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Micky Hades: A Tribute to a Canadian Legend

by Paul Romhany & John Kaplan


MICHAEL P. HADES (1926-2023) was the owner of Micky Hades Enterprises and publisher of books for magicians and Hade-E-Gram.


Growing up a million miles away in the 1980s, far away from the magic world in New Zealand the one person whose books I would save up and send away for were from Micky Hades.


I discovered how to build props in The New Make-Up of Magic, I learnt all about levitations in Encyclopedia of Suspensions and Levitations, and it was where I fell in love with card magic with books by Martin Nash published by Micky Hades International.


Then there is the famous Micky Hades Finger chopper.


Watch: Tributes to Micky by John Kaplan, Brent Smith & Murray Hatfield



That was a must have prop, and still in high demand to this day. It is, without a doubt, the best finger chopper ever produced. I remember the day it arrived, and it probably got more use than any other magic prop I have ever owned.


I still have it and display it proudly in my magic cabinet.


Even as far away as New Zealand, back in those early days we all knew the name Micky Hades and that he was from Canada.


For us there was Doug Henning and Micky Hades, two of the most famous Canadian magicians at the time. Of course, there were others but not for a young boy starting out in magic.


Known as MHI (Micky Hades International) he once owned three brick-and-mortar locations, Seattle, Vancouver and Calgary. Friends here in Vancouver still talk about how wonderful the shop was in Vancouver. I was told his entire house was filled with magic from wall to ceiling.



I would describe Micky as a Renaissance Man – somebody who did it all. Throughout his life, he has built custom props for world famous magicians, performed many thousands of shows and has written volumes on the art of magic.


I don’t think anyone would deny that Micky is a brilliant magic mind, a charming entertainer, and a truly wonderful storyteller.


 

BELOW is an article by John Kaplan that originally appeared in VANISH MAGIC MAGAZINE – it is an excellent insight into a true Canadian legend in the world of magic.


Thank you, John, for sharing this with the world back in 2015.


As editor of VANISH magazine, I’m more than happy to share this with the readers of this BLOG.


 

A Tribute to Micky Hades

by John Kaplan


It was 1926, the year the world’s most famous magician, Harry Houdini left us on October 31st. Barely six months earlier, Micky Hades entered it. As it turned out, both men would have a direct impact in the lives of magicians yet to come.


Houdini’s contribution to the history of popular entertainment is, of course, a matter of public record and his exploits have inspired a generation of magicians.


In his own way Micky Hades, too, has been largely responsible for fostering and nurturing the interest of countless magicians, in ways that many are completely unaware of.


Micky Hades was born in Morecambe, Alberta, Canada on April 27th, 1926, to immigrant parents, most likely of Austrian/Ukrainian heritage.

From desperate beginnings – raised by his widowed mother and an abusive stepfather, orphaned at age 9 after his mother passed away from kidney failure and his stepfather was deemed unfit to look after the family, and spending much of his childhood during the Great Depression of the 1930’s in the desolate, drought-ridden, unforgiving prairies of western Canada – Micky pulled himself up by his bootstraps to become a greatly respected and influential magic practitioner.


As a child, Micky had been inspired by the performance of John C. Greene, a magician and touring showman who traveled widely in Canada and the United States. Although very little has been documented about his performing career, it is known that in the early part of the century Greene had been involved in bringing the first films to be seen in English-speaking Canada, and once he acquired a projector of his own proceeded to tour Canada with a combined magic and moving pictures show.


Micky was destined to be amazing audiences of his own … no small feat, given that he lived in rural Alberta without access to magic shops or clubs. It was Micky’s ingenuity and resourcefulness, along with his skill and mechanical aptitude that allowed him to overcome these obstacles as he learned to design and build his own magical props.


Something about the way Micky’s mind worked enabled him to figure out how some of those mechanical tricks he’d seen per-formed by John C. Greene worked – long before he’d ever read any magic book.


Panels from apple containers were transformed into wooden die boxes and chimneys. Convenient pieces of firewood were whittled, nailed, and painted into magical props. Some ladies’ slips discreetly disappeared as they were cut, hemmed, and dyed for magical use. Things like the Die Box, the Bogart Tube, the Vanishing Wand, Silk Wonder Box, Paper Tear, Diminishing Cards, and others. There was a buzz in the neighborhood about a crazy young lad who was doing some strange things. Old superstitions did not help the magical tyro … but they didn’t stop him either.


