One of the funniest, if not the funniest comedic actor of all time being interviewed on network TV by Gene Shalitin 1980. So much fun watching him change accents and talk about his career.
He is best remembered for his role of inept French police Inspector ‘Jacques Clouseau’ in the “Pink Panther” series of films (1964 to 1982). The last of that series, “Trail of the Pink Panther” (1982) was made after his death, using film clips and unseen footage from his earlier “Pink Panther” movies. Born Richard Henry Sellers in Southsea, Hampshire, England, his parents worked in an acting company run by his grandmother. During World War II, he enlisted in the British Army, where he met future actors Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe, and Michael Bentine. Following the war, he set up a review in London, which was a combination of music and impressions (he played the drums), which led to his doing impressions on BBC television’s “The Goon Show.” Moving rapidly into a series of British comedy films during the mid-1950s, he quickly caught widespread audience appeal, and each successful role led to more and better films. Following British comic tradition of doing multiple roles in the same play, he was adept at performing multiple roles in his movies, including his hilarious “The Mouse that Roared” (1959) (playing three different parts), the black comedy, “Dr. Strangelove” (1964), (playing an pragmatic RAF officer, a wimpy United States President and a weird German scientist), and “The Prisoner of Zenda” (1979) (playing the roles of Rudolf IV, Rudolf V, and Syd Frewin). In 1959, he won the British equivalent of an Oscar for his role of ‘Fred Kite’, a labor leader in “I’m All Right, Now,” (1959), and in 1979 he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his role of ‘Chance Gardiner’ in his film, “Being There” (1979). He was married four times, to Ann Howe (1951 to 1961), to actress Britt Ekland (1964 to 1968), to Miranda Quarry (1970 to 1974), and to actress Lynn Frederick (1977 to his death in 1980).
The late founder of the American Museum of Magic, Robert Lund of Marshall Michigan, sagely declared: “the small-time journeyman-magicians” were perhaps, the truer heroes within the ongoing saga of stage magic performance practice.
So many of these adamantine idealists who trod the boards in the American theater and show business, themselves, heralded or otherwise, represent and uphold a continuing tradition of “enormous human significance” in the estimation of high culture critic Lionel Trilling in his perhaps unexpected affirmation of the skill sets distinguishing the practice of much of the popular arts including that of the art of magic.
Jack Adams, (1937-1994), the son of a bookshop owner and of Huguenot descent, was just such a journeyman magician of illimitable merit and imagination. Well-liked among his professional peers, and wherever he exhibited his magicianship in at least 30 countries, he was foremost of all the object of various measures of thankful public acclaim.
Adams did forge links between theatrical mastery and the ardent strictures defining his own advanced execution of prestidigitation.
Jack said he’d studied the observation of Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin, (the 19th century “Father of modern magic”), that “the magician is an actor playing the part of a magician.” To this end our subject entered upon the task of mastering so many of the aspects of the magician-actor’s craft – – mime, makeup expertise, storytelling, quick-change artistry and other important myriad facets of the art of acting, from Stanislavsky to Grotowski’s Polish Laboratory Theatre, along with Jack’s passion for dissecting the physical humor techniques gleaned from the silent screen era geniuses like Chaplin and the later work of W.C. Fields, and circus clowning of the level of Emmett Kelly.
Born in Oklahoma, Jack Adams invariably endowed most of his magic roles with the sunshine openness of styles of public address perhaps associated with those good-hearted people of that region, this informing his sparkling admixture of winning personality and captivating personae onstage. In aspect, Jack bore a bit of the look of Brad Pitt, though he was decidedly shorter.
Adams recalled that at the age of 9 he saw his first magician. He once told his friend and magic scholar Robert Reiss, that among Jack’s formative influences in boyhood, was having seen the mercurial King of the Western tent show extravaganzas, Harry Willard, of the dynastic Willard the Wizards. Jack related he’d “walked miles on dusty roads” to enter that tent-show and to marvel as Willard dazzled all with a show comprised of old-style large-scale illusions framed by the performance of a riveting cascade of medium-scaled magic sequences, all bound together by Willard’s compelling stage persona.
