulled out of her ear that doesn't change. The difference is that fourth wall. That's why magic is always much better in person.


Q: But technology plays a big role in the profession.


A: Well, we have 16 fundamental principles in magic. You wonder, after 500 years, how can you make anything new and different? But it's the same with the 88 keys on a piano. How can you make a song different? You can and you will.


Q: So, it's a question of utilizing the right technology?


A: We see creative minds using new technology with concepts from the past. Jason Lattimer is a perfect example in his work with lasers. He bends them, walks through them all concepts about light from magic in the past, but using technology to make it interesting. I see a great deal of that happening. I recently saw someone doing cups and ball, but the cups were clear. Cups and balls is one of the oldest tricks around; you can see pictures of them in ancient tombs. And yet making them clear reflects the technology of today. Also, I see a lot of comedy with magic today. For many years, it was a silent act and deadly serious. Now they're having fun with it. And I see them using media as one of the elements in magic. I saw one the other day. I saw an act by Tony Chapin with televisions on stage. He interacted with the television. He even came in and out of the television screen. He got people from the audience onstage, and he was talking to them from the television. Amazing.


Q: I understand you have an illusion classified as intellectual property. How can you own a trick?


A: There are only two in the world, because they are so unique. Harry (Blackstone) Sr. started doing The Floating Light Bulb in 1926 and it floated across the stage. In approximately 1974, Harry Jr. started floating it out over the audience and back, breaking that fourth wall. No one had ever done anything like that. At that point, it went from a trick to a miracle. That's why I can control it. It's not simply floating it over the stage that's been done for ages. But breaking that fourth wall, the court ruled that was intellectual property. A few years ago, someone in France copied David Copperfield's flying, move for move. It's not the flying you can buy that but the artistry and movements, so he was able to get that as an intellectual property. So those are the two IP tricks in the world.


Q: What are your favorite tricks?


A: The floating light bulb, because it's a miracle. Lance Burton, when he makes a car appear on stage. I love the reaction of the audience; you can hear the gasp. When Siegfried and Roy were working, they did a trick called Origami. There's a box on a table. A girl gets inside, the box is folded up flat, turned 360 degrees, re-assembled, and she re-appears. When they did it, everyone was enthralled, watching every move because every move had a reason. You were entertained by every single piece. Darren Romeo does a trick called Gethsemane. He sings the song from "Jesus Christ Superstar." While singing, he rises and vanishes. It's a great piece of theater.


Q: What is the worst trick?


A: Failure. But the mark of a good performer is that a trick can fail and they get out of it. Once we were in a theater in Chicago with 5,000 people. Harry did a trick where an elephant comes out and gets in a box. The front of the box had a scrim so you could see the elephant. Just as Harry was about to clap to make the elephant disappear, I heard a stage hand yelling "No, no." In a puff of smoke, the elephant vanished; the front, back and sides of the box flew. All that was left onstage was a steaming pile of dung. Without missing a beat, Harry walked out to the audience and said, "In case you have any doubt it wasn't real." Everyone laughed.


Q: How can regular business managers inject a little magic into their lives?


A: In sales, nothing is better than knowing one little trick as an icebreaker. When people smile and laugh, the walls come down immediately. But in all forms of business, when you shoot an arrow into the air, wherever it lands, that's the target. When a magic trick goes poorly, you look at the audience and say "Ta-Dah!" and make the trick work. You can drown in the negative, but in magic you learn to think all is positive. That applies to all business.

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