"The light cabinet illusion traveled in a solid trunk about the size of a telephone booth. It was a cumbersome thing that took two men to carry it from the transfer truck into the theatre. The light bulbs themselves were kept in a well padded separate trunk. Since the breakage percentage was high ,the word 'Fragile1 was painted on all sides.
I have read accounts of the illusion where it was mentioned that the bulbs were 'neon'. Not so. They were clear glass with a filament running the full length. Each fellow on the show was assigned certain illusions. It was his 'baby1 and he was responsible for it's set-up and tear-down. It was also to be kept ship-shape and minor repairs or paint touch —ups had to be done by him. For major repairs on illusions, Blackstone's brother, Pete, or Frank Luckner the show property nan, took over.
The light cabinet was 'the baby' of Bud Doremus, the show stage manager. It was his job to check the bulbs each show before the illusion was brought out onto the stage. It would be a dead giveaway to the audience if a bulb was dead and came to life when it supposedly punctured the girl. Also, vice versa if a live bulb went dead when it protruded from the cabinet and then came back to life when the bulbs were retracted. Bud worked right on stage with Blackstone during the illusion so was right handy for a 'chewing out' if he slipped up on his inspection. Most times, though, the bulb had just become loose in the socket and a twist would turn it back on.
During those years the two sizes of these bulbs were verv expensive. We also had to keep an ample supply on hand as they couldn't be found in the smaller towns. We also had to keep an extra supply of sockets as they occasionally gave out. Sometimes a socket hinge would break which meant a fast soldering job between shows. Four shows a dav were rough on the old cabinet and Bud often joked, 'The damn thing is held together with baling wire.1
About twice every season the front panel had to be 'flittered'. Bud would paint the panel with glue and then sprinkle on the flitter, little particles of a glass-like substance that sparkled when the spotlights hit it. This job had to be done at night so it would be dry in time for the first show the next day. For a week after a flitter job, every show Bud would come off stage picking splinter-like particles from his fingers. The following page shows Bud Doremus, Mary Martell and Blackstone working the
Along with the "Girl in the Tires" illusion, T think the light cabinet was one of the most baffling on the Blackstone show. It was a clumsv, heavv effect as this was in the days before plastic and light metals. In fact, the curtain on the roller, that was drawn when the girl was in the cabinet, was 'oilcloth', an item that was sold in the dimestores and used as kitchen table covers of that day.
There are many humorous incidents that happened with every illusion on the show, but that would take a whole book. Every illusion also had its serious side...We were playing Minneapolis and it was one of those shows where Bud neglected, or was too busy, to check the bulbs before the show...One of the bulbs was broken, which could happen during the hub-bub backstage, and with new theatre stage-hands that handled our props in every town. When Blackstone pushed the bulbs 'through' Mary Martell, the girl who worked the effect, it caused a half-moon gash on the calf of her leg. With blood gushing from the wound she finished the trick. The bleeding couldn't be stopped but real trouper, Mary, finished the last half hour, working all her illusions and was then rushed to the hospital. She had seventeen stitches taken in the leg...Mary had been a Miss Finland in a beauty contest and had a beautiful figure. Later, at birthday parties on the show, Mary would get a few drinks in her and lambaste Bud. She'd point to the crescent scar, 'Lookit this, Bud. Just because vou goofed, I gotta carry this for the rest of my life.'
Mary Martell was a pretty girl who also worked the 'Girl in the Tires' illusion. She was a real trouper and loved to 'strut her stuff1 on every illusion she worked. Since my days on the Blackstone show, one by one, we've lost most of the old troupers. Mary was the first to go of the old gang. I guess I'm still around because I was the youngest in the troupe. I joined the show when I was eighteen.
The stories could go on, I'm sure, but to round out our discussions about the Light Bulb Girl I am honored to have comments from the well-known star of Memphis, Tennessee television, Mr. Dick Williams. His prop was built by artist and craftsman, De Yip Louie.
'"Louie1 was visiting in my home in Memphis back in the mid-seventies. We were talking fondly of Blackstone, Sr., with whom Louie had trooped for several years in the forties. During that time Louie copied the measurements of the Light Cabinet for use later in his own show. Louie says Blackstone acquired the Light Cabinet from Marshall ('feather flowers') in Ohio in the mid to late thirties for about S500.00. It was way ahead of its time and I personally remember seeing it in the Blackstone show during World War Two. It completely baffled me then. Louie said the illusion then was hard to troupe and they were constantly working on keeping it in alignment, etc. I asked Louie if he would build me one. He thought for a while and then said he would. I was elated and told my wife when they (Louie and his wife) had left, that Louie had agreed to build me a Light Cabinet. 'How much will it cost?' asked my practical wife. fI have no idea,' I said, 'but think of the honor!' She agreed. Two years later the Light Cabinet, number 7 built by De Yip arrived. It was perfect. And the packing case was the best I have ever seen.
For the girl in the Cabinet we had chosen Terry Alden, sister of Ginger Alden. Ginger at that time was the fiancee of Elvis Presley. Ginger told Elvis that her sister was working on this 'great new trick with long light bulbs' with Dick Williams. Elvis suggested a private showing when the illusion was ready. This never came to be as Elvis died when the illusion was still being learned.
As of this And in all brought us
So, thanks to Dick and George you should have a basic idea of the Light Cabinet's workings and idiosyncrasies. In upcoming pages we will give more information on this classic illusion.
I think by now you probably understand the advantages and drawbacks to this illusion. When we were trouping ours I always hoped we could come up with an easier way to get the same effect. Obviously the size would have to be cut down and the mechanics simplified. When I began getting inquiries for plans on this prop, once again I hoped for a streamlined version, knowing most performers would prefer a prop that would deliver the same basic effect without the bulkiness and without being quite so t empe raraen t al.
My friend, Jack Dean seemed to be an obvious choice for this task, having logged several years as a commercial lighting designer. I twisted his arm and now within the following pages is a comprehensive solution to my Light Bulb Girl quandaries. It's called the Luminaire 13. this respected illusion.
I'm excited about it because it's a practical approach to Please review the following pages closely and if you're interested in building this prop, but aren't that familiar with electrical diagrams, show these pages to someone well versed in lighting is your opportunity to perform something unique!
and electrical fabrication. This
• ••■•••••••••«•.•••••«a • •
• •••••••••a • • • • •••
v n iiiiiiiiiiiii
• ••■•••••••••«•.•••••«a • •
• •••••••••a • • • • •••
Was this article helpful?