SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 24, 2014

Show-stopper

Magic company auction marks end of era

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — For 35 years, Le Grand David and His Own Spectacular Magic Company sold an entertaining mix of illusion and spectacle on Sundays at the Cabot Street Cinema Theatre.

Yesterday, the company sold just about everything else.

In a five-hour auction at the former vaudeville theater in downtown Beverly, the magic company auctioned off 269 items from the show, which closed in 2012.

The items, many of them handmade by members of the company over three decades, encompassed everything from the equipment used to perform illusions, posters and paintings made to promote the show, decorative panels and curtain backdrops used in the show’s scenery, and hundreds of other eclectic “things” — a papier-mache dragon helmet, a mandarin head chopper, a baby giraffe statute.

You could buy the dragon mouth that customers walked through after buying a ticket. You could buy the carousel rocking horse that stood in the lobby for years. You could buy the gong that Marco the Magi struck to start the show.

You could buy souvenirs: Christmas ornaments, T-shirts, baseball hats, pins, tote bags, fanny packs, coffee mugs. There was a complete set of the Cabot Street Cinema Theatre newspapers, 37 volumes in all from 1976 to 2013. A reprint of the Time magazine story on the show. Five paperbook books.

David Bull, who played Le Grand David for 35 years, said the hundreds of items represented the “cascade of creativity” that poured out of Cesareo Pelaez, the show’s founder who died in 2012.

“Cesareo, I hope you’re sitting at the left-hand side of our creator and not spinning in your grave that this day has come,” Bull said in his remarks to the audience before the auction began.

Auctioneer Frank Kaminski said the auction raised about $150,000. It drew about 150 bidders to the theater, some from as far away as Florida and Canada, Kaminski said. Another 300 bid online or by phone from 15 countries, including China and Australia.

“We were happy with the results,” Kaminski said.

The highest-selling item, according to Bull, was a bronze sculpture showing Marco the Magi levitating Le Grand David. The sculpture, which was made by Bull’s father and had been showcased in the theater’s upper lobby since 1984, sold for $8,000. Kaminski had started off the bidding by asking for $35,000.

Asked afterward if it was difficult to sell off such items, Bull said, “Look, I did this for 35 years. I can walk away with no regrets. I and those of us remaining with the company are ready for the next chapter in our lives.”

Bull said there are “seven or eight” members of the original company who are shareholders and will benefit from the auction’s proceeds.

“Nobody got rich doing magic shows,” he said.

The auction attracted professional magicians, former members of the Le Grand David company and fans of the show, which is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-running stage magic show in the world.

James Essensa of Beverly walked out of the theater with a 6-foot-tall painting by Rick Heath, a member of the company whose artwork comprised a significant portion of the items. Essensa paid $450 for the painting, which commemorates the show’s 700th performance in 1982.

“This was a big deal to me because my grandfather used to take me here on Sundays,” Essensa said. “Who knows what they’re going to do with the theater after this? This is a piece of history. Shows like this are dying out.”

At least two former members of the magic show cast purchased items. Seth Bartlett, who played “Seth the Sensational” from ages 4 to 18, bought Heath’s “The Clowns” painting for $450. Alex Burger, who played a variety of roles as a youngster and now lives in South Africa, bought a “finger pointing” illusion for $700.

“It’s an emotional experience,” Bartlett said. “It’s mostly positive, but it’s tough to see. You don’t necessarily envision how something is going to end. But I’m very happy to see the appreciation people have for it. You can see that the show has been an important part of the community.”

David Oliver, a professional magician from Weymouth, said the Le Grand David show inspired generations of magicians, the same way David Copperfield, Harry Blackstone, and Siegfried & Roy have done.

“It’s the end of an era,” Oliver said. “They changed the course of magic history. Not just in Beverly, not just in Massachusetts, but around the world.”

Oliver bought an illusion in which a person appears to be levitating atop a broom. He first saw the trick when he attended Le Grand David as a 10-year-old boy. He declined to say how much he paid.

“It still works,” he said. “I may very well use it in one of my shows, or it might be a keepsake. It’s like getting one of Eric Clapton’s guitars. Do you play it or do you hang it on the wall?”

Bull and the magic company are in the process of trying to sell the Cabot Street Theatre, which has been on the market since May. They still own the nearby Larcom Theatre, which has been hosting music and comedy shows.

Bull, who came on stage occasionally to explain some of the items as they came up for bid, said some items sold for less than he expected, but others sold for more. He described the five-hour auction as a “whirlwind tour.”

“Several people came up to me and were so happy to have gotten a piece of apparatus or artwork,” he said. “They had seen the show, and they just wanted something to remember the show by. It was a great run, 35 years. There were no regrets.”

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.

 

Sample of auction sales