(ABOVE) Joseph Giordmaine and John Pellatt meet up in Toronto - July 2009.
HOW THIS SITE CAME TO BE
by John Pellatt
I was staring again at the aging cardboard butterfly tacked up over my desk. It was early 2008. It had been tacked up or taped up onto various walls of mine for over thirty five years. You have to attach a couple pennies to it to make it suspend in midair at the very end of your fingertips as if by magic. So why did I keep it? And why always in such a prominent place?
The cardboard butterfly was a promotional giveaway from the predawn of time - my childhood. It continues to connect me to happy memories of that era and its originator, a wonderfully charismatic children's magician born in Malta named John Giordmaine.
Johnny (as we all knew him) was probably the most popular Toronto based childrens magician when I was a kid in the late sixties and early seventies. Certainly he was the most beloved, an incontestable accolade since turning pro in the 1930s. He was also the reason I got into the hobby of magic as a kid. Johnny was a mentor to hundreds of us to the day he died, encouraging our interest in magic and making each of us feel special.
That faded butterfly was obviously still important to me. Long after I had got out of magic as an active hobby it had stayed up to remind me of Johnny and of my everlasting love for the Art. And so it came into focus once again last year and got me to wondering if there was a website devoted to Johnny.
A quick search revealed no tribute site. How could this be? Such an oversight was unthinkable! Somebody should put a site up to honour him, I thought. Yeah, somebody really should.
So I did.
It was (in the beginning) a modest, homemade site consisting mostly of scans of my old files. But it started to bring the magic of Johnnys generosity of spirit back into my life. I began rereading some of my old magic books and magazines, and even started to develop a new found interest in mentalism.
But was the site worthy of his memory? I decided to e mail his family to find out. His only child, Joseph Giordmaine, is now a well-known physicist and former Princeton University lecturer. How would he respond? Not only did he graciously give the site his approval but he also sent along a collection of family photos. These photos give the site an added dimension it could not have had otherwise.
In spreading the word about my site, I have had contact with some very helpful people. Jeff Pinsky at the Browsers Den was among the first to help me promote it. He also suggested I contact Joan Caesar, [now past] President of the Canadian Association of Magicians, and she kindly offered me the opportunity to write about Johnny and the site for their publication "Northern Peeks".
Finally! The ideal excuse I needed to phone Johnnys son Joe and ask him all the things I wanted to know about his father. What follows is my edited recollection of our recent conversation.
WHAT IS THE FUNDAMENTAL ATTRACTION OF MAGIC?
Magic is a universal language, a vehicle of communication between people. For a lay audience it is about creating an alternate universe. As Dad often put it, he feels like he's creating something that people can enjoy because it's so foreign, the rules are so different. And for that reason it's wrong to reveal the secret - not because the magician is losing something but because the audience is losing something. Because you're suddenly struck by the fact that there is this simple gimmick instead of what you're supposed to receive - which is an introduction to a new, mysterious world, completely different than our own. In my father's approach he could guide children in this sense of wonder because he would show it himself. His eyes would open wide and he obviously had the sense of wonder himself. This was not acting. The things he could do with his hands were wonderful. His sense of wonder was a sense of thankfulness, of gratitude for having these kinds of skills.
YOUR DAD WAS SO WELL KNOWN FOR HIS JOYOUS SENSE OF HUMOUR. HOW DID HE START IN MAGIC AND INCORPORATE THAT HUMOUR INTO HIS ACT?
In an interview years ago he spoke of seeing his first magician in Malta and he was fascinated. He started to order tricks by mail from London's department store Gamage's. He must've been in his late teens, so he was first exposed to magic in Malta. His first job [after immigrating to Toronto in 1919] was as a glass blower. It was a tough, hot, dangerous job. He found another job as an electrician at the Swift Meat Packing Company. He found he could interact with people through magic. When you normally meet people you make small talk but if you're from another country you're probably not comfortable with small talk. In his case, he would meet somebody and almost after saying hello, he would pull out some tricks. He did this all of his life. His humour endeared him to people - the joke was always on him. He had that wonderful quote, "When I was small, I mean, when I was young". I must've heard that a thousand times but he loved that kind of thing and people loved him for it.
ONCE HE HAD TURNED PROFESSIONAL, IN ADDITION TO HIS COUNTLESS LIVE PERFORMANCES, YOUR DAD EVENTUALLY RAN THE MAGIC COUNTER AT EATON'S DEPARTMENT STORE FULL TIME FOR DECADES.
Tannen's magic store in New York was famous for twelve year old kids coming in every Saturday and on a smaller scale I think Dad's counter in Eaton's was a kind of scaled down Toronto version of Lou Tannen's magic shop. Both had a strong effect. James Randi came back again and again. Dad used to tell me about him. He was well aware that he was having an influence. It gave him a lot of pleasure.
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