MILT LARSEN’S FAMILY ALBUM
by Deana Murray
If you opened up MILT LARSEN’S Family Album…it would be full of theaters and magicians. Much like opening the doors of the family home, “Brookledge” in Santa Barbara in which Milt and his brother Bill grew up. The portraits of most magicians in the album are distinguished by their acts or their props. But for MILT, the better pictures are those ‘properly framed.’ It’s also about the venue. He mirrors that thought in whatever he builds, in the songs he writes, and in the stories in his books and musicals. It’s all about setting the stage – for something amazing. And then delivering on that promise. He has an affinity for ‘Turn of the Century’ (this one, and the last) grandeur and glamour, substance and style. What makes MILT’S magic so special is that he invites others to participate in his act. He calls upon the best players… And he sees the audience as part of the cast.
One of his best and certainly most well known stage settings is The Magic Castle in Hollywood that he opened with his brother Bill in 1963. It has been a ‘work in progress’ for 45 years know. This icon has not only gotten better by the contributions that have been made permanent , but by the added surprises that change to match theme parties given regularly. MILT also celebrates 50 years of producing the annual “It’s Magic” stage shows. The list of his work is long. His newest endeavor is a musical called “PAZZAZZ” which he and his wife, ARLENE recently produced.
There are other prominent pictures in the family album. Some you’d be interested in…
Many of those are people and places and events that helped formulate MILT’S vision.
The Family Larsen with dad, William Larsen, Sr. and mom, Gery Larsen, performing at such places as Casa d’ Manana in LaJolla, the Del Coronado in San Diego, or El Mirador in Palm Springs.
Mr. Lane who built the original building that became the Magic Castle. Seen standing Jesse Lasky and Cecil B. DeMille. Land arranged financing for many of their early Hollywood films.
Tom Glover who owned the Lane House at the time, shaking hands with Milt. "All I have to offer is an idea and a lot of imagination…If nothing else I’ll fix up your building for you." Milt told Mr. Glover.
John Shrum, art director and set designer for Johnny Carson. He helped guide through the restoration of the Magic Castle. "You really need my help." He told Milt.
Bill and Irene Larsen’s wedding.
Harry Blackstone, Sr. floating Irene Larsen in front of the Magic Castle.
Jay Ose – the Castle’s first resident magician.
Dai Vernon – the Castle’s first resident.
Ernest Evans – "The man with the velvet crowbar." At Scavenger’s Paradise.
Bob Barker – on his show, Truth or Consequences, seen standing with MILT who wrote gags and made comedy props for, like the growing necktie.
The Mayfair Music Hall – Refurbished by Milt in 1973.
The Variety Arts Center in 1977.
Richard and Robert Sherman, Oscar winning songwriters for Mary Poppins. They also wrote "It’s a Small World" for Walt Disney (Milt’s hero). Richard and Milt have written 100 or so comedy songs so far, and three musicals…"Charlie Sent Me" and "Little Old Broadway" and their latest Collaboration, "PAZZAZZ."
Dr. John Booth,who married MILT & ARLENE at the Magic Castle. Richard Sherman was their Best Man. Christine (Arlene’s sister) was their maid of honor.
I got the chance to interview and chat with MILT LARSEN for a Ladies’ Only event at this year’s World Magic Seminar in Las Vegas. During the interview, he gave a subtle demonstration of the necktie gag. Every time he spoke, he’d give a tug at his tie. Every time he tugged, the tie grew longer. Some women didn’t notice until the tie nearly touched the floor! And it was a real pleasure seeing MILT and ARLENE again at the Gala Premiere of ”PAZZAZZ”, on June 21st. It was a balmy night of the summer solstice at the newly renovated GRANADA THEATRE in Santa Barbara. Another ‘turn of the century theatre,’ turned back into ‘GRAND’.
Arlene designed over 150 costumes for a total of 28 actors. For live theater, this is actually amazing to see how often and how fast the cast changed clothes, including a full cast change for the curtain call. Arlene designs with style and elegance and the kind of ‘attention to detail’ that would satisfy both Lillian Russell and Mae West. She said that since Richard and Milt did such a wonderful job writing the story… “I just couldn’t let them down.” If they don’t win awards for this… then the world is flat, and we deserve to fall off the edge of the ocean!
"PAZZAZZ” parallels MILT and RICHARD’s story in a lot of ways. The curtain opens to a bronze statue of George M. Cohan, the King of Broadway now mostly forgotten. Magically, the statue comes to life. Played by Danny Michaels, George narrates for the audience throughout – the importance of a story based mostly on fact occurring during the early days of theater. He starts by introducing characters like Lew Fields and Joe Weber who owned a small independent theater and tells of his own interconnected storyline as a younger man, played by Adam Wylie. Other characters include Lillian Russell…Diamond Jim Brady…Billiard Billie… some nice and others nepharious sing and dance their way through the life and times of the theater. Finding fun, comedy, drama and satire in the daily business of bringing acts to the stage. Bucking the odds and finding a way to exist in a tainted entertainment industry on their own terms.
If “all the world’s a stage,” then MILT is our best ‘stage manager.’ Life is NOT a dress rehearsal. He plays it real every time. He goes for what he likes, what he can do (without considering what he can’t do), and what makes him laugh. He makes sense out of chaos and makes others look good while he wields his magic wand. How ironic that he has been able to connect the dots for the rest of us by bringing back to life the history of “those days” into the moment of “these days.”He constantly reminds us that history makes great building blocks for the future… The future of magic and the future of theater. Thanks for that. My father thanks you. My mother thanks you. The whole family album thanks you. See ya in the aisle