Archive for August, 2013

The Blackstone Magic Show

Posted in Uncategorized on August 3, 2013 by Gwendolen De Lacy

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People ask Maggie why she chose photography.  Her response is always the same – she actually wanted to be a painter or a sculptor; that she’d been to art school  and had always been good at drawing.  Photography had presented itself as something she could use ‘to make some loot.’  The added bonus was that being behind a camera, also gave her a way of being in the world that finally made some sense.  In her own words, photography “stopped me from being lazy and gave me a reason to go out.”

She had been a rather “odd child” and was always wandering off.  Her temper tantrums matched her bright auburn locks and the teachers would tell her to stop staring.  By the time she was in her late teens, she’d experienced a girls’ reformatory and after taking herself on a bus trip around America, arrived home and collapsed with a nervous breakdown. There are details about this time, that will be revealed in the ‘tell all’ Diaz book, but at this stage, suffice to say that things were not looking good for Maggie.  In about 1945, her mother took her to a Park Avenue psychiatrist who gave her electro shock treatment and it was explained, that this was the same therapy being given to return servicemen and it would do her good.  The doctor also suggested that she might be a canditate for the sanatorium on the hill, if things didn’t improve, and that perhaps she should take up smoking “to relax”.

A few years later, as Maggie sat in the queue for work as a domestic help, her brother was performing in The Blackstone Magic Show as a professional skater and showman.  In 1949, he  sent her a telegram, “Blackstone wants another girl, send a picture!”

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She did indeed send a picture, and was sent the fare to join the troupe at Blackstone Island for rehearsals.  “I had to wear an Indian costume and shake my ass – it did me good.”  She spent a solid year touring with the Blackstone company, which unfortunately then had a sudden break in production, as “Old Mr B” was not in good health and had started to cancel shows.   On the strength of her year as a performer, however, she had gained enough confidence to walk into an Ad agency and introduce herself as spot sketch artist and was given a job as a Girl Friday.  Maggie was soon working as a photographer’s assistant and within a very short time, handed her own camera, which she had to pay off out of her wages.  From here, she won a prize in the Chicago Tribune, which helped to set her up as a freelance photographer and she started to call herself Maggie Besson – after her brother’s wife, Betty Besson, who had also been one of the Blackstone showgirls.  Margaret (Marge) Reid became Maggie Besson.

For a long time I had been searching for evidence of Maggie’s presence in The Blackstone Magic Show.  She had told me that both her brothers had kept news cuttings and photographs, (which had disappeared) and she kept mentioning a certain news article that appeared in a New Orleans newspaper.

Late one night in 2011, I did my usual Google search on Blackstone Magic Show, New Orleans 1940s – 50s.  This time, a new site came up – ‘Blackstone’s Elusive Moth’ Adele Friel had written her memoir of touring with Blackstone in the 1940s to 1950.  I was excited because the dates matched.  I sent off a note  and I called my message:

MR B’S GIRLS.    I thought that if Adele had known Maggie, she would understand what this meant.

Memoirs of an Elusive Moth cover

How lucky it was that I used this subject line, as Adele explained that as a famous veteran of the magic world, she receives plenty of unwanted mail.  It was my subject line that had her thinking…’How could anyone know that we called ourselves Mr B’s Girls?’

So I was rewarded with this reply:

Dear Gwen,

Somehow I did open your message and got the most wonderful surprise of all … a contact with one of Mr B’s Girls!!!  I know her as Marge Reid.  And YES YES YES!! 

This is exciting …

Gwen, it is so good to know about Marge.  I never kept in touch with anyone from the Blackstone Show after I left on April 1, 1950.  The last day of the 1949-1950 season.  Now, it will be a pleasure and fun to be in touch with Marge.  I do hope we can work this out.  Marge’s brother Tom and his wife Betty were also on the show when Marge was in the cast.

I remember Marge like it was yesterday.  She had a good sense of humour.  I do remember the newspaper photo taken in New Orleans.  Each one of the Blackstone Girls was holding either a dove or a bunny.  I have one copy of that newspaper picture.  All yellow and a bit torn.  Betty Stolle was the featured “girl” in the article which accompanied the photo because she did all the BIG illusions in the show. 

The letter went on to talk about all sorts of details of the show and within a few weeks I had a copy of the newspaper article, copies of programs which featured Maggie, along with a cast list.  You can see Margaret Reid listed under ASSISTANTS TO MR BLACKSTONE.

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New Orleans Article

 Cropped article

 

‘Don’t call me Marge! ‘ This was one of  the first things Maggie said to her old buddy Adele, when I got them on Skype and they spoke for the first time in more than fifty years.

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Finding Adele, was one of the precious and “magical” moments of the Diaz project – piecing the story of Maggie’s life together.

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