MY ORIGIN STORY
In 1973 I was 8 years old and just another kid in Los Angeles CA. My parents were drawn to magic - not magic hats & white rabbits, but more the Jimi Hendrix psychedelic magic that was sweeping America. My thick side-burned “old man” (dad) and floppy hatted mom were unquestionably hippies.
I'm talking magical mystery tour /Summer of love hippies. I'm talking black light "Alice in Wonderland" posters all over the walls hippies. They wore "Billy Jack" headbands, mod squad clothes, a water bed, lava lamp, multiple hookahs and listened to Leon Russell and Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band playing on the 8 track stereo. It was all so colorful and happy, and mom dressed me in bell bottom jeans.
Maybe there was too much free love? Like so many parents in those days, my folks "split" (divorced) in 1973 to discover themselves. My groovy attorney dad Alan moved out of the house into a massive 20+ bedroom 1920's communal mansion in Hollywood (The Kushi House, not far from the Magic Castle) owned by Michio Kushi. Kushi it turns out helped to change the entire world - by introducing Japanese and macrobiotic health foods to the USA after moving to LA in the early 70's. Kushi was founder of the very first health food store - Erewhon Foods, a brand which still exists to this day. All the residents at the Kushi house would live and eat together like family (Japanese style) and served lots of weird foods like miso soup, tofu, brown rice, tamari soy sauce and other staples of a macrobiotic diet. My brother and I would stay at the house every other weekend for over a year. People in the house all slept on the wood old floors in sleeping bags and the place always smelled like fragrant incense. Kids like us got to roam around with abandon and freedom - we could go or walk wherever we wanted (even to the pizza place a few blocks away). It was a bit trippy, but it was an adventure nonetheless.
Like a lot of divorced dads, my late dad Alan also used to take my brother Jason and I to dinners on Wednesday nights. Our go-to restaurants was one of the following:
- Shakey's Pizza - Westwood (there was an arcade across the street),
- Pink's Hot Dogs - Hollywood (WAY before it was famous),
- The Apple Pan in West LA (always a Hickory Burger & fries, Gordy & Hector at the counter)
- The Farmers Market (dad used to love the strawberry coconut juice at a kiosk there)
- Woody's Smorgasboard - Westwood (they had a 1973 pinball machine called "Nip It" which I always played)
- Tito's Tacos (Culver City)
Dinner with dad was always fun, but the best part was the after-dinner options! There were really only 3 or 4 kid-friendly after dinner possibilities:
- A pinball machine arcade (I used to play the Gottlieb and Bally's games standing on a stool. Adults were amazed that I was good)
- A visit to the local comic book stand @ La Cienega & Pico Blvd
- Baskin-Robbins or Thrifty's Ice Cream (both on Canon Drive in BH)
- But #1 for me was a visit to one of LA's Magic shops: The Hollywood Magic Shop or The Magic Shop at the Farmers Market (now called "The Grove"). These magic stores were filled with Magic, jokes, and beautiful exotic wood lacquered illusions with Chinese lettering and gleaming chrome that would remind me of magic shows I had seen with the late Doug Henning or Mark Wilson. At the magic shops the older guys behind the counter would always teach you how a trick worked (as long as you bought it!). After a few years of these magic store jaunts, my collection and knowledge grew. I would show my friends at school or teachers many new tricks - and performed in front of class.
Performing some magic was a way for me to cope, as my parents were a bit too "me generation" after the divorce - they were focused inwardly. I had been diagnosed in 1973 with the learning disorder Dyslexia (which at that time was not well understood). In school I had challenges with reading and handwriting - so performing miracles (for me) became a way to express myself. In those days I was embarrassed about my dyslexia, but over time I have come to see it as a superpower - a way of seeing things differently.
After countless magic store visits, I figured why not put together a show and charge for it? So at age 12, I asked my brother Jason, my best friend Matt, and my cousin Damon to join me as "THE HOCUS POCUS BROTHERS" (Magic For All Occasions). Of course we specialized in kids magic shows in LA, working to make a few dollars. We did these magic shows for at least 2 years in backyards all over Los Angeles, and had a ball (Or Zombie Ball!) as you can see above. These photos taken by my late dad Alan are priceless to me as they capture my first memories of the joys of performing.
