11 November 2013

Tribute to Herbert Lewis Morrissey

Back in August, I posted about Morrissey Magic closing after 54 years in magic. When the store closed, their website went dark and with it their tribute to Herb Morrissey. I'm pleased to republish Dan's tribute to his father.

Reprinted from MorrisseyMagic.com (archived on Dec 18, 2010), with permission from Dan and Phoebe:
Herbert Lewis Morrissey
February 6, 1938 to August 13, 2003
On Wednesday September 17, 2003  Many people from far and wide gathered together to celebrate the life of our founder Herb Morrissey. It was a beautiful evening and many great stories where shared by in my opinion 5 people who really new Herb, David Peck, Jeff Pinsky, David Ben, Obie O'Brien and Herb's partner Richard Olsen. I can't express  my gratitude to you all for sharing your memories of my father with us all.  We had a lot of laugh's and shed a few tears. 
On behalf of my family and Morrissey Magic, thank you to all our speakers and to all that attended the memorial.

Sandy Hobson deserves a big thank you for taking pictures of  the evening. Please follow the link below to see the picture gallery.

Picture Gallery

Dan Morrissey

Our founder and my dad Herb Morrissey after many struggles with many high points and a few very low points, over a span of about 3 years or so. Herb had many serious health issues but always held his head up and made the next hurdle.  There were many hospital stays over the last 3 years, twelve I believe. Nurses that cared for him number in the hundreds and there where many doctors.  Initially he had a heart attack among other problems, and it was decided that he would need a heart transplant. The transplant was a success and 2 months later he was out of the hospital and recuperating at home. Shortly after he was back at the shop doing what he liked best, demonstrating magic. He came to the shop 2 or 3 days a week for a few  months. Then another blow, cancer was found in one of his lungs and would have to be removed. The operation went well and it was believed that all the cancer was removed, again he headed home to rest and even made it back to the shop for a visit.  Herb's health started failing him again. He had not been comfortable for quite some time and was almost always in constant pain. Ultimately Herb was diagnosed with cancer throughout most of his body and had even started chemotherapy treatments. I often thought how brave he was and wondered how he could face another appointment or hospital stay. He put up one hell of a fight. On Wednesday afternoon August 13, 2003 Herb passed away at the Toronto General Hospital peacefully. 
My dad got his start in magic as a young boy when he was given a magic kit,  his interest quickly grew and was soon doing shows. At the age of ten he was chosen to be part of an all kids variety show, which included a juggler, singer, ventriloquist and Herb as the Magician. The group was so professional that they where once flown into northern Quebec and  Labrador to perform for the troops at Canadian forces bases.  Herb performed many shows all the way thru his teen years. 
He met the love of his life Shirley Anne Howes, my mom. They dated for a while and were married shortly after. My mother has shared many memories of my dad with me that I didn't know, some of which I can share with you. She recalled when they first met, my father was playing a club and he invited my mom to come see his act. When he walked out on stage my mother asked a friend, who is that man on stage, the friend replied that's Herb. She couldn't believe this was the same guy. My father off stage was quite shy and mother said he transformed into a totally different  person when he hit the stage.  She also told me that my sister Kim and I, where the most popular kids in the neighborhood, at our birthday parties all the kids wanted to come to our birthdays, because there would always be a magic show.  Kim and I could have cared less. I don't recall this but thought it was quite funny. 
At the age of 23 Herb turned professional and quickly became one of the busiest performers on the Montreal club scene and throughout the province of Quebec. As a kid I was snuck into a club or two to watch my father, and that's where my father was most comfortable, on stage. He had style and grace on stage that I have seen only a handful of times. He worked the clubs and eventually started the first business Herb Morrissey Products  in 1959 a very small business indeed. So small in fact that he only had one product. Morrissey Cups, soon other products were introduced Chop Cups, the dove pan line, zombie and lota bowl just to name a few. Richard Olsen, Herb's partner for over 30 years,  Richard started coming to the shop when he was a kid and spent a lot of his free time learning and looking after the shop when the boys would head to the bar for a beer. Richard is a huge piece of this thing we call Morrissey's and is also a big part of the company's success. Another Part of my fathers success comes down to a person that has probably never been mentioned. Our original metal spinner Leo Lambert, he was not a magician but had an understanding of magic that came thru in his work. Leo is now deceased and deserves along over due thank you. Herb eventually got out of the showbiz end of magic to focus all his attention on the business end of magic. 
This story starts back for me about 38 years ago. The path that I have been led down has been an interesting one. Because of my father I met many of the greats in the magic world as I grew up, not knowing that my life would some what follow the same path as my father. Magic has been a constant for my whole life, when I was a kid I dabbled in magic but never quite caught the magic bug until much later.  I really had very little interest in magic but I went to many magic conventions and saw pretty well everyone who is anyone perform or lecturer. In the seventies in Montreal, Morrissey Magic had many lecturers the likes of  Vernon, Derek Dingle, Buckingham, Paul Harris, Goshman just to name a few. I was not a magician but I always watched every lecturer. One memory that keeps popping into my head is when Dia Vernon Lectured, as Vernon Lectured his chauffeur was going over the fine details of the faro shuffle with me at the back of the room, I believe the chauffeurs name was Joe.  I was maybe seven years old but I practiced the faro and became quite good at it, but it wasn't until I was 18 that I would actually use the faro in a trick  There was always a magician staying at our house as I grew up, it was definitely interesting.  Little did I know that I was in actual fact learning many lessons on magic, the performance and my dad's favorite the demonstrating and the selling. I had been signed up for magic 101, but never knew.  
A few years back now my father was asked to perform for a large group with a special request, this group was having a hard time finding a magician who could work silent. The entire audience was hearing impaired. The act I say that night was incredible he did his cigarette act, misers dream (ungimmicked), card manipulations, linking rings and ended with The guillotine. He did about a 40 minute act and never spoke a word, when he finished the audience rouse, no jumped to there feet in a spontaneous standing ovation. I had seen my father work before but this was a special night. All the classic's of stage magic performed flawlessly and in total control of the audience. Again I was young and did not realize at the time this was another lesson.

