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New Senior Pitchmen DVD

Here are Bobby Reynolds, S. David Walker and Wally Nash talking about the Medicine Show pitch at the 2nd annual Senior Pitchmen Reunion in Las Vegas in 2010.

Nancy Magill and I video-taped four hours of interviews at the first convention in 2009, and that became the Senior Pitchmen Reunion DVD available from

This clip is from the second annual convention DVD, the Senior Pitchmen Reunion 2010. We will be releasing this DVD in the next month or two.

Magill did all the camera work, and I did the editing and titles.

We want to thank Gene Haaheim for letting us be a part of both of these wonderful get-togethers and record them for posterity.

This is a convention of pitchmen–the guys who sell watches, puppets, svengali decks, flower bulbs, kitchen gadgets, miracle cleaners, knives and dusters on the street, in carnivals, in stores, on television and on the internet–all of them over 60 years old.

These are guys who spent a lifetime hustling, drawing a crowd, and pitching the product.

Pitchmen are not only a fascinating, unique and attractive life-style and sub-culture, they are a fountain of information on how to survive and prosper in this most basic of entreprenurial fields. But their knowledge is also helpful to magicians, salesmen, emcees and others who need to know how to draw and hold a crowd, how to control their thinking, and how to sell them a product.

Henry David Thoreau:

“All voting is a sort of gaming, like chequers or backgammon, with a slight moral twinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions, and betting naturally accompanies it.”

Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience, 1849

Fundraiser at Historic Lummis House

El Alisal is the home built by Charles Fletcher Lummis between 1896 and 1910 on the west bank of the Arroyo Seco in northeast Los Angeles. It takes its name from local sycamore trees, one of which is featured in the home’s interior courtyard. The house is built using stones from the arroyo bed, concrete, and wood. The design of the home is influenced by mission architecture and the dwellings of the Pueblo Indians. Though not directly influenced by the English Arts and Crafts movement, the house shares many of its design principles; it is furnished with hand-crafted wooden furniture, and features exposed wooden cross-beams and concrete floors.

Fundraiser for the Historical Society of Southern California

Join us Saturday, October 1st, from 6:00–9:00 pm for a special fundraiser celebrating money and magic in the West. This will be at the historic Lummis house in Los Angeles.

Buy in and participate in demonstrations of classic games like the shell game and three-card monte.

The dealers will be Magic Castle magicians Pop Haydn and Phil Van Tee. All proceeds go to HSSC. There will be a silent auction as well as music, food and beverages. Western outfits and period costumes welcomed. Hats, yes. Guns, no.

Members $60, Nonmembers $70.

Special price for reservations received and paid before Sept. 10: Members $50, Non-Members $60

For Non-Members, you can get tickets HERE.

Quarter! Give us Quarter!

Robert Newton, Pirate Talker:

Happy “Talk Like a Pirate Day!”

That was no Lady, that was a Pirate!

Mary Read with Anne Bonny and Calico Jack

by Chris Collingwood

“None among Rackams crew were more resolute or ready to board or undertake anything that was hazardous.” So stated Captain C. Johnson in his classic history “A General History of the Robberies and murders of the Most Notorious Pirates (1724). This is his description of both Mary Read and Anne Bonny, without a doubt two of the most famous woman pirates who ever sailed.

From Wikipedia:

“Johnson’s account suggests Anne Bonny was born some time between 1697 and 1705 in Kinsale, Ireland, the daughter of attorney William Cormac and his maidservant, Mary. Cormac separated from his wife and, for a time, raised Anne disguised as a boy (passing her off as a relative’s son). Once the scandal was revealed his legal business was irreparably damaged and so Cormac moved the family to Charleston, South Carolina where, after earning new wealth as a merchant, he bought a large plantation.

“At first, Anne’s family had a rough start in their new home. Her mother died shortly after they arrived in North America. Her father attempted to become an attorney there, but did not do well. Eventually, Anne’s father joined the more profitable merchant business and accumulated for the two of them a substantial fortune.

“When Bonny was 13, she supposedly stabbed a servant girl in the stomach with a table knife. Bonny was a red-haired beauty and considered a good catch. She married a poor sailor and small-time pirate named James Bonny. James Bonny hoped to win possession of his father-in-law’s estate, but Anne was disowned by her father.

