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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Stan Kramien still has magic touch that made him a star
Retired magician recalls decades spent traveling across the U.S. with his circus and magic shows

POSTER FROM THE PAST — A poster promotes one of Stan Kramien’s magic shows over the years that also included "Mad World of Magic," "Magicazam!" "The Magic of Kramien" and "Shazam!" Courtesy of Stan Kramien
By Barbara Sherman
The Regal Courier, Feb 25, 2011
In the past, kids dreamed of running away from home and joining the circus.
Stan Kramien took it one step further - he started his own circus along with several magic shows at various times during his decades-long career.
Stan, who now calls Summerfield home, got hooked on magic at an early age and enchanted thousands of audiences around the country as he took his shows to venues both big and small.
One of the first magicians to impress him was Blackstone, who did stage shows in Portland, where Stan was born May 9, 1925.
"I thought, 'When I grow up, I will have a big show like that,'" Stan said. "I did come back with a big show and saw the little kids in the audience who were as excited by the show as I had been at their age.
"For 35 years, I did a full evening show that played all over the country in small towns and big cities. We moved every day and worked every night."
As a young child, Stan's parents Clarence and Veda took him to see the circuses that came to town as well as to local vaudeville shows.
Whenever a magician was scheduled to appear at one of the vaudeville houses, Stan would skip school, hop on a streetcar to downtown Portland and get a front-row seat to watch the shows, which cemented his decision to become a magician.
Stan purchased his first tricks during a trip with his parents to the San Francisco Bay area in the late 1930s. Back home, Portland magicians tutored him in the finer points of the art.
By the 1940s, Stan was producing his own shows in Portland with another magician and occasionally his mom Veda, who would pay the piano for accompaniment and sell homemade pies during intermission.
Stan was drafted at the age of 18 during World War II, and his Army superiors, after learning about his background in magic, assigned him to Special Services in New York, where he became a member of Irving Berlin's famous "Opry House Gang" of actors.
Stan also performed in thousands of USO shows in camps and hospitals, giving as many as 25 performances per day.
While touring camps in Texas, Stan had the opportunity to see big, full-evening shows put on by some of the great talents in the field of magic, and he was especially impressed by Birch and Virgil, who seemed "more in control of their destinies than other performers."
Virgil and Birch were known as the "Tall Grass Showmen" because they played primarily in smaller towns that other shows bypassed, and Stan vowed to follow in their footsteps.
At the end of WWII, Stan stayed in New York, working as an actor on soap operas that were broadcast over the radio, as a "paid" contestant on such quiz shows as the "$64 Question," and on a series on the rights of Americans.
During the afternoons, Stan hung out at Lou Tannen's Magic Shop, where he heard performers spin tales, and in the evenings, he put on his act in night clubs.
Radio commentator Walter Winchell saw Stan's act one night and reported the next day, "Kramien is a 'Mad Man of Magic!’” Stan liked the billing and used it.
Back on the West Coast in 1947, Warren Gram, who had purchased the remains of Orson Welles' "Mercury Wonder Show," offered Stan a job in his new magic show, which became one of the largest magic units ever to tour.
For "Warren Gram's $25,000 House of Magic," Gram hired Stan to "help routine the illusions, write patter, act as chief assistant and do part of his own act during the show."
Stan stayed with the show for one season until Gram decided the show was too big to remain profit-making.
Next, Stan toured with a couple of other shows and managed his own "girl show" for one season, performing magic on the ballyhoo platform to draw a crowd, which brought him his first real taste of the "Tall Grass" life.
Starting in the fall of 1948, Stan toured for the next five years during the "death throes" of vaudeville with his own big show.
During the summers, he took the show outside under canvas, playing at large fairs.
Stan married one of his assistants on his show, Leone Johnson, and they settled in Seattle, performing their club act that featured the "Inexhaustible Beer Keg."

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