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.
“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