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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