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Magic Mansion was a weekly television sitcom, produced and broadcast live from the AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio Television Services) network for broadcast to military personnel stationed overseas. The series centered on misadventures of the characters populating Magic Mansion. The Mansion's leader, known merely as "The Magician", was usually accompanied by one or more ventriloquist dummies along with series costar, Harriett Zorich. Although magic, ventriloquism and music were an important part of the weekly comedic dramas, they were always background to the sitcom story lines. Celebrities touring the military bases in the Pacific Command were frequent guests who would portray themselves or various roles in the sitcom. Guests included Bob Hope, Tony Slydini, Patti Paige, Peter Rich, Danny Kaye, Guy Mitchell, John Wayne and others who sought to entertain troops beyond their regular schedule. Cast members would frequently don makeup and costumes in order to play assorted characters written ... Written by
"Magic Mansion" was much more than a children's' show presented by the Armed Forces Radio & Television Network. It remains an important memory for many of the children of the Viet Nam era whose parents were stationed abroad.
The show was a family sit-com, about a magician and a family of clowns, genii's, storytellers and creatures. It is no exaggeration to say that the strength of the show was in its cast, particularly the magician (Warren Chaney). I was one of its viewers during its 2.5 year run. It seemed a much longer run because AFRTS broadcast 50 shows a year. Currently, the networks broadcast 22 episodes annually. In reality they did some 120 shows or what would today be in excess of five seasons.
Admittedly, I write all of this from the memory of an eleven year old and a single viewing of videotape when I was in my twenties. That being said, it gives me a rather nice perspective of the show.
The show was broadcast live and even as a youngster, I was aware of that. My parents always watched it with us and it became an important family time. Chaney was a ventriloquist and his puppets; Danny O'Kaye and Bedford were ever present and always seemed real. Chaney had an assistant (Harriett Zorich) who ran the mansion. They had a wonderful and very funny rapport. Others in the show included a well-acted Frankenstein's monster named Rathmore. He wasn't scary but was funny.
My father, an Air Force Captain at the time, often commented about the nature of the show. He would say, "I don't know how they can do this much show on a military budget." It was years later that I learned they only had $25G per episode. Yet every week there were new sets and yes magic.
The magic of "Magic Mansion" was huge. It was always incorporated into the story lines and large illusions ranging from floating girls to buzz saws were the order. The show's cast made frequent appearances throughout Europe and Asia and sometimes the shows were broadcast from there. I had the great fortune to meet Warren Chaney, Harriett Zorich and Lounsberry (Magic Mansion's resident clown) during one of their appearances. I was so struck by their live show. It was entertaining, funny and at times moving. The shows always had a moral lesson for us young listeners but it was never heavy handed.
Even more striking were the show's actors off the sets. I watched Chaney and Zorich sign endless autographs, taking time to talk with the children and their families. It was impressive, even as a child. When I met them, I was on a crutch because I'd fallen and broken my leg. I remember Chaney stopping, getting down on his knee so that he was at my height and talking with me for at least ten minutes. It was kind of interaction that the show conveyed whether you were in the audience or just a viewer.
I was in my early twenties some years later and was visiting a family member in Berlin. Just for the fun of it, I turned on the AFRTS and was surprised to see "Magic Mansion" still playing. I realized I was watching rerun but the greater surprise was that the show was even better as an adult than I remembered as a child. No wonder the program had such a large adult audience. Sadly, all of the videotapes are gone having been tossed as new shows and better quality tape introduced. So what is left are the memories but they are as sharp as they were when I first watched the show as a young eleven year old.
History tells us that this was the last of the live broadcasts and one of the first to go to videotape. It was also one of the last series programs to regularly broadcast with a live audience. Magic Mansion was not just important to a generation of military children but to early television history as well.
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