Jack later shared that “this was my inspiration” for his much later full-length Merlin, among his other formidable projects for the stage.
To make Jack’s dream show a reality, he sought out excellent tutelage from the theater department at college, Northwestern University. Trained by the experts at that place and time he was, he said on many occasions, mentored by Alvina Kraus, and, elsewhere in Chicago came into professional contact with Viola Spolin, the Improv doyenne, and story theater inspirer. Adams in his student period performed non-magic dramatic roles in Krauss productions at Eagles Mere Playhouse and at the school. Decades afterward Jack contemplated the wonder of it: “We did nine drama classics in all of ten weeks! – Ibsen to Chekhov.”
As a young man, Jack Adams appeared in over sixty roles on and Off-Broadway, in emergent television, and film. When he arrived from the Middle West to Manhattan, the post-war Off-Broadway movement remained in its fertile efflorescent phase, and young Jack was cast in a raft of vehicles during this high tide.
Jack Adams’ magic, too, attracted the attention of casting directors and booker’s, significantly for children’s television programming on local stations in the Northeast as well as in the Middle West.
For at that time these TV stations still created weekend and after-school programs of original content for televisions’ moppet set. When this scribe first personally encountered Adams in the 1960’s at Al Flosso’s Magic Shop in New York City, that now, as then, legendary place of rendezvous for hocus-pocus people, Jack said he was then commuting to Philadelphia to do his original routines of magic as guest on one such local TV show for kids; he averred the following: the station manager and producers were so delighted by Jack’s many gifts, personal and magical, which had gained Jack a local following of kid home viewers, that they wanted Jack to say yes to the idea of Jack’s hosting his own weekly TV hour!
Jack Adams – beloved by trusting kids – said he’d demurred, as his on-air duties would include, as host, having to personally endorse and pitch products and foods of dubious value to his juvenile followers; he said he “could never betray innocent children,” his TV fan base, in such a déclassé fashion, just as his own vegetarianism bade him not to betray animals (which he also sometimes worked with so tenderly as a magician.) Indeed, if I may note the fact in this context, Adams’ favorite – non-magic – book of this general period was the idealistic Markings by Dag Hammarskjold, the perhaps martyred United Nations leader.
So, Jack Adams flourished as a television guest. In the metropolitan area of New York, he ubiquitously popped up on local shows, such as the Sunny Fox hosted era of the Sunday morning viewing marathon, Wonderama. Here he was booked with a favored group of the talented, such as the still youthful The Amazing Randi, and the mime Tony Montanaro.
On camera Jack was especially effective in his live-televised renditions of his character-driven creations, such as Jack in the role of Yoko, an Asian rice farmer contending with the vicissitudes of rain and famine in the rice paddy: this, Jack’s virtuoso turn from his stage show invoking all of his earlier dramatic training as described above featuring Jack’s lapidary mastery of mime, StoryTheatre technique, makeup panache, and his fluency for all of the forms of classic magicianship. It was his outstanding theater piece and, alas, does not appear to have been preserved on tape or film.
On these stages before huge 1000-plus audiences of children and parents, Jack immediately captivated all especially with his authentically warm vocal timbre and diction. He radiated his distinctive assurance and poise, engendering an actor/audience friendship and enchantment that many can still taste in the memory, these decades later.
I might further adumbrate the constitutive elements of the comic and dramatic sequences comprising this singular stage work, but, rather, I’d now prompt the reader to review the accompanying visuals on this website for further edification and all of the pleasing surprises orbed therein. Behold Jack Adams’ gracious art which he advanced with his rosette presence and verve.
Al Cohen, the proprietor of a storied, now-defunct, magic shop in Washington, D.C., where journeyman-magician Jack Adams once also plyed his thespic-magico trade, said “Jack Adams – now – he was an artist! and it’s why I referred important clients to him for shows.”
Milbourne Christopher, the late historian/magician and universally regarded as ”Americas’ foremost magician” said to Adams “Jack, Macy’s wanted me to prepare a magic float for their annual parade – I unreservedly told them to call you,” Reiss recalled the encounter between Christopher and Adams.
