Johnny Thompson: The magician’s magician

Posted by on Apr 29th, 2009 and filed under Featured, Shows. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Johnny Thompson, Pamela Hayes, Penn & Teller and Fielding West at the Magic Castle

The Great Tomsoni & Co. Johnny Thompson and Pamela Hayes (center) stand with fellow magicians Fielding West and Penn & Teller.

Just about everyone has heard of Las Vegas magicians Siegfried & Roy, Lance Burton, Criss Angel and Penn & Teller. But what about their go-to guy Johnny Thompson?

Thompson is a consultant to many of magic’s greats. In fact, Monte Carlo headlining magician Lance Burton’s first visit to Las Vegas was on a road trip from Los Angeles with Thompson in 1981. More recently, Thompson worked on an effect seen in Penn & Teller’s show at the Rio in which an animated red ball jumps and moves around the stage, taking on a life of its own.

Thompson, a sweet, mild-mannered man in his mid-70s, performs his own magic act all over the world along with his wife, Pamela Hayes, and helped form the iconic role of the Vegas magician, appearing in classic Vegas shows like the Folies Bergere and the Lido de Pari in the 1970s. Thompson’s act is called the Great Tomsoni & Co. “The ‘& Co.’ is my wife,” explains Thompson.

Penn & Teller’s quieter half says Thompson’s act is hilarious. “He plays the role of a puffed up, beribboned, pompous, classic magician, and she plays the role of his gum chewing skeptical wife,” says Teller. “It’s all about them constantly being irritated with one another and it’s beautiful. It’s a grand, grand piece of totally classic comedy.”

Originally from Chicago, Thompson is also a jazz musician. In the 1950s, he played the harmonica in what he calls “the No. 1 harmonica group in the world at the time,” the Harmonicats. He also used to perform magic at the original Playboy Club, and has appeared on stage and screen.

“He knows everything,” says Teller. “There’s nothing in show business he hasn’t done.”

Aleza Freeman

Yes, I’m from Las Vegas. But I’d like to clarify a few things: I don’t live in a hotel and I’m not a showgirl. I put my pasties on one nipple at a time, just like everyone else. I’m a regular girl who plunges off the side of ridiculously tall Las Vegas landmarks and writes about it for a living. I also ride roller coasters, hang at hotel spas, shoot zombies in the face and take art lessons from bottlenose dolphins. You know, normal stuff. My career as a journalist and copywriter has led me out of Vegas and around the world, but the 24/7 normality of Vegas sucks me back in every time. Am I oblivious to the plethora of slot machines everywhere I go? Sure. But that’s because I’m distracted by all the pretty lights. Follow me on Google+ and Twitter.

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