How’d you get into the magic business?
My father did it as a hobby, and I started after watching him. When I got out of high school in 1948, my dad said, “If you want to make a living at (magic), well, we’ll open a shop.” It was just a magic shop at that time.
How’d you get into the costume rental business?
My mom would watch the store and (suggested that) a city the size of Fort Wayne needed more than just a magic shop. We got into the masks and then bought up an inventory of costumes. We’ve got over 20,000 costumes.
Why did you add in the comedy bits?
When you add in the funny lines, you can build a big crowd (at trade shows). It was fun to make people laugh and amaze them at the same time.
Who are your magician heroes?
Some are dead now (like) Jay Marshall. Penn and Teller, Mac King out in Vegas. After you start working professionally, you try to be original. You can take a standard trick and make it funny, and then it’s your own.
Are you a born performer?
I don’t know. Over the years when I do the act it always goes over well. It’s second nature now. The presentation is more important than the trick.
How did you meet your wife, De?
I was doing a trade show for Heinz — you know, the ketchup people, at the national restaurant (association) show. She was living in Atlanta then and attended the show. We met there.
What’s popular in Halloween costumes this year?
You never know until it’s here. The superheroes are popular. We’ve got a series of masks that are real popular because you can wear them and not be hot and you can eat and drink. Gorillas, chimps—those (masks) are really realistic now. We’ll be real busy with the rentals and the purchases.
You’ve shared the stage with some of the country’s greatest performers. Who was the best?
Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. I played with them at Buck Lake Ranch. Mickey Gilley, the Statler Brothers, they were fun. I did Muhammad Ali’s 50th birthday party. He loved magic. His religion says not to deceive people so he’d do a trick and then show people how to do it.
Are there any jokes you won’t do? Do you ever work “blue”?
I’m not a prude, but I’m usually working corporate things so it’s clean. I’ve worked Snicker’s (comedy club) with people who really work blue. But you don’t have to have it to be funny.
You offer classes in magic at IPFW. Why do you teach your tricks?
It creates interest in magic. People come in and buy from us. We give them a lot of tricks, plus an idea of how to project. One of my students is now a professional magician. Magic is an interesting thing. We have tricks a 4- or 5-year-old could do. You know, Johnny Carson started as a magician. That’s how he got started. He was a very shy person. On stage, he was outgoing. The No. 1 fear is public speaking. The No. 2 fear is death. But get people talking about something they love, they get over that fear. Magic puts you in that position: it’s something you know that nobody else knows. It gives you confidence.
Why do you think people like to be fooled?
I’m not sure if they like to be fooled. It’s frustrating to be fooled. But if you make it entertaining, they like it. You look at magicians like David Blaine and Criss Angel, they do a lot of their magic with (video) editing.
At a time when many people might think about retiring, you’re still traveling quite a bit. Why is that?
I enjoy it. It’s fun to make people laugh. And they pay me, of course. I’ll be in Indy in October, April in St. Louis and then Vegas for the National Association of Broadcasters. It’s my 45th year with them.
How important are your hands?
I’ve got arthritis in them now, but I don’t have any trouble with the sleight of hand. The hardest thing for me is to carry something up the stairs. I’m 82 years old.
Do you ever do the pull the white rabbit out of the hat bit?
When I was a youngster, I used a rabbit in a hat and dressed in a tuxedo. One day I had the setup, I pulled the scarves out and I went to pull the rabbit out and the rabbit had died. That’s the last time I dealt with a real rabbit. Now I limit myself to tricks I can do by myself and no livestock.
What happens to all those nickels magicians pull out of people’s ears?
It’s always the same nickel.
What’s your definition of magic?
People say, do you do “real” magic and in a sense you do. To you (the audience) it’s magical how it happened. In every trick, you have to be sure everything’s clear so people are really surprised. You know what makes people laugh? A surprise.
Who are your heroes?
My dad, Albert H. Stoner. A lot of people, if a kid in high school said I just want to do magic, they’d think he was crazy. My dad was supportive and helped start it. He did some magic as a hobby, and I thought I could do that. My parents would drive me to shows.
When are you the happiest?
When I’m performing or with my grandkids.
How long does it take for you to perfect a trick?
It depends. Some you can pick up immediately and you just need the entertaining part of it. Others take months. Just because it takes a lot of skill doesn’t mean it’s a great trick. In 10 seconds, it’s over. You find a way of pulling the tricks together into a routine.
You seem to have so much fun doing tricks and gags. What appeals to you about performing?
It’s fun to make people laugh. I think everyone should live every day as if it’s their last. If you do that, one day, you’ll be right!