Unspeakable Acts: Three Lives and Countless Legends of Tom Palmer, Tony Andruzzi, Masldyn ye Mage by Jim Magus with Terry Nosek and Neil Tobin
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii May, 2011)
The advertising copy for Unspeakable Acts a biography of the magician known by the monikers Tom Palmer, Tony Andruzzi, and Masklyn ye Mage bears quotation, because it is a rare case of truth in advertising: "Under one or more of these guises he built pieces for major illusionists, published his own influential magic periodical, headed a witch coven, ran a magic shop, created highly collectible handmade books, hosted an infamous alcohol-fueled annual convention, testified to the Warren Commission on the Kennedy assassination, married four times, and has continued to impact the world of magic 20 years after his death."
If you didn't know Tony Andruzzi, you really missed something. We often talk of "one-of-a-kind" personalities, and in the course of a lifetime in the magic racket, we are lucky enough to probably know more than a few. But Andruzzi was a rare bird indeed, and it's fair to say we shan't see another like him in this lifetime, or likely any other.
Born Timothy McGuire, he was rechristened Tom Palmer at the age of 10 months by adoptive parents; he would not discover he was adopted until well into his teen years. An early interest in magic blossomed quickly into working shows; at 14, he was the subject of a cover story in the Wyoming State Tribune. His show included home-built illusions, an on-stage assistant, production of a live rabbit from the hat, cigarette manipulations, along with ventriloquism and fire-eating. And he already had a knack for being quotable: "I have one great ambition to get so good that I can even fool myself."
By 15 he was doing an Asian-themed show in character, complete with three layers of embroidered Chinese robes, based on his research into the costuming which also included "a Mikado wig, a Fu Manchu mustache, and a lot of makeup ...." In the same show he would later come out (after a tap-dancer guest interlude!) as a modern per-former in formal tails.
The inventive and talented boy grew into a successful professional magician, who not only made a living per-forming for the public, but who also became enormously popular within the magic world performing an original comedy act, Tom Palmer and Company, which featured a hapless but egotistically incompetent magician who would suffer a series of hilarious magical mishaps. A bravura send-up of the classical magic act, the Palmer act not only won multiple awards at magic conventions, but despite its inside jokes, was equally successful for the public, including runs for the then popular Playboy Club circuit. When Palmer eventually elected to retire the act, he gave it to his friend John Thompson as inspirational fodder for what would eventually become the now iconic Great Tomsoni and Company act partly a spoof on the act of another Thompson pal, Channing Pollack—and select elements remain in the Tomsoni show to this day. The original Palmer act would eventually be described in detail in The Comedy Act Of and By Tom Palmer (Magic, Inc. 1969).
Although Palmer retired the Tom Palmer act, he still had more magical lives left to live. Following a painful divorce from his second wife and onstage assistant, Bunni, Tom Palmer abruptly changed his name to Tony Andruzzi. There are many stories for why he made this choice, and author Jim Magus records a variety, but Andruzzi himself is probably thorough, if brief, when explaining late in his life that "I did not want to be Tom Palmer any longer; and so I became Tony Andruzzi."
While building custom magic props, and performing as a Magic Bartender in Chicago (the city in which that form originated), Palmer-now-Andruzzi became interested in the Society for Creative Anachronism, the organization behind the Renaissance Faire phenomenon. Reading a book about Celtic magic, Andruzzi came across the name "Masklyn," and adding to it "ye mage" the magician he created a fictional persona of Masklyn ye Mage, for performance within the SCA world. Performing in original medieval costume, he used effects that seemed to suit the period, including a gory version of the Wrist Chopper harking back to a bloody full sized guillotine that he had built in his youth. Good work is never wasted or as Johnny Carson said, eventually you use everything you know.