Al Flosso, (the late owner of Americas’ oldest magic shop and legend in his own right) in 1969 at his store, amidst a flow of colorful show-biz kibbitzing, wherein he paused to, as it were, soliloquize and expostulate with vehement admiration, said, “Talk about a ton of clever touches,” he spoke as he moved about his haywire showroom with resolute gesticulations.
“I count dozens of his own when I watch Jack on stage — Y’ see – as God as my witness! – and I’ll say this loud and clear – Jack’s show is – Y’hear what I’m telling you! – a masterpiece of originality! Jack’s in a class by himself…OOOh, is he ever! Brother, Y’ hear what I’m saying!”
“You guys should all of you, go study Jack’s show – It’s a master class – boys – Y’ hear! it is! and what you can learn from him…and let me now tell you something else: For my money – for an all-around magic show – with nothing left out – ooh! is Jack the best! I ought to know, brother! And if what I’m saying ain’t true Sonny Boy! – then just call me Mendel Beilis!, and I’ll bail out of here for good!”
These vivid and voluble Flosso utterances let loose on the subject of Jack Adams were exhumed by Reiss, and are, of course, characteristic of Al Flosso’s unforgettable and fervent, vinegar besotted badinage with fond sentiment at the core. Flosso was himself sui-generis among the figures in magic.
In conclusion, it would perhaps simplify matters to quote directly from the late Joseph Dunninger, (1892-1975), who was upon his death the last link in the chain of America’s unexampled Master Magicians, commencing from the mid-19th century, a continuum which did terminate with Dunninger’s death in 1975.
Before he died Dunninger compiled an exceedingly select list of those other magicians he most esteemed, and Jack Adams was among the top two he paid tribute.
Of Jack Adams and the elect others, Dunninger declared in his stentorian and powerful voice, “they are the names of the famous conjurers of the 20th century…they are the ones who have contributed their talents to building the ‘Monument to Magic,’ thereby adding their personalities to the foundation [of Magic’s] Hall of Fame.”
Thus Trilling is indeed correct, these journeyman-magicians are of “enormous human significance,” and indelibly among them is Jack Adams.
# # # # #
Jack Adams Promo Tape transferred from VHS.
Interview with magician Peter Samelson
Interview with magician Bradley Fields
Interview with Pat and Jen Adams
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Printer Materials from Jack Adams Archives
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Bradley Fields assisting Jack Admas in Promo shot in Tompkins Square Park.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Bradley Fields and Jack Adams doing Promo shoot with kids in Tompkins Square Park.
First published in 1969, Notes on a Cowardly Lion has established itself as one of the best-ever show business biographies. Drawing on his father’s recollections and on the memories of those who worked with him, John Lahr brilliantly examines the history of modern American show business through the long and glorious career of his father–the raucous low-comic star of burlesque, vaudeville, the Broadway revue and musical, Hollywood movies, and the legitimate stage. Here in rich detail is Lahr evolving from low–dialect comic to Ziegfeld Follies sophisticate, hamming it up with the Scarecrow and Tin Woodsman on the set of TheWizard of Oz, and debuting Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in America, which Kenneth Tynan called “one of the most noble performances I have ever seen.” In the examination of Bert Lahr’s chronic insecurity and self-absorption, the breakdown of his first marriage, and the affectionate arm’s length he kept between himself and his adoring second family, John Lahr’s book also brings the reader closer than any other theater biography to the private torment of a great funny man.
This edition of the book includes the award-winning essay “The Lion and Me,” John Lahr’s intimate reflections on family life with his distant, brooding, but lovable father. A first-class stylist, John Lahr takes the reader beyond the magic of show business to a dazzling examination of how a performing self is constructed and staged before the paying customers. Both as theater history and biography, Lahr’s book is superb.
“A book-length love letter. To open it is to enter a life, to participate in a sensibility and, perhaps most important, to laugh. Uproariously.”
— Stefan Kanfer, Life
“Endlessly fascinating, excellent. . . . A work of literature, a work of history, a subtle psychological study.”
