Articles by Ben Robinson
This article is dedicated to the memory of our good friend, Henry Davies of Hove, Sussex, England. Above: Robinson and Davies are shown in England, 1986. Below, Davies’ Christmas cards and give-away card.
BY BEN ROBINSON
Henry Davies was a wonderful man who led a quiet life amidst a busy career in the theatre. Firstly he worked at London’s Old Vic Theatre for 50+ years, ending up in the esteemed Stage Manager position. He regaled with tales of his friend Laurence Olivier’s stage fright, and the night he held Ellen Terry’s head while she became ill before going on. Henry also was the masterful reference librarian of the world-renowned Magic Circle private club in London. In his later years Henry made a living as a busy children’s entertainer, under the nom de theatre, Will A. Maze. At the end of every performance, he made a bunny appear and then had the children queue to pet the rabbit and receive a picture present of the bunny. Of course, an ad for Henry’s magic show adorned the other side of the photo. When I met Henry, he was 74; I was 25. For three days he ran me ragged, as I carried his bags to his many shows in the South of England. He always told me with a wink, “When I get to be your age, I too will require sleep.”
Ben Robinson atop the Mad Hatter sculpture in Central Park, New York City, 1984
The first frame of the first prime time TV magic special, “The Festival of Magic,” Producers’ Showcase, 1957, NBC-TV.
The phrase “Mad as a March hare” was originated by Lewis Carroll, for his Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. His description was a burlesque of the shy and wild habits of rabbits during their “rutting season” in March.
Houdini wrote in his Helpful Hints for Young Magicians Under Eighty that “rabbit tricks are a positive successes.” I can confirm this maxim’s truth.The legendary HOUDINI posing with hospitalized children in his adopted hometown of Milwaukeee in 1925. The black bunny he just made appear is hard to see in the photograph, but it is in the center of the photograph atop the sheets.
Night club star John N. Booth presenting the classic image of a magician in the 1930’s. Photograph by Bloom of Chicago, 1936. Overlay text from a book by David Devant.
In 1935 Milbourne Christopher charmed his way into the White House and parlayed his recent feature story in the Washington Post “Young Wizard Speaks of Magic” into a performance for Eleanor Roosevelt and her grandchildren at the Easter Monday egg rolling festivities. Christopher is shown above making a rabbit appear in London, 1961.
Mr. Christopher told me that the hit of his show was the rabbit he produced; that’s magician’s jargon for “having made appear.” And this performance brought him enough press and newsreel coverage to launch his first European tour with the pantomimic comedian Freddy Sanborn.
Ben Robinson, 1982: “Hare today, grad tomorrow.”Forty-six years later I appealed to Mr. Christopher to help me launch my career with a similar stunt at my college graduation.
When I received my diploma from the Dean of the College, I removed my mortarboard and lo! from within the folds came a black and white bunny! Amazingly, my photograph in The Day (New London, CT) newspaper was much larger than our commencement speaker US Senator Christopher J. Dodd! The story also spurred another 3-picture, 5-column story on me which provided enough publicity for me to sell-out the Dana Concert Hall on the Connecticut College campus for a farewell performance I titled “Last Vanish.” I was 21.
I came to New York City and used my clippings to secure a showcase performance (meaning you don’t get paid a guarantee, but a cut of the admission price) at Jason’s Park Royal, a club which was owned by a man named Jason Star, who was thought to have been President Richard Nixon’s psychotherapist!
The rabbit in the hat routine has served me well throughout my career. When I performed an Easter Sunday show in 1985 for children patients of New York Hospital, my rabbit stunt appeared on the front page of the Metro Section of the venerable New York Times.
One odd memory remains from that show.
Something happened in the hospital before the show that affected me indirectly. About three days prior to the show, a patient stole a scalpel and ran through the halls slashing orderlies before he was subdued. Consequently, security was very tight when I arrived. My bags were searched thoroughly. I was searched too. I was let in without a problem.
No rabbit was ever discovered among my bags or on my person. When my bunny appeared from my top hat, the security guard who searched me was so startled, he spilled his coffee all over his uniform. The head of the pediatric ward applauded my feat and then ran to me in a panic.
“You have got to get that rabbit out of here” she cried. “Some of these children are asthmatic!” However, the miracle of magic prevailed. Every child who wanted to pet Robin the Bunny, did, and there was not a respiratory ailment in the ward.