09 Oct

Magic in the air in Ponsonby

Ponsonby News columnist and long-time Grey Lynn resident David Hartnell MNZM has just been named Patron of the Brotherhood of Auckland Magicians.

David coined the famous phrases for his Hollywood gossip columns “My lips are sealed” and “I’m not one to gossip”. But as a child, he loved magic and he could have been famous for saying “Abracadabra” if he had followed his passion for tricks and illusions.

He’s had a lifelong interest in magic and as a child performed his own magic tricks at school. At the age of 15 David had to choose between the wand and his roller skates. His passion for roller skating eventually won out and David became a New Zealand champion roller skater. he went on to become Australasia’s first male makeup artist and ultimately a celebrity journalist and gossip columnist. he was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) in 2011 for his services to entertainment.

Brotherhood of Auckland Magicians President Alan Watson QSM said, “We are delighted to have David as our Patron. His longevity in the entertainment world, along with his love for our art form is unsurpassed.”

David Said, “These are the people who are keeping magic alive in our community and who are mystifying people. So I’m extremely proud to be the Patron of his group. I love magicians because it’s such a unique form of entertainment, nothing is quite like it. You know you will be fooled but you still walk away from it feeling amazed.

I really like the way American magician and skeptic James Randi sums up magic: “Some people cannot believe that a magician can fool them in such a way that they can’t figure it out. But magicians can and magicians do. Swindlers do and conmen do all the time, but they’re not magicians – they’re fakes. They’re lying to us, they’re deceiving us. It’s all rights to fool people as long as you’re doing it to teach them a lesson, which will better their knowledge of how the real world works”.

“No matter how smart or well educated you are, you can be deceived.”

Photography: Jason Fell

Photography: Jason Fell

The Brotherhood of Auckland Magicians, which has a focus on membership from working professional magicians, has a long local history. Their inaugural meeting was at a house on 141 Great North Road in 1945 (now the site of Midas Car Repairs). These days the members regularly meet at The Surrey Hotel in Grey Lynn. The club provides an opportunity for magicians to socialise, network and share their magic. They also produce the annual Magic Moments Family Comedy Magic Show and charity shows to fundraise for the community.

Throughout his colourful and intriguing career as a gossip columnist, David has met and interviewed some of the world’s famous magicians. “I interviewed Hollywood Legend Cary Grant once, and he also had a love for magic. After our interview, we chatted about our passion.

“Looking back, I kick myself as I should have made our mutual interest part of the interview. It’s one of my greatest regrets.”

David also visited the home of Siegfried and Roy in Las Vegas. he describes them as ‘show ponies’ and says yes, they did have tigers freely roaming around their property. David is also the Patron of the variety Artists Club of New Zealand, these two patron roles he takes very seriously.

The previously Patrol of the magic club was international star of magic Paul Daniels from the United Kingdom, who died in March this year aged 77 from an incurable brain tumour.

Ponsonby News
7 October, 2016

05 Sep


I fell in love with the world of magic when I was 13 years old

I fell in love with the world of magic when I was 13 years old

For many years, he was our link to Hollywood, interviewing Tinseltown’s most fabulous stars and divulging their secrets, but he always left us wanting more by giving a knowing smile and delivering the lines he’s best known for: “My lips are sealed!” and “I’m not one to gossip!”

But David Hartnell has surprised us all by revealing he could very well have made a name for himself for saying, “Abracadabra” or “Hey Presto!” instead!

Long before Hollywood grabbed his attention, David fell in love with tricks, illusion and anything related to magic. “I fell in love with the world of magic when I was 13 years old,” he reveals.

“My grandparents took me to see the touring Indian magician called Sorcar in Auckland.

“I remember the elaborate costumes and, of course, the centerpiece act – Sorcar cutting a woman in half with a huge buzz saw,” he says, throwing his hands in the air as he excitedly remembers the spectacle.

“This was an illusion that had never been seen on a New Zealand stage before. Hey presto, right then and there I wanted to be a magician, and magic had a special place in my heart.”

Inspired by what he saw, a young David started to perform magic shows at school, then at home for friends and family. He would even save up to order magic tricks in from London.

It was a passion he shared with his grandfather Harold Stott, who would help his grandson build his sets.


David with Brotherhood of Auckland Magicians president Alan Watson, QSM (far left) and secretary treasurer Mick Peck

David with Brotherhood of Auckland Magicians president Alan Watson, QSM (far left) and secretary treasurer Mick Peck

“Magic gave me a very special connection to my grandfather because we had that mutual bond,” says David, whose favourite trick to perform was a dice box illusion, which his grandfather made for him.

While he adored magic, he had another passion – roller skating! Both interests required a great deal of practise and commitment, and eventually, David had to choose between the wand or his skates.

“The sport took over my life. I had to step back from the world of magic and any thought of becoming a magician,” tells David, who went on to represent New Zealand in roller skating – even competing at the 1959 World Roller Skating Championships in Christchurch, where he was a runner-up in the dance pairs. But he has, from time-to-time, wondered what might have happened had he followed his other passion. “My life would be very different. I would be a more comedic magician than an illusionist, because you get to interact with the audience more.”

