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Fred Van Buren

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Fred Van Buren
Born1932
Sandbach Cheshire England.

Fred Van Buren (b.1932) is a British professional performer, magician, illusionist, inventor & builder of magic & illusion effects.

Biography

Fred Van Buren toured the world as a performer with his magic and illusion shows, performing with his wife Connie Greta as the magic illusion act "Van Buren and Greta". A British born magician, illusionist and showman who is also well known as a builder and magical inventor. Van Buren's magic inventions include the unique Vanishing Motorbike and Rider which is performed completely surrounded by the audience, the Fluorescent Light Tubes Penetration which is an advancement of Robert Harbin's Experiment 13 illusion, and the Substitution Trunk to Fountain Finale. Recreations and advancements have included the Crinoline Lady and Disembodied Princess illusions.

Early Years

Van Buren's original interest in show business started when he was a young child. He got the shock of his life when he walked into the local butcher’s shop one day in the 1930s; meat was scarce and it seemed that the butcher had decided that desperate times called for desperate measures and the butcher was selling elephant meat. Clearly displayed on the shop wall on Middlewich Road in the historic market town of Sandbach in Cheshire was a large picture of an elephant. The poster was not offering pachyderm delights but was actually advertising a circus. The circus was coming to town.

It turned out to be Chapman’s Circus and that visit to the butchers changed young Van Buren’s life. He went to see the circus and was so enthralled by the magic of it all that he was immediately bitten by the show business bug.

From that day on, whenever there was a circus in the area young Van Buren would be in the audience. One open air circus was Bob Gandey's circus, which Van Buren began regularly visiting, as well as Gandey’s Circus in its winter quarters in nearby Brereton. During these visits he gained a great deal of knowledge about circus life and show business in general, listening to the old performers and showmen’s anecdotes which strengthened his resolve to be a part of this magical area of entertainment.

Coffins & Boxes

Van Buren went on to present his own shows but in the early days he also had a "proper job", he become an apprentice cabinet maker and French polisher as well as doing his own shows and pantomimes. He was often employed in making vehicle bodies for ERF and Foden, coffins for local undertakers, and boxes for local businesses. It turned out to be a useful grounding for the making of magical apparatus in later years.

Towards the end of the Second World War the family began holidaying in Blackpool and it was here that the magic flame really ignited, thanks to a visit to Paul Clive’s Magic Shop on the North Pier. Every year, Van Buren would visit the beautifully opulent Blackpool Tower Circus, which from that young age he always wanted to appear in. Another great influence on Van Buren’s career occurred when he saw a performance by Ali Bey in Blackpool in 1948. Ali Bey did much of this performance on ice but for some illusions he retired to a theatrical backdrop because the particular items could not be performed surrounded. It was then that Fred decided that the future lay in illusions that could be performed anywhere, with the audience on all sides and with no possibility of effects being accomplished by the aid of trapdoors.

It was not long before he was putting on his own concert party shows and even when called up for National Service (compulsory military service required of all young men in the United Kingdom between 1939 and 1960) magic did not take a back burner for his natural ability as a performer was spotted immediately and he was enlisted to perform in the pantomime Aladdin at the Garrison theatre in Aldershot. Throughout his service career, he maintained his interest and connections with show business as well as producing and presenting his own shows.

Following his demobilization in 1953, Van Buren devoted himself to full-time professional entertainment, working in Gandey’s circus as the Amazing Yoxani, for Joe Gandey (the son of his mentor Bob Gandey) as a clown, doing magic, trapeze and he even trained and presented a dog and monkey act.

Fred met Constance Greta; it was not long before she was part of the act. They were married at Smallwood Methodist Church on 13 May 1961 and before the reception was over they dashed off to Leeds to star in cabaret. Two days later they were in Llandudno at the start of a 17 week season.

With the introduction of Connie into the act and the fact that they were now in demand for theatre and variety as the Yoxanis, Fred began concentrating more on magic and illusions and worked under the name of Van Buren. Here his cabinet making skills came into play as he built all his own apparatus including a fabulous vanishing radio, described by Bayard Grimshaw in The World’s Fair as "the best ever" and his version of the substitution trunk with a surprise finish when the trunk transforms into a garden scene with flowers and real fountains.

A major change occurred in 1962 when they received a contract for a tour starting at Brighton Hippodrome with Dorothy Squires.

This was followed by a season in Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on ice at the Empire Pool, Wembley, then a tour of the show. Walt Disney asked Van Buren to perform a trick with fire and for this he devised a superb illusion which he called The Creation. In this a bowl of fire is transformed into a bouquet of flowers. The flowers are placed on a pedestal and after pulling a curtain around them they transform into his lovely assistant Greta. Thanks to his career in the circus ring and his apprenticeship as a cabinet maker, Van Buren soon began developing illusions that could be performed completely surrounded often in the London cabaret banquet scene and even in an open arena if need be.

Inventions

In 1974, Van Buren invented and built an advancement on his friend Robert Harbin's Experiment 13 illusion. This involved 13 wooden rods passing through an assistant. Van Buren took it a step further, replacing the wooden rods with a bank of fluorescent light tubes. This Van Buren performed on one of his many appearances on the David Nixon TV shows.