— Richard Schickel, Harper’s Magazine
“This is a biography of the late Bert Lahr, that clown-comedian who played everything from burlesque to Aristophanes and Shakespeare, by his son, who is one of that rare species, an authentic theater critic. . . . John Lahr is frank and objective about his father. He sees that Bert was wildly funny on the stage and unhappy off. He was a haphazard father, a selfish lover, a thoughtless husband (his wife cherished him), a hypochondriac and a ruthless ‘professional.’ The past becomes present in this biography so that we come to know and understand the actor as clearly as the man. The book abounds in anecdotes that smack of the footlight world and its fascinating fauna. John Lahr is an honorable as well as a talented writer on the theater.”
I had a great time interviewing Gus. We had much in common and I loved his studio space!
Listen to him talk about his life and work and attend this upcoming event!
This ‘From The Horse’ Mouth’ production celebrates the career and accomplishments of a true renaissance man, Gus Solomons Jr. His work as a dancer, choreographer, actor, writer and educator continue to this day proving he is a special force of nature in today’s contemporary arts scene. The cast includes over 20 luminaries honoring his 60 years of professional performance.
Paul J. Curtis (August 29, 1927– April 28 2012) was an American actor, mime, director and founder of The American Mime Theatre. He created the medium known as American Mime.
He said, “American Mime is a complete theatre medium defined by its own aesthetic laws, terminology, techniques, script material and teaching methods. Basically, it is a medium for non-speaking actors who perform, in characterization, the symbolic activities of American Mime plays through movement that is both telling and beautiful.”
On April 7, 1952 Curtis established his theater company, The American Mime Theatre, in New York City. It remains the oldest continually functioning mime theatre in the world. The work of The American Mime Theatre has been commended by Presidents Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton.
Born in Boston, Mr. Curtis served in the Navy in World War II. He studied with the notable German director Erwin Piscator from 1947–49. Later, he went to Paris and studied with Etienne Decroux. He founded American Mime, Inc. and International Mimes & Pantomimists. In addition to teaching at his own school, Mr. Curtis was chairman of the mime department at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, 1956–71. He also taught American Mime at many institutions including Cornell University, Bennington College, Goodman School of Drama, Fairleigh Dickinson University, and The Leonardos in Paris. He and his company created more than 30 original plays for the medium of American Mime. He was a member of AEA, AFTRA, and the National Movement Theater Association.
He is missed by thousands of students and audiences throughout the world, who he moved deeply with his teaching and performances… Paul J. Curtis, a man who lived moment to moment with unwavering uncompromising untamed deepness of heart .
The history of American Mime is available to the public at the following libraries: Harvard College, Yale University,Cornell University,The Players ,Lincoln Center Research
“Paul Curtis and his American Mime Theatre have brought to the concert stage a new medium so fresh in approach, so studied in discipline and so exciting to, see that it must be destined to affect the entire approach to the art of Mime. It cannot be described as founding itself of the French school of Marceau and Decroux because the art of these two gentlemen is self-indulgent and introspective when compared to the communication offered by this new form.” THE SPRINGFIELD NEWS
“Curtis is playing with fire and watching him you can feel the heat. Curtis’ contribution is valuable, engrossing, and totally serious and how many Mimes can make that claim.” WASHINGTON STAR
“It’s hard to categorize this group, but it is certain that Paul J Curtis & American Mime Theatre create their own classification.” DANCE MAGAZINE
“Curtis is making American audiences realize there is an important difference between a Pantomimist and a Mime.” DANCE MAGAZINE
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
WORDS ABOUT AMT BY JIM R.MOORE
I came to the American Mime Theater more than 30 years ago and took classes with Paul J. Curtis. He was an amazing man! His teaching techniques were very exciting and my experience in his class was life changing. I became the ‘photographer-in-resience’ and knowing the discipline enabled me to capture memorable images of the company performing. Different plays in many venues for over 20 years being AMT’s photog.
My life revolved around the American Mime Theatre for many years and enriched it enormously!
Go to this link to view some of the photographs I took.
I miss Paul J Curtis very much. He was and always will be one of my favorite mentors in my life!