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Thursday, February 9, 2012

House Of A Thousand Mysteries

In 1995, former Mystery Science Theater host Joel Hodgson had a program called “TV Wheel” which featured a weird skit about a guy called Vick Lawston who manically plugged a magic/joke shop catalog. There was also a freaky chimp puppet called Pumpernickel who screamed all through the skit. To many younger viewers it was absolute dementia, but to the Baby Boomer dudes out there it was a fresh breath of nostalgia.

Because there really was a guy called Vick Lawston who advertised his magic catalogue in the back of comic books in the 1960’s, and, yes indeed, he had a crazy monkey mascot called Pumpernickel. The catalog was called “The House of A Thousand Mysteries” and it was the coolest book you could ever own. Even if you didn’t have enough money for the magic tricks or joke shop pranks, just the bitchen illustrations in the book were worth the price of the damn thing.

Vick Lawston’s magic shop operated out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and his catalog (50 cents – cheap) was jam packed full of tricks and pranks, at least ten per page, and this thing ran for close to 175 pages. While the cover of my catalog has a 1966 copyright date a lot of the photos of Vic and drawings in general look a lot closer to the Forties.

The catalog could be enjoyed as a stand-alone book with its depiction of rubbery men with faces like jackals either fighting baldness or obesity, while all the magicians depicted inside were unbelievably handsome, dashing and/or sensually exotic. All magician’s assistants were stunningly sexy goddesses of erotic pulchritude, but before Mom could accuse us of viewing smut, Lawston would toss in Pumpernickel to keep it all clean and boyish (hyuk!).

Many of the magic tricks sound like names of punk bands: Magic Producto Box, Ghost Card Trick, Enchanted Cards, St. Peter’s Lesson, The Obedient Silks, and Razor Blade Trick, to name a few. Sounds like the line-up at CBGB’s in 1976!

“House of 1000 Mysteries” was completely aimed at little boys, focusing on the two things they love the most: magic tricks and monkeys. The only thing I ended up ordering from the catalog was a book called “Houdini On Magic” by Walter B. Gibson. “Houdini On Magic” was a compilation of manuals written by the great magician on various tricks, escape routines, and his thoughts on the whole séance and spiritualism racket. If the name Walter B. Gibson sounds familiar, it’s because he was also known as Maxwell Grant, author of the legendary “Shadow” pulp series.

While I don’t purport to be an expert on magic and probably never wanted to be a serious magician I couldn’t forestall the seduction of mystery and saucy humor Vick Lawston presented to us feverish kids in the Sixties, and for that he’ll always be enamored as trash-culture titan extraordinaire, monkeys and magic and all.


Anonymous said...

Very Cool! I always wanted to order something from a comic and never did. Sounds like I missed out on a lot of fun.

Prof. Grewbeard said...

I was not aware of TV Wheel! Thanx for the scans. Wish I still had my old Johnson Smith catalog...

Andy 7 said...

"TV Wheel" aired on Comedy Central and had a very early David Cross (pre-Mr. Show) on it.

You can view the entire Vick Lawston parody on YouTube. Joel did the voice of Pumpernickel. Paul Feig (?) played the loveable Mr. Lawston.


Pulled this name(V.L.)from THE remaining 100 brain cells of this 58yr.old Professional Magician. Obviously, I did order a few tricks as a boy, BUT it was the "scantily clad" women that piqued MY interest!!! NOT THE MONKEY!!!? Don't remember if it was one of Vic's jokes or the early emergence of my lame attempt at comedy writing but I use to call this cartoon woman "Miss Direction" (whew!) Sorry but hey I was just a kid!
Anyway, I luuuuuuuuved this catalogue. Thanks J.F. for forwarding these pleasant memories.
KINDLY, ANDREW DAKOTA (poof!)............................(GONE!)

Unknown said...

I was one of those 11 year old boys who spent hours pouring over this amazing catalog of magic. Vic's was the best magic catalog on the market back then. I ordered several items. But the real magic was that catalog. I have a rare copy of it today thanks to one of Vic's kids. It's one of my favorite books that brings back so many memories. Thanks to his whole family.

Unknown said...

The first thing I ever ordered through mail as a 7 year old was Vic Lawstons catalog. Bought billiard balls, 77 rope ties and chain releases,the book Houdini On Magic, and a green paper on different tricks which I remember was disappointing. Yeah, lots of diagrams on how to make things.