As the cards and emails came I thought that many of the memories that people have of my father would be appropriate to share with you all. The condolences, notes and people visiting the shop and talking about their memories of dad have really helped the healing process for me.   
Our friend Jeff Pinsky of the Browsers Den of Magic here in Toronto wrote something that really hit me and said so much about Herb in just a few words, here they are.
"I have vivid memories of Herb and here are some of the titles to the memories that only we who spent time with Herb can fill in: The Stories, The Chop Cup, The Zombie Ball, The Cups and Balls, Copper/Brass/Silver, Fire Magic, His Cigarettes, His Cokes,  His Sports Jacket."

Mike Olender long time friend shared these thoughts.
My deepest condolences on your father's passing.
When I first met your dad in 1986 he took an interest in what I purchased and gladly demonstrated any effects asked and gave me tips and insights for various sleights.
And although he knew a huge number of magicians in his life, many of them famous worldwide, he never forgot the everyday ordinary guys. Whenever I came to the store or he came to our ring he always said "Hi Mike", never forgot my name or countless others names and that impressed me.
Your following along in his footsteps and he's up there with the rest of the magic fraternity smiling down.
Gone but definitely not forgotten.
Mike Olender

My name is Kevin Rusli, you probably don't know me but that's kind of the point of this email; to let you know that Herb has touched and affected the lives of others like myself who would have remained anonymous to you except by this email. I 'm only 23 years old, and started magic around 10 - 12 years ago at the shop. I even worked with you guys a long time ago for the annual 'take your kid to work day' which they do for schools. Herb had me in the basement making one way decks! Being as nice as he was, he gave me a free 'torch to rose' at the end of the day for my hard work!  
I also remember him making a comment to me at the age of 15 or 16, when he said I was old enough to leave home and start show business! I never knew if he was joking, but thinking about it brings a smile to my face.  
I saw him demonstrate  many tricks; some of my favorites that he did and I ended up buying were immaculate connection, beggar coins, and Tenyo's Eclipse. I just wanted you to know, that although I've not remained as close to Herb as I was as his customer, I would continue to consider him one of my early mentors and friends.
I'll miss him dearly,
Kevin Rusli 
The underlined section above is classic Herb.  As I read Kevin's email it immediately brought a smile to my face also, when I really needed it.

