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Jewish Journal

Adventures in the Magic Castle

by Celia Soudry

February 13, 2008 | 11:30 am

Celia Soudry, The Jewish Journal Calendar intern, dressed in her finest cocktail attire and headed to an exclusive magician’s club on Mon., Feb. 4 for a night of trickery and humiliation. Here’s her account:

Resembling a fortress from Franklin Avenue, Hollywood’s Magic Castle has a mystifying charm, reminiscent of a haunted house or a grand Victorian mansion. Built in 1908, the Castle, which patrons can only enter if invited by a member, has nearly 5,000 members and a devout following.

Strolling into the Palace of Mystery within the Academy of Magical Arts headquarters, I was lead through windy hallways adorned with hundreds of pictures of famous magicians. I could smell mystery in the air, but never could I have imagined the events about to unfold.

What brought me to the Castle, Mr. Balloon Man the magician, was a far cry from what stood out in my mind as I left the Transylvanian abode. Performer Bruce Gold would change all that for me. During a dinner of steak tips and fried artichoke hearts (they were the only appetizers on the menu that a fellow journalist and I could afford), I mentioned my fear of public speaking and being thrust into the spotlight. Little did I know that my biggest fear was to became reality only minutes later.

Entering one of the magic show rooms, I strategically buried myself in the fourth row so I would not be called on. During the performance, Gold scoured the room for an unsuspecting victim to join his act. As I squirmed in my seat, avoiding eye contact, I felt someone hovering over me. “Are you a professional magician’s assistant?” Gold asked. I did not answer. He smirked, hollering, “It’s a yes or no question!” I muttered back, “No?”

Already feeling humiliated in front of my coworker and a room full of strangers, I grudgingly agreed to be his assistant, despite the fact that I desperately needed to use the ladies room after my two glasses of chardonnay. Once dragged on stage, all I remember are lights shining in my eyes, picking a two of diamonds from a deck of cards, a piece of toast flying out of the toaster with my card number and suit burned onto it, people laughing and a polaroid picture being snapped of me. The picture looks normal enough, but I certainly don’t feel the same about magic shows.

Prior to this incident was the performance of hysterically funny and quirky Argentinean Jew, Hillel Gitter, better known as Mr. Balloon Man,  who has blown up on the stages of Jay Leno, Regis Philbin and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, among others. I was not the only one in the crowd mesmerized by Gitter’s ability to perform a magic act while inside a massive balloon. Smoking, making a bird appear and disappear, Gitter’s act was truly unique.

When asked how he breathes inside the balloon, Gitter said, “Very carefully.” Out of all the magicians, Gitter was the most energetic, bouncing around the stage with his unruly grey curls floundering about.

Gitter’s act, which is as much a bizarre comedy routine as a magic show is one I would definitely go back to see. Luckily for me, he already has an assistant—his charming wife Leticia.

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