LEFT) The "John Giordmaine Award" presented to Doug Henning in 1980.

NEW! To view photos of the award ceremony, click HERE.

(BELOW) Bev Bergeron sent along his great story about Johnny. Thanks, Bev! He also told me that Johnny appeared on Bob McAllister's kids' show in the USA in the 1960s. I wonder if any video still exists?




by Bev Bergeron

In the late 1940s Howard’s Fun Shop was moving about the city little by little as old buildings were being torn down and new tall skyscrapers were replacing them. Each time the old building would go, so would Howard’s Fun Shop with a paid off lease and money to move to a new location. At one point, some of us believed that Howard Campbell the owner was only staying in the magic business waiting for another buyout of his lease on his shop, because he moved four times over a 20 year period.

That’s not to say that Howard was not doing a good magic business, because he was. His shop drew from all the office employees in the downtown area of the new booming Houston. Office parties were abundant and special gifts required a trip to Howard’s Fun Shop to find the latest trick novelty ­ maybe it was a book that would give you a shock when you open the cover or a set of drink coasters made to look like jockey shorts. The shop was loaded with such items.

There was one that Howard sold and was proud that he discovered it. Oh, he did not invent the item. How he found the item is a big mystery ­ he would never tell. But the item was an old cataloged gadget that was sold to bird watchers. The item was a device with which one could simulate a bird whistle.

Howard sold the item by the hundreds ­ maybe the thousands. I know one thing, the people who manufactured the item never sold as many in their history as they sold to Howard’s Fun Shop. What was his secret?

As a customer would be looking at the latest novelty Howard would secretively get the bird whistler into one of his hands and began to twist the knob. As he was doing so he asked the customer to please be careful where he or she stepped since his pet bird was loose. With the sound of a bird chirping over and over and Howard pointing out that the customer almost stepped on the bird, there was chaos created in front of the sales counter. This would continue as long as Howard wanted to push it and finished when he would “retrieve in his hand” the bird and put it in his pocket. Another Bird Call was sold.

Of course, all us young magicians of the Houston area were carrying a bird call in our pockets. It only required a worker to twist the knob at the top of the device with the thumb and forefinger while holding the main part in the palm of the hand. The twisting would turn a cast piece of lead against the rounded out part of the wooden base. A small piece of rosin was required to get the maximum sound. By twisting the knob at different pressures, one could simulate many different type birds. If you got real good, you could hold one in each hand and make it sound like a flock of birds.

In the hands of us young magicians it became a challenge to see who could come up with the funniest situation. Once I took a small paper sack and cut some small holes around it. Then after I twisted the end together I carried it in my free hand and in the other hand carried a Bird Whistler ready to work. My buddies in magic, Doug Kornegay and Gene McIntosh followed me over to our favorite magic store, F.W. Woolworth on Main Street. In those days, downtown was packed on a Saturday and so was Woolworth. The now closed big chain store was full of people and items to keep everyone happy. They even sold live birds and fish plus all the needs of every female living ­ that was a big order. As I walked around with the bag in my hand the bird would start to chirp. I would shake the bag a little and say in a low voice: “Be quiet.” In those days there were store clerks behind every counter. It was easy to get the attention of a store clerk ­ not like it is today. My actions with the whistling bird and the bag soon got the attention of a clerk. As I noticed that I was being followed I increased the sound and raised my voice to let the bird know that it was not supposed to whistle in the store. I then began yelling for the bird to “Shut-up!” Now that I had some attention I would grab the bag and crush it flat throwing it into a near by trashcan ­ then leave the area fast. My two buddies would watch the reaction of the clerk. She would rush over to the can and retrieve the crushed bag and upon tearing it open to find nothing. Her eyes would then go searching into the can for the loose bird only to land on two jerky kids laughing up a storm as I joined them ­ that made three jerky kids. Ok, maybe it isn’t funny to you, but back then it was a scream. We repeated this over and over about the city of Houston and then in 1957 the king of such foolishness arrived for the IBM convention.

Little Johnny Giordmaine (1898-1974) arrived from Canada a few days before the big event took place at the Rice Hotel in downtown Houston, and of course, stopped by Howard’s Fun Shop to join the early attendees. Howard went to work on Johnny with all his greeting schtick and when the bird started singing you could see that Johnny’s mind was working overtime. Out of Johnny’s pockets came the money, and he was walking out of the Fun Shop with several of the bird whistlers.

I have no idea how long it took Johnny to work out his many gags with the bird whistler, but when the opening day arrived for the convention, Johnny was working the lobby of the hotel. He had the guest checking into the hotel in screams looking for his “lost” bird in their luggage. Remember this was 1957 and like most high-rise buildings the Rice Hotel had elevator operators to open the doors and run the machine up and down. Johnny took advantage of the operators and his small body to position himself in the front of the elevator car, holding his hands together as if holding something. As the elevator arrived at different floors and the operator called out their numbers, Johnny would make the whistling sound with the device hidden in his hand. Then as the elevator was loaded and about to have its doors opened on the lobby floor, he would yell: “Don’t open the doors! My bird is loose!” The elevator would come to a stop with its door closed and Johnny would start crawling among the people’s feet with the bird whistle screaming away until he would say, “OK, got him! You can open the doors now.”

Since most people knew who Johnny was, it was continual laughter as they departed the elevator and spilled out into the lobby. The crowd would position themselves by the opening door waiting for the next carload of “bird savers” to arrive with Little Johnny Giordmaine, hands clasped, leading the group from the elevator.


Reprinted with the kind permission of its author Bev Bergeron from "Cutting Up Jackpots" which appeared in the February, 2009 issue of "Linking Ring" magazine.


I've found a Facebook site dedicated to the old SCM. It's HERE.

RECENT UPDATE: No it's not. It seems to have vanished.