Legendary Magician John Calvert Dies at 102

John Calvert 1949 - P 2013
Courtesy of Everett Collection

John Calvert 1949 - P 2013

A performer for more than eight decades, he also played the famous detective The Falcon in three movies in the late 1940s.

John Calvert, a favorite magician in Hollywood circles who appeared on stage for more than eight decades and played the fictional sleuth The Falcon in three 1940s films, has died. He was 102.

Calvert died Friday in Lancaster, Calif., according to The International Brotherhood of Magicians. A statement on the Facebook page of Hollywood’s Magic Castle said: “We are very sad to report that Mr. John Calvert, our oldest performing magician, has passed away at the age of 102.”

Calvert did his first magic show as an 8-year-old and toured for the first time at 18. At age 100, he appeared onstage at the London Palladium, fulfilling a lifetime dream, and was still performing weeks before his death, accompanied by his assistant and wife of more than 50 years, Tammy. She survives him.

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Calvert’s stage show often included firing a woman from a cannon into a box suspended overhead on the stage. He had his wife play an organ as they floated above the stage and over the heads of the audience. And he originated the trick of sawing off the head of a spectator using a giant buzz saw.

“Out in Hollywood many years ago, Danny Kaye was in my show and came out and impersonated Hitler,” Calvert said in a 1998 interview. “Then the Marines would come out and grab him and put him in the buzz saw and we’d cut his head off, put his head in a sausage grinder, and out came German wieners!”

Gary Cooper, Cary Grant and Edgar Bergen often participated in his act when the performed in Hollywood, and he appeared on The Red Skelton Show in 1954 and on Broadway and in Las Vegas.

A man with masterful manual dexterity, Calvert did some fast shuffling and card tricks as a hand-double for Clark Gable’s con-man character in Honky Tonk (1941).

He played the suave Michael Watling (aka The Falcon) in three pictures -- Devil’s Cargo (1948), Appointment With Murder (1948) and Search for Danger (1949) -- after brothers George Sanders and Tom Conway played the role in the 16-film series.

A native of New Trenton, Ind., Calvert produced, wrote, directed and starred in the adventure tale Dark Venture (1956) after acting in such other films as Are These Our Parents? (1944), The Return of the Durango Kid (1945), Ten Cents a Dance (1945) and Gold Fever (1952).

Asked to divulge his secret to living so long, Calvert told the Oakland Tribune in October: “Every morning when I wake up, I say, ‘The world is my stage, I’m an actor and I’m going to play the part of a young man all day long.’

“Don’t be a pessimist. Expect to live 100 years or more. It can be done. It’s not magic.”