It was around 1940 that, thanks to the comics section of a local agricultural paper, Micky responded to an advertisement for membership in the Buck Rogers Club. A dime bought a package of illustrations of rocket ships and stories that truly fired up his imagination. He began carving rocket ship models and writing his own science-fiction stories. The hand-printed mate-rial went no further than friends in the community but this enabled him to expand his imagination and develop techniques relating to presentation. Somewhere during this pursuit of magic, he spotted a Johnson-Smith advertisement offering a 58-page book titled Magic Made Easy (1910, Wehman Brothers) for the price of 10 cents postpaid. That was his first really “big break” in learning magic from books. In less than a year he had duplicated almost every trick he had seen in John Green’s performance and a good number of others from that book!


Micky’s first performances took place at a little country store where the proprietor allowed him to go behind the counter and perform his tricks to the usual Sunday afternoon bunch that gathered around the cracker barrel. No admission, just a pass of the hat that often offered a dollar’s worth of coins – considered very rewarding in those days. His repertoire and courage both grew and soon he was performing on stage during intermission of the Saturday night dances held at the community hall. The hat would come back with as much as $25 each performance, a princely sum close to what working folk earned in a month, and this brought on visions of even bigger earnings that seemed certain to be out there in the “big city”. It wasn’t long before young Micky was on a Greyhound bus, headed for Edmonton, Alberta.


Micky soon found himself in demand, working house parties for a quick-witted promoter who had the young magician signed up to do three parties a week at $5 per show and free party privileges. Friendships developed, among them being with Nick Kit, another young man aspiring to magic. Nick was working carnivals and circuses, and the pair soon began working under canvas as a duo. They dreamed many a magic dream but eventually moved on to separate endeavours.


In 1945 William C. Clifford, promoter, performer and owner of The Clifford Entertainers, an indoor carnival, witnessed one of Micky’s shows and decided to make him an offer to manage one of his road show units and to star in it as the headline performer – an arrangement that lasted close to a decade. During this time, he performed magic, fire eating and fortune telling as well as operating the carnival games. Between tours Micky built and traveled with his own full-evening show, following the same routes that his idol, John C. Greene, had played for years.


Micky tells a story about meeting Greene in Mundare, Alberta, one of the towns that Greene had played and was now living. Micky had booked himself into the hall there and was onstage in the afternoon, putting up his curtains, dressing the stage and getting everything set up when the door opens and in comes Greene. Micky put out his hand saying “Hello, Mr. Greene!” and was given the gruff reply “So you’re the son of a bitch that’s ruining my territory!” It may have been said in jest, but to Micky that was a terrible blow.


In 1952 he met and married his wife Maryon and this was followed by the addition of three children, Brian, Brenda and Barry. The demands of providing for a family eventually forced Micky to leave the road. Blessed with an entrepreneurial spirit, Micky discovered a proclivity for screen-process printing, which was still in its infancy, and in the late 50’s found himself the owner-operator of “Flouro-tone Signs” (later called Hades Show Print), a modest enterprise based in Edmonton specializing in producing stock window cards and posters.


A short while later Micky relocated to Calgary and became a Fire Lieutenant with the Sarcee Army Barracks Fire Department to promote Fire Prevention activities and, partnering with Mike D’amico, designed and developed a mascot they called “Sarcee Sam” to produce two award winning fire prevention programs. This associations lasted for 20 years.


This more settled lifestyle, along with the help of his family afforded Micky the opportunity to write and publish magic books, supply and build props, and grow his ever-expanding magic business.


Micky Hades Publications all began with the Hade-E-Gram Magizette. Volume One, Issue One made its appearance in January 1959 and continued through seven volumes, 84 issues, ending December 1965.

In April 1963 the Zombie magazine, a publication geared towards teen-aged magicians, was incorporated into the pages of the Hade-E-Gram Magizette as a feature section, and beginning in January 1965 through to the final issue in December of that year was edited by a promising young magician … Doug Henning.


Micky had a burning desire to be a publisher. He had things to say and he wanted to say them – about treating magic as a business and not as a glorified hobby, the state of magic as perceived by the public, what constitutes success in magic – views that he expressed in his monthly Hade-E-Gram Magizette and other publications (such as “Magic the Way I See It”).


The magazine gave him his start. What began as a small mimeo-graphed sheet of a dozen copies, evolved to a subscription list in the hundreds spanning the globe. As it – and his reputation – grew, he relished the opportunity to contribute to magical literature.


Micky’s early books and manuscripts were home-printed on a mimeograph machine collated and bound by hand with the help of his wife and children, making it a true family enterprise. He later acquired an offset press that for many years was operated by his eldest son, Brian.


