Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The Impossiblist

Over his 50 year career Reveen presented 6,000 live performances throughout Canada, the U.S., Australia and the United Kingdom.

When Australian magician and hypnotist Peter Reveen was in his 20’s, he decided to see the world –- and got as far as Canada.

Arriving in Vancouver by bus from Los Angeles, something about the place and the people just felt right and he decided to stay.

Around 1960, he arrived in my hometown of Regina, taking over the classiest local movie house for a presentation of illusion and hypnotism. Live shows like his didn’t come our way much and I’m sure the people who ran the theatre figured they’d be back unspooling movies in a week or so.

But he was billed as “The Impossiblist” –- perhaps because it wasn’t just onstage where he worked his magic.

Reveen had a knack for both self-promotion and what would now be called networking but back then was just finding willing people and offering them an opportunity.

The man had talent and he knew that to make a living he had to share some of it and give some away for free.

So he would spend his days walking the streets of the cities where he played offering shop owners and pretty much anybody with a public window free tickets for putting up the B&W posters of his imposing visage.

He traded radio stations free ads for a percentage of ticket sales and made the same deal with the local TV station where he’d generously hypnotize the weather or sports guy live to show his potential audience the fun that was in store.

His show had barely opened and every kid in town was begging their parents to please, please, please take me!


Meanwhile, every small town has a coterie of folks who love magic or are certain they have show business in their veins.  Thus many in Reveen’s backstage crews and assistants were drawn from those bartering their talents for a closer look at how real magic was performed or just to be part of a big-time theatrical evening.

The names of those to whom Reveen gave a shot include famed Jazz pianist and Canadian Senator Tommy Banks and a kid from Moose Jaw named Shelby Craigen, who invented and built illusions for Reveen still used by Las Vegas icon Lance Burton.

Between the generous ticket deals that not only saw posters in new windows every day but encouraged radio and TV stations to plug his show at every opportunity, Reveen was selling out nightly all through a long, cold winter.

I thought I’d never get to see him. And then, one day, Reveen walked into my dad’s office with a poster under his arm.

It wasn’t the first magic show I’d ever seen. But to date it’s been by far the best. Reveen worked the family crowd with a few illusions and then his signature specialty of hypnotizing about a dozen volunteers from the audience.

The result was an evening of awe and side-splitting laughter that led to the inevitable standing ovation that concluded every Reveen performance.

Two or three decades later, I saw Reveen again in Toronto’s Elgin Theatre where, along with Montreal’s St. Denis, Vancouver’s Orpheum and Edinburgh’s Playhouse, he still holds the attendance record.

His show was bigger and flashier than before. He’d been a regular at Caesar’s Palace and on the Merv Griffin Show by then. Had his own comic book, best-selling academic treatise on “the superconscious” and a line of self-help hypnosis tapes.

But he was still the same guy.

Gentle. Down to Earth. Funny. Anxious to share his talent and enjoy the wonder on the faces staring back at him.

Peter Reveen passed away in Las Vegas on Monday, his death overshadowed by the departures from Life of Margaret Thatcher and Annette.

He leaves behind a son who carries on his legacy of magic and millions of fans who will forever remember a man who understood that giving away or sharing what you have returns unimaginable rewards.


Peter Mohan said...

Nice story! Thanks Jim!

Anonymous said...

My encounter with a similar (but definitely less talented) traveling magician was what turned me into the skeptic that I am: one of his tricks malfunctioned, and I learned that there never really was a bird in the balloon.

But I'll agree with Peter, this was a nice bit.