George Hits his Stride and
Does What No One Has Done Before

by Richard Kaufman
Photos by Fredde Lieberman


I had a distant memory of seeing this guy before. Something about him struck me as interesting. I think it was the clock , or maybe his manner. Something interesting there, I recalled. Perhaps at a convention in New York City years earlier. Regardless, when he stepped onstage at the SAM convention in Cincinnati, a wave of interest rippled through the audience. Dimly illuminated in the darkness there appeared the face of a clock. The lights came up slowly and revealed a wonderful grandfather clock and a surprisingly charming guy beside it.

An energy rolled off the stage a confidence, a warmth. Kind of like Tom Cruise without the cockiness. And then he began performing, nearly flawless dove productions, no fiddling: the birds just appeared at the tips of his fingers. He swung the face of the clock open revealing two horizontal bars inside, and on these he perched the birds as he produced them. Then he removed the pendulum from the clock and the sphere magically multiplied until he held six of them, enormous bulging between his fingers. And they vanished. Another dove appeared and a moment later, when he swung open the face of the clock to place the bird with his friends, the inner cogs, had reappeared--the birds gone. With a casual shrug, he tossed the bird in the air and a carnation came down in its place. As he attached the flower to his lapel, the lights dimmed, and George waved his hand over the face of the grandfather clock, relighting it. What an Act! The deep appreciation of the audience was evident. As a judge in the stage competition, he made my job real easy.

I met George after the show, but didn't recognize him. You hear that about certain film stars when they're spotted on the street, like Al Pacino, who a buddy of mine saw in New York. "He was a scrubby little guy," my friend remarked, mystified that this was the same electric actor he'd seen in so many movies. And so it is with George, who is an unaffected, modest guy looking a decade younger than his 37 Years. There is nothing about him that would attract your attention in passing, buy when he steps on stage… well, he really steps on stage.

Genii: How old were you when you first got interested in magic?

George: About eight years old. My father worked with a guy who dabbled in magic a bit, and he showed my father a couple of coin tricks, which he then showed to me. He wasn't an amateur magician or anything like that, but he learned these few tricks because he thought it would be fun to teach me.

Genii: Did your parents always encourage your interest in magic?

George: At the time that it was a hobby, yes (laughs). My dad always took me to local magic shows. We always watched all the magic specials on TV, he took me to the local magic shops run by Ray Goulet and Hank Lee on weekends, and my folks always gave me magic on my birthday. I played hockey in school and every time I scored a goal he took me to the shop and bought me a trick. I saw General Grant do "Zombie" when I was a kid, about 9 or 10, at one of the local Magicales [a yearly show organized at that time by Herman Hansen]. I fell in love with it.

I started off just doing "Zombie". When I pick up something and use it in my act, I hate to put it down in order to pick up something else. Everything I do has to influence whatever's coming next. If I pick up a handkerchief and make a bird appear, I'm not going to just put the handkerchief down. I'll do a switch or something, and use it in the next routine. So, sometime when I was in high school, I wanted a way to make the Zombie ball appear. In my earliest routine, I made the Zombie appear from the silks I was holding at the end of "20th Century Silks." Then I thought it would be cool to make a bunch of Zombie balls appear from the handkerchiefs. Then it dawned on me to make the balls multiply like billiard balls. At that time I just did it with one hand because it was all I could do. It wasn't until years later that I heard about Peter Gloviczki and his routine, which is kind of the same idea.

Genii: At what age did you start performing magic?

George: Early on I would set up a small stage with curtains in my bedroom and I charged 2 cents admission for my family. My first real paying engagement was when a woman across the street from my parents' summer house in Wolfboro, New Hampshire, was having her grandchildren over ( I must've been in sixth or seventh grade). She asked me to come over and do some tricks for them, which I did (stuff out of a Marshall Brodien TV Magic Set), and afterward she gave me five dollars and said, "Now you're a professional!" Later, when I was about 14 or 15, I started doing birthday party shows for $25.

Genii: How did your prize-winning act develop? What came first?

George: The Zombie came first, because I saw General Grant do it. He was the first magician of that classical style that I had seen with manipulations and birds. It was a type of magic that I felt drawn to, silent with music. Everyone else at the local magic clubs was doing a talking act, may with comedy, and so it had the added advantage of being different as well. I saw magic on TV: Norm Nielsen, Richard Ross, Shimada, Marvyn Roy, Channing Pollock, and Bill Bixby in the series The Magician.

Genii: From the time you saw General Grant when you were about 10, how long did it take until you got your first dove?

