Friday, September 27, 2013

John Calvert dies at 102

Sad news today in the magic world. Erika Larsen has just confirmed on the Magic Castle's Facebook group that legendary magician and actor John Calvert has passed away at age 102.

Calvert had a long and storied career in both movies and magic. He also knew Bess Houdini and Edward Saint when they lived in Hollywood in the 1930s (it's unclear if he ever knew or saw Houdini himself). When Bess saw Calvert's show she is reported to have said, "Calvert plays the part of a magician better than any actor I have ever seen, except for Harry, of course."

Bess sent a letter to Calvert, who had a seven year contract with Columbia Pictures, saying, "In my opinion, you are the only actor capable of portraying the life of my late husband, Harry Houdini. Are you interested?"

Calvert was interested. Unfortunately, the head of Columbia, Harry Cohn, was not, complaining that Houdini's story was "lacking in romance and needed a better ending than a punch in the solar plexus."

Calvert would go on to star in approximately 40 films in the 1940s and 1950s, including a lead role as the debonair detective known as "The Falcon." In many of his films he performed magic. In the 1940s he transported his magic show worldwide in a DC-3 aircraft which he piloted himself (and once crashed). According to his MagicPedia profile, biographer William V. Rauscher called Calvert a "real-life Indiana Jones" because of his reputation for surviving dangerous circumstances in his travels.

Calvert later produced and starred in a special "Tribute to Houdini" stage show, which was released on what is now a very collectible VHS. His last few birthdays were celebrated in the Inner Circle of the Magic Castle in Hollywood (I had the honor of attending the last one). He's survived by his wife and long-time assistant Tammy.

Aloha Mr. Calvert.

20 comments:

  1. Wonderful entertainer and charming gentleman. May He Rest in Peace...

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  2. Dont know him but a good person who never gave up and a good age he was! RIP sir x

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  3. Great tribute.
    P.S. It's Harry Cohn, not Cohen.

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  4. A great performer and an even greater friend.

    Fond memories of when he appeared at an Original Houdini Seance here at the Houdini Museum for one of his last full lectures and shows along with Tammy, of course. As always they thrilled everyone here and got a well deserved standing ovation.

    A true legend in magic who we will forever miss.

    Dorothy Dietrich & Dick Brookz

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  5. John Calvert's son Fred produced the direct-to-video documentary John Calvert: His Magic and Adventures a few years back, which has a fair bit of footage from John's shows as well as some great stories about those adventures, including the plane crash mentioned above, and nearly getting attacked by pirates when he took his yacht on a tour to perform magic in Southeast Asia. It used to show up on what was the old Documentary Channel before that changed brands. For somebody like me who is admittedly more interested in old movies than magic, it was quite an interesting watch.

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  6. Nobody ever asked him if he ever saw Houdini perform? He would have been15 in 1926 so it's very possible.

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    1. It's frustrating. I've heard it said by others that he saw Houdini, but in recent interviews (around the time of his 100th) he was asked about Thurston and Blackstone but never about Houdini. When I went to his birthday celebration at the Castle I was intending to ask him directly, but the opportunity didn't offer itself.

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  7. Such a loss to the magic world. God rest his soul.

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  8. I believe he told us he never saw or met Houdini. But he did say he was good friends with Bess. He also mentioned that Bess thought he would be the one to play Houdini in a bio of his life.
    D&D

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  9. You know.....there still may be people alive today that watched Houdini perform. It would be great to be able to sit down and ask them what it was like watching Houdini, what they most remembered etc. Of course these memories would be 90 years old but the comments would be interesting nevertheless. Soon anyone who did see Houdini will be gone.

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    1. RIP Mr. Calvert.
      How Houdini influenced one: At the age of 4, my father witnessed one of Houdini's performances and knew what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He became a magician. By the age of 15 he became a professional and after WWII opened a magic studio to perpetuate the craft. He had hopes of influencing the next generation of "Houdinis". His name: Ted Collins. While he never studied with Houdini, he did consider Harry to be his greatest inspiration.

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  10. Can we say with definite surety that everyone who ever met or knew Houdini is now dead?

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    1. That we know of. But it's possible there's still a centenarian or two out there who might have met Houdini.

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  11. A movie star in the 30's, touring magician for 70 years or more.......no mainstream news coverage at all for John Calverts death?

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    1. The Hollywood Reporter had a nice obit. There might be more coming. Takes the mainstream media a while to pick up news like this. Took them a several days to report on Dorothy Young's death.

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  12. He was one of nicest man i ever meet he played at our IMB Ring International Magician Brotherhood ring when he was 98 years young. He came out to perform with "young at heart playing" . At that age he asked if there was anyone who smoked in the audience if they could come up Indian wrestle and if they lost they have to think about quilting he beat every one who came up . And i mean some young guys god bless you john RIP and heaven has got great magician.

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    1. I worked with him as stage manager for a while. I regret not leaving all behind and tour with him. He was a father like friend whom I will keep his secrets to my end as well. I loved him Janette in Murfreesboro TN

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  13. What a fantastic man he was ....I was part of his "troupe" in Tasmania.Pilita was the sweetest thing and it was the greatest time of my life ...R.I.P. john

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  14. I had the opportunity to see his lecture in the 90s. I also participated in his spirit cabinet effect with him which I added to my show. I loved hearing his stories of going to parties in Hollywood with the three stooges and the Marx brothers.

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