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John Calvert dies at 102; stage magician was also in movies

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John Calvert, a Hollywood illusionist whose magic tricks won him numerous fans as well as several film roles, including three movies during the 1940s in which he played the detective known as the Falcon, has died. He was 102.

Calvert died Friday in Lancaster, according to the International Brotherhood of Magicians. No cause was given.

Hollywood's Magic Castle said on its Facebook page Friday: "We are very sad to report that Mr. John Calvert, our oldest performing magician, has passed away at the age of 102."

Calvert impressed many of Hollywood's most famous personalities with his sleight-of-hand tricks, and he invited some of them to perform in his stage shows. Among the stars he counted as friends were Cary Grant, Danny Kaye and Gary Cooper.

His magic shows were often humorous and usually involved sequences such as firing a woman from a cannon and sawing volunteers with a buzz saw. His wife, Tammy, sometimes served as his onstage assistant.

In his heyday during the '40s and '50s, Calvert performed regularly in Hollywood to star-filled audiences. He also brought his acts to Las Vegas and Broadway. Known for his robust physical presence, Calvert often flew his own airplanes and sailed the world aboard his yacht.

Calvert managed to parlay his stage success to the big screen, appearing in a handful of movies. His most famous role was as the detective Michael Watling, better known as the Falcon, in 1948's "Devil's Cargo" and two more movies.

He also worked as a Hollywood stuntman, and his hands stood in for Clark Gable's in a card-playing scene in the 1941 movie "Honky Tonk." As a technical advisor on "The Silver Chalice" in 1954, he taught Jack Palance the tricks of the trade for the role of a magician.

In 1956, he produced, wrote, directed and starred in "Dark Venture," an adventure tale about a reporter in Africa.

Calvert was born in 1911 in New Trenton, Ind. When he was 8, his father took him to see magician Howard Thurston in Cincinnati. The young Calvert was smitten and started performing for friends almost immediately after.

His career took off when an agent spotted him during a performance he gave while attending college.

Calvert remained active well into his later years, traveling the country with his magic acts and entertaining audiences with a mixture of charm and storytelling panache. At 100 he appeared at the London Palladium.

He accumulated numerous awards and was regarded by many in the field of magic as its most distinguished elder member.

"God has been good to me," he told the St. Petersburg Times in 1998. "People always ask why I don't just retire. I don't know what else I would do. Go fishing?"

Survivors include his wife, Tammy.

david.ng@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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