Clipboard researched by Kathie Bozanich and Rick VanderKnyff / Los Angeles Times. Graphics by Doris Shields / Los Angeles Times

It's probably safe to say that of all Orange County's countless retail shops, only one has a severed human head dangling from the ceiling. "He's always hanging around," quips Jack McCandless, manager of Hollywood Magic Inc. "He's a former employee--always worked the swing shift."

The head is rubber, of course, just one of the more gruesome gags the Costa Mesa shop carries. Other items range from such old favorites as whoopee cushions and hand buzzers to a selection of risque adult gags, kept behind the counter. Then there are the masks, costumes and related accessories, from blood capsules to a fake bone through the nose.

But the shop's bread and butter, as the name implies, is magic. This is where Orange County's magicians, pros and hobbyists alike, go to check out the latest trick, buy a book on rope techniques or just shoot the breeze. The stock includes such classic illusions as the cup and balls and the linking rings, along with larger-scale devices such as wrist choppers and trick cages for live rabbits and doves. The staff at Hollywood Magic will demonstrate the tricks to customers but won't reveal the secret until the sale is made.

Ready-made coin and card tricks can help give the beginning magician the illusion of great skill without the years of practice required to master sleight-of-hand techniques.

"A lot of people want to become overnight magicians, and to a certain extent it's almost possible," McCandless says. On the other hand, he adds, "Magic can be a lifelong study. It can get very technical." Hobbyists usually go for the ready-made illusions and devices, McCandless says, while the professionals tend to buy from the shop's large stock of magic books and manuals.

The Costa Mesa store has been at its 17th Street site for four years now, after being located for nine years on Newport Boulevard. It is the younger sibling to the original Hollywood Magic, owned and operated since shortly after World War II by the family of Louis St. Pierre, who now lives in Corona del Mar. Lookers, McCandless said, are welcome.

Address: 298-D E. 17th St., Costa Mesa

Telephone: (714) 646-4374

Hours: Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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