I liked an audience, and so at the age of 13 I signed up with Hollywood kids super-agent Beverly Hecht and appeared in a number of mid-1970's TV commercials for companies like Sanyo, Kool-Aid and Texas Instruments (who had just released one of the 1st handheld calculators). The TI commercial was shot at Paramount Studios, and I distinctly remember that the sound stage and burnt orange kitchen counters seemed SO familiar - like I had been there before? At the end of the shoot I asked the crew why it felt so weirdly Déjà vu - and it turned out that we were shooting the commercial in the actual BRADY BUNCH TV show kitchen - a kitchen that I knew like the back of my hand!
Showbiz was in my DNA. While growing up my grandfather comedian Dave Barry was a huge influence - a very funny and busy stand up comic, voice-over artist (countless Warner Brothers cartoons voices, many uncredited) and an accomplished movie and TV actor. He appeared 8 times on the Ed Sullivan Show starting in 1948 (when it was called "Toast Of The Town"). Papa Dave also had an iconic role in Billy Wilder's famous 1959 Marilyn Monroe classic "Some Like It Hot" playing Bienstock, the manager of the all girl band with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. He also appeared in many TV roles including "I Dream Of Jeannie," "Green Acres," "Vegas," and "The Monkees" - most often using one of his wacky foreign dialects.
Papa Dave was also the opening act for midnight idol Wayne Newton in Vegas for nearly 15 years and had worked since the mid 1940's with Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and many more. He always encouraged my brother and I to "get an act," but this always seemed a bit corny at the time. We didn't pay much attention. While I was growing up, sometimes Papa Dave would proudly bring me up on stage with the spotlights glaring so brightly I could hardly see the audience. Little did I know that years later, the magical seeds were already planted. Showbiz would be my "2nd act," one that my talented Papa Dave would never get to see - but I'm sure he's kvelling from heaven (he passed away in 2002).
Moving forward, I attended High School in LA, where we had a fully operational cable TV station that went out to the entire city. The kids ran the full sized TV cameras/monitors and we had broad creative freedom. I sought out and interviewed a number of celebrities at Channel N including Florence Henderson of The Brady Bunch (her son Robert was a friend of mine at school), William Peter Blatty (who wrote the Exorcist) Casey Kasem (click to watch the interview!), and Regis Philbin (who cuttingly said to me when the interview started, "Brett, now that you finally have me here in studio - does that mean you will stop calling my wife Joy and I every night at 1am!).I honestly didn't know how to react!
After graduating I moved to Boston and attended Emerson College where I quickly got involved with their fantastic FM radio station WERS. It was a very pro student run operation that every Jamaican cab driver in town listened to daily (we had a great daily Reggae show called Rockers). I could be heard daily throughout my 4 years at Emerson hosting a number of shows, and the highlight was in my Junior year when I interviewed Pete Best for nearly two hours live - the original Beatles drummer. He shared some incredible Liverpool stories about John, Paul, George, Ringo and Stuart Sutcliffe (the original Beatles bass guitarist).
After graduating at Emerson in 1988, my first job out of college was working for producer Norman Lear from "All In The Family" fame as his personal assistant which I did for nearly a year. Later (after a gauntlet of 7+ interviews) I landed a job in the mail room at Triad Artists in Century City - which I hated. It was semi-glamorous 10+ hours a day grunt work, but it just wasn't a good fit for me - so I moved to Seattle in 1990 looking for a new place and a new start.
After moving to Seattle I took an off-ramp in late 1991 to become a Real Estate Broker specializing in new homes. I found that I was strong in sales - and I liked the work because it allowed me to be creative/innovative and it paid incredibly well. OK I had the gift of gab, and Real Estate fit perfectly. 1991 was a very good year as I met my future Norwegian (wife) Lise on a cruise ship in the Caribbean during the 1st Gulf War. She was working at Walt Disney World (Epcot) on a 1 year contract at the time and we had a long distance relationship. We finally tied the knot in 1993, and moved in late 1996 to Phoenix AZ in search of sunshine and to escape the rain. In the ensuing years we had two amazing daughters and for the next 2+ decades I became top 1% broker in Phoenix (selling more than 50+ homes yearly) and sought-after as a housing industry expert interviewed often by The New York Times, WSJ, USA Today or CNBC's Squawk Box. All the while, in the background I was ALWAYS doing some mind reading and magic for friends or customers. It was a great icebreaker, and it was just a lifetime hobby back then. I would often perform for my kid’s classes when they were little.
