R.I.P. Mark Wilson, magician host of Sixties Saturday morning series The Magic Land of Allakazam
His magic show ran alongside Bugs Bunny and Captain Kangaroo in the early '60s.
Saturday morning meant more than cartoons. From the creative creatures of the Krofft Brothers to the superhero adventures of Shazam!, live-action was a big part of our weekend viewing growing up. But those were series of the Seventies. One of the true pioneers of format was Mark Wilson.
Wilson got his start as a professional magician in Dallas, where he hosted a local program called Time for Magic. The son of a salesman, Wilson used his pitching skills to get Dr. Pepper attached as a sponsor. With the introduction of videotape, Wilson was to become a pioneer in syndication, sending his show out nationally.
In 1960, Wilson premiered his series The Magic Land of Allakazam on CBS. It aired between Captain Kangaroo and Mighty Mouse on Saturday mornings. Two years later, the show jumped networks to ABC, sandwiched between The Bugs Bunny Show and My Friend Flicka around lunchtime. It truly was the advent of children's programming on Saturday mornings and afternoons.
Now sponsored by Kellogg's Cereal, Allakazam introduced millions of kids to the wonders of magic. Many magicians credit Wilson for standardizing the presentation magic on television. Not only was it a weekly showcase of the artform, Wilson wisely opted to perform before a live studio audience, and refrained from cutting away to "prove" his tricks were not mere editing wizardry.
Nani Darnell, Wilson's wife, appeared alongside him on The Magic Land of Allakazam. Those who grew up watching it will remember Rebo the Clown, as well, not to mention several puppets.
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Penn & Teller explained, "Prior to Wilson, magic on TV was limited to short spots on shows like Ed Sullivan's. Wilson pioneered the idea that there was a wide audience for a television series based on magic."
Wilson died two months ago, according to The Hollywood Reporter, though his passing was not reported until March 8. He was 91.
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I did some digging... Rebo was played by Bev Bergeron, who died in December of 2020. He was also a magician and (from Mark Evanier's blog) "...was also Ronald McDonald for a time and spent fifteen years performing in the Diamond Horseshoe Review at Walt Disney World in Florida."
Another page turned, another chapter gone from our youth...
(Yikes. I just looked up Brodien, and he died on March 8, 2019. This is like when the two guys who played M*A*S*H's Colonel Blake died exactly one year apart!)