Magic by night
Bill Devon, magician
By day, Bill Hutcheon is a zoning investigator for the city of Sacramento's Community Development Department. By night, however, he's known as Bill Devon, a magician and owner of Top Class Magic (www.topclassmagic.com). Born in 1949, he started as a magician's apprentice before working professionally from age 16 until his mid-20s, when the need to support a wife and child required him to find a “regular job.” Still, he's not given up his tricks entirely. These days, he still performs at birthday parties, corporate events and community celebrations. With 50 years of magic under his belt, Devon sat down with SN&R to talk about his career and the Sacramento magic community.
How exactly does a magic apprenticeship work?
I've found that magicians are very sharing with their magic. And it's not a real secretive thing, like where they want to guard all their secrets and not share it. I'm sure there's some at a certain level, where [magicians] have their own unique act, [and] they don't want to share it with everyone because everyone would be copying it. But by and large, most magicians are very sharing, and I think the key is from the mentor's point of view, if you find a younger magician, or somebody your own age who truly wants to learn, then you want to teach them. That's what happened with me.
Once a trick is revealed to the public, can you not use it anymore?
This is my take on it: They came out with this Masked Magician [character]. And all of the magicians in the magical fraternity said, “Oh, this is terrible. That guy ought to be taken out of town,” and this and that. But the way it's worked out … all it's done is kind of make magic more interesting.
I've watched that show Breaking the Magician's Code: Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed, where they reveal some secrets, and then I'll rewatch the same episode six months later, and I can't remember how it's done.
What you remember is the performance aspect?
A lot of times, even if you know how a trick is done, [it's fun] just watching the artistry in doing it. I'll give you an example: I produce seven live doves out of thin air throughout the act. Obviously, they're in my coat—you know, different parts of my coat, up my sleeves, whatnot—but … I think the fun of it is watching [and thinking], “Now I know he has one in his coat somewhere, but how the heck does he get it from his coat to pop out of the handkerchief?”
Do we have a big community of magicians in Sacramento?
Yes. The second Wednesday of every month, the IBM—which is the International Brotherhood of Magicians—meets. The fourth Wednesday of every month is the SAM— which stands for the Society of American Magicians. The Elk Grove magic club, they meet the first and the third Wednesday of the month. Theoretically, you can go to a magic meeting every Wednesday.
What are those like?
You open the meeting, covering old business [and] new business. Then, they take a break, and they have a little sign-up sheet for anybody that wants to perform, [and] do like five or 10 minutes of magic.
Like an open-mic for magic?
Yeah. And then sometimes they'll have a theme, like everybody will do card tricks tonight, or mental magic or kids' show magic. And sometimes they'll have a workshop where somebody will teach a trick. Another big thing is that a lot of the clubs, four or five times a year, sponsor lectures where they have a well-known magician come to town.
Do magicians actually go to a magic store to get supplies?
There's a magic shop in Sacramento called Grand Illusions, [owned by] Steve Johnson. I'll have tricks for the cards [where] I need fanning powder … it makes the cards smooth. I know he has it there. I'll need rope; he's got tons of the right types of rope. I'll need some scarves—you know, my silk scarves wear out. He's got all the silk scarves.
And when I go there, I go, “Hey, you got anything new?”
And he'll say, “Yeah I just got this. Oh, so-and-so came out with this new effect, let me show it to you.”
And I'll end up buying it. Even for magicians who have been doing it forever, I'll go in there maybe six times a year, spend some money there.
Favorite moment in your career?
There was a very famous sexpot actress in the '50s and '60s, Jayne Mansfield. She was kind of like … Marilyn Monroe. In 1967, Jayne Mansfield was in Sacramento, and she was appearing at a local nightclub on Auburn Boulevard, the Cleopatra Club.
She was the guest of honor, and they had me perform. They introduce me, and I do my dove act, and the main audience is in front of me, but behind me is the guest-of-honor table. And that's where Jayne Mansfield is sitting. So I produce a dove and every time I produce a dove, my assistant would walk past me and pass Jayne. And Jayne would want to pet the dove. I didn't know that, I found out later.
About the fourth dove I produce, the audience in front is just laughing. I didn't know what it was until after the show was over. They told me: “Do you know what everyone was laughing at?”
I go, “No.”
[Someone] says, “Jayne wanted to pet your doves. Well, that poor dove pooped in her fruit cocktail!”