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DOTA BROWN'S TRIBUTE TO NEIL FOSTER


Note from John C. Sherwood:
What follows are excerpts from Dota "Mysterious" Brown's tribute to Neil Foster, printed and distributed in 1988, excerpts from which are used here with the kind permission of Ron London, with additional thanks to Scott Heffel for bringing it to our attention, and to Dale Salwak for providing a copy of the booklet. Dale and Scott, like myself, are former students of Neil Foster and are fellow graduates of the Chavez College of Manual Dexterity and Prestidigitation.

Rather than litter the following with parenthetical multiplicities of (sic) or make corrections and therefore lose Dota Brown's own unique gush of reminiscence, what follows retains the original's organization, grammar, punctuation, capitalization and spelling, to retain the flavor of the booklet as it was originally published. Purists, please note -- this is Dota Brown's own highly personal account, and we'd rather not try to "fix" it! Our only correction is that, despite Dota Brown's assertion, Neil was born in 1922, not 1920. The four photographs reproduced here are scans taken directly from a wide array of candid and professional photos included in Brown's booklet; they are, admittedly, poorly reproduced, and appear to be copies of photos reproduced using pre-offset technology. Your Webmeister has made efforts to "enhance" the scans electronically to lend the kind of dramatic effect that might win approval from "Mysterious" Brown and Neil Foster, should they still be watching. ...

A note from Ron London follows, from a letter in mid-2000 granting permission to print these excerpts:
"Dota Brown was a retired school assembly magician. He and I became the best of friends (almost like father and son since my real dad had passed away many years ago). Dota and I kept in constant communication. When Neil died, I said to Dota that the magic magazines had the "usual" flowery tributes to him. But there weren't any "real" stories about Neil. So, Dota led the way. Our agreement was that Dota would write and publish the book. I would finance the advertising. Dota provided stories about Neil and Benny Chavez back to the days of the original Chavez School. Sadly, fame is short-lived. And we sold far short of the anticipated number of copies that we thought we would. ... Dota passed away about four years ago (of cancer) [in 1996]. He gave me the last copies of what we had printed before he died. ... While the book will probably never be printed agian, I do have about a dozen copies left. If a mention could be made on your Web site that they are still available (at $15 postpaid), I'd appreciate it."

Sherwood concludes: If you're interested in obtaining a copy of the book, please write to Ron London, 88 Maples Park, West Lafayette, IN 47906, or contact him at londonron@webtv.net.]


NEIL FOSTER
by Dota "Mysterious" Brown

ABOUT THE AUTHOR -- Dota C. Brown was a professional magician using the stage name, MYSTERIOUS BROWN, from 1929 to 1957, with the exception of four years while on active duty with the U.S. Navy ... In 1936 he was employed at Abbott's Magic Factory. ... Now, at age 75 [in 1988], Dota and his wife, Erika, are retired and living in their Palm Desert Country Club home in California.
The author, a native of Indiana, joined the International Brotherhood of Magicians in 1930. ... He was vice-president of I.B.M. Ring 10, and Territorial Vice-President of the I.B.M. ... He also was graduated from the Chavez College of Magic, with a coveted Gold Diploma. Neil Foster was his instructor in manipulations. ...
Neil Foster and Dota were friends for forty years. Dota will surprise you with the multifaceted life of Neil. Stories only a close friend would know and remember, are devulged. Dota has written this TRIBUTE, to share unpublished photos and memories of Neil Foster, with members of the magic profession. Read and enjoy
(c) copyrighted and Published in 1988
Second Printing - July 1988 at Palm Desert, California

A Tribute to Edgar Neil Foster, Jr.
1920-1988
by Dota C. "Mysterious" Brown


When Neil Foster passed away on March 11, 1988, the magic world lost a manipulator "par excellence," a sauve performer, an artist, a sensitive and unselfish person, a kind and thoughtful gentleman, a demanding teacher, and -- I lost a longtime friend.
Many have praised Neil. Gordon Miller, Frances Ireland Marshall, Dr. John Booth, Howard Bamman, and Bruce Posgate have written about Neil Foster. As far back as 1957, my life long friend, Max Terhune, wrote, "Not since Davey Crockett came to the Alamo has anyone made such an impression as Neil Foster did with Zombie." Now I have a few words of my own to add to the Neil Foster story.

