Mark Wilson’s Hall of Magic Story 2

The Original Plan and the Advertising Challenges!

What were Mark Wilson’s plans for General Cigar? Unknown to many are what his original plans were and just how far along they got. Initially, a show featuring a movies-to-life theme was suggested to General Cigar. In an official preview of the fair published in 1963 by Time Life, the General Cigar show was described as “. . . contentedly ‘half-live.’ The magic show in its pavilion will have stage actors (live) doing hocus-pocus with animated figures (not live) that seemingly hop on and off a movie screen.” Ads by General Cigar proclaimed, “See a two dimensional man turn into a real man before your very eyes!”

Scene from Mark Wilson's Original Concept Storyboards.

(For the full Storyboards, Original Presentation, and Photos, see Mark Wilson's Original "Hall of Magic" Show Concept story.  There's a lot more to discover!)

Apparently the performer on the movie screen would have been Mark Wilson, as ads promised, “Unbelievable feats of legerdemain performed by Mark Wilson . . . who has created a whole new kind of magic especially for this fantastic General Cigar show.” The ad called it “magic of the future . . . in two and three dimensions!”

General Cigar's Centerfold Ad for The Hall of Magic, prior to changing the show.

The show featured three screens, the left and right having slide images projected on them and the center having a motion picture. During the performance, actors were to interact with the images on the screen. 

At the climax, popping through the screen would be an eight-foot hand gripping a large cigar. The show was actually built by Les Smith and his company, Owen Magic Supreme.  During construction, it used all the capacity of the South Chapel Avenue shop, and members of Mark Wilson’s team worked with Owen as well. 

After General Cigar viewed the nearly completed show, it was decided to go another route. Competition from other exhibitors like Disney, who had comparatively unlimited resources, forced a decision to do a more standard magic show. The movies-to-life effect was later perfected and used in a Mark Wilson production for the Bell Telephone exhibit at the 1968 Hemisfair in Texas.

Francis Martineau's Original Art for Mark Wilson's NEW Hall of Magic show proposal.

For months before the fair opened, the Sunday magazines featured ads placed by companies encouraging a visit to their exhibit. General Cigar’s ad said nothing about cigars, but rather featured a pretty young girl floating almost off the top of the page. 

“Magic! Magic! Magic! Come one! Come all! To the Hall of Magic! See why everyone’s saying, ‘Meet me under the smoke rings at the fair.’”

The smoke rings were a brilliant idea by the ad agency to attract visitors and to landmark the exhibit at the fair. Needed to implement this idea was a machine to generate a large smoke ring every few seconds. Pictured in the ads, these giant smoke rings would make General Cigar’s exhibit easy to find. A brochure for the exhibit said, “Tell your friends to meet me under the smoke rings. See the giant smoke rings rise 150 feet in the sky.” The cover of the brochure showed a family approaching the General Cigar exhibit, under several huge smoke rings, with the Unisphere, symbol of the fair, in the back ground. The father, of course, was shown smoking a cigar. What a great idea! Or was it?

Page from General Cigar ad pamphlet

According to Mark Wilson, his company was given a chance to build this smoke machine but, after a little thought, they declined. Instead, the machine was built by Structural Display Company and it did work. The machine operated with a large diaphragm that would pulse and force out an amount of smoke in the shape of an eight-foot ring. Due to the fair’s close proximity to the airport, it was also necessary to obtain FAA approval for the smoke rings.

We only have a few left as "New-Old-Stock."  I found the last partial bag out of the 3 bags we used to have in Mark Wilson's collection.  "I remember these paper bags of buttons from my childhood." Greg Wilson

As part of the publicity of “Meet Me At The Smoke Rings,” Mark Wilson suggested buttons to be passed out to those visiting the exhibit. The button would also be a conversation piece in that it was an optical illusion.

If you read this as “meet me at the smoke ring,” read it again, word by word. The word “the” is repeated, both at the end of the second line and at the beginning of the third.  People usually read it without repeating the word. The effect was also explained in a free fold-out postcard featuring several tricks which you could do at home. General Cigar liked the idea and although Mark had had reservations about the construction of the smoke machine, he was confident that the job of supplying buttons was a safe one. The fold-out postcards were the responsibility of Mark Wilson’s company, Magical Productions Inc.

The Front and Back of the Postcard

We recently discovered a few "New-in-Box" (nearly 60 years old) of these very fun original postcards!  You can get one for yourself by clicking on the button.  It's only with your support and volunteer help that keeps this website up and running.        Thank you, Greg Wilson

The fold-out contents of the Postcard

Ordering these buttons was a story of frustration for Mark.   The exact wording and word placement was written out for the button company. It was called to their attention that the word “the” was repeated and that this was intentional. The buttons arrived in the nick of time — one day before the fair opened — along with an accompanying note that proudly reported that the button company had found an error in the submitted copy and had corrected it. They had omitted the second “the.”

Carbon Copy letter to the button printer from Mark's files during the second year of the Fair, 1965.  Notice the emphasis on the "the the" wording.

The buttons had to be discarded and made again. The second time, the job was quickly completed correctly and a few days later the corrected buttons were delivered. James Randi, who worked in the show, recalls keeping one of the incorrect buttons and wearing it just to taunt magicians.

There's a lot more story... 

Click on "Next" below to find out what happens!


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