Author: Milt Larsen

Publisher: Brookledge Corporation; 1ST edition (2012)

ISBN-10: 1939178010

ISBN-13: 978-1939178015

To sum up the eight decades of Milt Larsen's life, the subject of this scenic train ride of a memoir, takes some doing. During the 30,000 plus days of his life so far, Larsen has been a true Renaissance Man in show business. Without question, magic is at his core.

A devotee of vaudeville almost from the cradle, Larsen was schooled in the tradition of live performances with the Hollywood contacts to meet and know many of his idols. As a teenager, he became a gag and stunt writer for Ralph Edwards's Truth or Consequences, where he worked with Bob Barker for 18 years. Knowing just how big a fan of comedy Larson was, Edwards also asked him to be the "red herring" to distract guests of This is Your Life so the stars of the day like Buster Keaton and Stan Laurel didn't know they were about to be profiled on live television.

But it was with magic where Larsen earned his claim to fame, eventually earning a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and being named one of the 100 Most Influential Individuals in Magic by Magic Magazine. Among other accomplishments, he co-founded the members only Magic Castle club which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. With four floors of museum-quality artifacts, the Castle's stages have seen performances by the likes of David Copperfield, Penn & Teller, Doug Henning, and Siegfried & Roy. Amateur magician members have included Cary Grant, Johnny Carson, Jason Alexander, Tony Curtis, and Neil Patrick Harris. Larsen himself is a magician of note, being used on television shows like Bewitched to pull tablecloths from under silverware and dining settings. He has, of course, choice anecdotes about many of these celebrities in his autobiography. For example, it was Grant who gave Larsen an education in creating the proper wine list at a private club.

On top of all that, since the late '50s, Larsen has written hundreds of comedy songs with Richard Sherman, half of the legendary Sherman brothers who wrote all those hits for Disney from Mary Poppins to Jungle Book to the non-Disney Chitty, Chitty, Bang-Bang. The Sherman-Larsen team, however, had a more adult audience in mind when they crafted ditties like "Bon Voyage Titanic" for their album Smash Flops and "Leave Our Slums Alone" for their CD, Banned Barbershop Ballads. The two still work together on their radio show, "Hear them again for the first time" where they share stories and songs from the very old days of entertainment.

While Larsen offers slices of his own personal autobiography to give form to the memoir, the bogus train map at the front of the book illustrates that the story is not a straight and narrow path. For many readers, it will be the name-dropping, which is unavoidable and integral to the story, that will keep them turning the pages. But readers are also getting a good lesson in the importance of cultural preservation. Larsen says he was born the year vaudeville died, but notes how new generations can keep it alive simply by watching the classic routines on Youtube. He notes that all magicians are actors and all actors are magicians, so the art of making the surprising come alive on stage still enthralls audiences outside the moviehouse where illusions are created by cameras and computers.

One story stuck in this reviewer's mind. Larsen recounts the day he watched George Burns try to sell a few cable executives on having a comedy special featuring folks like Sid Caesar, Red Skelton, Phil Silvers, Jonathan Winters, Lucille Ball, and Jackie Gleason. The execs turned it down, saying they'd never heard of any of them. This was perhaps the last time such a program could have occurred—it wasn't long before all these greats were gone. And now forgotten?

My Magical Journey is a time capsule of 50 years of magical history told while a major participant is still alive to tell the tale. First-person narratives about those days and those people help keep many legacies, well, alive. Milt Larsen and his Castle are a bridge across four generations, and a very entertaining bridge he is. See him again—perhaps for the first time.

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