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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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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
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.
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
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
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
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
Ovation for Neil Foster
Neil Foster recalls Queen
Jeanne Foster's obituary
Surgery restores Foster's
Background on Neil Foster
The Chavez course under Neil
Neil Foster press release
Magic museum honors Foster
Neil Foster's obituary
Recollections of Neil Foster
* OTHER PHOTOS of Neil Foster *
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