George: I didn't get doves until I was 22. I always wanted to do doves. My mother was not too fond of pets, and it was just a matter of waiting until the right time. So, as my act was evolving, I ended up doing what was basically a dove act, but using candles instead. A magician in my area, Jimmy Rainho, produces all kinds of electronic candles. Did all the dove moves with his solid candles which lit electronically. Once I got the doves, the candles slowly left the act. Jimmy Rainho, who also did doves, used to show me how to put his harnesses on the birds and gave me tips on how to work with them. He worked with me a lot in an informal way.

Genii: I don't recall ever seeing anyone else produce a dove quite the way you do. Is that a conscious effort on your part?

George: To be honest, I don't understand what's different. It's just the way I do it.

Genii: With the majority of dove workers, you see them searching around for the loops, or drawing their hands away from them in a funny way just prior to the appearance of the bird. It doesn't look like that when you do it.

George: I've come up with a few different ways of doing it.

Genii: Some guys, for example, have massive loops so they don't have to make restricted movements to get their thumb inside. But then their hands have to move far out to get the bird out because of the size of the loop.

George: When I was the Magic Castle this past spring, someone standing in the wings commented that when Channing Pollock worked, from the side you could see these big loops of piano wire sticking out from the front of his jacket. The guy said this because he could no see my loops--at all. Because of the venues where I work in Boston, I am often two feet away from people. And I can't have the loops sticking out of my jacket, so I have kind of a different thing where my loops don't stick out at all.

Genii: That's astounding, because there are no tip offs in your movements. Who else helped you when you were young?

George: The local guys like Ray Goulet, Parker Swan, and Dave Cresey. In fact, I recall the first time I met Cresey. My parents had heard a magician was going to perform at a local holiday fair in New Hampshire and they took me to see him. It was Dave Cresey, who was doing doves at that time. Here I was, a kid about 13 or 14 years old, and he took me backstage and showed me how he stole a dove from his table, which I later used in my act. All the local guys were very supportive. More recently Marcello Contento has helped me quite a bit. And of course, the greatest support in my life comes from my wife, Holly, because without her I wouldn't have been able to do any of this.

Genii: What a nice boy--and smart, too! So, first came the multiplying Zombies, then the doves, and when did the Grandfather clock join the proceedings?

George: Around 1988. When I started working with birds I used to use Channing Pollock's birdcage like most everyone else. I didn't like it because, as soon as the curtain opened, before you did anything, the audience knew what you were going to do. So then I developed this perch that was attached to the back of my table. But every now and then a bird would get spooked and fly off the perch so that wasn't too good. I never liked the idea of a "magic table" anyway--it's too vanilla, so I was always looking for something else to use … a trademark, something that people would associate with me. I wanted something that looked like a piece of furniture, something central, something that would give people a visual hook so I would be know as "the guy with the ________."

I used to go down to Newbury street in Boston, which was the "hip" place at that time, and look in the store windows to see how they were displaying their stuff. I walked through the malls. One day I walked into a furniture store and saw a few grandfather clocks. That interested me, but I shrugged it off and kept looking. But no matter what else I looked at after that, the thought of the grandfather clock always came back to me. It took about nine months before I finally realized that it was right. Then I went to clock shops and found a blueprint, then built the clock. The evolution of the act was slow, because there's very little call in the Boston area for a 7 to 12 minute silent act: everyone wants 45 minutes with talking, which is what I do most of the time.

Genii: So you don't do this act very often?

George: There's just no place in the area I work that can accommodate this type of act. I've always done a second act, talking, since I was younger. I play a totally different character in it. To answer your question, I did and older version of the bird act at Abbott's in August 1998. I didn't do it again until a gig in March 1999. Then I made lots of changes and did the act at the Magic Castle for a week in June in order to work all of the changes in.

Genii: What kind of changes did you make?

George: I dropped the "Zombie," and now begin by removing the pendulum from the clock in order to get into the multiplying Zombie balls. There was no pendulum prior to that, in fact the center of the clock was solid, and I used to steal loads out of it. When I cut the center open and hung the pendulum, a great deal of my steals and a lot of the act changed.

In 1984 or 85, when I was 23, I entered the contest at the SAM convention in Boston and thought that I would blow 'em away with my multiplying Zombie balls. It was my Adam Ant [a rock star] era, and I was wearing a colonial outfit like Ant or David Bowie, with big cuffs, black boots, puffy sleeves, and so on. After the contest you sit down with the judges and listen to their critique of your act. Charlie Reynolds was one of the judges and the first words out of his mouth were, Who are you?" I replied, "George." And he said, "no … who are you on stage?" And I said, "What do you mean, I'm George on stage, the same guy." Charlie continued, "No, because your costume looks colonial, but you're using silver balls which are kind of modern, and you're using candles which could be colonial."

