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Frank Thurston continues sharing his love of magic at the O.C. Fair

Frank Thurston, a longtime magician at the O.C. Fair, performs a trick with Maddox Carmel, 6, on Thursday.
Frank Thurston, a longtime magician at the Orange County Fair, performs a trick with Maddox Carmel, 6, during an afternoon show on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Magicians often like to make things disappear.

In that sense, it is notable how much of a mainstay of the Orange County Fair that magician Frank Thurston has become.

Thurston has been at the fair since 1992, only missing two years in that span — one due to the coronavirus pandemic, when the whole fair was cancelled in 2020.

In a fair season that spans from April to October, Thurston will perform his magic and comedy act at a dozen-plus fairs statewide. But he said the Orange County Fair, which concludes its 2022 run this weekend, always ranks near the top of the list.

This year he’s performing three shows a day — at 2, 4 and 6 p.m. — in the OC Promenade building. Additionally, he was asked to emcee a food-eating contest at 7 p.m. each night.

Thurston, ever flexible, quickly said yes.

Frank Thurston performs a trick with Penelope Siegfried, 9, during an afternoon show on Thursday at the O.C. Fair.
Frank Thurston performs a trick with Penelope Siegfried, 9, during an afternoon show on Thursday at the O.C. Fair.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

His magic shows are brisk. They feature three tricks, each with the help of a child he pulls from the crowd, and last 25 minutes tops.

“I’ve got a lot of competition at the fair,” Thurston, 56, said Thursday back at his dressing room after playing to a good crowd at his first show of the afternoon. “Not everybody comes to the fair to see Frank Thurston. As much as I’d like that to be true, they’re here to ride rides and eat food. If they happen to stop by and see my show, I want to entertain them and then set them on their merry little way.”

He’s quite the seasoned pro. Thurston, from Bakersfield, said performing magic has been his full-time job for 38 years. He dropped out of Cal State Bakersfield after his sophomore year to pursue his passion.

He said his yearly schedule typically consists of school assemblies from January through March, before the fair circuit starts. At the end of the year, there are Christmas parties and banquets.

Frank Thurston performs a trick with Rocky, 6, during an afternoon show on Thursday at the O.C. Fair.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Magic moments mean a lot to Thurston. This is the same guy who proposed to his wife in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland.

He wants his magic show to be fun for people of all ages, which sounds like a good goal but can be difficult to accomplish.

“The hard part is coming up with a routine,” he said. “Anybody can do the tricks, but you’ve got to have it be entertaining. Maybe something happens that is really funny, and it’s by accident. But I think, OK, how can I replicate that every show to make it look like it was ad-libbed? I always try to refine my show; I’m never done.”

Cruz Robinson of Los Alamitos, 6, attended Thursday’s show. He said he enjoyed the trick where a child gets one of his or her shoes seemingly charred, yet returned to him later in mint condition.

How did he think Thurston pulled off that feat?

“Magic,” Cruz said simply.

Good answer.

Audience members react to a magic show performance by Frank Thurston at the Orange County Fair on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Cruz attended Thursday’s show with his older brother Drew, as well as parents Tyler and Noelle Robinson. Though Cruz was not selected to participate in a trick, he was successful in convincing his parents to spend $5 to buy a magic activity book that Thurston peddles after the show.

“Anything for sale, he wants,” Tyler Robinson said with a smile.

Orange County Fair communications director Terry Moore, for one, is always glad to see Thurston back. She has seen his magic act become one of the hallmarks of the fair each summer.

“People come back year after year,” Moore said. “Our staff photographers, they love shooting his shows, because the kids’ reactions on their faces are just so amazing. They have a great time. People just love him, and he’s a nice man.”

Thurston said the love of magic started in him at a young age. His uncle owned a magic shop in Bakersfield, and he would practice tricks often. High school brought magic opportunities like birthday parties and library shows.

Frank Thurston gives Victoria Yonekura, 6, a magical fortune-telling unicorn following an afternoon show on Thursday.
Frank Thurston gives Victoria Yonekura, 6, a magical fortune-telling unicorn following an afternoon show at the Orange County Fair on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Though he’s on the road for much of the summer, he finds Bakersfield a good centralized home base to rest up for a couple of days before hitting the next gig.

“Public speaking is the No. 1 phobia in America, and I just don’t understand that,” he said. “I’m most comfortable when I’m up in front of an audience. Give me a microphone, and I’m at home. I always want to be the center of attention.

“It’s a tough gig … but I’ve been very fortunate to be able to do what I love. I’m one of those rare people.”

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