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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Like magic!

Apr 04, 2023 03:52PM ● By Jan Weeks & Cloie Sandlin

There’s magic in the air when Dave Wallen is around.

Wallen, 68, has been performing sleight of hand with cards and coins since his mother taught him his first magic trick when he was 5. 

“I kind of pretend I’m really doing magic,” he said as he made a quarter disappear from one hand and appear in the other.

Mom wasn’t his only mentor. “The Magical Land of Allakazam,” a television show that ran from 1960 to 1964, kept him glued to the screen while he studied magician Mark Wilson and his assistants as they performed stage magic. Wallen always tried to figure out what made the tricks work.

“When I saw a magician hold a small ball in one hand and make it appear in the other, I tried to figure out how it was done,” he said. “My child’s mind told me there must be a tube that ran up from one hand across the shoulder and down to the other hand.”

Now he knows better.

Falkenstein and Willard, two mentalists who performed on stage, also kept the incipient entertainer riveted.

“Willard, the woman, would go into the audience and ask a random guest for a dollar bill and to concentrate on the serial number,” Wallen said. “Then Falkenstein, still on stage, would correctly ‘read’ the number.”

The Grand Junction magician started doing magic for others when he was in his 20s. When he started astonishing audiences in restaurants, that motivated him to expand his family friendly act at private parties and events.

However, “I don’t do parties for toddlers because they’re all about balloons and cake and fun. But when kids get to be around 8 or 9, they can focus more and try to figure out the tricks.” 

When Wallen does shows for kids, he will ask if they really want to learn the trick.

“The kids’ expressions are priceless!” he said. And he proceeds to show them how it’s done—no tubes or gadgets needed.

Developing style

Wallen’s performances are dictated by the audience. He can move into an impromptu act at the drop of a quarter or card, charming people with seemingly impossible illusions.

Wallen also does what he calls mentalism. He can flip through a book, then ask someone to pick two cards from a deck he fans out. After each draw, he tells the person that he can always change his mind. The first card and the second card form a two-digit number and he asks the person to then turn to that page number while he turns away.

“Concentrate on the first word on the page,” he instructs. Then, “I see a four-letter word that starts with T. Is it ‘tops’?”

Holy cow! How’d he do that?

Wallen enjoys performing for small audiences with cabaret-style magic and close-up sleight of hand. According to Durango magician Mitch Harwood, that’s where a magician’s art really shines.

“I love doing stage magic because I have a team and hearing that crowd is great, but I feel like the art of magic is in close-up sleight of hand,” said Harwood, 62. “When you’re doing magic and someone is two feet away from you, you’d better be good.”

Harwood is most known for his stage magic and vaudeville shows. But throughout his career, he’s done it all—from kid shows and festivals to theaters and close-up magic.

He started doing magic at age 10 when his mother, a schoolteacher, introduced him and his older brother Bill to a boy in her class who did magic. The boy’s uncle demonstrated magic at Jack’s Joke Shop in downtown Boston, and the three of them spent a lot of time practicing and buying magic tricks.

When Bill went into high school and discovered girls, he handed down his magic equipment to his little brother.

Harwood started doing birthday parties for $5. When he was 14, he was asked to do a benefit for the cancer society.

“My dad helped me build a stage illusion where I could float a kid from the audience. I had done so many birthdays that we sold out 300 seats in the junior high school auditorium and raised $1,200 for the cancer society,” he recalled.

Harwood went off to college in Austin, Texas, and started doing magic on the street and in nightclubs, including Esther’s Follies, the city’s premier vaudeville theatre and comedy troupe. He gained notoriety in 1991 when he won Best Stage Magician and Best Close-Up Magician at a magician’s convention in Dallas.

“I was the only magician to ever win both awards in the same year and it did absolutely nothing for my career,” Harwood confessed.

Through mutual friends, he met bar magician Doc Eason who booked him at a children’s festival in Aspen. From that, Harwood was hired to do shows up and around Telluride and Aspen, and never left.

A magician’s secrets

Harwood’s stage show, The Mysto Magic Show, features clean entertainment that’s evocative of Abbott and Costello, Lucille Ball and Bugs Bunny. His lovely assistant is an acrobat who spins fire with her feet. He also does comedic skits with characters, including a cowboy, a gypsy, a kid learning magic and Dr. Bones, who treats his patient’s tummy ache with the “tummy-taker-outer.”

“That’s the generation I grew up in, that’s my style of humor and that’s my show,” said Harwood.

He’s been working on the show for over a decade, adding more lights, music, acts and of course, magic. He learns new tricks and techniques at magic conventions, from fellow magicians and at a friend’s magic school in Las Vegas. Once he develops a trick, perfecting it takes hours of rehearsal and stage time.

“It’s just a matter of performing it again and again,” he said. “Last year, we did our show 62 times in three and a half months.”

Magic conventions also help Wallen expand his repertoire, along with his huge collection of books, which includes a second edition of Harry Houdini’s book exposing fake mediums. 

Although anyone can learn from the internet, self-taught Wallen said they risk becoming just a carbon copy of whomever they’re watching. Learning from books lets someone develop their own style. If you can’t master a particular trick, no worries. You can get really good at others.

Wallen works the early shift at his day job, which keeps his evenings free for magic. He performs at private events and at Dos Hombres in Clifton every Thursday evening.

Harwood mostly performs regionally, including private events and corporate retreats. Earlier this year, he performed his solo show—a more intimate performance—at Blue Sage Center for the Arts in Paonia, Grand Mesa Arts & Events Center in Cedaredge and the Montrose Pavilion. He plans to return with performances this summer, in addition to his residency at Durango’s Animas City Theatre in July and August.

“We had a lot of laughs and a lot of fun,” said Harwood. “What I love most about magic is the places it’s taken me and the people I’ve met. I recently did a wedding at the largest ranch in Colorado and I don’t think most people know where it is. At the Telluride Brews and Blues festival, I was backstage doing impromptu close-up magic for rock stars and their families.”

Neither Wallen nor Harwood see an end to their magic. Harwood recalled seeing a well-known magician when he was 101. 

“I think that’s going to be me,” he said. “I may not do the illusion show forever, but there’s no end to this.”

To book Harwood or to see upcoming shows, call 970-759-5015 or visit To book Wallen, call 970-261-3122. 

See Dave Wallen perform LIVE at BeaconFest!

Thursday April 20

Grand Junction Convention Center