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!
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