In the back of my mind I was trying to figure out what he was saying, and then suddenly I understood. That's when I realized there was something more to this than just going on stage with blaring rock music and a strange costume.

Genii: It's a good thing Charlie said that to you or you could have ended up just another guy doing card tricks.

George: I was spending some time with a bunch of people involved in the theater, juggling, and other arts, but not magic. After figuring out what Charlie meant, I listened to what my theatrical friends were talking about with "character" and stuff like that. Listening to how they developed and explored it. Then I took an acting class, a speech class.

Genii: That's interesting because your "character" on stage is transparent. In other words, it's not exaggerated in any way, and it's extremely natural. So natural, in fact, that one assumes it's you, being yourself, on stage. It was quite a shock when I saw you offstage and it was difficult to recognize you. You must hear that a lot.

George: All the Time

Genii: For you, that character really is a "role", as if you were in a play.

George: After shows when I'm walking around, no one recognizes me … I'm invisible. That's a bad thing.

Genii: I disagree, the character you portray on stage is very "big" in a good way. If you behaved that way in life it would be too overbearing, too much confidence and too much charm--It would be obnoxious. On stage, however, it comes across perfectly.

George: When I was in high school, I was performing at a Boy Scout banquet for a friend of my father's who was the scoutmaster. Afterward, when we went over to the guy's house for dinner, he came over to me and said, "You know, the kid who was on stage was not the kid who was sitting at the dinner table."

Genii: So you've always had an alter ego for the stage.

George: Even as a kid. I'm pretty quiet unless I get to know people. I hate walking into a room full of people and being the center of attention, having everybody look at me.

Genii: Well that would define your character in real life, because you wouldn't do anything to attract attention. Yet on stage you have to behave differently because you need everyone to look at you. Did you think you would win the IBM or SAM contests this year?

George: No.

Genii: Why? Because you've been in them before and not won?

George: Right, I thought, "Why should this year be any different?" (Laughs)

Genii: So why did you enter?

George: I needed a fire under my butt, and target date, to finally make all these changes to the act that I had wanted to make for years, such as adding the pendulum to the clock. When I had entered the contest at SAM previously, I didn't have the grandfather clock, and I always wondered, what if I'd entered with the clock act.

Genii: Were you surprised when you won both the IBM and SAM stage competitions, gold medal in both, and also the SAM People's Choice Award, and SAM sponsorship to FISM, as well as a trip to work at the next SAM convention in Japan?

George: Oh yes.

Genii: Your confidence and grace onstage is obvious, plainly evident, to the audience. Your strength allows the audience to relax and enjoy your act. You have a great character in your silent act. It's rare, and that's one of the reason people react to it so strongly. We don't see many people like Channing Pollock and Lance Burton who are that suave, that cool, with impeccable technique, great stage presence and charisma; that's a real gift. You've cultivated it over a long period of time, but if you don't have it in you to begin with, it's not going to come out. You're reaching middle age, and as an artist middle age is a great thing because you start to relax. You try too hard when you're young, but you can still do the same things when you're middle aged and also relax while you're doing them. Even if you're nervous in your mind, your body is still relaxed, you look relaxed. All the elements in your act have now come together--you've just won all these awards. You didn't win them the last time you did this act, so have you asked yourself why?

George: Yes, and I can't figure it out! (Laughs.)

Genii: Well, you've mentioned that you had to change quite a big of the steals and choreography because you put a pendulum into the clock. It could've been dumb luck, or it could've been the artistic part of your subconscious pushing you toward doing that.

George: These were changes that I've wanted to make for years.


It always comes down to the ineffable: you don't know exactly why it's great, but there it is--just plain remarkable, artistic, fulfilling and you understand. Excellent presentation, even though many with equal or greater presentation fall short. Superb technique, even though many with equal or greater technique fall shore. Magnificent charisma and stage presence, even though many with equal or greater of these fall short. Or a person may possess them all and still fall short, far short.

It's the gestalt, the unique way these things combine in one individual, that makes a great artist, someone who make you sit up in your chair and causes your eyes to widen. You can't wait to applaud at the end.

If you have it in you to be good, and you work really hard, and get lucky, everything will fall together at one point. And for George that was this summer, when he hit his stride.


Genii Magazine
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