Remembering Johnny

I was saddened to hear yesterday of the passing of one of the truly great magicians of the past hundred years, Johnny Thompson, at the age of 86. Although he had retired his legendary stage act “The Great Tomsoni & Co” which he performed for decades alongside his wife, Pam, he was still constantly at it teaching and consulting. You got the feeling he was like the Energizer Bunny; that he would go on forever. But alas, you can only do so much impossible in one lifetime.

I first met Johnny the Niagara Falls Comedy & Magic Seminar organized by (now good friends) David Peck and Anthony Lindan. Not really knowing much about him, I got to see his legendary act close the show. It was simultaneously sidesplittingly funny and utterly baffling. The man was pulling live doves, as far as i could tell, literally out of thin air.

June 2008 - L to R Pam Hayes, ME, Ben Train, Johnny Thompson, David Peck

June 2008 - L to R Pam Hayes, ME, Ben Train, Johnny Thompson, David Peck

But then it got really good. For the next several days, Johnny and Pam were going to be visiting a number of magic clubs in Ontario and somehow I wound up as the driver. (Let that be a lesson to young people… get a drivers license! It really can work magic!)

The man literally oozed secrets. While sitting in the passenger’s seat of my Honda Civic, he would just tell stories and explain things. It was plodding along in traffic on Yonge Street that he taught me so much of the subtle inner workings of the famous “Egg” trick. I was still just performing close-up magic at that point and didn’t have a use for it. But later and to this day, it is a central pillar in my show and never fails to astonish… all thanks to Johnny.

All thanks to Johnny.

Years later I would find myself working on his monumental magnum opus The Magic of Johnny Thompson. At the same time, I was also working on digitizing and indexing performances from the Magic Palace where Johnny appeared several times. Towards the end of the project, I was assembling a 60 second highlight reel and as the last clip I picked one of the bird appearances from his appearance. What was particularly gruelling was to try and line up the clip so that the appearance of the bird was timed to the show’s theme music, which involved watching it over and over and over and over again, moving the clip over a fraction of a second each time.

However at that same time, I was reviewing early drafts of the book and planning the photos, so as I was watching this bird appear repeatedly, I was also looking at the instructions for how he was doing it. Years before, we were having coffee and (for no particular reason other than he wanted to share) he took his empty coffee cup, tucked it into his jacket and explained how he made his famous dove productions — the secret is in the little finger! Still today, I’m not entirely sure where that bird is coming from. Such is the magic of Johnny Thompson.

This is clip. Here are The Great Tomsoni and Company!

Update: March 19 - Johnny’s obituary was published in the New York Times