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Tribute To The Amazing Randi
Tribute To The Amazing Randi
A look at James Randi's appearances on early TV kiddie shows!

by Kevin S.Butler

Another popular TV magician has left us. ”The Amazing Randi” passed away on October 20, 2020 at the age 92.

Born in Toronto, Canada on August 7, 1928, James Randall Hamilton Zwinge was introduced to magic after attending one of Harry Blackstone’s stage shows. He would purchase magic books then develop an act that he could perform for family and friends.

When he reach his teens, Randi quit high school to become a magician with a traveling carnival. He impressed audiences with his escapes from ropes, handcuffs, leg irons, and other devices. Ultimately, Randi would leave the realm of the carnival life to instead perform his act in nightclubs in Canada.

Eventually, he brought his talent for illusions to the visual medium, making a memorable guest appearance on CBS TV’s summer replacement series, ‘It’s Magic!’ with kids’ TV’s pioneer educator Paul Tripp in 1955.

The following year he performed on NBC TV’s ‘Today’ show, escaping from a coffin that was submerged in a hotel swimming pool.

But his best remembered appearances were on WNEW TV Ch.5 NYC’s popular Sunday morning kids variety program ‘Wonderama’ where he performed his most exciting escapes and tricks for the series last two adult hosts: Sonny Fox and Bob McAllister from 1959 to 1967.

Randi also appeared on ‘The Wonderama Thanksgiving Day Cartoon Party’ TV special on Thursday, November 27, 1959 and on the second and last ‘Wonderama Thanksgiving Day Cartoon Party’ on Thursday, November 23, 1961 (both holiday shows were mc’d by Sonny Fox).

He also found the time to appear on WOR TV Ch.9 NYC’s version of ‘Romper Room’ and on ‘Circus/Circus/Circus!’ with “Bozo” (Gordon Ramsey), “Professor Tweetie Foofer” and “Grandma Nellie” (Tom Mahoney) and “Larry Loveless” & “Snappy Pappy” (Earl George).

During the late 1960s, Randi hosted a talk show on WOR Radio and made numerous guest appearances on Johnny Carson’s version of the ’Tonight’ show. He also appeared on Bob Barker’s reality TV series ‘That’s My Line.’

1965 appearance on “I’ve Got A Secret’
 

He was also the fourth and last host/performer to play “The Magic Clown” on a syndicated version of the series of the same name in the early 1970’s where he performed magic for studio audiences and at-home viewers. The 1970/71 version of ‘The Magic Clown’ was not as successful as the previous format, that one hosted by Doug and Gayle Anderson, so the series left the air after only one season.

By the 1970s, Randi’s goals had changed, focusing instead on exposing phony faith healers and psychics via his in-depth investigations. Years later, he would create an organization (James Randi Educational Foundation) that would check up on and halt the bogus activities of hundreds of charlatans who preyed on gullible individuals.

 

He did appear on some television documentaries on the history of magic and wrote books on the subject and was honored with a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to illusions by a magic magazine in the 1980’s.

Randi made a guest appearance on Gary Marshall’s ABC sitcom ‘Happy Days.’

The Amazing Randi maintained a wonderful friendship with Sonny Fox of Wonderama and appeared on the kids TV star’s 90th birthday party at NYC’s Sardi’s restaurant via Skype in the summer of 2015.


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