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The Illustrated History of Quick Change – A proposed book project

I began working on this book project in the early 1970’s..probably around 1973. I have a letter from famed magician/historian Jay Marshall dated 1978. I had inquired to see if he had any ‘quick change’ material I could use for my research.

Letter from Jay Marshall

I had basically given up on the project in late 1981 and put all my research in a box. Dishearted by the lack of awareness people had about this act. It seemed like I was one of maybe 50 people that knew what the ‘Quick Change‘ act was.

I just found this box of research in my storage unit! Almost 35 year later! It is massive! I worked on the book for quite a few years. Contacting libraries and archives all over the world to obtain photographs/letters/articles/reviews about these artists during their ‘heyday’ in the vaudeville times.

Palace Theater Program

Here is the program from The Palace Theater in May of 1913. The 6th act (F) on the program is quick change artist Owen McGiveney.

Notice the 4th act on the bill is W.C Fields. Quick change artist shared the bill with some outstanding performers in their time.

As you can see from this photograph my research didn’t only include quick change. Here is a photograph of the ‘future site of the Palace Theater‘.

img005“On This Site Will be Erected THE PALACE THEATRE”

One of the many quick-change artists that were performing in vaudeville was ‘The Great La Follette“.

The Great La Follette

I am posting a few items from my research. I am beginning work on a book.

Quick Change in American Vaudeville

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Here is an artist rendering of the great Proctor’s 23rd Street Theatre.

Proctor's 23rd Street Theatre

Proctor’s 23rd Street Theatre (previously located between 6th and 7th Avenue)

Here are a few of my previous Vaudevisual postings on Quick Change.

Michael McGiveney

Mr. Hymack – Quentin McPhearson

The Great Lafayette

Henri DeVries


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Here is a YouTube video made from film transfer of Owen McGiveney in 1928. 

Here is a YouTube video of his son Michael McGiveney doing his father’s act on the TV show “I’ve Got a Secret” in 1950.

(Michael used his father’s name with Jr. in the beginning of his ‘quick change’ career. More about that in my book!)

Here is a recent (Feb 2016) Ted talk in Pompeii by the wonderful Italian Quick Change artist Arturo Brachetti.

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Performing Arts Photography Variety Arts Video

Michael McGiveney – Quick Change Artist – A Lost Performing Art

Front of Michael McGiveney’s Promo Flyer

Back of Promo Flyer

Information on Quick Change in Vaudeville

Inside the promo flyer for Michael McGiveney – history of his father’s act in vaudeville.

In 1979 I began research on a proposed book project titled “Quick Change in American Vaudeville.” I spend numerous hours at the NY Performing Arts library at Lincoln Center and had correspondence with many performing arts libraries around the world. My research was completed in 1981 (my book proposal wasn’t accepted by any publishers) when I realized that this was a ‘labor of love’. Most people I spoke to didn’t know what Quick Change was. Even performer friends that weren’t familiar with the vaudeville days didn’t have any idea what this kind of act was. One of the few remaining American Quick Change artist alive was Michael McGiveney. His father – Owen McGiveney – had been a big success in the vaudeville era (see Trav S. D. blog here for posting on Owen McGiveney) and when Michael was a child he worked backstage for his father’s act as a ‘changer’. I contacted him in hopes he would grant me an interview. He was very cooperative and was also very curious why I was interested in the art of Quick Change.

During his time performing his father’s act he made many TV appearances and in the beginning billed himself as ‘Owen McGiveney Jr.’. Here is his appearance on the UK Paul Daniel’s TV Magic Show.

In 1979 PEOPLE MAGAZINE did a profile on Michael and his ‘est’ seminar realization that he wanted to perform.“I realized how much I wanted to perform the act,”he says. “It was up to me to figure out how.” He sold his condominium to raise $50,000 for sets, costumes and a rehearsal studio, which for a time doubled as his pad. See full article here.

In New York his show was mounted by the producer/agent Arthur Shafman at the Bijou Theatre on Oct.30th 1980. It closed after 5 performances on Nov. 1st, 1980. His show was reviewed by Mel Gussow. It seems Mr. Gussow was very unhappy with the show as he states here in one closing line from his review “At one point, he (McGiveney) tells us that the quick-change artist is an endangered species. One can see why!”

He began to work in his ‘stage manager-lighting designer’ trade after that and did assist Doug Henning in his Broadway success “The Magic Show’ beginning in December 1984 thru 1985 amongst many other shows that he did lighting for and managed stage.

In 2007 he spoke at the TENTH ANNUAL LOS ANGELES CONFERENCE OF MAGIC HISTORY on the ‘McGiveneys’. He was working as a lighting designer and stage manager then as well.On Feb. 23rd, 2008 a small listing in THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW quoted:“Last weekend we had the honor of seeing Michael McGivney give his final performance as a quick-change artist during the vaudeville show at Lake City Playhouse. McGivney has performed the skillful act around the world, learning from his British father who did the act for 50 years before Michael, who still builds theater sets for North Idaho College and Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre.”

When I looked up “Quick Change” in Wikipedia they didn’t seem to list any of the McGivney family. Only current artist like the amazing Italian Arturo Brachetti. Following in the tradition of Leopoldo Fregoli, Brachetti has really made a name for himself around the world except in the USA. Check out his links here

Some other performers have taken the QUICK CHANGE idea a few steps further. Check out this ‘paper’ Quick Change Artist Ennio Marchetto.