Almost forty years ago, in 1949, I first met Neil Foster at the Chavez College of Manual Dexterity and Prestidigitation, located at 9th and Figueroa Streets, in Los Angeles, California. The long title for the school was assembled to qualify the "magic college" as a TRADE SCHOOL in the State of California. It was the only approved school for magicians in the United States where World War II veterans could study magic under the G.I. Bill of Rights.
My wife, Lillian, had been in the U.S. Marine Corps (WR) during World War II. I was a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. We were both entitled to veterans schooling under the "G.I. Bill." I had given up teaching high school students, and returned to my first love, MAGIC. Lillian and I were traveling as professional magicians on the school assembly circuit for National School Assemblies Agency of Hollywood, when we decided the Chavez School would be beneficial to us, especially in manipulations and showmanship.

We applied to the Veteran's Administration, and were granted permission to attend the Chavez School for the nine months course. We would take the course, and complete it, in two summers. Thus we could carry out our contract with "National" during the school year, and improve our skills during the "off season."

Our instructors were Benny and Marian Chavez, Al Lewis, and NEIL FOSTER. We were fortunate to have such outstanding people to train us. ...

Neil had a fifth floor apartment, shared with Dave Berry, around the corner from the school, at old "Finkle Arms Apartment Building," on Figueroa Street. A delapidated and temperamental, but licensed, elevator rumbled up and down in its shaft. When Lillian and I were invited to lunch, prepared by Neil, we hesitantly entered the cage and rumbled up to their abode.

Of course the meal was excellent. Everything Neil did, had to be perfect. ...

... From the Finkle Arms apartment, Neil moved to the Valley, where he roomed with the Swansons in Glendale. Bobby Swanson and his sister, Marilyn, were both high school age, and apt students at Chavez. During that time I first learned that Neil was an artist. He did an oil painting portrait of Bobby Swanson, which was, in the estimation of this art teacher, an excellent work of art. ...

... Neil ate with us frequently, and spent many evenings in our Venice Boulevard motel room, which became a fun and gathering place for magicians. At school we always looked forward to Neil's demonstrations on stage, of how the manipulations shold be done. He was a loyal instructor for Ben and Marian Chavez, despite an invasion of cockroaches from a greasy-spoon cafe, across the alley from the back door of the school's stage. You might say, those roaches had the run of the place. In the top hats backstage we had more roaches than rabbits. ... Neil was helpful. He would help us stomp them.

Neil was an amazing man. It amazed me that he never learned to drive a car, and it amazed me how nervous he became before going on for a performance. With his skill you would expect him to be perfectly at ease. That anxiety seemed to put him on his toes and sharpen his ability to do the moves in a move artistic manner. I never saw him do a poor act. At a PCAM convention, or wherever he performed, he was a good advertisement for the Chavez School.
Neil was born in Aurora, Illinois, October 21, 1920. At a young and tender age, perhaps nine, he became interested in performing magic. Seeing Harry Blackstone, Sr., perform, convinced him that legerdemain would be his life's work. Cardini's suave STYLE appealed to Neil, and inspired his intense interest in manipulations. ...

... Neil was a kind and caring person. As a young man, he stayed at home and devoted his time to his Mother, who was an invalid. He cared for her until her death. Following her passing he was free to travel. ...

In 1947 he enrolled in the Chavez School ... Al Lewis ... and Walter Cummings ... were [his] instructors ... Ben knew a good thing when he saw one, so when Neil graduated from the course, Benny Chavez persuaded Neil to stay on as an instructor. ...

... Neil enhanced the course. For the students, each "move" had a number. In card work there was a "move" called "number five and one-half." When Neil made a flashy improvement on that move, the students wanted to call it "Neil's BIG SIX." Fearing a "double-entendre," Benny vetoed that idea. ...

... After four years at the Chavez School as student and instructor, in 1951, Neil Foster, by then a magician's magician, left the school to devote his life to magic. He opened a magic shop in his home town of Aurora. Lillian and I visited the shop. Neil and his partner, Dave Berry, also a Chavez graduate, had a youthful group of customers with more enthusiasm than money. They would buy anything that fit their pocket money. To satisfy that market, Neil was putting together merchandise that would make him "quick" money. His success was due to, "big income and little out-go." He was busy putting a BB into small pink gelatin capsules to be sold as Mexican jumping beans, when we arrived. ...

