October 16, 2008

There used to be more magic in the Magic Kingdom

Disneyland once had twice as much magic. In 1983, when Sleeping Beauty Castle’s drawbridge was raised and lowered for only the second time, half that magic disappeared.

If Merlin's Magic Shop had to go, at least it left with its own sort of magic trick. When the New Fantasyland premiered in 1983, Merlin’s had vanished. The not-quite twin sister of Main Street Magic was replaced by Mickey’s Christmas Chalet, a short-lived tinsel and ornament boutique themed to match Mickey’s Christmas Carol, an equally short-lived animated featurette.

Since the original Fantasyland was closed around the time I joined the Cast in summer 1982, I never got to work a shift in the Castle courtyard opposite Merlin’s. I remember it fondly from my youth as a place I spent a good deal of time and money. I bought my first Tarbell volume there, along with a number of tabletop illusions that amused many a kid's birthday party in my later years.

It’s amazing that Disneyland merchandise once included things like the Tarbell Course in Magic, arguably the best magician’s training program ever produced. Tarbell is a serious course, something you’d expect to find in a professional magician’s supply store. Talk about more interesting retail than never-ending plush and t-shirts!

I’m glad that Main Street Magic remains, but the two shops were really more complements than twins. Fantasyland contributed a “sorcerer” atmosphere to the tricks and monster masks. The interior of the small shop was stone and iron, a fitting background for latex gargoyles and ghouls. Main Street Magic was the Orpheum, the Hippodrome. More Blackstone than Sword-in-the-Stone. Gleaming chrome Chinese linking rings, colorful production screens, and sleek aluminum cups and other apparatus presented a different flavor of magic than Merlin's. White gloves and tuxedos, not pointy purple hats and robes with stars and moons. That’s good. Main Street needs its vaudeville.

But Fantasyland needs its sorcery, too. Disneyland should make Merlin’s reappear.


Progressland said...

It's kind of amazing that Merlin's was in that location for about 27 years, and in the 25 years since the New Fantasyland debuted, there have been about a dozen different stores there! They can't seem to make anything else work, so why not bring back Merlin's?

Mike said...

I agree. I think Steve Martin pulled a shift or two at Merlin's (not to mention the Main Street Magic Shop). I'll bet Steve would love to see it return! What the heck, it's not like anything else they've put in that location has panned out!

Jungle is "101"

Kurt said...

I had the privilege of working as a demonstrator in Merlin's Magic Shop from 1975 to 1976. I think people may forget that much of what we stocked there went far beyond the Adams tricks and gags that hung on the pegboard next to the Sword in the Stone. With respect to the books, not only did we stock all the Tarbell volumes, but we also carried the original Stars of Magic book and Harry Lorayne's Close-Up Card Magic, both of which are still highly regarded. We had all sorts of gimmicked coins from Johnson Products. We sold a decent chop cup and some serious linking rings. The magic buyer was really good -- he knew what would demo (and sell) well, and as a result we in Merlin's, as well as the folks down on Main Street, were able to work with high quality magic gear.

As one of my longtime Disneyland friends reminded me recently, magic in the park was part of Walt's original vision for Disneyland. It's time to bring Merlin's back, and to restore Main Street Magic to its original glory.

Yellows said...

Nice to meet you, Kurt! Thanks for helping to put real magic in Merlin’s.