Lamont liked hanging upside down. He must of… he did a lot. He hung upside down on the Pearl Street Mall, multiple times he hung upside down for the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon and most important to me, he did it for the Mile High Magicians Society April 24th, 1976. For me it would be another magic moment as it would mark my entry into the world of escapes. Specifically the strait jacket escape.
Most performers and I think many in the non-performing world already know that there can be huge difference between seeing something on television and seeing it in person . Nowhere is this more true then in the world of magic. Case in point, when I teach a magic workshop I ask the children how many of them have seen a magician perform on television or in person. When I ask which is better, 99 percent of the time they will tell me magic is better in person. This is particularly true in the field of escapes. The tradition of escaping from strait jackets was well established in 1976. My exposure to the strait jacket escape was limited to magicians appearing on TV. While I loved watching magic on The Ed Sullivan Show I was frankly unimpressed with the strait jacket escape.
This brings me back to the evening of April 24th, 1976. Sam Kent from The Foan Family Circus and The Wizard Magic Shop was the director of An Evening of Magic presented by the Mile High Magicians Society. I remember that it was a terrific show. The one thing I remember most was the upside down strait jacket escape. The Incredible Lamont strolled confidently out onto the stage jacket in hand. After the jacket was examined, 2 assistants secured Lamont strapping it tightly about him. The stage at Englewood High School had a fly system for hoisting scenery into the ceiling area. Lamont and Sam used this to great effect. A batten (horizontal scenery pipe) was lowered to the stage and Lamont’s ankles fastened securely. The batten was then flown out lifting Lamont upside down his head far above the wooden stage below. Cue dramatic music as Lamont flailed wildly about. Then it happened, the magic moment, I found myself straining forward sympathetically struggling with Lamont. Not only that but I noticed everyone around me was doing the same thing. One could cut the tension with a knife. When the jacket dropped to the ground and Lamont took his upside down bow the theater erupted with wild applause. I was hooked.
Lamont Ream has been a good friend for over 40 years. He has a passion for magic, escapes, melodrama and bad jokes. Lamont and I became buddies during the years he worked at The Wizard Magic Shop. We hung out all the time. We shared magic secrets, although this was somewhat one sided as Lamont was far more knowledgeable then I was. Nonetheless we were pals. Lamont introduced me to the Double Eagle Steak House and their enormous breakfast and I was with Lamont when he met the girl who would become his second wife.
Lamont was probably a little distressed when I asked about how I could get a strait jacket. I know my own knee jerk reaction today is, “No way this is my money trick!” But if he was distressed he never let on. Lamont had already helped me with a college research paper by recommending an assortment of books dealing with Harry Houdini. Because of this I had some knowledge of the methodology behind this and other escapes.
My first escape came from a booklet I purchased at The Wizard on the 100 foot rope tie. Soon after I added this to my show. To add drama I offered a challenge. While tying me up with the rope assistants from the audience would be timed. If I failed to escape in less time then the tying I would forfeit my check for the show. I performed it so that the audience could see the escape, mimicking the strait jacket. there was a problem. Once my hand was free much of the drama went away as people could clearly see my progress. Some unremembered genius suggested that I hide from view to increase the tension. I remembered Houdini’s Handcuff cabinet where the audience could witness his struggle but his progress remained a secret. My solution was a black 6 foot canvas bag that could be placed over my head. Instead of an opening in the top a screen was sewn into the front so that my face could be seen. Now I could struggle up to the last moment when triumphantly I would throw off the bag. It served me well.
The strait jacket still held me under its spell. It was an obsession. Visiting Lamont at his place in north Boulder I asked If I could try the jacket. It was a hot summer day. Lamont secured the jacket securely. If I was going to escape I would have to earn it! For 90 minutes I flailed around marveling at how difficult it really was. With no air conditioning I was sweating profusely. Finally I freed myself and Lamont, genuinely pleased offered me a beer. Knowing that I was serious enough to have learned the basics Lamont soon after told me where I could get my first strait jacket.
A few months later when I finally had the jacket in hand Lamont pulled me aside and said, “Oh Dave, by the way there are a few things that I didn’t tell you.” He then proceeded to share a secret that I too have protected. A secret that I have never read in print. I realized that I had passed the test, before he gave up the secrets to his beloved escape Lamont wanted to know that I was serious.
Over the years my approach to the strait jacket escape has changed radically. But the escape itself has remained an important part of my show. I even performed the escape upside down. Upside down came to a stop when I was dropped on my head. But That is another story…
Strait Jacket Escape! Birth of The Jacket of Doom is part 8 in My Magic Journey series. If you want to catch up here are links to the other posts:
Part 1 My Magic Journey, Part 2 Kids Magic, Constructing a Magic Show, Part 3 Kids Magic, Writing the Script, Part 4 Magic Education, Part 5 College Magic: Working the System, Part 6 The Wizard Magic Shop: A Personal Memory, Part 7 The Foan Family Circus: A Magic Circus
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