Of all the illusions orchestrated behind the Magic Castle’s secret front door, perhaps the most surprising is how the institution has been able to mask its tender age. This year the world capital of the magical arts turns 50, impressive by L.A. endurance standards but still seven years younger than Vegas mainstay David Copperfield. To be granted admission to the Castle, formerly a real estate mogul’s mansion built in 1909 on a bluff overlooking Hollywood, is to be enveloped in an oak-paneled time warp that—from the agile card-manipulating characters at the bar to a piano-playing ghost named Irma—conjures the days of Houdini. It’s not just analog, but telegraph-age analog.
From its inception in 1963, the Castle has been a members-only establishment. While accomplished magicians can perform their way in for free, “associate memberships” are available for the rest of humanity with fumbling fingers. Now, as it settles into middle age, the Castle has suddenly become hip—and a hot film industry property. Neil Patrick Harris, the star of How I Met Your Mother and a magic aficionado, serves as the president of the board. Twentieth Century Fox is developing a family-friendly feature based on the Castle. Currently attached to the project is McG, the director of Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and Terminator Salvation. While Wes Anderson or Christopher Guest might have been more appropriate choices to capture the quirky brilliance of the place, we can only hope that McG will somehow refrain from letting the explosions drown out the sleight of hand.
The 50th-anniversary festivities will stretch across the entire year. This month features the stylings of Milt Larsen, the onetime TV writer for Truth or Consequences who founded the Castle with his late brother. “I’m hauling my ass out of mothballs,” Larsen says. “I do a comedy magic act—a really terrible act. We have so many great magicians working at the Castle, but I’ll perform in a pinch. I always keep my trunk in the back room.”