(Part One)

by Hugh Thomson (Globe & Mail, Sept. 27, 1971)


Most of the big-time magicians of the palmy days of vaudeville like Houdini, Thurston, Dante - all of them names to conjure with - are dead, having performed their own final disappearing act to that great mysterious beyond. Those on whom the final frontdrop has not fallen are no longer before the public, having lost their touch or dexterity. But there is one who, like Tennyson's brook, seems to go on forever, and he is Canada's most celebrated conjurer and illusionist, John Giordmaine of Toronto.

Mr. Giordmaine took up magic as a career 50 years ago after almost vanishing in a puff of smoke himself while he was working as a journeyman electrician in a Toronto meatpacking plant. A high-voltage short circuit threw the switch in his career, turning him off electricity and onto magic, and he has never regretted the change. He turned 73 yesterday, and for the past half-century has had more engagements offered to him than he has been able to handle.

Born in Malta, he came to Canada in 1919 at the age of 21 on funds provided by a Greek philanthropist whom he never met.

Today he and his wife live in a north Toronto bungalow with magic tricks, stage props, his copious awards and trophies, three snow-white doves and a rabbit.

During several recent conversations in the living room I was always conscious of the cooing of the doves in the room below; yet after 50 years of making doves and rabbits mysteriously appear and disappear on stages throughout North America and Europe and having gone through innumerable birds and bunnies, Mr. Giordmaine no longer hears the constant cooing coming from his cellar.

At 73, he's a snowy-haired, twinkling 5-foot sprite who has never lost the true trooper's relish for performing. Should you recognize him on the street and call out, "Hi, Johnny! How's tricks?" chances are he'll raise his black, silver-tipped cane and make it vanish in the twinkling of an eye. Or if there is a wind blowing, he will doff his hat and instantly release a fluttering swarm of paper butterflies.

He is in his glory on stage and especially when playing to children and making them laugh. "Their little gasps of amazement and their innocent laughter are two of my greatest rewards in life. And yet make no mistake: children are the hardest audience to entertain."

He is especially proud of one framed certificate testifying that he is a Knight of Grace of the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta, a tribute paid to him by his island homeland to a native son who made his mark in the world.

Mr. Giordmaine exhibited a distinctive style from the beginning.

When he broke into the game under the aegis of Toronto magician Sid Lorraine, the big names were aloof figures. Many were tall or, if not, wore ferocious facial shrubbery or dramatic costumes that made them look imposing - no common mortals. The only human touches introduced into their acts were the pretty but dumb assistants wearing scanty costumes.

Mr. Giordmaine's private and public image, on the other hand, has always been the merry little man of magic.

He was the favorite magician of such notables as the former prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, Governor-General Earl Alexander, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Prime Minister of Malta, all of whom invited him on several occasions to perform for them and their friends in the privacy of their homes. He has played and replayed most of the capitals of Europe and appeared on many television programs in the United States and Canada.

"Ever since I turned professional, full-time, I have had more work offered to me than I can handle," he says.