Red-Jack Playland By Mike Rogers
The first time I ever saw a true close up miracle, one that left me absolutely clueless and beguiled, I was working the Red-Jack Playland. I doubt if many magicians have heard of the Red-Jack Playland, let alone played the room. The effect shown to me was visual, easy to follow, and in my eyes something truly impossible. There was no story, no patter, no message, and no complex or confusing props. It was simply a miracle beyond belief. I had no idea magic could look so wonderful. As a result I will always remember the Red-Jack Playland. Let me explain.
In Lander, Wyoming, as I was growing up during the 40s and 50s, we enjoyed one annual week long event that was always the highlight of the year. It was the Lander Pioneer Days which occurred during the week of July 4th. The celebration included street events each evening, a large parade, two days having a rodeo, and a carnival for the entire week. Along with this came an odd assortment of street vendors, gypsy fortune tellers, grifters, and roustabouts looking to make an extra buck working at the carnival or rodeo. Naturally the heroes of the week were rodeo cowboys themselves, for even though the town was small the rodeo was a major event on the rodeo circuit. Not only were we invaded by these strange folks from distant places, but the locals also became a bit irrational. Everyone was encourage to forget the present and revert to the past, all in the spirit of Pioneer Days. Men forgot how to use a razor, horse and buggies became the normal mode of transportation, and everyone was “required” to wear western attire. Those who refused to don western wear stood the chance of being convicted in Kangaroo Court and bodily tossed in a large cattle watering trough located in the center of town, much to the delight of all the kids. Little did we know that much of this was all staged.
For me the bright spot of the week was the nightly carnival, for it was there I had a chance to see illusions such as the Headless Woman, the Electric Chair, the Blade Box, and an occasional geek poking nails in his nose while walking on glass. These were unwelcome subjects at the family dinner table, but exciting stuff for me.
When the week ended, the carnival, cowboys, gypsies, and vendors moved on leaving behind a town filled with litter and trash, along with a few depraved human beings who were not there before the event. These folks normally lasted about two weeks before they too would be gone. Two such men were Red and Jack, a couple of down on their luck would be carnies who, for whatever reason, were not welcome to move on with the real carnival people. Red and Jack remained. They acquired three pin ball machines, a soft drink machine, and a rented broken down store front on the seedy end of Main Street. Alas, the Red-Jack Playland was born and open for business. Red was a sleazy red headed smooth talking grifter who had learned the art of fire eating. Jack was a degenerate weasel. That tells it all.
In addition to the pin ball machines the Red-Jack Playland offered live entertainment every evening. The program consisted of Red eating fire and Jack making funny faces with his dentures removed. As you might imagine this live revue fizzled after the second night, for the audience of a dozen kids, along with a few town drunks, quickly become bored.
You guessed it. The local teenage magician became a welcome addition to the cast of characters. Hence, the show lasted for a third performance. Armed with a Squared Circle, Blendo, Milk Pitcher and Linking Rings, I became the star performer at the Red-Jack Playland, for one night only, a performance for which I have yet to receive a check.
Within a week Red took a powder, taking with him the few profits they might have made. Jack was left holding the bag with not enough money to pay the rent or even buy a decent meal. He too was soon gone, and the Red-Jack Playland was history, having enjoyed a short life of less than one week. Not only did I lose a performing venue, but I’m still waiting for the check.
Not all was a loss, for in his time Red had learned a few magic tricks and it’s one of these tricks to which I have alluded in the opening of this missive. This effect has everything any magician could ever want in a magical trick. Mystery, surprise, and visual appeal, all with no logical explanation as to the method. I was befuddled, for I had never seen anything so mystifying. Here’s what Red did while standing only three feet from my eyes. He showed me a deck of cards riffling them to show all the different cards. He then cut the deck, riffled again and every card in the deck was the same. It was a damn miracle!!!
At that point in my life nothing could have been more magical. It’s still true today.
Red gave me the deck which I still own. I have never used a Svengali Deck, but I will treasure that one forever. Because of that wonderful moment of experiencing what seemed to be real magic, I have been paid many times over for my one performance at the Red-Jack Playland.