Showstoppers Showcase

At the recent Magic Collectors’ Association conference here in Chicago, I was chatting with a friend when suddenly I saw, over his shoulder and about fifteen feet away, the first magic set I ever owned — the set that I received as a gift when I was seven years old, the set that began my interest in magic. I immediately interrupted the conversation by pointing and saying “Holy crap, that’s my first magic set!” — not exactly the best conversational gambit, but fortunately my buddy happens to be a magician so he understood completely. What are the odds of running across the very item that placed you on one of the most formative paths in your life?

As it turned out, the item was for sale. “Can I look at it?” I asked. “Sure, I’ll open it up” said the man with the magic set. After removing the cardboard sleeve, he opened the vinyl-covered case. Another moment of astonishment: the set was complete and in pristine condition, exactly as I remembered it from decades ago. It looked if it had been magically transported from then to now.

My first magic set, the twin of the one I was looking at, is long gone. The box fell apart from use; the props inside wore out, broke, were lost or discarded. I have only one piece from that original set: a small vinyl rabbit that was meant to be produced out of a plastic top hat. I don’t know why I kept the little white rabbit, but now it serves as a fine reminder of how something small and seemingly insignificant can change a person’s life. The objects in that box led to two published books, a show currently running in a theater, and a position as an editor at a magazine. Magic introduced me to most of my friends, people who have had a profound influence on my life.

It’s fascinating and a bit eerie to consider this question: What would have happened if I had not received that magic set at age seven? Would I have found my way to magic by a different route? Or would I be in a very different place today, surrounded by different people? Would I be a different person?

I bought the magic set at that conference. Given the questions mentioned above, the chances of my standing in that spot in that room with that magic set seemed so unlikely that I had to think I was meant to find it. If that’s magical thinking, so be it. Thinking magically has gotten me this far, hasn’t it?

* * *

We offer the following exhibit as a glimpse into the strange psyche of the entity known as David Parr. Enter at your own risk.

Behold, the Mattel’s Magic Showstoppers Showcase, circa 1969:

Très Peter Max, no? The case folds out to form a table for performance, providing a work surface and keeping props out of view of the audience until needed:

Prepare yourself, for you are about to gaze upon the mysteries within:

A closer look, perhaps? If you dare:

Instruction booklet, magic wand, and my old friend the white rabbit. The two black parts in the upper left assemble to form the plastic top hat from which the rabbit makes his surprising appearance. The blue object in the lower left is for performing a classic magic effect in which two paper clips link in midair. The shiny black object in the lower right is a box in which a torn playing card may be restored, among other mysterious goings on. And the triangular object in the upper right is my favorite, a maze with a tiny metal ball inside. For mere mortals, guiding the ball to the center of the maze requires a full minute of effort, but the mage can complete the task in a few seconds — and with the maze held behind his back!

And here’s a closeup of my old pal:

I’m told that the rabbit is a modification of the Mattel’s Storybook Kiddles White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland (Alice in Wonderliddle, as Mattel called it). The sculpt around the neck and the paintjob were changed on the magic rabbit, but he is in the same pose as the Storybook rabbit, hand raised to display his pocket watch or to greet a seven-year-old magician (or to ward off attackers). A clue to his ancestry is in the instruction booklet for the magic set. Illustrations for the effect titled “The Hare in the Hat” depict the rabbit wearing a little waistcoat with a high collar, exactly like Alice’s White Rabbit.

Thus we conclude our tour. We hope it was illuminating. This way to the egress.