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.”