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It's a Magical Medicine Tour

February 06, 1988

Reflections showcases county residents who have an interesting life story and gives them an opportunity to tell it in their own words.

Newport Beach resident Len Wayne is a snake oil salesman--and proud of it. For the past year he has played trade shows, conventions, corporate picnics and other events with "Doc Wayne's Old Time Medicine Show & Invisible Flea Circus," a re - creation of the traveling shows put on by pitchmen in the late 1800s. With his wife Janet, billed as "Calamity Janet--The Original Texas Prairie Princess," he blends magic and vaudeville shtick with a pitch for the patented Elixir of Life, a claimed cure for a litany of disorders , from itching and twitching to "a feeling of emptiness between the ears."

Wayne has been enamored with magic since his parents gave him a trick deck of cards for Christmas when he was 8 years old. For most of his 25-year career in the ad business, conjuring has been a self-supporting hobby. But these days, magic is Wayne's main business and advertising has been relegated to his spare time. His comments are taken from an interview with Times staff writer Rick VanderKnyff.

I had a heart attack back a year from this past November and decided at that point that I was really going to do something that I thoroughly enjoyed. I enjoy the advertising business, but there is a lot of pressure and tension.

Magic has been sort of an outlet for me through the years, but I decided to go even further with it and to spend more of my life in pursuit of just really enjoying myself and having fun. And the medicine show is doing exactly that for me. I'm having fun with it, mainly because other people are having fun with it.

I actually saw probably the last of the old-time medicine shows back in the early '40s, in South Philadelphia, complete with the Indian up on a little platform. I was about 5 or 6 years old at the time, and that image has sort of stayed with me.

A few years ago, I came across a book in Laguna called "Step Right Up," about medicine shows, and that sort of renewed my interest in the whole idea. And I was thinking, what could I do with the concept? The medicine show depended on variety entertainment, on bizarre, kind of weird, fun, nutty stuff to capture the attention of people.

In the show, I talk about the fact that the medicine man rumbled down the dusty roads of rural America from 1850 into the 1940s and got into the hearts and the pocketbooks of the people that he encountered, and left everybody feeling a little bit better than he felt before.

Even if they figured they were hoodwinked, they were able to get a laugh out of it very often. He left them feeling pretty good, because the stuff that he sold did something for them. Maybe mostly psychological, but they usually looked forward to him coming back the following year with his spring tonic.

Probably a lot of the reason people looked forward to the medicine show coming into town was they went into little rural communities, and it could be the only entertainment they had all year. Back in the 1800s, in these little communities, this was it. They got their little show and they got their bottle of liniment and they were happy for a while.

The old-time medicine show embodied salesmanship and showmanship. It wasn't a traveling circus, it wasn't a carnival, it wasn't vaudeville, but it really had bits and pieces of all those things in it. But the main purpose of it was to market products, to capture people's attention. It was the forerunner of today's trade shows, where you have a variety of people all vying for the attention of whoever is walking around.

The concept struck me as being an ideal thing for companies for sales meetings, for trade shows. The medicine show, to me, is a tremendous format for presenting all sorts of things.

One of my objectives is to take this medicine show concept and use it to present a drug abuse message to kids. I think it's a natural--I do a lot of audience participation, and I think it's something that kids can respond to.

My objective with the whole thing is to have people feel better. When I get through doing what I do with the medicine show, if I can get people feeling better than before I did my medicine show, then I'll have accomplished something.

That's my cardiac rehabilitation program, because I quit worrying and started having fun. I highly recommend that to everybody.

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