My Early Years
My Early Years and My Start in Magic
I was born Dec. 25, 1926 in Seattle, WA., and was raised on a farm in Big Lake, WA. I attended high school in Bellingham, WA. There was a carnival in town (Douglas Greater Shows) the week I graduated. I took my girl to it, and lost all my money to a flat store agent (controlled game). I went home, and told my mother I was going to join the carnival- to find out how I lost my money! I was given a job on the Octopus ride as second man, and I spent all my time off in the 10-in-1 sideshow, watching the old magician perform. I had been fascinated with magic since I'd received a Gilbert Magic Set as a gift at age 14. Travelling from town to town each week all summer and fall really got into my blood- I greatly enjoyed it! I finally found out how I lost my money at the Swinger Game...I also remember thinking (and saying); " Someday I'm going to own a sideshow and do magic like the old magician." Thirteen years later I did own my own show, and never worked for anyone else the rest of my time in the business- thirty-one more years!
I traveled that winter working in a penny arcade in Vallejo, CA.; washed dishes in San Francisco; and even fried burgers in L.A. I joined another carnival the next spring (West Coast Shows) and did it all over again! One extra job I had was digging a hole for an outdoor doniker (toilet), and keeping it manned, charging each carny 25 cents per week to use it! I got 1/2 the take. I was working at the time in a penny pitch game for $40 a week. This was in 1944. January, 1945, I was inducted into the army, and was stationed in the Philippines. When off duty, I practiced with billiard balls, did card tricks, and I had a set of Passe-Passe Bottles that I had bought earlier at a magic shop on First Ave in Seattle, WA. At the time I paid $7.50 for the set, believe it or not!
In April, 1947, I enrolled in the Chavez College of Magic under the G.I. Bill. I graduated with honor April, 1948. My specialty was cards and cigarette fluorishes, in a pantomime act. I played cheap nightclubs, theaters and club dates from Vancouver, Canada to L.A. over the next couple of years. This was all in the winter months. I was back travelling with carnival sideshows in the summer months, as a magician, fire-eater, and lecturer.
I stayed with this routine, playing all over the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Cuba until my wife and I framed our own show...Vanteen and Lee's Circus of the Fantastic, in 1959. The rest is history, which I'll be telling later...
Here I am in April, 1948, being handed my diploma by Marian Chavez upon my graduation from the Chavez College of Manual Dexterity and Prestidigitation.
In these years, I played many shows and clubs as well as various sucker jobs: some of the dates may be off a bit!... In the winter of 1948-49, I was an assistant to a very nice guy: Mitchell Cain, out of Tacoma, WA. He had an evening 2 hour magic show that played around eastern Washington and Idaho in freezing cold weather. During intermission he'd introduce me in front of the curtain where I would do my billiard ball routine. He had a real nice show and the whole thing fit in a small luggage trailer. (Let's see Copperfield do that!) After the tour I was off to LA. again, flipping burgers. I bought an old car for $50, and in the spring left for the midwest. I worked for a couple of sideshows on some 2-bit racket carnivals that were around at the time, whose names I don't care to mention! I also operated a couple of office-owned sideshows for a while. Help was hard to come by on some of these small shows, and all I had with me was a Super-X illusion, some magic paraphernalia, and my ability to eat fire! All I got out of this was experience- the hard way! That fall, I went back to Bellingham,WA. to visit my parents. I earned a pretty good living around that area busking in bars. (That's doing a few tricks and passing the hat.) I also was booked in 2 theaters in Vancouver and Victoria, Canada. I played a few other club dates in Bellingham, including one where Gene Krupa and his band were the headliners. I wanted him to play some backup music for me, but he said the union rules didn't allow it! Later I went on down to San Francisco with a magician friend: we got jobs in a sleazy niteclub on the Barbary Coast. We did a magic act, were doormen, and hustled drinks along with the B- girls! This wasn't all to my liking, so after a few weeks I left, and joined a carnival sideshow in Abilene, TX. (This time my mode of transport was a
$20 car!...believe it or not- and it made it almost all the way!) Much to my regret, this sideshow ( and it's owners) agreed with me even less than the niteclub had, so I left after one week, and went up to Hugo,OK., and was able to join Kelly and Miller's Circus sideshow.