On the first weekend of January, my partner, Ann Coleman, and I took my twin stepsons, Dexter and Grayson, now 14 years old, to Los Angeles for a three-day adventure, in the concluding days of their winter break before returning to ninth grade. This was the “J-Pa Knows A Guy” road trip (a sort of running family joke about me), that included magic, music, meals and more.
On Friday we drove up and began with a guided tour of Spectral Motion, a creature effects and animatronics outfit owned by Mike Elizalde, a magic enthusiast and recent board member of the Academy of Magical Arts. Spectral Motion has worked on everything from “Hellboy” to “Birdman” to “Stranger Things,” and the place is filled with fabulous creations. We even had to sign an NDA in order to be allowed to see some of the wonders in the works, and to my pleasant surprise we ran into my friend Grant Imahara of “Mythbusters” fame, who’s currently working on some super secret stuff at Spectral.
Mike’s expert and artistic staff has also crafted a series of beautiful busts of famous magicians that adorn the back wall in the W. C. Fields Bar in the Inner Circle area of the Magic Castle. The last two times I’ve performed in that location, at least once each run, when someone has asked about the statues, I’ve paused and delivered an improvised ten-minute tour of the wall of statues, and the histories of the magicians they depict. They’re a superb addition to the Castle, and recently, Mike presented a new set of statues depicting the Larsen family, founders of the Magic Castle.
For more on the statues see The Magic Detective
Thanks to Mike’s kindness and generosity, we had a fabulous tour that had my boys’ eyes bugging out of their heads within minutes of our arrival, when they each had a chance to put their arms in the original Hellboy hand. Too cool!
Grayson, my son the Hellboy
From Spectral Motion we headed to John Gaughan’s workshop. (Take Two #53) Any magician with an interest in large-scale illusions, the history of magic apparatus, or magical automatons, will already be familiar with the name of America’s premiere illusion builder. John collects antique magic apparatus, particularly of the 18th and 19th century, and he possesses a rare specialty in restoring antique “automata,” mechanical figures that were often featured in magic shows in the 19th century. John collects original automata and owns some of the most famous in the history of magic, including the Whist-playing automaton, “Psycho,” which was featured by the great British magician, John Nevil Maskelyne at the turn of the 20th century. The great American illusionist, Harry Kellar, owned a Psycho, which eventually went to Harry Houdini, and now resides in John Gaughan’s collection.
Dexter visits with Houdini
John also owns Antonio Diavolo, the automaton trapeze artist featured by the great 19th-century French magician, Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin. And John has also recreated historic automata including an accurate working reproduction of “The Turk,” the legendary chess-playing automaton created by Wolfgang von Kempelen in 1770, which fooled some of the greatest minds of its time and many more since.
I’ll take more time to discuss John Gaughan’s work as the feature of the current Take Two, but for the moment I’ll continue my brief overview of our Los Angeles adventures.
After dinner and malteds at Mel’s Diner, we took a walk down Hollywood Boulevard, viewing the Walk of Fame stars, and ended at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, where we examined the cement hand and foot prints of the stars. Then a reasonably early bedtime at our Hollywood AirBnB so as to get an early start on Saturday.
Saturday morning we were up and at ‘em to do the most touristy of touristy things, namely an all-day guided bus tour around Los Angeles. In decades of countless visits to Los Angeles I’ve never done this, and it was thoroughly good fun, provided by A Day in LA. We had rare lousy weather, cloudy and drizzly all day, but nevertheless we walked around Venice Beach, Rodeo Drive, the Griffith Observatory, and more, accompanied by my dear pal, magician Krystyn Lambert, whom I’ve known since she was younger than my own teen boys are today.
At the Grove in LA for lunch. L to R: Grayson, Krystyn Lambert, Jamy, Ann, and Dexter thumbing up in front.
After a little rest time, we proceeded to my old friend Colman’s home, where he was hosting a house concert by the great New Orleans singer/songwriter, Paul Sanchez. This was a highlight of the trip, a great show that my kids got to experience in the intimacy of a living room, as well as getting to hang with all the musicians who sat in, including a bunch of our friends from the wonderful band Vaud and the Villains.
Four amigos. L to R: host Colman Dekay, yours truly, Paul Sanchez, and Villains tuba player (and sometime Simpsons animator/director) David Silverman.
Saturday was a long day and a late night so we slept in a tad on Sunday, and then headed out to Santa Monica. We stopped at Eataly, the huge Italian marketplace and eatery (I love the gigantic one in New York City), where we began with excellent espressos, then had a fabulous multi-course seafood lunch, and concluded with gelato and connoli.
From there it was a short hop to Magicopolis, the magic theater owned and operated by my old friend Steve Spill (Take Two #8), who performs his stage show there Thursdays through Sundays, usually assisted by his talented wife, Bozena, who unfortunately was out of the country that weekend. We also met up with my friend and colleague Raffaele de Ritis, Italian circus director and producer and magic history enthusiast, who was visiting LA that week. We all got to see Steve’s marvelous show, with new material just a few months’ fresh to a couple of routines that took me back to the days when we first met and worked together at the Inn of Magic in the Maryland suburbs of Washington D.C., circa 1985. Raffaele pointed out that Steve’s show, despite its sharp contemporary jokes, also possesses a timelessness of classical conjuring that seems like it could be dropped into any time frame and fascinate any audience from centuries past right to the present day. We had a great time and the family was suitable amazed and entertained.
Magicopolis! L to R: Dexter, Grayson, Ann, Jamy, Steve Spill, and Raffaele de Ritis
We decided to wind down our trip with a stroll all the way to the end of the Santa Monica pier. Then we fell into a local eatery to shore up our reserves before climbing into the car for the drive back to San Diego. It was a memorable and truly magical trip, in both the literal and figurative sense. And we couldn’t have done it without the friendship and kindnesses of guys and gals that J-Pa (that’s me!) knows, including Mike Elizalde, John Gaughan, Krystyn Lambert, Colman Dekay, Paul Sanchez, David Silverman, Dawn Lewis (and the rest of the Vaud gang), and Steve Spill. Thanks for the bucketload of memories.