The Lives of a Showman–Part Four

Continued:-

All this happened in the summer of 1966. The reason I
remember the year is that at the time I was selling Svengali decks
outside Wembley Stadium when the World Cup soccer games
were in full swing. Mexico was playing, and I was selling the
trick decks in droves, mostly to Mexican soccer fans.
After a few days of selling the decks, I decided that it was
about time I got paid from the L’Hirondelle. I assumed that Mr.
Mustapha must have returned from his business trip. I found a
payphone near the stadium, phoned the club, and asked for Mr.
Mustapha. I was greeted by a secretary who on hearing my name
got very excited and said, “I am so glad you phoned. We have been trying to reach you for the last couple of days, but we’ve lost your
phone number. Mr. Mustapha would like you to work at the club
for one week starting on Monday”.

I was astonished at this turn of events, but was naturally quite
pleased about it. I did go down to the club on Monday and lo
and behold they had my money ready for me for the three days
I had already worked. The act died a death virtually every night
as usual, but the earlier shows were always a little easier than the
later ones, although still not spectacular.

I did not see Mr. Mustapha in the club all week, which was in
some ways a relief since he wouldn’t witness my act flopping every
night. However, one day I went to the washroom and suddenly
became aware of a small Turkish man using the next urinal. I
quickly realized this was Mr. Mustapha. He recognized me and
said. “How are you?” I said “Fine. Thanks for the booking.” He
responded, “You are welcome. I want you to work for another
month. Can you do this?”

I agreed in a flash. From being booked for one week, I now had
my engagement extended for a whole month. As a matter of fact,
the month eventually stretched into several more months. I must
say, however, that this is the only time in my career I have ever
been booked while urinating in a public washroom. I wonder if
this event is of great historical significance.
……………………………………………………………………………………………………
The last episode of this saga will be in my next entry. I reveal what happened to the Polish acrobat and why I had suddenly been booked out of the blue.

 

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The Lives of a Showman–Part Four

The Lives of a Showman-Part Three

Continued:-

I duly presented myself at the night club the next evening and
did indeed see Mr. Mustapha in attendance. I did the first show
and went over tolerably well as usual. It was always the second,
later show that caused the difficulties, because by then the alcohol
was flowing and the club was busier. However, I saw no sign of
the act from Poland who was to be auditioned. I reasoned that he
would probably show up at the second show, and I was correct.
In the dressing room before the 1.00 a.m. show I found that I
was in the presence of a rather egotistical acrobat from Poland. He
told me that he had travelled all over the world with his wife and
that he was one of the top acts in the business. He also informed
me that Mr. Mustapha needed a novelty act for the club and was
going to decide between him and me.

I had a sinking feeling that I had no chance competing against
an obviously seasoned professional, especially since so far I
had done so badly at the later shows. My negative vibes were
confirmed when I went on and died the usual death. The acrobat
and his wife on the other hand performed with great aplomb and
left the nightclub floor to a rousing ovation.

The acrobat, however, didn’t come straight back to the
dressing room. I noticed that he and his wife had gone to sit at Mr.
Mustapha’s table and were entering into deep discussion with
him. I figured that he was probably going to get the job and my
show business career was going to come to an abrupt end before it
had even had a chance to begin.

My suspicions were confirmed when he came back into the
dressing room bragging away to me how he had been booked for a
month with an option for another month. He was going to start on
the Monday of the following week. It was obvious that I was out
for the count, but I still had to hear it officially.

I therefore left the dressing room to find Mr. Mustapha, who
had done his usual disappearing act. I then decided to do the next
best thing and speak to the head waiter whom I had now found
out was actually Mustapha’s brother. As a matter of fact, I discovered
that many of the waiters and other staff were related to Mr.
Mustapha, and virtually everyone who worked there, apart from
the entertainers, happened to be from Turkey.

After locating the head waiter, I was informed that Mr.
Mustapha would call me if he needed me, but it was perfectly
obvious that he didn’t. There was, however, the little matter of
payment for the three nights I had already worked. I was told to
call Mr. Mustapha in a few days when he would be returning from
some business trip or other.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………….
So what happened next? Something quite unexpected! Wait until the next entry to find out!

The Lives of a Showman-Part Three

The Lives of a Showman-Second Excerpt

Continued:—-

I duly showed up ready to do the 10:00 p.m. show, and Mr.
Mustapha was there as expected. There were only about five
people in the audience and they were at fairly close quarters to the
performing area, which was not on a stage but on the nightclub
floor itself. There were tables all around the room, and I remember
a little balcony area with even more tables and chairs.
Because of the sparse number of audience members, I decided
not to use the microphone. I did a fifteen-minute act and it seemed
to go reasonably well considering the fact that there were few
spectators, some of whom were eating and one of whom I inveigled
on to the nightclub floor to help me.
I approached Mr. Mustapha for his verdict; he looked
undecided. He asked me why I hadn’t used the microphone and I
replied that I didn’t think I needed it because there were so few
people in the audience. He said, “Next time use the microphone.”
I seized on this and said, “Is there going to be a next time?”
He answered, “I’m not sure. There were too few people in the
audience for me to judge. I would like you to come back at one
a.m. and do another show for the later crowd. There will be many
more people by then and I will be able to see your act and judge it
under more normal conditions. If you do this I will pay you a fee
of five pounds.” In those days five pounds wasn’t bad money, so I
naturally accepted.

I left the club and wandered the streets of the West End of
London and came back in time for the 1:00 a.m. show. I was in
for an unpleasant surprise. The club was full and the audience
was indeed more plentiful. However, they were also extremely
intoxicated. I could see this was going to be a difficult show.
The compere (emcee to North American readers) was a singer
named Johnny Lee. He was at the club on a semi-permanent
basis and had signed a long contract with them. He introduced
me and I went on to inattentive indifference. I tried to gain the attention of the audience to no avail, and had to put up with quite
a lot of heckling. Somehow, I got someone up to help me with the
card tricks and he proved to be quite obnoxious. All in all, the act
died a complete and utter death.

