In a previous post, I wrote about 80-year-old magician Robert Rodriguez, and how I turned him into a character in my novel: He became a 100-year-old woman who fled Stalin’s Russia in the 1930s. Here is Robert’s own back-story.
When I first met Robert, I was just starting to attend the monthly meetings of the Society of American Magicians, Assembly 22, in Alhambra, California. I’m a professional magician, and I know lots of magicians, but Robert was different from anyone I met there, so I began to ask him questions.
The more questions I asked, the more fascinated I became with Robert. He had started his study of magic at age 9 in Texas, but it became formalized when he became an adult, graduating in 1951 from the Chavez College of Magic, a unique and legendary learning institution in downtown Los Angeles. Old Benny Chavez taught Robert all the classics of magic–the multiplying billiard balls, the Linking Rings, silk magic, everything.
As I got to know Robert, though, I realized that there was more to his story. During the 1980s and ’90s, he taught magic at The Magic Shop in La Puente to a new generation of kids eager to perform miracles. Over a period of years, he became the progenitor of numerous magicians who were mentored by him and became professionals, including David Skale, David Zirbel, Harvey Simpson, Chazz, and many others. Many of them are still working pros.
“Robert was the mentor you turned to for all the classic moves,” David told me. “He had the training and the chops.”
In 2003, I became the proprietor of a weekly magic night called “Magic in the ‘Burbs,” and invited Robert to perform. I always interviewed my performers beforehand so that I could write up a promotional email, and in the process, made a fascinating discovery about Robert: He had traveled the world as a magician for 20 years while serving in the U.S. Navy.
Robert originally joined the Navy in 1953, and soon, was performing his magic shows not just for GIs and top American brass, but also, for foreign dignitaries in the countries where his ship dropped anchor. He performed for Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos at the Presidential Palace in the Phillipines, for the King of Morocco and his royal family, and even performed with the Bob Hope USO Show in Vietnam.
“In Morocco,” Robert told me, “we built an illusion show in the carpenter’s shop, all these magical boxes. We did the show and they loved it. But then when we were leaving, they told us they didn’t have room for the boxes on the ship, because they took up so much room, so I set fire to them all.”
In 1973, Robert retired from the military with a fat pension and dove full-time into his first love, the study of magic. In 2000, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Society of American Magicians.
Next: Robert’s dark secret.