... Neil went to Delray Beach (between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale), Florida, where he worked as an entertainer and night desk clerk at the Seacrest Hotel, owned by a friend of his. There he met Jeanne Hammond, the night accountant. Jeanne was born in Ashtabula, Ohio, and up until the time she met Neil, she had no interest in show people or show business. It figures, a romance soon developed, which culminated in marriage on April 29, 1955. Late spring of 1955, Jeannie and Neil on their honeymoon, came to visit Lillian and me in our home.

Neil had told us about buying a wig, which he referred to in his letters as his "RUG." Neil was not bald, but he had a "high forehead," and his blonde hair which was thin, did not show up when he was on stage. The toupee gave him a more natural appearance. Knowing they were coming, we had a large sign in front of our home to greet them which said, "Welcome, Mr. & Mrs. RUG."

Their employment at Fort Lauderdale was seasonal. For the summer Neil was unemployed. I was happy to put him on the payroll painting scenery and making props for theatricals, plays and operettas on the Island Stage in Columbian Park. This artist was very creative and talented. He did a magnificent job. ...

Neil thought about working clubs and casuals. He was aware that Jay Marshall had made $400.00 doing only five minutes on the Ed Sullivan show, which was big money for those days. But Neil also knew that Jay had to sign that he would not work elsewhere for a month before, and a month after, the appearance. That amounted to $400.00 for two months work.

Neil saw, that while we made less per show, we had STEADY work doing school shows, so he was interested. While we were working for School Assemblies Service of Chicago (Fall of 1954), Neil asked if he could go with us for a week. We were flattered. He would like to pick up tips on how we could set-up, do a fast moving show, have everything parked, and ready to leave when the program ended. (That was the only way one could do 4 and 5 assembly programs a day, each in a different town.) ...

We had a great week together. He was helpful when we carried our equipment in and out of school buildings. His company was delightful. ...

Neil signed with the Sorenson Agency of Ada, Ohio, and played schools in several mid-western states. We were fortunate enough to catch his program in one city. His 50-minute act had variety, color, appropriate background music, and Jeanne, a charming and capable assistant. Between his good sense of humor and his inimitable dexterity, he was a huge success. He received an ovation. Sorenson had a reliable magician. Only the untimely death of Mr. Sorenson ... ended the agency.

Then the two of them were booked by agencies in Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Dakotas. Doing so many programs a day, skipping meals, sleeping in a different bed every night, and always being rushed from one school to the next to make their schedule, took its toll, especially on Jeanne, who never looked especially strong, physically, to me. Neil could not leave his chosen profession, so he did the next best thing to performing. When Recil Bordner asked Neil to join him in 1959, Neil took a position with the Abbott Magic Factory in Colon, Michigan.

Having worked there myself in 1936, I know, Neil was an asset because he could demonstrate and sell any apparatus, or gimmic, they stocked. He could also do their art work. In 1960, Neil revived the old Tops magazine and became Editor of "The New Tops." In their home, Jeanne did proof-reading, edited manuscripts, type-set books, and did the book keeping. ...

... Neil was always a very thoughtful and polite person. He rememberd the niceties, flowers or candy for the ladies, and a hug for those who were old friends, and for the men, a hearty handshake and cheerful conversation. ...

** TO PURCHASE THE COMPLETE BOOKLET **
** PLEASE CONTACT RON LONDON (see note above) **




The final two photos show Neil Foster
with Dota "Mysterious" Brown




OUR NEIL FOSTER TRIBUTE PAGES

MAIN PAGE: A Tribute to NEIL FOSTER
Ovation for Neil Foster (1977)
Neil Foster recalls Queen Elizabeth (1977)
Jeanne Foster's obituary (1979)
Surgery restores Foster's ability (1979)
Background on Neil Foster (1981)
The Chavez course under Neil Foster (1981)
Neil Foster press release (1981)
Magic museum honors Foster (1987)
Neil Foster's obituary (1988)
Recollections of Neil Foster (1988)
* OTHER PHOTOS of Neil Foster *

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