Possibly his most famous illusion in this genre is his fantastic vanish of a motorcycle and rider which has since been presented for the amazement of audiences all over the world. This idea came to Van Buren in 1976 during a summer season with Windsor Davies and Don Estelle at the Pavilion Theatre in Felixstowe.

The Magic Circle heard about the illusion and even before it was finished booked Van Buren to perform in their 1976 Christmas Show at the Collegiate Theatre in London.

The first televised performance of this new unique illusion was in a Magic Circle show at Caesar’s Palace, Luton, in January 1977, a performance that created newspaper headlines. To lay people and magicians alike the illusion is a baffling impossibility.

Adventures

After extensively touring ice arenas in Sweden with Circus Svennson, Van Buren was invited to perform his vanishing motorbike illusion at the Grand Palace, Brussels, as part of the 1979 FISM Congress of Magic, another occasion that received worldwide television coverage. Returning to Britain, Van Buren and Greta were mobbed by customs officers at Ostend. "We thought we were in big trouble," said Van Buren, "But it turned out that they had seen us on television and wanted our autographs!"

In the 1984 tour of Fossett’s Circus, in which the Van Buren’s were starring, the big top was totally destroyed in a violent storm that raged through Dublin in the early hours of 18 October. Several members of the company were injured as they tried to rescue props and equipment. Van Buren received a bad arm injury and had to have three stitches in a bloody cut above his eye. A few days later, however, all was repaired and replaced so that the show could go on.

Following many years captivating audiences in variety and circuses (including performances for Bob Gandey’s grandson Phillip), on cruises and cabarets worldwide, and performing before royalty, the Van Buren’s toured with their own full illusion show with a 3,000 seater circus tent until 1992.

For Christmas 1992, Van Buren took the illusion show into Wembley arena in conjunction with fellow showman Gerry Cottle’s Circus and indoor fun fair. The circus was ring mastered by television celebrity Jeremy Beadle and featured circus artistes from all over the world. A giant fun fair filled the surrounding halls and the Van Buren illusion show prominently featured as a stand-alone show alternating with the circus.

Then came an unusual act entitled Ancient and Modern, at Blackpool Tower Circus. In this Van Buren and Greta acted as old magicians who were constantly interrupted by a young whizz kid illusionist, their son Andrew, on roller skates, unicycle and finally a motorbike—but the old performers finally got the upper hand by making rider and motorcycle vanish completely.

Retirement

In 1996 Fred Van Buren and Greta retired from performing. Their last full performance was for their friend George Kovari at Rhyl Pavilion. They have not completely retired from the business, for they still take an active part in the ever growing Van Buren organisation, constantly making and repairing props and devising new and ingenious illusions. Many of the effects are themed for various magical scenes.

In 2012 The Magic Circle made Fred Van Buren a Honorary Lifelong Member of the Inner Magic Circle. Also the same year The British Ring of the International Brotherhood of Magicians ran a tribute show at the Great Yarmouth Convention to the Van Buren Family which included film footage & live performance.

Family Dynasty

The performance mantle has, however been passed on to their son Andrew Van Buren, a multi-talented performer who is recognized as the top expert in Variety specializing in the family trade of magic & illusions, also mixing in circus skills of juggling, unicycling, escapology & plate spinning, he keeps the Van Buren flag flying high over entertainment venues all over the world with his illusion spectaculars & is one of the worlds top platespinner experts.

A more recent closing of the families "magic circle" was when Andrew devised and presented the show Abracadabra Magic Around the World in Blackpool Tower Circus. The illusion show featured many of his father's magic effects and illusions. A number of the new effects were created by Fred purely for this production. The show ran from April until November 2007 and proved to be a great success with a cast of 24 international circus performers presenting a show that took in the themes of Great Britain, Germany, Arabia, America, Vienna, China, Hungary—with a tribute to escapologist Harry Houdini—and finally from the Blackpool Tower to the Eiffel Tower for a rousing French finale. This brought back the memories of Van Buren's childhood visiting the Tower Circus and proved to be a great showcase for the Van Buren illusions.

Andrew Van Buren More recently concentrates much of his time working on cruise liners & in the Middle East, 2009 was spent during the summer performing in the House of Illusions Spiegeltent show in Dubai & in 2013 worked as magic advisor / consultant providing the magic for the hugely successful Houdini the Play UK tour.

The Van Buren Story documentary produced by Ray Johnson MBE & the Staffordshire Film Archive was recently released on DVD charting this remarkable families history within show business, receiving critical acclaim around the world.

Family

  • Andrew Van Buren

Awards and Honors

  • Honorary Member of the Inner Magic Circle.

Bibliography

DVD

  • The Van Buren Story.

Further Reading

  • The Book of Magic by Edwin A Dawes & Arthur Setterington.
  • David Nixon Entertainer with the Magic Touch by Edwin A Dawes & Stephen Short.
  • Chronicle of Magic 1900 - 1999 by David Hibberd.

References

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  • The Van Buren Story Documentary DVD.
  • The Book of Magic by Edwin A Dawes & Arthur Setterington.
  • David Nixon Entertainer with the Magic Touch by Edwin A Dawes & Stephen Short.
  • Chronicle of Magic 1900 - 1999 by David Hibberd.



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