SAN DIEGO — It was probably just an illusion, but in what seemed an astounding feat of prestidigitation, Larry and Junko Cushman levitated the Sheraton Harbor Island's Champagne Ballroom to a place where football heroes do stand-up comedy routines and renowned builders transform ordinary 45-r.p.m. records into amazing, pastel discs.
The 300 guests at Friday's Magical Experience III ooh'd--and not infrequently aah'd--when illusionists plucked doves from thin air and escaped, Houdini-like, from handcuffs so fearsome that an ordinary mortal would have been hard-pressed to eat cake and sip coffee at the same time. One of the prime feats of magic separated the guests from a handsome amount of cash, a sum that will lend considerable support to the programs of the La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation.
The Cushmans, who chaired this elegantly tongue-in- chic magical mystery tour, managed to keep pretty well out of the limelight, although Junko was called upon to assist retired San Diego Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts when the football great took the stage to dumbfound the audience with an amazing series of card tricks. Junko said that for her part, however, the evening's magical act would be taking down the decorations after the party. The centerpieces sprouted six-foot Lucite wands, each tipped with a playing card, and, apparently, a fair portion of the committee spent the entire day polishing these in preparation for the event. Whimsically constructed rabbits popped out of top hats positioned in the middle of each centerpiece, a motif echoed around the room.
Foolery and Fancy
The floor show--which, in addition to Fouts, featured builder Tawfiq Khoury and his wife, Richel, Police Chief Bill Kolender and his wife, Lois, and the St. Vincent de Paul Center's Father Joe Carroll--was but a pause in an evening that offered guests a continuous, if light-hearted, glimpse of a world devoted to foolery and fancy. During the cocktail hour and again after the elaborate dinner, guests were invited to roam an ante-room populated by all manner of sorcerers' apprentices.
In what may have been a bow to the sensibilities of the current Administration, there was an astrologer among the 20 or so soothsayers and sleight-of-hand artists. But while this specialist in the mysteries of the zodiac did a brisk business, it was no more hectic than that enjoyed by the various palmists, crystal ball gazers, numerologists, Tarot card readers, table tippers, tea leaf prognosticators, handwriting analysts and psychics who predicted generally sunny skies to those who consulted them. Wandering magicians performed devious tricks with innocent-looking decks of playing cards, much of it under the noses of guests too lulled by crudites and blue cheese dip to catch the simple methods by which they were fooled.
Dr. William Fishman and his wife, Lillian, co-founders of the foundation, found that the evening's primary magic lay simply in the supporters' enthusiasm. "The picture tonight is one of hope, and we appreciate how everyone is giving of themselves to help us," said William Fishman. "The magic really is the ladies' transformation of a drab ballroom into a fairy land where anything can happen."
Magician Stan Gerson--a bubbling personality who in everyday life works as a realtor--undertook to coach the celebrity sorcerers. He said that it was a surprisingly easy task.
"All of them were like kids," said Gerson. "Each one said, 'Now is my chance,' as if each had wanted to be a magician all his life."
Quick Work by Quick Studies
In performance, the celebrities did look like quick studies. Tawfiq Khoury, who earlier had denied suffering from any pre-performance butterflies ("I'm a ham, give me a stage and just try to keep me from performing," he said), proved adept at transforming records from one color to another. The Kolenders' act borrowed a little from the Police Chief's duties, although his escape from a formidable pair of handcuffs did appear to be aided by a key hidden in his shoe. Father Carroll, an old hand at pulling funds out of seemingly thin air, acquited himself well in a routine that called for a paper banner to be ripped apart and be magically reconstructed, and Fouts awed the crowd as much with his humor ("I'm looking for work and that's why I'm here," he said), as with his mysterious card tricks.
The show continued with a performance by professional magician David Urquidi, who conjured up a nearly unreasonable number of active white doves, such a flock of them, in fact, that they seemed to be multiplying before the guests' eyes. Dancing to the Bill Green Orchestra capped the evening.
The committee included decor chief Liz Smith, Judy Bieler, Sarah Glass, Sheila Hardison, Nancy Martin, Louise Blake, Renee Caudill, Kitty Smith, Mary Wall, Elsie Weston, Judith Harris, Bonnie Kane and Beverley Mungle.