Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Late Great Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson and Nani Darnell
Mark Wilson, the magician who, with his partner and wife Nani Darnell, starred on the Saturday morning television show The Magic Land of Allakazam, died on January 19 at the age of 91. He also wrote the book Mark Wilson's Complete Course In Magic and served as a consultant on several television shows.

James Mark Wilson was born on April 11 1929. His father was a travelling salesman, so he spent much of his childhood travelling around the country. He developed his interest in magic while he was a very young. His family was staying in Indianapolis for a week when he was 8 years old. One afternoon Mark Wilson walked to a theatre near their hotel where he saw the magician Tommy Martin performing. He immediately decided he wanted to perform magic as well. On his walk back to the hotel, he stopped by a shop that was selling the book Thurston's  50 New Card Tricks, which he bought.

His family eventually settled in Dallas, Texas. As a teenager he worked at Douglas Magic Land there. He attended Southern Methodist University in University Park, Texas. He majored in marketing and advertising. It was in 1953 that he met a young dancer and American Airlines stewardess who used the stage name Nani Darnell at a New Year's party in 1953. They married not long afterwards.

As a young magician he received a corporate sponsorship with Morton Foods Company. It was in 1955 that he created the local Dallas TV Show Time for Magic, which was sponsored by the Dr. Pepper Bottling Company. The success of Time for Magic would lead to The Magic Land of Allakazam, which debuted on CBS on Saturday morning on October 1 1960. In 1962 it moved to ABC, where it continued on Saturday morning until 1964.

After The Magic Land of Allakazam, Mark Wilson and Nani Darnell continued to appear frequently on television. In the Sixties they appeared on House Party, The Garry Moore Show, The Kraft Music Hall, and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. In 1971 Mark Wilson and Nani Darnell were the stars of Magic Circus, a series of six television specials sponsored by the Pillsbury Company. In the Seventies Mark Wilson and Nani Darnell appeared regularly on the TV show The Magician., He also appeared on The John Denver Show, Cher, Sammy and Company, The Odd Couple, Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell, The Six Million Dollar Man, Wonder Woman, and The Mike Douglas Show, as well as the specials The Hollywood Palladium, Peggy Fleming with Holiday on Ice at Madison Square Garden, and Hocus Pocus It's Magic. In 1981 Mark Wilson returned to television with his own series, The Magic of Mark Wilson. Mark Wilson and Nani Darnell's last appearance on television would be as part of the reveal of their son Greg Wilson's act on the August 10 episode of Penn & Teller: Fool Us.

Mark Wilson also served as a magic consultant on the TV series The Magician, as well as the episodes of the shows Columbo and The Incredible Hulk.

In addition to performing on television, Mark Wilson and Nani Darnell performed on stage around the world. Mark Wilson provided the Hall of Magic at the 1964 New York World's Fair. At the Bell Telephone exhibit at the 1968 Hemisfair he appeared on film. As might be expected, Mark Wilson and Nani Darnell performed in Las Vegas.

Mark Wilson also wrote the books Mark Wilson's Complete Course In Magic, Mark Wilson's Cyclopedia Of Magic, Mark Wilson's Little Book Of Card Tricks, and Magic in a Box.

Mark Wilson is possibly one of the most influential stage magicians of all time. His show The Magic Land of Allakazam would interest Baby Boomers in magic and would even lead some of them to become magicians themselves. His book Mark Wilson's Complete Book of Magic would similarly inspire whole generations of young magicians. Keeping in mind that his partner and wife Nani Darnell also played a role in their success, much of what made Mark Wilson influential as a magician is that he could perform any sort of magic trick. He was as good at stage illusions as he was at parlour magic as he was at close-up magic. Mark Wilson was as comfortable with card tricks as he was sawing a lady in half. Of course, added to Mr. Wilson's sheer talent as an illusionist is the fact that he was the consummate showman. Mark Wilson and Nani Darnell certainly knew how to keep audiences entertained. He influenced such illusionists as Penn & Teller, Bill Cook, Michael King, and others. An incredible showman and talented magician, Mark Wilson will always be remembered.

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