Kodell: Do Something Different by Jack Kodell
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii September, 2011)
When the Lance Burton Theatre and the Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino were still under construction, I had the privilege of touring the site with Lance Burton; the third party in our hard-hatted trio was none other than Jack Kodell, the legendary and ground-breaking magician. I was thrilled to meet this man whom I knew to be an artistic pioneer. Now, Mr. Kodell, long retired from the stage, tells his remarkable story, an important chapter in the history of magic, and a fascinating and entertaining tale.
Did I say pioneer? On the first page of the first chapter, Mr. Kodell lists some of his unique achievements:
- The first magician to do an act entirely with live birds.
- The first to utilize the bird's intelligence to accomplish the magical effect.
- The first magician to perform in a Las Vegas hotel show room.
- The first and only magician to double, for one year, in the two top major Parisian venues, La Lido and La Moulin Rouge.
The first magician to perform an act on ice skates in both the United Kingdom and the United States.
And that's not the entire list! A textbook overachiever, Jack Kodell learned to drive at the age of eight, and at nine was declared the world's youngest aviator, having learned to fly a Taylor Cub on his own, including a repertoire of stunt flying skills. Once he got interested in magic, his progress was similar; at age 14 he met Ed Marlo at Ireland's Magic Shop, who was sufficiently impressed by Kodell's second deal that he wrote it about it Genii.
But the boy had bigger game than card tricks in mind. At that same age, merely 14, he began work on the act that would eventually make him famous, creating an opening effect that would remain throughout his performing career the production of a glass of wine, followed with the appearance of a live bird on the rim of the glass. Young Kodell spent two years in self-imposed "solitary confinement" working on the act, which he debuted at age 16.
He also had plans to attend medical school, and his goal was to make enough money performing the act that it would pay for his university education. Indeed, while still attending the University of Illinois for his pre-med studies, Kodell, not yet even 20 years old, would land a six-week contract at the El Rancho in Las Vegas at $1500 a week, more than $14,000 in 2010 dollars, corrected for inflation! And his father had to ask, "And where is Las Vegas?"
Performing on bills with the top stars of the day, and hobnobbing socially with others of similar stature, Kodell experienced a success that few other magicians, before or since, would ever match. Yet at age 33, after already 18 successful seasons in the business, Jack Kodell and his wife Mary took stock of the changing nature of show business, the dying night clubs rapidly being replaced by rock-n-roll venues, and—with five future years of signed paying contracts already in hand quit show business. Using their knowledge of that business, however, they ventured into the fledgling "incentive" business, creating, producing, and managing elaborate corporate productions and events where they found just as much success in the years to come as they both had experienced as performers.
Even with all this, I have only scratched the surface of Jack Kodell's career, and have barely touched on his incredible magic act, which included parakeets multiplying at his fingertips the way other magicians produced billiard balls, and concluded with this effect, as described in the book's foreword by Mr. Kodell's lifelong friend, Marvyn Roy:
"The finale ... was Jack's own version of the Hindu Rope Trick. He picked up a (two-foot) length of white rope ... [and caused it) to stand erect. .... He placed the rigid rope in the center of the top of the Lucite table. ... Then he placed the yellow parakeet at the base of the rope and in a tiny spot light and to the beat of a drum, the little bird climbed to the very top of the rope! Jack took his white silk pocket-handkerchief and gently placed it over the bird. Then a slight hesitation, he clapped his hands and there was a puff of smoke. The silk suddenly jumped to his hands empty, and the rope fell to the table."
Really: what more need be said?