When people ask me who my favorite magician was, I might answer sarcastically, “Harry Blackstone Jr”; or, if I was being sincere, I’d have to answer, “Mortimer the Great”. Many have called him “the man who revolutionized magic”; others have referred to him as “the greatest magician of all time”; a few have referred to him as “Spiderman” because you are going to find people like that.
Mortimer was born in Ames, Iowa. His father was a Presbyterian minister and his mother was a sexually-frustrated housewife who took in just enough washing to make the money to get her own clothes professionally laundered. The family lived on a farm just outside of town until the owners caught them and made them leave. At that point, the family moved to the city.
Because money was tight, they had to live in a dangerous and poor part of town; and, young Mortimer soon fell in with a gang of magicians who terrorized the neighborhood by turning people’s handkerchiefs into doves and pulling rabbits out of things. Mortimer was new to this life of senseless magic but he knew how to get what he wanted with a rubber pencil and a thumb-tip. Eventually, he was arrested under the Hayes Act for transporting a ventriloquist dummy across state lines. The court made a deal with Mortimer to suspend his sentence if he promised not to enlist.
Realizing that he’d almost made the mistake of his life, Mortimer resolved to turn over a new leaf. He enrolled in one of Ames, Iowa’s many magic colleges. The young man majored in coin magic with a minor in mime. His senior thesis was, “Gender Issues and Handkerchief Magic in Folklore and Mythology”. Sadly, his parents could not attend his graduation ceremony because they had vanished on the previous Friday and twice more at the Saturday matinee.
Work was hard to find for a magician with a criminal record; but, Mortimer was persistent and soon found a gig opening for a cockfight in Tulsa. It was there he first performed his amazing “disappearing/reappearing hamburger routine”… a trick too disgusting to describe here. He traveled up to Omaha, Nebraska to perform in the fourth aisle of a locally-owned drugstore, greatly mystifying those who couldn’t get by him. After joining the Sebastian, Frederick and Dork Vaudeville Show, the public really took notice. His trademark routine was to swallow a small bird and then vomit up its organs in alphabetical order. It was a big hit in places where good taste wasn’t an issue…
Flush with money, Mortimer decided to hire an assistant. He placed an ad in an Akron newspaper, looking for a young woman of “comely nature” who had the “class and attitude to lend gravity and dignity to” his performances. Also, she had to have “great gams” and “huge knockers”. He settled on Eleanor Richards, a divinity student at a local barber college. She was an instant hit. Critics raved over her, especially on those nights where she didn’t wear a bra.
At this point, Mortimer became “Mortimer the Great” and had his sights set on a transatlantic tour. He performed for all the crowned heads of Europe and a few of the crowned feet. In Austria, he cut a woman in half; fortunately, no one found out about it until he’d left the country. He showed the Queen of Denmark how to play three-card monte giving her the ability to payoff her country’s massive debt by bilking Spain. He smashed the gold watch of the King of Moldova and, not only restored it, but turned it into a cheap Timex. He culminated his tour by making the Sun disappear… although, some historians say it was actually a solar eclipse.
Busy schedules and goat cheese finally took its toll on Mortimer the great. Before a show in Istanbul, he complained of chest pains and shortness of breath. Sure enough, in less than an hour, he was run over by a vegetable wagon. Doctors labored furiously for hours but they failed to find him under all of that cabbage. A heart-broken Eleanor arranged to send him home, coach class. He was buried in Akron and twice more in Ames.
Eleanor tried to carry on the act but, without a magician, it was just her carrying doves and removing props from the stage. In a few years, she retired to Florida and wrote her memoirs. That her former boss was the greatest magician that ever lived was not in question; what WAS in question was “were there great magicians that HADN’T ever lived?”