“There is no evidence supporting the story that Anne Bonny started a fire on the plantation in retaliation, but it is known that sometime between 1714 and 1718, she and James Bonny moved to Nassau, on New Providence Island in the Bahamas. New Providence was then a sanctuary for English pirates. Many received a “King’s Pardon” or otherwise evaded the law. It is also true that after the arrival of Governor Woodes Rogers in the summer of 1718, James Bonny became an informant for the governor.

“While in the Bahamas, Anne Bonny began mingling with pirates in the local taverns. She met the John “Calico Jack” Rackham, captain of the pirate sloop Revenge, and became his mistress. They had a child in Cuba, although this child’s ultimate fate is unknown. Many different theories state that it was left with friends, died during birth or was simply abandoned. Anne rejoined Rackham and continued the pirate life.

“While she and Rackham were back in New Providence, James Bonny dragged Anne before Governor Rogers, demanding that she be flogged for adultery and returned to him. There was even an offer for Rackham to buy her in a divorce-by-purchase, but Anne refused to be “bought and sold like cattle.” She was sentenced to the flogging, but later Anne and Rackham escaped to live together as pirates. Anne, Rackham, and Mary Read stole the Revenge, then at anchor in Nassau harbour, and put out to sea.

“Rackham and the two women recruited a new crew. Over the next several months, they were successful as pirates, capturing many ships and bringing in an abundance of treasure. Anne did not disguise herself as a man aboard the Revenge as is often claimed. She took part in combat alongside the men, and the accounts of her exploits present her as competent, effective in combat, and respected by her shipmates. She and Mary Read’s name and gender were known to all from the start, including Governor Rogers, who named them in a “pirates wanted” circular published in the continent’s only newspaper, The Boston News-Letter. Although Bonny has historical renown as a female Caribbean pirate, she never commanded a ship of her own.

“In October 1720, Rackham and his crew were attacked by a “King’s ship”, a sloop captained by Jonathan Barnet under a commission from the Governor of Jamaica. Most of Rackham’s pirates did not put up much resistance as many of them were too drunk to fight; other sources indicate it was at night and most of them were asleep. However, Read, Bonny, and an unknown man fought fiercely and managed to hold off Barnet’s troops for a short time. Rackham and his crew were taken to Jamaica, where they were convicted and sentenced by the Governor of Jamaica to be hanged. According to Johnson, Bonny’s last words to the imprisoned Rackham were that she was “sorry to see him there, but if he had fought like a Man, he need not have been hang’d like a Dog.”

“After being sentenced, Read and Bonny both “pleaded their bellies“: asking for mercy because they were pregnant.

“In accordance with English common law, both women received a temporary stay of execution until they gave birth. Read died in prison, most likely from a fever, though it has been alleged that she died during childbirth.

“There is no historical record of Bonny’s release or of her execution. This has fed speculation that her father ransomed her; that she might have returned to her husband, or even that she resumed a life of piracy under a new identity.

“The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states that “Evidence provided by the descendants of Anne Bonny suggests that her father managed to secure her release from jail and bring her back to Charles Town, South Carolina, where she gave birth to Rackham’s second child. On December 21, 1721 she married a local man, Joseph Burleigh, and they had 10 children. She died in South Carolina, a respectable woman, at the age of eighty and died between April 22–24, 1782. She was buried on April 25, 1782.”

“Some claim that she was smuggled away by her father, and that this was made possible by his far reaching and favorable merchant connections. This is a probable solution to the mystery. After all, her father’s business connections had saved Anne a number of times before. Rackham’s crew spent a lot of time in Jamaica and the surrounding area. Although the crew, including Anne, was discovered or caught on a number of occasions, Bonny always escaped punishment and harm. This was probably because of her father’s business contacts in Jamaica.

“Though it is generally believed that there were only one or two important female pirates, in fact there were several. The Irish chieftaness Grace O’Malley has been described as a “Pirate Queen”.

“Anne Bonny remains the most famous, and has appeared in many works. Art from the time often depicts Anne Bonny in men’s clothes, shirt hanging open, pistols smoking, the perfect image of a female warrior. In addition, there were many books published about female pirates. Many hold a striking resemblance to Anne’s story, even down to minute details of her formative years and personal life.”

