Since Mark Wilson (April 11, 1929-January 19, 2021) passed away earlier this week I have been thinking about his influence on my magical life. It was much more than I realized. I don’t want to give the impression that we were close friends, we probably interacted less than 50 times over the years. This is also not an obituary since I am only discussing the few things I remember, that are relevant to me.
In 1970 I moved to New York from Israel. I was a kid, but I already had an in interest in magic and could do tricks with cards, string and even the famous glass of ink to water trick.
The very first full magic show on TV I remember seeing was Mark Wilson’s Magic Circus, it aired on channel 5 and when I found out there was more than one episode, and they would be repeated throughout the year I could not wait to watch them all. I remember seeing all six episodes multiple times and vividly remember the interactions between Mark and the Pillsbury Doughboy.
Mark Wilson was the most famous magician in the world at the time. He would often appear doing magic in sitcoms, variety shows, talk shows and he was also the magic consultant on my favorite TV Show at the time: The Magician starring Bill Bixby. I wanted the life of the magician in the show. A multi-millionaire magician who travels around the world on his private jet doing magic. (A few years ago, I watched the pilot of the show and was shocked to find out that he inherited the money and not earned it through magic… I was crushed! My entire career was based on fiction! But that is a story for another day).
At the time I started finding ads for magic shops that offered to send free or inexpensive catalogs. The ads appeared in comic books and Boys Life magazine. Boys Life is where I encountered the ads for the soon to be published Mark Wilson’s Complete Course In Magic which promised to reveal all the secrets in magic and make you a professional. And all the early purchasers got their copy autographed. I don’t remember how I convinced my parents to buy it for me. Probably a combination of a birthday present and me being a nagging brat.
Of course, the “The Most Complete ‘How To’ Course In Magic Ever Written!” Was not ready yet. For a very long time after making the purchase I had to wait. Every few months I would get an apology letter explaining the delay. The letter often came with some free tricks or sample pages from the book. When it finally arrived (felt like at least a year later) it was remarkable, there was so much great magic in there that was extremely well taught with an unbelievable number of illustrations to guide you along.
I devoured the book, trying to learn and try everything. I even built the cardboard illusions. I still teach and perform some of the card tricks I learned, and I used to often perform the Multiplying Billiard Routine that was taught. It is likely one of the best and was the same one I saw Mark and his son Greg perform on the Magic Circus. I later found out it was Alan Wakeling’s routine.
What made that book great, and why it is still the book I recommend to all starting-out magicians is that Mark had the talent of getting the best and most qualified people to help him with every one of his projects. In this case the team included: Walter Gibson, UF Grant, Larry Anderson, Don Wayne, Earl Nelson, Peter Pit, David Roth, Alan Wakeling, and many others.
I continued to learn, practice, and mature in magic as I was going to school. I was getting better, inventing, and publishing stuff, performing and even lecturing. My first memorable encounter with Mark was when we met in California.
I was booked to appear at the 1982 PCAM Convention in San Jose (Which I still fondly remember as being one of the best), by then I had around five products out and they gave me a booth in the dealer’s room to sell them.
That is when I met Mark. I saw him enter the dealer’s room, he saw my booth and came straight to me. I was awestruck. He introduced himself and asked to see my finger stuff up-close. A crowed had gathered and I was happy to show and explain everything.
Under his arm he had a giant roll of magic posters that he just got back from the printer and asked me if I would mind selling them for him. I had plenty of extra room at the booth and jumped at the opportunity.
This turned out to be great. For the rest of the convention, he would hang out at my booth autographing posters and introducing me to all his friends as they dropped by to say hello. When he wasn’t at the booth, he would send people to see me to get a poster. We became friends.
But I would not see him again for years and even then, it would be brief hellos at conventions. I did attend a few of his lectures when I had the opportunity, and they were enlightening and educational. Especially the marketing lecture. Brilliant.
We often read and hear that one of the keys to success is to be able to spot opportunities and take advantage of them. Mark certainly had that skill but much of his big successes seemed to come from him creating these “opportunities” himself and then marketing them to investors who would take advantage of them.
Remember the Pillsbury Doughboy I mentioned earlier? He got them to sponsor the show and interweave them throughout the show, so it did not seem like a commercial. They basically paid to produce the shows and paid the networks to air them. A similar approach was used to get his The Magic Land Of Alakazam to air on CBS and ABC. At that time Kellogg’s was the sponsor.
He was also fearless in the type of jobs and illusions he would agree to. I think it was because of the network of experts he utilized. He believed that they could make anything happen. I have heard some stories from those experts of him promising to deliver an illusion that never existed before and had them figure out how to do it and build it on a budget and deliver it in time for the event or show.
His family was also a big part of his success, without his wife Nani Darnell, and his two sons Mike and Greg I don’t think he would have been able to accomplish as much in so many different fields.
I remember meeting his son Mike in New York City. I was with Mark and Nani at a Cape Cod Conclave when they mentioned that Mike was producing a show on Broadway and I should go. They arranged for comp tickets for me and my girlfriend to see the show. Mike went out of his way to meet us and introduce us around. He reminded me of his parents who also took an interest in whoever they were speaking to and made them the center of attention.
I met Greg several times over the years and he too is very charming. I remember one time at a convention we took a picture together and when I posted it on Facebook, I remembered that when I was a kid and watched him perform with his father on the Magic Circus, I thought that he was the luckiest guy in the world, who had access to all the secrets in magic. I wanted to be him.
The last time I saw Mark and his family was two years ago at Harry Anderson’s memorial at the Magic Castle. He was already very weak and struggling to walk. But he was charming, friendly, and full of life… as always.
Many of my favorite magicians to be around (famous or not) are the ones that have a lifelong passion for magic. They never stop playing with stuff, looking for stuff and sharing their knowledge and discoveries. Mark was such a man. He made you proud to be a magician.
Unfortunately, my computer’s hard drive crashed a few years ago and I lost all my digital photos, including any with the legendary Mark Wilson.