Dear Dan,
Our sincerest regrets go to you and your family for the recent loss of your father. Herb was a great man, and he will be missed by all.  
Your father was a magic Icon, and was definitely an influence on my magic and the continued success of my career. I still remember the very first time I ever walked into the shop and met him, he showed me the Chinese sticks, that was 20 years ago.  
He was also a great salesman, I know because my shelves are chalk full of magical gadgets, that I will probably never use. 
I know that there isn't much I can say except that I am truly sympathetic, and at least one good thing has come,...you and I have become friends. A friendship I hope we can continue for years to come. Although Lyndsy had never met your Dad, she has heard all about him since we first met, and she too sends her warmest thoughts and prayers to all of you. 
With our thoughts and prayers....
Peter & Lyndsy
Peter Loughran-Master of Illusions 
Peter's email made me realize all the friendships I have made because of my father and this is a blessing.

David Peck has been a friend of my dad for many years and a friend of mine for almost as many. They spent many hours at the shop together and David has a incite that not many have of  Herb, including me.  Below is the obituary David wrote for Linking Ring Magazine and The Canadian Association of Magicians Magazine CAMaraderie. I have included it here in its entirety. As I read it, it made me laugh and it brought a tear to my eye at the same time. 
 Thank you David. 
“Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure.”
Herb Morrissey was a magician with a keen sense for all things magical. And it was this sensibility that allowed him to create and develop Morrissey Magic Ltd - a forty four year old company that I was to grow deeply fond of. It would be here that Herb and I would become good friends. It would be here where I would be privy to Herb’s skills as performer, salesman and entrepreneur. It would be here where I would here tales of performing for the mafia, Expo 67 and the subtleties of a nightclub act. It would be here that I would meet and develop relationships with some of my closest friends.  
Herb was the quintessential salesman. Some might say on a good day that he could sell anything. He had a gift. A wonderful tacit skill that could take something simple and turn it into a wonderful piece of magic. No used cars for sale here, only distinctive and sometimes expensive magical miracles. Yes, Herb could sell a beachfront property to a poor, thirsty man, crawling naked through the Sahara desert. It was fun to watch. An education in small business and in the techniques of persuasion. Herb’s love for performing as a magician was a delightful compliment to his ability to develop such a successful and unique business in Toronto and Montreal. It was an ability that allowed him to expand Morrissey Magic into an international name.  
Herb was a practical joker. He really enjoyed putting people into a vulnerable, comedic spot. No one was safe from Morrissey’s antics. It took me several years to joke proof myself. I have been sprayed with ink and electrocuted with specially charged pens. I have had things explode in and around me. I have been the brunt of many an inside joke. And so have many others, including the closest members of his family.

The Blue Bagoona is perhaps one of the most ghastly magical props I have ever seen. An Ickle Pickle product I believe. For those in the know, it is a dysfunctional square circle on wheels. Designed in the shape of an oh so dramatic and ill conceived bright blue garbage truck. I believe in the mid eighties it sold for the absurd and outrageous price of about sixty five dollars. I openly ridiculed this product to any one who would listen. Herb and I often joked about what type of act might actually employ such a garage sale item. The prop stood on the shelves for many years. It was covered in layers of embarrassing dust. It’s a wonder to me now that we never incorporated it into some sort of magical ceremony. Perhaps it could have been A Hideous Prop Burning or something like that. A magical rite of passage. We would have worn capes and funny looking hats and chanted strange melodic mantras. It could have become a yearly revenue producing ritual. My birthday was around the corner and a friend who had access to the store presented me with a rather large and poorly wrapped birthday gift. I reached my hand inside and felt the wretched and familiar wooden wheels. It was the Bagoona. Who knew? I believed in that moment that my friend had been truly had. This was a sophisticated practical joke. I mean Herb wouldn’t have, would he? Here was my friend trying to impress me with this magical purchase and I had to react in an appropriate way. I mean how could one possibly ever be grateful for a gift like this? The Bagoona didn’t deserve appreciation of any kind. This was no gift of grace. It was for all practical purposes a piece of magical junk. And yet I reacted as kindly and graciously as might be expected. It was an uncomfortable moment. It wasn’t until a day or two later that I was brought up to speed on the nature of the situation. It was I who had been had. Herb was able to notch another slot into his practical joke bedpost.