David says it was sad to let go of something he loved, but now, at the age of 72, he’s found himself back in the world he once adored so much.

Last month, the Brotherhood of Auckland Magicians made him their patron. David, who joined the New Zealand Society of Magicians when he was 13, says it’s a privilege to be chosen by a group of magicians and to follow in the footsteps of Paul Daniels – a world class British magician who was the group’s patron until he passed away in March, aged 77.

David says he’s thrilled to be continuing on the group’s legacy. “These are the people who are keeping magic alive in our community and who are mystifying people. I’m extremely proud to be a member and a patron of this group.”

It’s another string to the bow of a man who has held a very colourful and illustrious career. Although he predominantly worked as a gossip columnist, magic was never too far away from his thoughts, with his day job often seeing him interviewing some of the world’s most famous magicians.

“I interviewed Hollywood legend Cary Grant once and he also had a love for magic,” shares David. “After our interview, we chatted about our passion. Looking back, I kick myself as I should have made our mutual interest part of the interview. It’s one of my greatest regrets.”

David also visited the home of famous magicians Siegfried and Roy in Las Vegas. He describes them as “show ponies” and, yes, he can confirm from first-hand experience that they did have tigers roaming free around their property.

In 2011, David was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, and as well being as a patron for the Variety Artists Club, he is a Prostate Cancer Foundation ambassador. But he says his new passion at the Brotherhood of Magicians is an important calling too. “I take these roles seriously and always give 100%.”

New Zealand Woman’s Weekly (5/9/2016)
by Aroha Awarau

27 May

San Francisco: Never-Ending Story

The glamour of old-time Hollywood entrances David Hartnell at magnificently storied Art Deco theatre

San Francisco's Paramount Theatre

Spared from the wrecking balls, San Francisco’s Paramount Theatre glows with Art Deco charm. Photo / David Hartnell

It’s been said that were the Paramount Theatre in San Francisco to require a new name, it might well be called the Paradox, for its history is studded with contradictions. Built in 1925, at a cost of US$3 million ($4.45 million), it was one of America’s grandest motion-picture palaces, seating 3476 in a large, decorative and very exotic space designed especially for the “movies” and the stage pageantry that generally accompanied them.

The grand opening night was December 16, 1931, which brought out a gaggle of San Francisco’s social elite, along with the American actress Kay Francis who was the star of The False Madonna, the movie that screened that night. Then in June of 1932 disaster struck, Paramount closed its doors, unable to meet the weekly operating cost of around $27,000.

In 1971, the Paramount was boarded up and rumours were the wrecking ball was waiting in the wings to demolish this grand old Art Deco lady.

In 1972, the Oakland Symphony orchestra came to its rescue, and bought the Paramount Theatre for $1 million as their new home.

The orchestra also set it up as a performing arts centre for the San Francisco Bay Area, and in 1973 a full and authentic restoration was completed. Two years later, the Oakland Symphony Orchestra went bankrupt and gave the Paramount to the City of Oakland for $1, with the stipulation of guaranteed bookings for the next 40 years.

In 1972 it was entered into the National Register of Historic Places, and on August 14, 1973, it became a California Registered Historical Landmark. The Paramount Theatre reopened on September 22, 1973, in its original 1931 splendour.

On October 1, 1975, the City of Oakland received title to the building and Paramount Theatre of the Arts, Inc, a non-profit corporation was organised to operate the theatre.

It has since installed the mighty Wurlitzer, thus completing the restoration.

One of its unique features is the intriguing anachronism at the top of the stairs to the mezzanine foyer, a seat annunciator, part of the “Tele-Chec” system, a standard feature of Paramount theatres of the time. It enabled the theatre’s staff to keep track of seat availability.

San Francisco's Paramount Theatre - David Hartnell

The interior of the Paramount Theatre in San Francisco. Photo / David Hartnell

Ushers stationed at the head of each aisle dialled the number of available seats in their sections on a dial inset in the wall. The numbers were transmitted via telephone lines to the ornate seat annunciators in the foyers, and lighted corresponding numbers behind the vertical glass panels.

The usher in the centre of each foyer – who was called a “splitter” – could then greet entering customers with exactly where they might find seats: “There are three seats on aisle five, to your left, Madam.”

“Sir” and “Madam” were requisite forms of address in the halcyon days of ushering: ushers of the day were taught speech, deportment and theatre-management skills.

Today, Oakland’s Paramount Theatre is one of the finest, if not the finest examples of Art Deco design in the United States, now standing in all its original splendour, meticulously maintained, and completely upgraded to modern technical standards. It started out life as just a movie theatre, but now it’s one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s premier performing arts facilities, hosting a schedule of year-round concerts, variety shows, popular music concerts, theatre, ballet and, of course, movies.

When you walk into the main lobby with its gold ornamentation along the walls, glowing light fixtures, bold rich carpet and wonderful curving staircases you are immediately transported back to the days of old Hollywood where glamour was king.

SF Paramount Theater - 02

SF Paramount Theater - PTA-view-from-stage-Panorama-small Euan Rannachan and Ron Essex

SF Paramount Theater - Seat Annunciator

SF Paramount Theater - Stairwell

New Zealand Herald Friday May 27, 2016
by David Hartnell