Monday, March 23, 2015

Merlin and Martin: What A Reunion!



Back when Disneyland was more diverse in its retail offerings, there was a magical little store tucked away in Fantasyland. Walt Disney himself approached magician Merv Taylor in 1955 and asked him to be part of Disneyland; teaming up with James Hume, the two created Merlin's Magic Shop. Merv sold his magic store in Los Angeles and the rights to some of his apparatus to focus solely on Disneyland. Here are a few low quality but rare interior shots of Merlin's, featuring the skinny manager, Dave Steward, sporting a harlequin shirt; a young Steve Martin can be seen in the lower left-hand photo behind the counter wearing the same patterned shirt.



This May 1962 image shows one of Merlin's windows:



A closer look at the merchandise:



Merlin's Magic Shop also had the King Arthur sword in the stone. A secret button behind the counter would release the sword for the right person.



Merv and James Hume had two magic shops in Disneyland, as well as a drugstore and camera shop in the Disneyland Hotel.



Here is a rare interior shot of the Hotel shop. Merv's daughter-in-law, Helen, is on the left, pregnant with her daughter Lorie.



The leases at Disneyland ran out in 1967 but Merv & James retained the other stores til after Merv's passing in 1974. Here's Merv's Disneyland ID:



Merv helped put on many a summer magic show inviting many of his friends to perform. The man holding the "E" is Leo Behnke, who mentored a young Steve Martin when he worked at Merlin's.



Not sure what the event going on here is or its location, but Merv's grandson, Eric, identified this magician as Merv's wife, Della (aka Eric's grandmother!).



Here's Merv himself performing a trick with actress Debbie Reynolds:



and budding magician Steve Martin, performing the very same trick:



Finally, we come to the reason this post came to fruition: the handcrafted sign outside of Merlin's, seen in this previously posted August 1965 image:



This sign was designed and made by Merv and his son Richard.

In these very low quality but rare shots, you can see Steve Martin standing outside the shop where the sign hung, as well as posing with some friends and fellow magician/manager of Merlin's Dave Steward (2nd from right):



Dave Steward is shown touching the sign by the side exit, not the one in my 1965 photo.



One day last year, slightly bored, I decided to search on ebay for vintage Disneyland items just to see what the most expensive items were. Lo and behold, a few listings down, I stumbled upon this:



It was listed as "59 years old, weathered and slightly faded on the red paint. It measures 36" x 23" and is 2" thick. It is wrapped in iron holding the sign and is suspended on iron links. It has sustained termite damage but has been treated." I knew from comparing my photos that it was the real deal. So, I did what any person would do. I sent word through the cosmos to Steve Martin that it was up for grabs and that he should probably act quickly. Minutes later, he owned it. But, there was a problem (that's just how life works…throwing in those hurdles). The sign was in Hemet...



and Steve was temporarily in New York. I offered to make a road trip and deliver it to his assistant in LA. I had the pleasure of meeting the owners, Helen Taylor and her daughter Lorie. They couldn't have been any nicer. This photo of a mummified sign is what I picked up that day. I sweated the entire ride to LA, hoping I wouldn't drop it or damage it along the way.



Last one for today shows the proud owner:



And that's how Martin was reunited with Merlin.

Many thanks to the Taylor family and Steve Martin for all the assistance on making this post happen!

Want more Merlin's? Click the link and magically transport yourself to my main website. For more Steve Martin photos, my website has 'em in spades, too!

Follow my Daveland updates on Twitter and view my most recent photos on Flickr.

21 comments:

K. Martinez said...

Some days your posts just blow me away. Today is one of those days. What amazing stuff you show in this post. From the vintage photos to the business cards and photo id related to Merlin's Magic Shop. Even the Steve Martin connection.

Thanks for sharing, Dave. I love this!

dis220 said...

A FANTASTIC post...beautifully written, structured, and illustrated.

MRaymond said...

Merlins was a 'must visit' when I was a kid. The CMs were always so nice and humorous. It was a pleasure to walk in even if you couldn't afford the items.

outsidetheberm said...

Goodnight, ladies and gentlemen! This post just might be considered your magnum opus, Dave. Incredible work. Mr. Martin must be so pleased with this find!

HBG2 said...

What a great story! I LOVED Merlin's Magic Shop and still make a point of walking through the old place whenever I go to DL (now a Heraldry shop, of course), just to reminisce. Any Merlin's interior shots are prize possessions in my book, and the story of that sign is wonderful. Lots of stuff I never knew. Thanks.

Irene said...

What a story - this was amazing. What a nice thing you did for Mr. Martin.

Fifthrider said...

It's going to be hard to top this one, Dave. Well done!

Connie Moreno said...

What an AWESOME story!!!

HBG2 said...

Just EIGHT comments (so far) for a post like this? There is no justice.

Dave DeCaro said...

Thank you all! HBG2 - this post has gotten over 10,000 views. I have yet to figure out why so few comments, but that's the way it goes. Maybe they're just speechless!

Todd J. Pierce said...

Fantastic post!

Dena Gilbert said...

Thanks so much, Dave, for this fabulous post! Kerri Taylor, Merv's granddaughter, is my sister-in-law and with this informative history and so many people expressing appreciation, I feel like our family just got a little bigger! Kudos to you.

Hubert Burke said...

Dave,

It is wonderful you that you got that sign to the right person. You would do Merlin proud. You have gone beyond magic. Good Show! Please forgive me for the following words that I do not mean. I'm just being mean. Do you know what I mean?

P.S. Do you have a pet pig named King Tut?

TTracy said...

Our family The Tracy's lived on Ellery Drive in Garden Grove in the early 60s. I think the Taylor's lived there too..

Anonymous said...

I've always liked Steve Martin and this story is great. I'm a bit OCD and bothered the sign doesn't seem to match...

J. David Aten said...

Since I grew up with Steve, and he lived accross the street from me, you used to practice tricks on me, to see if I could tell how he did them. What I don't know, however, is how did Steve become involved with the magic shop? And, for those who do not know, the gag with him wearing an arrow through his head started at the shop. He would go around Disneyland doing slight-of-hand tricks, with the arrow through his head, and when people would ask him where he learned to do the tricks, and where he got the tricks, he would direct them to the shop. Stve started there when he was only about 13.

Andre Higgins-McMickens said...


Always loved Steve Martin's connection to Disneyland and his willingness to discuss it. So glad he got the magic shop sign. He is the rightful owner.

pixiegirltink said...

Dave saves the day! What great pictures and an awesome story. Great job, my friend!

Dave DeCaro said...

J. David Aten - You can read more background on Steve's work at Disneyland here: http://davelandweb.com/entrance/#stevemartin Steve made it very clear that he never walked around the park doing tricks or wearing the arrow through his head.

Laurence Boag said...

I had the great pleasure of working at Merlin's Magic shop for Taylor and Hume back in the mid sixties. Dave Stewart was my boss. I used to hang around Steve until he left for Knott's and then I got his job! Loved it. I was just reminiscing with John McEuen (of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) about this as he also worked there in those days. He was the one who told me that Steve bought the sign! So cool!

Tina said...

Steve wrote a book years ago called "Born Standing Up" and in it he talked about his youth at Disneyland, and there may have been some time a Knott's Berry Farm, too. One of the things he talked about was a group of Barbershoppers he knew from Disneyland. One of those Barbershoppers would later be my music and choir teacher at Canyon High School in Anaheim Hills, Ron Brown. Mr. Brown was my favorite teacher. It was such a thrill to see my favorite teacher mentioned in my favorite actor's book. Two worlds colliding and all that.

Love this story - it's a small world, after all.