Monday, September 18, 2017

Loosing My Mentors

Over the weekend, I lost a dear friend and my mentor in all things escape related. My friend was Steve Baker, known professionally as Mr. Escape. He was a unique individual. He was one of only a couple of people who really kept the art of escape alive and in the eye of the public during his lifetime.

The first time encountered Mr. Escape was watching him on a TV show many years ago. I saw him do a recreation of Houdini's Water Torture Cell. I was not impressed. My thoughts at the time were, "Who does this guy think he is doing Houdini's tricks?" And then I would see him again, and again on TV over the years. I guess my attitude softened over time. Eventually, I got to meet Steve and get to know him. We hit it off right from the start and unlike many others, our friendship lasted for 17 years. Let me just add, that when I watched the footage of his Water Torture Cell years later, I was more than impressed. It was breathtaking. And a little known fact, Steve never presented the Water Torture Cell on TV the same way twice. He always added a unique moment to the escape.

In his life, he had only three students that I am aware of. The first was Tony Clark, the second was me, and the third was Andrew Basso. Steve was very guarded about his secrets and didn't share them with many folks. Even when he would have things built, he would often change the method so even the builder was unaware of how a device worked.

Our meeting came about over a very small escape he did called The Tug of War Rope Tie. I saw a video of Steve doing this thing and wondered how it worked.  The truth was there was no trick to it. No fake knots, no fake tying, all 100% legit. And I could do it. Steve was impressed, actually now that I recall, he was more than impressed. We spoke of the effect for many hours and he sent me numerous videos of his performances of the escape. I loved performing it and did so for many years. In fact, I've recently put it back in my show. See the video below for a very impromptu presentation.

Steve and I had plans to do a TV Special together. There were negotiations going on with Steve and Dick Clark productions. Everything was looking like it would happen and then Dick Clark had a stroke. All projects got shelved and so did our special. We worked out many cool original escapes to feature on the special, but with the cancellation, they were never performed. Who knows, perhaps I will dig out those notes and do one before I get to the point where even I can no longer do escapes, lol!

Steve died Saturday September 16th, 2017 at 11:11pm. His final escape was leaving this world. May You Rest In Peace Old Friend.

My other mentor, was very different from Steve. His name was Cesareo Pelaez and he was the creator and performer of a show called Le Grand David and His Own Spectacular Magic Company. Cesareo and I had an odd connection. We got along quite well, and were very similar in many ways. But unlike a mentor who might spent countless hours teaching you, Cesareo and I only had a few meetings together, a couple phone calls and numerous email exchanges. But because I understood his way of things, he would still influence me without being here. I would often ask myself, "What would Cesareo do in a case like this?" and the answer would soon come.

Cesareo was a college professor of Psychology by profession, but his heart and soul were both stuck in the world of theatre and magic. He was influenced by magical artists like FuManchu, Chang, Richiardi Sr and Jr and many others. His style of performance was very different from what is seen today. I think it could be best described as Broadway meets Vaudeville. It was grand and full of spectacle. And as a performer he was exceedingly charasmatic and charming. I learned so much from Cesareo and still do. Because I am friends with many of the cast members from Le Grand David, they often share stories of Cesareo and these stories always resonate with me.

I have written quite a lot about Cesareo over on my other blog, which can be found here:

Cesareo passed away March 24th, 2012 (Houdini's birthday, btw). He was also 79.

RIP Cesareo You Are Missed!

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