The nature of the variety arts is such that there have always been, and shall always be, unsung heroes. I can tick off a list of performers who had significant impact on me in the course of my life in magic, whose names would mostly be recognized by locals who shared the same geography. Some of these artists I’ve written about, some have left some lasting legacy, but the majority of magicians, even of the same generation and certainly of later ones, wouldn’t know the names of Earl “Presto” Johnson, Lou Lancaster, Bobby Baxter, Lee Allen, and many more.
In similar vein, one of the most wonderful magicians—and humans—I’ve ever known was a man named Jack Adams. I was fortunate to know him, spend time with him talking magic, saw him perform on stage (at, among other places, The Bottom Line, a famed music club in Greenwich Village.) My friend and colleague, Peter Samelson, who worked collaboratively with Jack for Revlon at a trade show early in their mutual careers, first introduced me to him.
When I think back to having been in Jack’s home, I remember being surrounded by children. I remember it as a loving, joyous place, an extension of the man himself. One of those (at the time, very young children), Jennifer, grew up to be a performer like her dad, a standup comic, and a mother. I’m glad to still know her as a friend.
Jack believed in Robert-Houdin’s oft-quoted (and debated) adage that “A magician is an actor playing the part of a magician.” Jack was an actor not merely in theory but in practice, having studied theater in college and performed as an actor in dozens of Off-Broadway plays, as well as on Broadway and in film and television. He took this experience deeply into his approach to magic, and he could stand on a stage and in an instant transform himself from one character to another. And of all those characters, his most beloved and recognized was that of Merlin. Jack Adams was truly an actor, a magician, a wizard.
I was delightfully surprised a few days ago when his daughter, Jen Adams, posted this article on Facebook. It is a marvelous tribute to Jack, written by someone who knew him and truly appreciated him. It provides biographical information, personal remembrance, and comments from the likes of Al Flosso, Joe Dunninger, Milbourne Christopher, and Al Cohn – all of who knew Jack and held his work in the highest esteem. Although he wasn’t consulted for the article, it’s fair to say that Jeff McBride was also influenced by Jack, who was a founding member of Mystery School.
So for the balance of this blog post, I turn the story of my friend Jack Adams over to one Montague Chadbourn. The story is accompanied by four substantial videos, three of them interviews with family, friends, and colleagues (including the above-mentioned Peter Samelson), and the first of them being a substantial show reel of Jack’s work. At very least, please watch that, and appreciate the artistry of one that most of us missed, but any who knew, took notice, and well remember. One minute in you’ll see a lovely touch on a standard apparatus trick, and as the video unfolds you will find example after example of how an artist makes classic magic into his own. You can see terrific sleight-of-hand chops in the Miser’s Dream (Al Flosso was a mentor of Jack’s) and the Linking Rings, and then the Rings turns into a slapstick physical comedy routine. These are marks of artistry. These are models to emulate.
“The late founder of the American Museum of Magic, Robert Lund of Marshall Michigan, sagely declared: ‘the small-time journeyman-magicians” were perhaps, the truer heroes within the ongoing saga of stage magic performance practice.’ … Jack Adams, (1937-1994) … was just such a journeyman magician of illimitable merit and imagination.”
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