Herb was the kind of guy who didn’t hold back. He was extreme in every way. On one end of his emotional spectrum was his quiet and introverted nature that he so often displayed. He was no grandstander and yet to see him perform within the confines of his shop was to witness the simplicity and the pure pleasure of a magician working the room for applause. I’ve seen him explode in anger at unsuspecting and ungracious customers and I’ve seen him take the youngest performer under his wing and work them gently through the necessary steps towards magical knowledge. I was one of those youngsters.

The first time I saw Herb perform anything magical was inside his store. I had traveled a long distance to see what this Morrissey Magic was all about. A one mile walk and several buses later I had arrived. This was a place I would visit often. And it would be here that I would spend hours in conversation with many of the magical greats in the city of Toronto. But the moments I really looked forward to were those when I would find myself alone with Herb in the store. I would run out of the shop with a crumpled twenty dollar bill gripped tightly in my fist, that Herb had handed to me, and would quickly order a couple of subs and cokes to go. And would then proceed back to the shop to eat together, listen and learn. Those were good times. Formative years as many might say definitive memories. Fond recollections are never simply pictures that are worth a thousand words. It is the memory itself, imbued with all its emotional investment that is worth a thousand words and so much more. 
On August 13th at 3:00 pm Herb Morrissey passed away from complications involving a cancer related disease that was in turn associated with a three year new heart transplant. He was 65 years old. Herb was lucid and chatty up until his gradual decline. And for that the family is thankful.

Herb Morrissey was a dear friend of mine. So it was with great respect and admiration I accepted the request to write some thoughts regarding Herb and my recent friendly loss. This will be a personal account and my words will be few as I believe Herb would have wanted it this way.

About three months ago I paid a surprise visit to Herb at his home in Toronto. Shirley his wife greeted me at the door and led me downstairs where Herb was sitting in the usual place with coins, harnesses, cards, books and handkerchiefs scattered around the room. After chatting briefly for a minute or two I had to ask what the magical display was all about. Herb stood up and showed me a manipulative card move he had been working on and claimed that he was considering getting his act back together. Here was my recovering and still quite sickly friend working on new magical routines. He still had the desire to perform. I felt a tingle up my spine as I considered the possibility of seeing him on stage again sometime soon. I was excited for him at his new found interest. I must tell you however, with much regret, that Herb eventually put away the props as his illness began to bear down on him again soon after this surprise visit. I was thrilled and then deeply disappointed.

I already miss Herb. I know that many will. He was loved by some, respected by many and played a significant role in the lives of those he came in contact with. His wry and often odd sense of humor perplexed some and provoked others. And yet he had the ability to make most people smile. Herb was a character that demanded further enquiry and it was this, and the comfort of our twenty five year relationship, that prompted me to recently ask if he would be willing to develop notes and audio tapes regarding the writing of a personal biography. It was a biography that I would love to have written. I would ask the questions, and Herb would provide the stories. It would be an experience and privilege that I did not want to take too lightly. The potential for friendly connection and comedy was great. Herb and I chatted about this new project, and the thought of us working together and filing through the stories, the people and the places had a fascinating appeal for both of us. We laughed at all that would have to remain untold - the inner secrets forever sealed. We were moving ahead with our goal in mind and yet the project never formally started. Disappointing for anyone who knew Herb, for they would understand the intriguing nature of some of the more colorful aspects of his life. He was a great storyteller and a spinner of a sophisticated yarn as some might say. Like most of us he was a walking story. No cliché bits of business here. Herb had a difficult, colorful and unique past. His was a biography that had the ability to teach much. Oscar Wilde said that, “Experience is the name that men give to their mistakes. It seems to me that Herb would concur.

