by James Randi (formerly "The Amazing Randi")
Entertaining children is a specialized art. Entertaining children with magic is very, very much a specialized art. I regret to say that not many young magical artists today go in for this branch of magic, which demands much patience and experience. Most of us professionals earned our first fees working at birthday parties, then moved on to entertaining adults, leaving the kids to others. There is a very rich market for the conjuror in childrens' entertainment, which is largely ignored.
'Twas not always so, for when I was young, parents looked up magicians in the phone book, where some bravely advertised that they were kids' performers. One was a bouncy little man with a big booming voice who taught me most of what I knew in magic before I came to know the community of magicians in my hometown of Toronto.
This diminutive wizard from Malta arrived in Toronto as an immigrant when he was very young. He trained as an electrician and worked at that trade for years [. . .] Then he suffered a severe electric shock during his work and was almost paralyzed, losing his power of speech and much of his coordination. Determined to overcome this disability, Johnny subscribed to the Tarbell Course, a correspondence system for learning magic. It was such effective therapy that he soon regained all of his capabilities, and then some. He was soon one of the finest manipulators in the business.
Johnny Giordmaine changed direction and became a professional conjuror. He toured Europe and the United States and in 1933 returned to Canada to become the first magician there to ever appear on television, a closed-circuit arrangement in the T. Eaton Company, a local store. I was just ten years old when I first met him on a Saturday morning at Eaton's store in Toronto, where he functioned as the resident magician. It was the beginning of a series of endless Saturday morning visits during which he made time in between customers to instruct the few kids who came by for that treat.
Johnny and I were the same height. In fact, all the kids were as tall as Johnny, a bundle of energy and enthusiasm who made childrens' entertainment his specialty. He would always get a great reaction from his audience as he finished some especially good trick, took his bows, and then announced brightly, "You know, I've been doing this ever since I was small!"
Aside from being incredibly facile with his manipulation of oversize billiard balls (he could hold five of them in one of his tiny hands!), Johnny Giordmaine was quick, frenetic, and full of self-amazed expressions that greatly pleased his small fans. He was a popular, ever-busy artist who pretty well was Mr. Magic for my generation and locality.
Well after I had entered my teens, I would accompany Johnny to some of his shows, just to watch him in action and learn a bit more about handling difficult audiences. On one such pilgrimage to a small farming community, we met the One in Charge (that's who you always asked for immediately upon arrival) and were solemnly led to the backstage area, where Johnny was shown a handsome wooden wheelbarrow, painted gold! Without hesitation, the little wizard began setting his props into the barrow, but the moment the One in Charge was out of earshot, Johnny began laughing heartily. He explained to me that the year before, when he appeared at this affair, he had broken one leg of his magic table and had to request another. None could be found on such short notice, and in desperation, he had seized upon a wheelbarrow to serve as his table. Yes, the entertainment committee, believing that Johnny always worked out of a wheelbarrow, had prettied one up for him for this year! And yes, he did the show just as they expected him to.
For the long hours that Johnny Giordmaine spent behind his counter in the department store patiently coaching us kids in the art that a few of us actually opted to follow in later years, I hope he was well rewarded. Of course he was.
(Reprinted with the kind permission of James Randi from his book on magic history, 'Conjuring', published by St. Martin's Press, New York. Copyright 1992 by James Randi. All rights reserved. Website: http://www.randi.org ).
(LEFT) Perhaps Johnny's most famous giveaway, The Balancing Butterfly. Two forms. A really cute, memorable novelty item. You taped two pennies onto the light cardboard cut out butterfly and it was able to balance precariously on the very edge of the tip of your finger. I know many grown ups today who were entertained by Johnny as kids who still remember this give-away after all these years! (Circa 1960s).