The Magic Castle’s Centennial

The Magic Castle’s Centennial
100 Years Celebrated for of the “Mecca of Magic” Hollywood Landmark

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High above the Magic Castle in Hollywood, a man was dangling upside down from a crane that was hoisting him 100 feet in the air. When the crane stopped, the man struggled to escape from the vintage straightjacket that bound him. Of course there was a cheering celebrity crowd below, because the Houdini-like stunt was part of the Magic Castle’s 100th anniversary.  

The magnificent mansion that became the world famous Magic Castle had its construction completed in 1909. It was a private residence known as the Lane Mansion before it became home to the magical arts.

The Magic Castle founders, brothers Milt and William Larsen, created the world’s most famous club for magicians and magic enthusiasts, and opened the doors to their showplace on January 2, 1963. Over the years it has become the headquarters of the Academy of Magical Arts, Inc.

During the centennial celebration held the first week of November, famous members of the private magic club were invited to watch Jim Bentley recreate Houdini’s famous straightjacket escape. Milt Larsen and his wife Arlene, along with Irene Larsen, the wife of Milt’s late brother William Larsen, were on hand to greet everyone and talk about the Castle’s fascinating history.

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Irene Larsen, Milt Larsen and Arlene Larsen

Young magic enthusiast Romi Dames (of Hannah Montana fame) was overjoyed to emcee a special show held in the Castle’s Palace of Mystery, with some of the top magicians in the business performing. White doves kept appearing out of thin air thanks to the amazing skills of Amos Levkovitch. And an act called Goldfinger and Dove wowed the crowd by manipulating large cards.

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Romi Dames

There were magicians in the audience too, along with long-time celebrity members of the Castle who came to celebrate the occasion. Among them were JoAnne Worley (Laugh-In), Rose Marie (The Dick Van Dyke Show), Rip Taylor (Hollywood Squares), Tippi Hedren (The Birds), Dee Wallace (E.T.), comedienne Judy Tenuta, Alison Arngrim (Little House on the Prairie), Kate Linder (The Young and the Restless), author Stan Freberg, Fred Willard (Best In Show), and Booboo Stewart (upcoming in Twilight: Eclipse).

Hanging out around the bar doing close-up magic and making everyone mutter “How’d he do that?” was Jon Armstrong, a master of card tricks.

“This is a very special place, and a tribute to our father and everyone who has advanced the craft. Dad created the Academy of Magical Arts, and a club for magicians was his dream. So brother Bill and I opened the Magic Castle in 1963, and it has been known as the ‘Mecca of Magic’ ever since,” said Milt Larsen. For their legacy of bringing magic to Hollywood, Milt and his late brother William, were honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame a couple of years ago.

The Magic Castle is the greatest showplace for the best magicians from around the globe. It also houses one of the largest original collections of Houdini’s great tools of the mystifying trade, including his personal handcuffs, straight jacket, metamorphosis trunk and famous milk can escape.

The historic Magic Castle has been used in films and TV shows, most recently America’s Next Top Model, Monk, Hell’s Kitchen and Top Chef. Among the classic TV shows that used the unique location for filming were Murder She Wrote, Hart to Hart, Barnaby Jones and Matlock.

Six theatres exist within the walls of The Magic Castle, from the Parlor of Prestidigitation and the Penn & Teller stage, to the Palace Theatre itself. Most recently, the Inner Circle area of the Castle has become home to the new Cabaret at the Castle performances, which are open to non-members of the Magic Castle. The shows have featured some of Broadway’s greats including Carol Channing, Jason Graae, Ilene Graff, Phyllis Diller, Rose Marie, Richard Sherman, Rip Taylor and JoAnne Worley.

The featured artist for the centennial week was Florence Henderson presenting her one woman show “All the Lives of Me, A Musical Journey.” Beloved by millions who know her as Carol Brady thanks to the popularity of The Brady Bunch TV classic, Florence is much more than a TV mom.

In her show, the lovely lady takes a musical journey of her life– as a multi-dimensional actress, talk show host, recording artist, author and Broadway veteran. And Florence was proud to bring her show to Cabaret at the Castle for the special celebration.

Also part of the Magic Castle’s 100th anniversary– the annual “It’s Magic” extravaganza, held at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood (on Nov. 8). Under the direction of Dale Hindman, with producers Terry Hill and Milt Larsen.

Special guests included Neil Patrick Harris, Romi Dames and Phill Lewis, plus performers such as Lance Burton, Joseph Gabriel, Rudy Coby & Co., Jorge Blass, Shimada, and Mac King. And Kevin James, on the heels of his invitation to perform for President and Mrs. Obama at the White House, gave a command performance.


Frank Barron is the former editor of The Hollywood Reporter, having served twice in that capacity. In between, he was West Coast news director for Billboard Publications, supervising their five magazines. Barron also created the western TV series “The Man From Blackhawk” for the ABC network. For more than three decades he and writer-wife Margie Barron have covered Hollywood for Production Update magazine, and they currently contribute to numerous publications. Frank started in showbiz as publicity director for the KHJ radio and television station. Before moving to California, he was a sports editor in New Jersey.

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