In 1962 Micky published his first book, The Make-Up of Magic. The do-it-yourself craze had hit hard in the sixties, and Micky knew that he could not only capitalize on the trend, but also provide something of value to the magic community. This was really the first book that not only taught magicians how to build their own magic props and illusions, but also revealed techniques of design, optical camouflage, finishing methods, materials, tools and a wealth of practical information and prop-building projects.


Other Hades-penned titles would follow – Novel Magic with the Appearing Cane, How to Make Flashes, Bangs and Puffs of Smoke, Hades Gone Wild, Just a Touch Of Hades, Bang, Out Of My Mind, Magic - The Way I See It, – along with literally hundreds of books authored by others. Full-page ads in the I.B.M. house organ, The Linking Ring made their regular monthly appearance throughout the 1970’s and 80’s. Aside from his own mail order sales, Hades books were sold through all the contemporary magic dealers, such as Louis Tannen, Paul Diamond, Magic Inc., Hank Lee, DeLarnos Magic in New Zealand, Goodliffe Magic, etc.


In the 1970’s, the reputation of Martin A. Nash was elevated when Micky published Martin’s trilogy of card books, Ever So Sleightly, Any Second Now and Sleight Unseen, regarded as classics by card workers world-wide. This seminal series was expertly authored by Stephen Minch, who was managing Micky’s Calgary studio in those years prior to moving back to Seattle where he helped Micky get his second location set up and running. In all, Stephen spent the better part of a decade working with Micky’s magic and publishing enterprises prior to establishing his own Hermetic Press, which has since become one of magic’s most respected publishers.


Other influential works published by Micky have included Jack Potter’s Master Index to Magic in Print (the most authoritative pre-internet “search engine” for everything published about magic in the English language up to and including December 1964) and The Encyclopedia of Suspensions and Levitations (1976).


With the addition of the Seattle location Micky Hades Enterprises became Micky Hades International. The publishing area of his business was re-branded as Hades Publications and eventually taken over by son Brian. Micky eventually established another publishing concern, Abraxas, which he currently operates. Under these various banners, Micky has published in the order of 300 titles covering virtually every facet of magic.


One of the ways Micky grew his publishing business was by acquiring publication rights from others, such as the complete line of Robert A. Nelson mentalism titles, the Thayer illusion plans as well as those of the A.K. Brill Company of Peoria, IL (the leading supplier of hand-drawn blueprints for sideshow attractions such as the “Girl to Gorilla”, “Spidora”, “Headless” in addition to midway games, fun houses and circus equipment).


Providing the world of magic with a vast selection of useful and important literature wasn’t the only way Micky made his mark.


Famous as the creator of the “Micky Hades Improved Finger Chopper”, Micky has also designed and built many illusions for working professionals. Anyone lucky enough to own a Hades-built prop knows that they are extremely well made – built to last and withstand the rigors of road travel and constant use – and embodying the unique Hades touch of cleverness in design and construction.


The idea for the Hades chopper came about when Micky encountered the ubiquitous Adams Finger Chopper. He felt it was a great effect, but that the prop had too much of a novelty toy appearance. That, and the fact the blade could not be removed from the stocks for examination were aspects of the effect he knew could be improved upon.


Along with several original illusions he built for Peter Reveen, most notably his stage version of the Chess Knight’s Tour, Micky served as Technical Assistant on Reveen’s “Impossiblist” tour of Eastern Canada in the seventies. It was during this run that Micky’s quick thinking helped ward off a performance disaster and ensure that an important element of the show remain in the program.


Reveen’s opening illusion was the Bengal Net. Reveen’s wife Coral would get hoisted up in the net and it would fall open, and Reveen would catch just a dress, Coral had vanished. Then he would take that dress and put it into a glass box, cover it with a sheet and then whip it away and Coral was there, in the dress.


On the second show of the night at one of the first stops on the tour, Hamilton Place Theatre in Ontario, Micky was out front in the overhead tech booth, watching to be sure that everything ran smoothly.


The show started out as usual, music playing, every-thing going fine. Coral comes in, lies down, they hook up the net and as they bring it up to the top, Micky notices that suddenly it goes jerk, jerk, jerk ... one side is going up, the other side is not going up, it jerks. The net is now sitting at an angle, and Micky is worried; in his mind he can see Coral slipping out of there and hitting the stage. He hurriedly climbed down the lad-der and ran to the stage.


By this time Reveen knows he’s got trouble and he’s running offstage shouting “Micky! I need your help! Micky!”


It takes a while, but Micky gets there. In the meantime, they close the curtain. Micky goes to the back, to the side where the guys are on the upper level, they’re con trolling the curtain.


