Oral Histories

Interview of Milt Larsen

Writer for Ralph Edwards Productions program “Truth or Consequences.”. Magician and founder of the Magic Castle, a venue for performing magic.
Series:
Ralph Edwards Productions
Topic:
Film and Television
Interviewer:
Collings, Jane
Interviewee:
Larsen, Milt
Persons Present:
Larsen and Collings.
Place Conducted:
Larsen's office at The Magic Castle in Los Angeles, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Jane Collings, interviewer and senior editor, Center for Oral History Research. B.A., Communications, Antioch College; M.A., Communications, University of Iowa; Ph.D., Critical Studies, UCLA. Collings prepared for the interview by reviewing archival material on the history of the company and reviewing published sources on the history of The Magic Castle.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Larsen was then given an opportunity to review the transcript but made no corrections or additions.
Length:
4 hrs.
Language:
English
Copyright:
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Audio:
Series Statement:
The Ralph Edwards Productions series seeks to document the history of the Ralph Edwards Productions company by interviewing persons who had worked closely with Ralph Edwards in the early years of the company. Ralph Edwards Productions produced This is Your Life, as well as Truth or Consequences, a seminal program of the audience participation genre. Additional materials on Ralph Edwards Productions are held in Performing Arts Special Collections and the Film and Television Archive at UCLA.
Early life—The Larsen Family of Magicians—Father's purchase of Thayer Studio of Magic—The Thayer house in the Wilshire district—Early interest in the mechanics of magic—As a youth, plans to go into the television business—Grandparents' business concerns in the pea packing business in Wisconsin—Parents meet through a magic act—Mother's career in magic—Larsen's participation in the family magic act while a child—Produces Comics Information Service jokebook while a teen—Produces midnight magic shows for the Fox West Coast Theater chain—Studies scripts that have been tossed out behind CBS to understand comedy format—CBS janitor sets up a meeting with Stevie Allen for Larsen and writing partner—An invitation to write jokes for ABC—Begins work for Ralph Edwards Productions (REP) in prize department—Begins to write for Ralph Edwards Productions—Learns how to write acts for REP from studying old kinescopes of the program—The basic premises of comedy acts—The wide variety of acts on Truth or Consequences (T or C) —"The Walking Man" radio game carries over to TV—Expectations for writers each week—Learns from Snag Werris—Impact of quiz show scandals on T or C—Continues to write for T or C while in Portland during engineer's strike—Innovation of a team-based writing method while working for T o rC—Begins work on Magic Castle project—Ralph Edwards's support of Larsen's Magic Castle project—Edwards's move to Hollywood from the Midwest—More on Edwards's support of the Magic Castle project—A memorable act revolving around the Goodyear Blimp—Circumstances of meeting mentor Snag Werris—Werris's background in vaudeville and burlesque—Larsen's long career at REP—The opportunities for writers to experiment at REP—Importance of spending time writing each day to "stay in shape" as a writer—The writing routine at REP—The staff at REP—Edwards's unhappiness with the move to a studio in Burbank—Larsen's particular contribution to the writing team based on his background as a magician—Meets wife at REP—Ralph Edwards's innovation of the hidden camera and hidden mic technique—Edwards's insistence that contestants not be embarrassed on stage—Examples of stunts on T or C—More on Edwards's insistence on not embarrassing contestants—Genesis of Larsen's interest in vaudeville—Works as a stage manager while at high school—More on genesis of Larsen's interest in vaudeville—Early TV technologies—Evolving possibilities with new video formats.
Truth or Consequences as a precursor to the reality show—Examples of jokes on the show—"Truth or Consequences Strikes Again" candid camera-type jokes—The diversity of tone employed on the show, from sentimental to slapstick—Jokes wherein power relationships between individuals are upended—Typical structure of a show—Special qualities of Bob Barker, Johnny Carson and Art Linkletter as emcees—History of Larsen's involvement as a writer on Truth or Consequences—Attitudes toward topicality on Truth or Consequences—Edwards's original Truth or Consequences program on radio—Larsen's deep appreciation for the power of radio—Forms through which performance comedy has evolved—Audience participation magic shows at the Magic Castle—Bob Barker's proclivity for picking audience participants—Types of reality shows—Bob Barker's nicknames on the set—The declining popularity of variety shows on TV—Audiences' jadedness forecloses possibility of shows like T or C—A particularly memorable stunt on T or C—More on jadedness of audiences—Changing standards of decency on TV—An attempt to bring back Truth or Consequences—Changing audience sensibilities over time—Larsen's upcoming appearance in Las Vegas—Amazing Jonathan—Playing Las Vegas in the context of 9/11 events—Larsen's early involvement in the world of magic—The beginning of a fifty-year run of It's Magic shows—Scarcity of practicing magicians in the L.A. area in the early sixties—The opening of the Magic Castle spurs a renaissance of interest in magic—Larsen's use of materials from Victorian mansions demolished for the construction of the Santa Monica Freeway—Larsen's affinity for Victorian-era architecture—The tremendous cost associated with constructing the Magic Castle—The unique offering of "close-up magic" at the Magic Castle—Dai Vernon—Mayfair Music Hall shows—Expands the Magic Castle with the Annex—Develops the Variety Arts Theatre venue downtown—The future of magic—The universal appeal of magic.