I walked off stage knowing that I would have to face Mr.
Mustapha and I was in fear and dread of it. I waited in the dressing
room for him, but he was nowhere to be seen. I then ventured forth
into the club to find him, but he seemed to have vanished into thin
air. Just then, the head waiter approached me and said, “I have a
message for you from Mr. Mustapha. He had to leave early and
wasn’t able to watch your act. He wants you to come in tomorrow
night and do both the 10:00 p.m. and 1.00 a.m. shows. He will pay
you five pounds for the two performances.”

I was quite relieved that he hadn’t seen my awful show and
resolved that I would do better the next time. I duly showed up
the next evening ready to do battle again. I performed at the first
show to a reasonably-sized crowd. The act went over quite well
and everyone was relatively sober. However, I could see no sign
of Mr. Mustapha.

The later show died an even bigger death than it had done the
night before and the audience was even more intoxicated. I was
beginning to learn that doing an act consisting of card tricks at
one o’clock in the morning to an audience of drunks was not an
effective proposition. Of course, the later the hour, the more time
the audience had to get inebriated.

I came off stage resigned to be told by Mr. Mustapha not to
come back. However, that didn’t happen, since there was no Mr.
Mustapha to be found. In fact, I had not seen him all evening.
Lo and behold, the head waiter approached me and repeated
essentially the same story as the night before. He told me that
Mr. Mustapha had not been able to get to the club that night but
had left a message that I was to appear again the next evening
and again do two shows. Again I would be paid five pounds. I
did notice  that so far there had been no attempt to pay me the
ten pounds already owed to me for my previous performances. I
broached the subject, only to be told to ask Mr. Mustapha about it.
I then said, “I will be happy to perform tomorrow night, but
will Mr. Mustapha definitely be in attendance this time?” I was
told that he had to audition another act the next night and he would
do so at the 1:00 a.m. show. For this reason he would definitely be
there.
……………………………………………………………………………………………………
And that is the story so far. On my next entry I will explain what happened at the following two performances on the second night. Did I die any more deaths?  Tune in and find out on the next entry!

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The Lives of a Showman

I see that the person who set up this blog for me and who made the first post under my name said there would be excerpts from my most wondrous memoirs “The Lives of a Showman”. However in reality so far there hasn’t been a single excerpt! Well I suppose I had better remedy that right now. Here you are. This describes my adventures when first starting out in showbusiness in London, England.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………….

At the time there was a weekly theatrical newspaper called
The Stage (it is still in existence to this day). It had all sorts of
advertisements in a category called “Entertainers Wanted.” The
depressing thing was that you would often see the ads worded
something like this: “Variety acts of all kinds required. (No
magicians.)” It amuses me now to think about it, but at the time it
wasn’t amusing in the slightest.

Eventually, I happened to see an advertisement requesting entertainers
to audition. This time the ad didn’t say a word about not
wanting magicians, so I thought it might be worth a try. Accordingly, I phoned the number in the paper and was told to report for
an interview prior to an audition being set up. I was told to bring
any photographs I had of the act. In those days photos were the
most important part of your promotional material; they were more
important than any literature you had.

I took down the address and prepared to be on my way the next
afternoon. However, my sense of navigation became somewhat
askew, and I got lost. I came to a tiny street called Swallow Street
where there were two nightclubs side by side. One was called the
L’Hirondelle and the other was named the Stork Room. For some
reason, which I can no longer recall, I was convinced that the
L’Hirondelle was the place where the auditions were being held,
so I wandered in with great anticipation.

There was a small, empty hallway; nobody seemed to be
around. It was beginning to dawn on me that perhaps I had come
to the wrong address. Just then a small, dark, important-looking
man appeared out of nowhere. I found out later that he was the
owner of the nightclub. So many years have passed that I have
quite forgotten his name, so for the purpose of this story I will call
him Mr. Mustapha. He was of Turkish origin.

He looked at me and said, “We are closed until the evening.
Did you want something?” I replied, “I have come about the
auditions advertised in the paper.” His puzzled response was,
“What auditions? What paper?” I said, “The Stage newspaper. It
said you were having auditions; I phoned up about it.”
He answered, “I don’t know anything about auditions. You
must have come to the wrong place. Are you an entertainer?” I
replied, “I am indeed,” whereupon he inquired, “What kind of entertainer
are you?” I told him that I was a magician. He pondered
for a moment and said, “I need entertainers. I don’t know if a
magician would be suitable here, though.” I told him that my act
was a little different from most magicians, since it consisted of
nothing but card tricks. I told him that the card tricks in question
could be seen from a distance and appreciated by large audiences.
He didn’t seem convinced.

My salvation had always been the close-up magic, so I immediately pulled out a little pocket trick and showed it to him.His eyes widened; I could see that he was impressed. I then did a card trick and I could see he was sold. He said, “I’ll tell you what. We have an early show at 10:00 p.m. and a later show at 1:00 a.m. Do your act here tonight at the earlier show and I’ll see how well it goes over. If it works out I will hire you.” He explained that I
would not be paid for the evening; my performance would be an
audition.

I agreed to this and was quite pleased with myself. I left the club
deciding not to bother locating the place where I was supposed to
do the audition that was advertised in The Stage newspaper.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………….

I shall continue this saga in future blog entries. At least it will give me something to write about. I will probably post the next entry tomorrow. You will be able to see how I fared at my first show at this particular nightclub.

The Lives of a Showman