They had one small guy and one big guy holding onto the batten, which they’d untied where they batten it up in the air, because they can’t bring her down. The motor is frozen, it isn’t working, so they’re trying to bring the whole batten down. But that’s a lot of weight. The batten and then there’s Coral in this thing.


They’ve got the rope and one guy’s way off the floor and the other guy’s trying to hang on but can’t do it! So, Micky ran over and puts his weight on it and little by little they let it down, saving Coral from what might have been a dangerous fall to the stage.


Looking at the motor, Micky discovers that one of the switches is burned out. They know they either must fix it or get rid of that part of the show. Or close the show. So, Micky said, “Hey, give it to me.” They had a complete workshop behind the fire curtain backstage. Micky figures there’s got to be some-thing in there that he can use, so he went back and looked around, but couldn’t find any switch. Being the resourceful fellow that he is, Micky figures the hell with it, went to the light switch, opened it up, took the switch out, twisted the live wires together and put some tape over them so the light would stay on, and took the switch and said “Here, this’ll work, just go ahead!”


So, they hooked it up and switched it on, and they were able to do the Bengal Net. Afterwards everybody took him out, bought him drinks and gave Micky the hero treatment for “saving the day!”


Another magician that benefited greatly from Micky’s creativity was Dale Harney. Prior to his success as the creator and star of the syndicated 1980’s television show “The Magic Palace”, Dale toured North America for three seasons with the Shrine Circus, using custom illusions and props designed and built for him by Micky.

Micky was an early mentor to Dale, instilling in him the importance of having a professional attitude to be successful with a career in magic. I, too, was fortunate to have enjoyed the same mentorship opportunity with Micky, who provided employment, expertise, and inspiration during my formative post-secondary years and without whose guidance I would not likely have been able to forge my own path in magic.


In 1977, Micky was commissioned by the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton to create a three-month exhibition that brought to life the “Golden Age of Magic” with artifacts and memorabilia commemorating past masters like Blackstone, Kellar, Dante and Houdini. Micky traveled across North America, buying, and borrowing pieces from magic historians like Bob Lund, David Price and Jay Marshall. These were displayed with posters, rare magic books and artifacts from his own collection, along with “psychoptic” illusions and devices that he constructed for viewers to handle and produce optical illusions such as “seeing through a person”, creating a wonderful interactive museum experience that also featured a weekly show by “home-grown” magicians (Shelby Craigen, Paterson and Pandora, Jon Charles, Lynn Healy, Terry Moreland, Bob Bell, myself and others).


Micky’s passion for magic, along with an unparalleled excellence in all facets of the magic business, has inspired and nurtured scores of magicians, many of whom have made their mark in our profession.


In addition to numerous awards for his achievements and original magical creations, as well as many contributions to major magic magazines, Micky ran Micky Hades International with locations in Calgary, Vancouver, and Seattle during its heyday in the 1980’s. It was through MHI that Micky supplied magicians worldwide with every available in-print title relating to magic, as well as props, illusions, and magical paraphernalia.


Whether by working in his shop or attending one of his popular “Micky Hades’ Magic Fun and Film Festival” events (featuring films of past magicians from the archives of the Society of American Magicians; magic contests with contestants performing before a live audience so that the judges could see how an act held value to a lay audience; novel activities such as the Ricky Jay-inspired “Card Throwing Contest”), scores of young performers, myself and Murray Hatfield included, passed through the hallowed halls of Hades. We all felt blessed to grow up in the glow of Micky’s passion for magic, and many of us owe our very careers to his influence.


In 1995, Micky survived a stroke that hit him on his 69th birthday and left him legally blind, forcing him to close the magic shops and “retire” from his full-time magic business. The publishing arm of MHI was taken over by his eldest son Brian, currently operating as Hades Publications Inc., and the vast inventory of the other magic books was sold to H & R Magic Books.


In the years since his unfortunate stroke Micky has continued with the disposition of his personal library of books, posters, instruction sheets, lecture notes and other accumulated magic assets through his website as well as the publication of several magic books under the Abraxas publishing title, and in 2012 the Canadian Association of Magicians honored Micky by presenting him with their Lifetime Achievement Award.


Micky Hades was the first magician that John Kaplan, at age nine, saw perform at a Christmas party. Through an apprenticeship arrangement following high school graduation, John managed the Calgary branch of MHI from 1975 through 1980, and in 1996 acquired the manufacturing rights to the Micky Hades Improved Finger Chopper, which he continues to supply to magicians worldwide.


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