Not long after these developments, Andruzzi came across a metaphysical discussion group called the Pagan Way. He began to attend meetings, and although he knew nothing of their world, he sat silently, as if as a knowing elder, and despite his inexperience it was accepted that he was far more knowledgeable than most others present. Deciding after a few such visits that he could "out-bullshit these bullshifters," he created an altar in his home, outfitted the place with some occult books and other accoutrements, and became an instant guru. He would later explain, "I was gathering a following by using the Center Tear, cold reading, and some simple stunts. And suddenly I realized I was the High Priest of a witch coven."
By dint of personal charisma, conjuring knowledge and skills, and some extraordinarily helpful coincidences (the book describes an instance in which witnesses were certain that Masklyn ye Mage controlled the weather!), his new role was a convincing success. But as Andruzzi continued to explore this new world he was also forging new paths in magic—an approach that a handful of other magicians were also experimenting with. Chief among these were Tony Raven, the publisher of Invocation, to which "Masklyn" would contribute "Flauros for the Living," the first of many pieces in the October 1975 issue—under the name of Masklyn of Magonegro, yet another assumed moniker that Andruzzi used at times in the Pagan world, claiming to be the master of a tradition of Italian witchery taught to him by his grandmother. True to his own words, the man was no amateur bullshitter.
This new passion for what was becoming known as "bizarre magick" (later he would also use the term Goetic magic, which never quite caught on as well), led to Andruzzi producing an original manuscript, The Negromicon of Masklyn ye Mage. Not only does this remain a ground-breaking collection of bizarrist feats, but it was also uniquely beautiful—every manuscript was hand lettered and handmade—indeed, no two are alike, and those copies which remain are suitably prized treasures today, along with many of the other strikingly original publications he produced.
Andruzzi's remarkably inventive nature, playful story-telling skills, broad range of magical expertise (from illusions to chemistry), and sheer love of the game--not to mention the commitment that made him a compelling performer comprised the perfect ingredients of the witches brew that was bizarre magick. Andruzzi would go on to eventually take over the writing and publication of New Invocation. What's more, he would create the Invocational a small annual magic convention in Chicago that focused on bizarre magick, but also welcomed mentalists and even the occasional card-carrying conjuror (including this writer). These gatherings totaled seven in all, the last in 1990, and they are reported on in great detail in the pages of the biography, doubtless in too much detail for some, but to a degree that will be eagerly enjoyed by those who were part of that history (as was the author). Despite the sup-posed commitment to a new kind of magic, nevertheless, the Invocationals were not so different from magic conventions like the Fechter's Finger-Flicking Frolic in upstate New York the former with fewer card tricks and more druidic rituals, but both thoroughly fueled by practical jokes, insider gags, and copious amounts of alcohol the ritual potion that would eventually kill the man behind them.
It's challenging if not impossible to do justice to a life and personality as complex as that of Tony Andruzzi. Fortunately, the author was a personal friend and longtime colleague, and was assisted by the work of other similar friends and associates of ye Mage. The result is a read-able tome that, despite somewhat minimal production values (the book all but demands an index) and occasional stylistic excesses, really does manage to do some justice to the memory of a truly extraordinary character. And one of the things that comes across—that may come as a surprise to those who only knew the masks but not the man behind them—is the incredible gentleness, kindness, and generosity that was the consistent feature of Andruzzi's nature. He pretended to be a man of darkness because he enjoyed playing with that—the way we enjoy a good scare at a horror movie. But while he delighted in wearing a scary mask, the man beneath was a deeply loving and giving person, a man who truly believed in goodness, and routinely acted on those beliefs. He even preached this to his Pagan flock, until he was scared off by the power they insisted in investing him (which in fact he did not seek), and ended the group as a result.
Tony Andruzzi enjoyed playing many roles, but they were that—playful parts in the theater of his life. The real Tony was a man who loved magic, all kinds of good magic, and all kinds of people, too. I was fortunate to know him personally (an affectionately foul-mouthed letter from him hangs framed above me as I write this), and now, thanks to this enjoyable book, those who had the pleasure along with those who missed the privilege, have the chance to get to know a genuine man of mystery. There is much more to the story, and it is a story worth telling, and worth knowing. So mote it be!