Thursday, March 27, 2008

Celebrity Death Match: Jesus vs. Atlas

There are alot of strange juxtapositions in the great City of New York that, unless you live here, and walk the streets day in and day out, you usually miss them. I have lived and performed in New York for close to twenty years and have discovered, mostly by accident some of them . . . but
the great thing about New York, is that it still holds wonderful, interesting and most importantly new surprises that can make you laugh, cry . . . or in this instance . . . just wonder.

So here goes . . .

My brother and his wife were visiting New York City last week on Easter Sunday and one of the places they wanted to go to was St. Patrick's Cathedral. Being that it was Easter Sunday, we attended a 5:30pm church service. Now, St. Patrick's Cathedral is on Fifth Avenue in the heart of midtown Manhattan between 50th and 51st streets. The main doors of St. Patrick's, the large iron doors that are thrown open before and after mass lead directly out to Fifth Avenue. Rockefeller Plaza is across the street running between 48th and 53rd Streets and from 5th Avenue to 6th Avenue.

Across the street from the Cathedral is a section of Rockefeller Plaza that hosts a large, beautiful iron statue of the Greek God, Atlas (see picture) From my reading of Greek mythology, I remember Atlas as the Greek God who was punshed by Zeus and made to hold up the heavens. Because the image of "the heavens" is not really tangible, he is often pictured supporting the world on his shoulders. This iron statue supported by a concrete base stands on the Fifth Avenue side of Rockefeller Plaza facing the cathedral. Its an amazing statue, probably reaching twenty feet high. Its been pictured in movies, in books, and on television.

I'm sure you know where this is going.

I have always been aware of the Atlas statue AND St. Patrick's Cathedral but never both in relation to each other that is, until this past Easter. So we attend Mass. The church is crowded-standing room only. We are lucky, we get the end of a pew on the main aisle about halfway up toward the altar. After the Mass, we leave the pew and following the crowd we turn around for the slow, crowded procession down the aisle toward the exit and out onto Fifth Avenue. The large iron doors are open at this moment and what is the first thing you see, framed perfectly within the opened doors??? It is the pagan Greek God, Atlas.

How bizarre. We have just spent and hour listening to the Word of God and the stories of God Made Man. Of course, the monsignor's homily on the Resurrection of Christ and the effect it had on those who were witness to the event implies the idea of one God. One God, who 2000 years ago walked on the Earth as a human being.

I thought more about the Atlas statue later. Framed perfectly within the open doors at St. Patrick's, its not right or left. You do not have to strain to find it. If you wearn't looking for it--it would hit you in the face. Its there--easy to see with almost no effort. One wonders . . . was this planned? Interestingly enough, it was John D. Rockefeller Jr. not his father, that built Rockefeller Plaza and even though he was Christian, a Baptist I believe, I think it was the architects who commissioned the various works of art around the plaza, including the more famous, golden statue of Prometheus (see picture below) another Greek God which resides down in the sunken plaza in front of the ice-skating rink.

So, I think the conclusion here is that it is just a coincidence, not a symbolic stab by the Rockefeller family at Christianity . . . which, truth be told . . . might have made a better story.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Your watching . . . No Jail Can Hold Me . . .

I can't believe it's March already--where does the time go? I have been hard at work the last two months working on new material--magic and escape material. I am very proud of some of the new escape effects I am working on.

The television pilot, "No Jail Can Hold Me" that I spent the better part of last year shooting is now complete and, as we speak, still under consideration for a possible series by The History Channel. It would be a weekly show comprised of an hour in which I would tell the story of three historical escapes and would then, in the course of the show recreate them. For the pilot episode, I told the story of Harley Caswell, an endurance driver in the barnstorming 1930's who was hired by a promoter to test how long he could drive a 1931 Chevrolet without stopping. To insure that he did not cheat by getting out of the vehicle Harley dreamed up the effective idea of having himself handcuffed to the steering wheel. All is fine for the first day as Harley drives around Glens Falls, New York greeting the mayor, the press and the townspeople who came to see him. When later it began to rain, Harley sought shelter inside of a large barn. In the 1930s hay was not baled so instead the floor of the barn was covered in several inches of loose hay. The catalytic converter, hot as it would be on any running engine came in contact with hay and in seconds started a smoldering fire under the car. With an entire barn filled with the stuff, it doesn't take a genius to understand that soon the whole undercarriage of the car is ablaze- with Harley still handcuffed inside! I won't tell you what happened to poor Harley but I can tell you that I recreated the stunt with two sets of handcuffs on either wrist and a 1990 SAAB which pyro guys set on fire. Despite having the oil pan, oil filter, carburetor, gas tank and struts removed, the pyro guys mapped out exactly where and how the fire would travel around me. But alas . . . the best laid plans Of Mice and Men . . . it was not to be. Since we had to do this outside on a racetrack (fire marshals prevented us from recreating it inside a barn) we were at the mercy of a gusting wind which several times sent the roaring fire in the direction of my face! It was crazy and I just made it out before getting burned.

Other stunts included escaping from a cell at Eastern State Penitentery where both Al Capone and Willie Sutton were imprisoned. In fact, we re-created Willie Sutton's tunnelled escape from the prison by digging a 40 foot tunnel of our own and filling it with water and rats, while I was inside. I have the bite marks to prove it. Fun . . . fun . . . fun. On a tamer note--I visit a locksmith shop and demonstrate some lock picking skills, we go to the streets where I escape various police officer's handcuffs, I throw myself out of a moving car onto the hard pavement--and in actual filming--did this a number of times--breaking my hand in the process.

Finally, we head out to New Mexico to tell the story of Billy The Kid's imprisonment there and I perform a few more escapes. Keep your eyes peeled for this show as plans will be for it to aire soon.

On another note, I am continuing my work on my live show which I should be bringing to New York City in the very near future. I am also toying with the idea of bringing back some of the outdoor publicity escapes I used to do years ago. I have always wanted to do an escape at Coney Island and this may be a reality later on this year. Truth is, with each passing year some of these escapes become more difficult to do. I don't necessarily mean physically, as I am in very good shape and actually can escape faster than I did twenty years ago. What I think is different with me is the level of risk-taking that I am willing to put my mind through. The escapes are dangerous and whereas it did not bother me as much when I was twenty--it starts to become a reality later. I don't know--maybe mortality is setting in.

Its something we all face and it is only mental--but like anything--it is important that your thoughts be as sharp and as positive as any physical skills you need for success.

Keep the faith.