New York’s swanky Stork Club and Chicago’s sophisticated Chez Paree1 offered their glamour seeking guests an evening filled with Rat Pack singers, ribald comics and showgirls. Magicians, with just the right act, sometimes made the bill too. Unlike vaudeville, which aimed to provide family entertainment in a theater with a full stage and curtains, nightclubs were strictly for adults and offered performers a narrow stage upon which to ply their trade.
It took a very skilled magician with a specially designed act to succeed in a top nightclub. Chicago magician De Yip Loo, who emigrated from China at the age of 11, honed and perfected his craft by logging thousands of shows at schools, fairs, banquets and on an around the world tour. So, in 1959 when he got the call to be the opening act for film and television comedian Red Skelton at Chez Paree, he was ready.
Typically nightclub acts were booked for a week, two at the most, but Loo & Skelton played three weeks. From opening night the Chicago Tribune prophesied that “Skelton seems fated to pack the Chez Paree for his 17 nights there.”2 The run was a success and Loo was offered the opening-act spot for the rest of Skelton’s tour. Loo declined the offer.
Instead, Loo remained in Chicago and spent the 1960’s in Chicago performing and building props for other magicians. He learned his craftsman skills as a teenager when he toured with the large illusion shows of Harry Blackstone Sr. and Dante. He trouped with Dante for 4 years working both backstage and as an on stage assistant. I met Mr. Loo in 2006 when he graciously made an appearance at a book release party that I hosted. The book was Trouping with Dante and was written by one of Loo’s fellow on-stage assistants. The book party was a magical evening held in the beautiful Louis Sullivan designed Krause Music Store and Loo was our honored guest.
Loo declined to tour with Skelton because he was tired of “trouping”. He may also have been prescient about the end of the nightclub era. Chez Paree closed in 1960 and the Stork Club soon after. It was the end of an era that was born as the depression began to lift and that gained momentum after World War Two. Chez Paree empressario Peggy Shatz put it this way: “Entertainment was a salve to help your wounded perception that things kept getting worse.”3
1) My dad told me that my grandmother was a waitress at Chez Paree. She had worked at a few different nightclubs after getting her start as teenage “cigarette girl” at the Avalon nightclub in St. Louis in the 1930s.
2) William, Leonard “Red Skelton Cuts Capers as an Old Pro in Chicago.” The Chicago Tribune 25 May. 1959
3) Shatz, Peggy As I remember it Chezparee.com http://www.chezpareechicago.com/as-i-remember-it/
Holstein, Mark. “De Yip Loo, a magical entertainer and a master craftsman” Magic Magazine 9 May. 2004 http://mai-ling.net/magic.html
Trikosko, Marion S. Trouping with Dante Chicago: Squash Publications, 2006 http://www.squashpublishing.com/product_info.php?products_id=228&osCsid=0fbcc76e8a811b04e8f7eb95bbcd2e5d
Frank Cullen; Florence Hackman; Donald McNeilly Vaudeville, old & new : an encyclopedia of variety performers in America New York: Routledge, 2007.
Bruck, Connie When Hollywood Had a King: The Reign of Lew Wasserman, Who Leveraged Talent into Power and Influence New York: Random House, 2003