Let’s Talk with Tina Whittle

Abracadabra by Tina Whittle

Last month, I was saddened to learn that actor Harry Anderson had passed away. Most people knew him as Judge Harry Stone on the sitcom Night Court. But I knew him as that most charismatic and skillful of stage performers, a close-up magician.

His brand of magic was not pure and sweet. It came with a whiff of the sideshow, a suggestion of the back alley. He didn’t pull rabbits from hats; he picked pockets and relieved audience members of their cash and jewelry. He told them he was going to con them, told them to their faces, and they still fell for the trick. It was irresistible.

My husband and I watched one of his television specials in remembrance, and I felt a tug of memory when he delivered his opening straight to the camera. He wore his trademark hat and suspenders and round glasses perched on the end of his nose, and he said with a confidential wink and a sly smile, “I gotta take somebody tonight. That’s my job. It’s not gonna be you, though.”

And just like that—presto chango!—you were a part of the act. That was how he earned your trust—not the generic you of the audience, but you, singular and special and chosen to be in on the secret, smart enough to be his partner in crime. Against the dazzling spectacle of David Copperfield, Harry did something even more magical—he made each trick personal.

I always appreciated how honest he was about his pre-showbiz life running scams on the street. He made no apologies, but he did work hard to do good with the success he achieved. He was the inspiration for the nefarious magician in my second book, Darker Than Any Shadow, who despite his crimes and misdemeanors still holds a place in my heart. Just like Harry.

How about you? Is there a performer whose memory still inspires you?

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Comments

  1. tinawhittle says:

    My recent visit to new Orleans reminded me that I still love magic, of all kinds. Some of the performers there reminded me of Harry’s ability to work a crowd. Thank you all for sharing your memories.

  2. These stories are amazing and heartwrenching! I must admit, I had to think for awhile about the question. We didn’t get to see many performances as kids or as a young married person. I’ve never been to a magic show, but I have distinct memories of two different kinds of performances. First up, my older cousin often entertained the family by playing piano in the late afternoons and evenings. He didn’t know a lick about music signature but he played and sang by ear. He loved playing songs from the Righteous Brothers era. I was transfixed at how he played and sang. People would come up to him and say, do you know this one? He didn’t and he’s say sing it for me. As they sang, he filled in underneath on the piano. To a shy kid who knew nothing about music either, other than the song transported me, it was indeed magical. The other performance that comes to mind happened in the last decade, so it’s somewhat more current. My husband and I attended a Blue Man show. It was zany, comic, and attention getting. I was impressed by how much they did during the performance and how it all fit together. It reminds me of how I start out plotting a book – just splash a bit of this and that on the story wall and see what happens!

  3. Loved Harry Anderson. I saw Chriss Angel live and was disappointed. I’d have to say the live performance that wowed me was seeing Queen in concert. I sort of liked their music, but when I saw them live, I was a fan for life. Freddie Mercury. What a performer. Maybe I need to channel a character like him for one of my novels.

  4. My husband and I saw Doug Henning perform. He was another ‘up close’ magician, and I was totally captivated.

    Fast forward a bunch (a BIG bunch) of years. Our son gave us tickets to Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow in concert. (Peter, Paul Minus Mary), and they were performing for and with each member of the audience. Time warp with their songs, too.

  5. I can’t say a performer has inspired me. But I am a fan of the current TV show, Deception, in which a magician aids the FBI in solving cases. It’s an unusual take on the crime show genre.

  6. I attended a Judy Collins concert just days after her son had committed suicide. She let her tears show and her voice cracked a couple of times, but she soldiered on. Whenever I start to think I should get a pass because something hard has happened to me, I think of Judy that night.