March 07, 2020

THE MAGIC LAND OF ALLAKAZAM


THE MAGIC LAND OF ALLAKAZAM
(CBS, ABC, October 1, 1960-December 26, 1964)

Mark Wilson Productions




MAIN CAST:
Mark Wilson – Himself
Nani Darnell – Herself
Mike Wilson – Himself
Bev Bergeron – Rebo the Clown
Jackie Joseph – Assistant
Lynn Barton – Assistant


            The family that magics together stays together. At least in the case of the Wilson family.

Magician Mark Wilson pulling a rabbit out of a hat.


            Mark Wilson had become interested in magic when he was eight years old and saw magician Tommy Martin perform at an Indianapolis hotel his family was staying at. After his family moved to Texas, Wilson took a job at the Douglas Magicland shop as a teenager to further his knowledge and work on his own magical skills. As he gradually improved, he would perform shows at small functions around the area.

Wilson performing the levitation trick on his assistant and wife, Nani.

            With the rise of television, Wilson saw an opportunity to bring his magic act to a larger audience and was able to secure a show on local ABC affiliate WFAA in 1954 called Time for Magic. Using the marketing training he gained in college, he managed to secure sponsorship from Dr. Pepper. As one of the first magic shows on television, it quickly grew in popularity and spread in further markets throughout Texas. In 1957, Wilson attempted to go to a network by creating the syndicated series Magic Circus with sponsor 3M. NBC was interested in the series, but instead chose to go with an hour-long golf program hosted by Bob Crosby. Wilson tried again by securing a larger sponsor: Kellogg’s. Kellogg’s request was that the show’s name be presented as AllaKazam so that the “K” would be in the middle and stylized after the Kellogg’s logo. Wilson agreed and they secured him a spot on a network--a mere 10 weeks before the first episode was scheduled to air.

The Wilsons with Rebo the Clown.

            The Magic Land of AllaKazam debuted on CBS on October 1, 1960. The series was the first magic show on network television, and the first to be videotaped and nationally syndicated. It used a fantasy storyline set in the titled magic land to lead into the various magic tricks performed. Wilson was assisted by his wife, Nani Darnell, and their son, Mike, along with the mute Rebo the Clown (Bev Bergeron). They would often operate and interact with puppet characters, as well as various evil foes and residents of the world of AllaKazam. While the series’ theme was provided by the Leo Burnett Agency, the advertising firm that represented Kellogg’s, the rest of the show’s music was provided by organist Jack Anderson, whom Wilson brought over from Time for Magic. Wilson also recruited Time for Magic director Andrew Sidaris to direct AllaKazam.

Mike tickles his mother's feet after she's been cut in half.

            To help develop the stories, tricks and props used each week, the Wilsons recruited some of the best talent they could. The main source of the props and builders came from the Owen Brothers Magic Company (now Owen Magic Supreme), run by brothers Carl Owen and H. Emmett Owen. Bobby “Torchy” Towner was a skilled craftsman and creative genius from Owen that served as both a magic coordinator and portrayed various characters on the show, such as the King of AllaKazam. The other credited magic coordinator was Robert Fenton, who had the unique ability to locate strange materials to use in building the props. John Gaughan was the Wilsons’ first assistant starting from when he was 14 and learned illusion building from Carl Owen, which led him to become the head of the Wilsons’ prop shop. Leo Behnke joined the show from Owen and performed weekly tricks with audience members, sleight of hand and table top magic, created magic tricks for Kellogg’s cereal premiums, handled the Wilsons’ fan mail and produced an AllaKazam comic that was given out to children in the audience. Lin Searles was an expert card mechanic and student of gambling routines that wrote instructions for small card tricks for Owen before becoming the writer and script supervisor of AllaKazam. Chuck Burnes served as a clown for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Baily Circus before joining the show in the recurring role of kindly toymaker Christopher Periwinkle. Francis Martineau was a nightclub performer and gifted artist recruited to be the first foreman of the Wilsons’ shop in the second season, creating conceptual drawings for Wilson’s various projects. Dick Zimmerman was an inventive magician who served as a consultant on the show, providing ideas for various tricks for the first season. Two lovely assistants were hired personally by Darnell, with the requirements including having a background in dance, certain physical requirements, the ability to learn quickly, and weren’t blonde (as she was). Those assistants ended up being Jackie Joseph, who had a long and varied career in television and movies after AllaKazam, and Lynn Barton, whose career was brief before she retired from show business.


While the magic tricks were common stage show fare (cutting a person in half, making an animal appear, making a person disappear, sleight of hand, etc.), the creative team behind the series made it so that they looked visually interesting. It was often the first introduction to magic for many people, including children who would one day pursue an interest or career in magic. Wilson insisted that in order to keep the authenticity of the tricks intact, they had to performed each show in front of a live studio audience and each trick with as few edits as possible; that way, the home audience was assured they were seeing the exact same thing that the studio audience was without added camera trickery.

Mark and Nani with the various Kellogg's cereals that would feature their magic tricks.

For the first season, reruns of Hanna-Barbera’s Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and Pixie and Dixie were aired during the show. As it became popular in the ratings, these cartoons were dropped as of the second season. After two years, Kellogg’s decided to discontinue the main brand of cereal Wilson was promoting, Sugar All Stars, causing him to find a new sponsor and network. AllaKazam moved over to ABC for another two years before it was ultimately cancelled after 99 episodes (the final episode was pre-empted by a Presidential speech). It continued to run in international syndication.

Promo image shot outside the CBS studios.

As the pioneers in early television magic, the Wilson family would go on to star in several more magic-centered shows such as The Funny Face Magic Show and The Magic of Mark Wilson, as well as appear on a variety of shows including The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show and the original Saturday Night Live. They would also serve as technical advisors for many programs featuring magic or with episodes involving magic, such as The Magician, Circus of the Stars, Hollywood Palace, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Incredible Hulk (1978) and others. As the years went on, they continued to define how magic could be presented on television through lighting, stage design and costuming conventions. Wilson was even the first westerner invited to perform in China after their cultural revolution. The Wilsons’ second son, Greg, ended up following his family into the profession, becoming a magician in his own right.

The original unaired pitch pilot DVD.

Greg currently runs a website called The AllaKazam Archives and a fan club to fund the digitization of his family’s relics from their decades of entertainment; including full episodes of the series. In 1962, Whitman Publishing printed the AllaKazam Magic Paintless Paint Book, which allowed kids to create colored pictures by using only water. Along with various instructional videos, Wilson released 24 episodes of the series across 6 DVDs. The DVDs were available on Mark and Nani’s website, but have been deactivated once Greg’s came online. Both sites offer various items from or about AllaKazam in their respective stores. Peter Pan Records also released two albums from the show in 1962, with one being a single of the show’s theme.


EPISODE GUIDE:
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