But when the massive Real Estate downturn hit Phoenix in 2006, I had already been predicting (like a future mind reader) the impending implosion to anyone who would listen for over two years prior. Few listened. I was featured as an industry expert for a Fortune Magazine cover story in 2007 about Zillow.com (see cheesy photo below). Many people loved the ballooning prices and thought I was wrong. Many ignored my good advice from over 2 decades in the business. Few would listen and it drove me nuts. When Real Estate did implode (dropping 55% from top to bottom), I pivoted as a rainmaker with my team to learn the REO bank owned home business - partnering with banks and hedge funds like Fortress to manage their portfolios.
I became the guy knocking on foreclosure doors for countless banks from 2006-2011 - giving homeowners the bad news that their home was repossessed. It was awful, but I always treated people with dignity. 7 days a week I walked into often empty homes stripped bare of light fixtures and cabinets, with broken windows & piles of trash strewn about + pea soup green swimming pools. If anyone was living in the home (often), I would gently give them options and an offer of “cash for keys.”
In Real Estate I was always a mentor, respected industry speaker and top 1% salesman year after year, but I no longer loved the business - especially as the quality of agents continued to go down and the market disintegrated and I was left cleaning the mess (just as I had forewarned).
After 4 years of knocking on those REO (bank owned home) doors and making a living but working 12 hour days, I was looking for an escape door. The magic happened around 2010/2011 when my kids were getting a tennis lesson and I was approached by a mom who saw me bending a coin for the kids at the tennis courts. She asked me if I could perform some entertainment at her husband's holiday party (he was a regional manager for NetAPP) and the thought had never crossed my mind - until that moment. I told her I would get back to her, and ultimately performed a mingling holiday show in Scottsdale.
That first event got me thinking - maybe there was an escape from the Real Estate meltdown? Helping people and the high income just wasn't enough to keep me happy. I wanted to be able to give people something more - a feeling of possibility.
Within the next months I took my lifetime hobby, and pivoted around 2012 to slowly reinvent myself as a full time entertainer. My 25 years background in sales helped me enormously in terms of connecting with audiences as a mentalist and (most importantly!) booking shows. Many of my early big stage shows were disasters by the way - because I wasn't ready for them! I was so good at sales that I was able to book these first shows that were far beyond my knowledge and skills. One of my first events was for 500 dentists at a big hotel. I also created and designed a website and knocked on doors of booking agents while handing out business cards. To learn my craft I also started training at the renowned McBride Mystery School in Vegas to learn the theatricality of great shows + secrets to winning over audiences. My mentors there included the great Eugene Burger, Ross Johnson, Jeff McBride and Larry Hass. I have attended these yearly classes now for over a decade.
Around 2014 something unexpected happened when I created something new that changed the world of magic - literally. That success led to my consulting with numerous top Magicians and mystery performers. My ideas have appeared on AGT, BGT, The Jimmy Kimmel Show, The Ellen Show and many more. Mystery performers often call me when they are seeking high-impact ideas for their shows, and I am honored to collaborate with performers who were my idols growing up. It's been an amazing ride - and it all happened because I took a leap of faith to make a life change.
Even though I've always loved magic, I chose to work as a Mentalist (mind reader) because it allowed me to differentiate myself within my market - and I believe it HITS audiences so much harder which I love. I never claim psychic powers - but I do try to create the illusion of a mind being read entertainingly. I believe in my heart that I was born to perform - and I enjoy my work.
One of the most amazing aspects of this journey has been my own magical family who have always been lovingly supportive, especially when I made the crazy pivot from sales to full time performing. My wife Lise, and daughter's Lindis and Tira encouraged me to push my ideas and grow as a person and creative artist. I've also been honored to work with my "extended family" of many of the world's greatest mystery performers, who are now in many cases my friends and customers too!
So that's my magical backstory. Like a great trick, I reinvented myself at least once completely. What hasn't changed is the way that I take care of my customers and audiences, to try to exceed expectations and help them see the world in new ways. Anything is possible. I look forward to partnering with you for your event to make it sensational, memorable and impactful.