It’s “Talk Like a Pirate Day!”

Pop Haydn featured on Sideshow World:

Sideshow World

Getting taken twice by Soapy Smith

From Jeff Smith:
“Some of my favorite stories involving Soapy and his Tivoli Club in Denver are the times he was able to swindle the same dupes twice. A good confidence man can take any victim once, but only a great one can take the same victim twice on the same day. Think of the smooth intellect needed to fool a man twice.

“You need to know that I don’t condone or admire crime. However, anyone who studies Soapy for the shortest amount of time ends up admiring his methods, much the same way a police detective might admire an intelligent crook. My website has a saying I changed around to meet my needs. “He left his mark on history, so we won’t become one.”

“My book has two such examples in which victims were lured back into the Tivoli Club after having gone to the police and complained about the first case. In the example below the victim did enter the den a second time but was able to escape before he was taken again…so he says.”


“Twice inveigled into a Gambling Den on Seventeenth Street. The latest hold-up on Seventeenth street is reported from the gambling rooms over the Tivoli saloon, Seventeenth and Market streets. As the result of a brief experience in the notorious resort Rudolph Hann mourns the loss of $95 in hard cash which he earned by the sweat of his brow on a Kansas ranch.

“The lamb from the Sunflower state floated into Denver Friday night and put up for the night at one of the cheap down-town lodging houses. There he was evidently spotted and yesterday forenoon as he meandered out to view the scenes of the rising metropolis he was approached by a smooth stranger who inveigled him into the Tivoli gambling rooms. Three men were playing cards at one of the tables.
“The new comer was presented with a handful of checks and in five minutes he arose, loser by $130. Upon applying at the police station he was sent back to the place accompanied by an officer, and succeeded in recovering $35. Before night Hann was inveigled a second time into the building but made his escape and took the first train for his old home in Kansas. He related his story to a News reporter as the train left the union depot.”
Rocky Mountain News, 1893

“Ya’ wanna’ see Fitzhugh Lee — Soapy Smith’s famous eagle?”

Fitzhugh Eagle

My dear friend Jeff Smith sent me this wonderful photograph of the Eagle that was given to Soapy Smith and displayed in back of Jeff Smith’s Parlor. It was the origin of the Alaskan phrases “I’m goin’ to see the eagle” and “I’m goin’ to show him the eagle” the former meaning I am going to relieve myself, and the latter meaning “I’m going to mug this stupid Cheechawko.” Both referred to the space out back where men went to pee behind the saloon, and also to where Soapy’s men would supposedly mug folk with a poke. Probably not true, since Soapy wouldn’t allow much of any disrepute, including gambling in his “headquarters.”

Here is what Jeff says:

“The photograph was taken by Rev. John Sinclair on July 4, 1898 just before the parade.

“The float, a freight wagon, holds a large wire cage containing the live American bald eagle given to Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith.

Behind the wagon a man holding a large American flag will be followed by Soapy’s private army, the Skaguay Military Company, in which Soapy is Captain. The small boy dressed as “Uncle Sam” is the 9-y…ear-old son of Soapy’s business partner John Clancy. The wagon rests in front of Soapy’s saloon, Jeff Smith’s Parlor (far right). The white and grey horse between the Parlor and the wagon is Soapy’s. He will be riding the same as the fourth division marshal of the parade, but Soapy manages to force his way to the front of the parade, becoming the unofficial grand marshal.”

–Jeff Smith

You can find out much more about Soapy Smith, the “King of the Frontier Con Men” by the website of his great-grandson and biographer, Jeff Smith at

School for Scoundrels at the Magic Castle

Chef Anton teaches School for Scoundrels
School for Scoundrels will begin on Sundays November 6, 13, 20, 27, and on Mondays November 7, 14, 21, 28 at the Magic Castle in Hollywood.

The course is $160 for the eight hours–two hours a night.

You can switch nights from Monday to Sunday or vice-versa–the same lesson is taught on Sun and Mon at 7:00 pm.

Contact Mark Wilson at (800) 367-8749 for reservations.

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