(used with permission of Tom Mullica)
“Tom Foolery’s Magic Bar” was a small theatre/bar in Atlanta where magician Tom Mullica performed nightly. Now, if you’ve never heard of Mullica, just think of Red Skelton and then add magic and illusion to his routine, that’s Mullica. He, in fact, maintained a close friendship with Skelton, which began in 1980 when Skelton himself visited Mullica’s Atlanta nightclub. It was also around that time that I first saw Mullica perform.
I remember first noticing the uncanny resemblance to Red Skelton as Tom Mullica pulled off unreal feats of magic, his most impressive being a routine called “Nicotine Nincompoop” during which he seemingly ate an entire pack (20) of lit cigarettes and then chased them down with a handful of bar napkins. “How’d he do that?” I thought.
Impressed by what he saw in Mullica’s performance, Skelton spent several hours with the magician following the show and told him that if “cleaned up his act,” he could use some of his (Skelton’s) material. Mullica’s performance contained some “suggestive” material that Skelton viewed as purely an attempt to shock the audience into laughter. “Perform as though your mother, a priest, and a nun were in the audience,” advised Skelton. It turned out that their meeting in 1980 was the start of a friendship that lasted until Skelton’s death in 1997.
Today, Mullica travels the country performing a tribute to Red Skelton, reviving many of those interesting characters that Skelton left with us: Clem Kadiddlehopper, Freddie the Freeloader, the Mean Widdle Kid and more. I feel fortunate to have seen Tom Mullica perform in his early years as a magician, and I’m sure that it would be magical to see him again as he carries the baton of Skelton’s legacy.
“From the day we met in the early 80’s, Red and I shared moments of both happiness and sadness together. Red was kind to everyone he met, he was a touchable person who shared his life with those around him. He lived every day as if it was Christmas. He gave me permission to use his material, gave me W.C. Field’s twisted pool cue and most importantly, he trusted in me. It’s possible that he saw a bit of his son Richard in me, we were both born in 1948. Red loved the general public and did not avoid being part of the crowd. He kept his eye on the pulse of the world and was always topical. Sometimes I think Red knew he had to put up with the adults just to get through to the children, the ones he really liked being around and playing with. His pantomime skills were without equal and everyone loved watching the world through his eyes. For example, he learned how to mimic a drunk by watching little babies learning to walk. Throughout his life, Red Skelton studied the people around him because he knew they were his main source of material. I once told him,”Red, I don’t feel as though I’m contributing anything to life, and what I’m doing doesn’t mean anything to anyone except me.” He said, “Tom, don’t talk like that and never forget that laughter, and being able to evoke it, is a gift of the Gods!”
– Tom Mullica
Day 15 Guide
It’s healthy to find humor on the stage of life. It’s a gift if you can arouse a chuckle or a guffaw in someone else.
© 2006, Levi Hill