Herb was full of stories. He was an historical cup half full. Never half empty. These were magical tales that often grew with each new telling. Wonderful little oral ditties about this and that with respect to his experience in the world of magic. The people he met, the places he worked and some of the crazier aspects of a life lived as a post vaudevillian performer on the New York and Montreal club circuit. Having been a performer, manufacturer, creator and lecturer on magic for most of his life, he was a multi-layered library of information - a textured text.

Morrissey Magic was started many years ago in a small basement in a village just outside of Montreal. Herb was a magician that appealed to other magicians, but also to the lay public that entered his Toronto and Montreal stores. It is amusing to think of the number of people, both children and adults, that have had the privilege of purchasing a book, a video or a simple prop that was in some was related to Herb and his magic. For a moment consider the number of children entertained, the number of adults who smiled at their ability to make a handkerchief vanish, and the collective amount of applause generated as a direct or indirect result of Morrissey Magic. The implicit and explicit relational effects are exponential. Herb had a profound influence on many people, young and old.

Herb enjoyed working and he was usually wrapped up in a project related to the store and his magic. He always needed to be doing something. So it is no surprise that his illness and his inability to do as much as he had in the past was a continual source of frustration for him. And yet he found an active way of keeping his thoughtful and mindful mechanism well oiled. Up until a few weeks ago Herb was creating. Even with the physiological effects from his illness surrounding him, Herb still managed to find a way to work. I remember during the last phone call I had with him he spoke of, how easy it was to create new effects. I think I created six new tricks today, he said in a casual and proud manner. The creative juices were flowing. He had been working diligently on new card routines that I’m afraid that only he is now privy to. As sad as this may seem on one level I find it encouraging to know that even through the illness, the medications and the disease Herb found the strength within himself, and acknowledged that he still had the ability to draw pleasure from that which he so dearly loved sleight of hand magic.

When a death occurs I cannot help but be angry, disappointed and frustrated with that which seems so cosmologically unfair. However, I must also take time to revel in the courage and the joy that was the person. As Paul the Apostle, a New Testament writer has so poignantly asked, O death where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory? These are questions that can’t be ignored. And they are questions that we must somehow be at ease with. We need to find a way to rest in that which we cannot truly know. What we can be certain about however is that a life lived has ended. And yet this same life was wholly lived - a man that loved his family, that loved his craft and who was loved by those around him. Coming to terms with this type of loss can never be easy. I for one will always claim that there was never quite enough time. One thing that I am certain of is that with a friend like Herb one can safely say that when it arrives, death never comes too late the knock at the door comes early. And again I am reminded of how much I will miss him.

Herb was a fighter as those who knew him would be willing to tell. His heart transplant by all medical accounts was a success. And he did fight until his eyes peacefully closed. Death is a final step. Or at least it would so appear. And yet there is life to be found in his work, his magic and in his family. May they find the strength to support and encourage one another in the difficult days ahead. And may they be reminded often of the sweeter moments with Herb.

As a friend of mine I trust that I will meet with him again someday. And if not, for the time being, I am able to remember him fondly, respectfully and with much joy.

Herb - Thank you for the stories, for your friendship and for everything else.

Love David
August 18, 2003

I have a lot to be thankful for and much of it is because of my father. There is no other person that has affected me and made me the person that I am today than my dad. Now that Herb has passed I have come to realize how many peoples lives have also been affected by crossing my fathers path. Dad thank you and I love you. There is a place where we will all meet again, where we never have to say good bye. 
Thank you to you all. 
Dan Morrissey

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