MY FIRST 70 YEARS
I'm having a wonderful, fun-filled magical life!
I'm a lucky guy, and I try my best to savor every moment of this life.
I also hope I bring joy to those I meet along the path of life.
I've had a lot of memorable experiences, and I have a number of accomplishments that make me proud.
Here are some highlights:
BEGINNINGS: MY FIRST 10 YEARS:
- Born in Troy, New York. The first child of Peter Sr. and Eleanor Monticup, I was soon joined by a sister, who made a very handy magic assistant a few years down the road.
- When I started school at the age of four, I was fluent in English and Italian, with a passing ability to understand Polish and Russian. I grew up in a very ethnically-diverse neighborhood.
- For most of my youth, my dad had a TV repair business. He had also owned a grocery store, a movie theater, and was a pilot as well as a pro boxer. By age five, I was accompanying my dad on his television repair calls, with my own set of tasks to perform- for tips, of course! I mean, how cute is a little big-eyed kid who can take the back off a television set?
- I met my first magician at age seven, a local retired performer named Henry Bessette. What a fire he lit in me! Soon I was assisting him in his shows, and he was teaching me both magical skills and showmanship. Henry stayed a big part of my life until his death.
MY TEENAGE YEARS:
- I got my first paid gig at age 12. After seeing the great Al DeLage perform at the local Boys Club, I boldly approached the director of the club and announced that I, too, was a magician and wanted to be booked by the club. The director took me up on my offer, and told me to bring him some "8x10s" so he could promote the show. So at age 12, I had professional photos AND my name in the paper! And my first paycheck- $15.00! A lot of money for a 12-year-old in the mid-1960s. I'm sure that first solo show was a bit rocky, but I immediately got more bookings from the article in the paper, including a show at Emma Willard School, where Jane Fonda was a student. She may have seen my show. :-)
- A steady, ever-increasing stream of shows followed. I quickly learned how to be my own publicist, booking agent and stage manager. Maybe because of my age, I was able to get a lot of publicity and coverage of my shows. Of course, I wore nicely-fitting tuxedos (I made sure to splurge on a good tailor), I filled my stage area with a lot of colorful props and equipment, my assistants wore nice costumes- and I used a microphone. It is surprising how many magicians don't use sound equipment. A microphone not only helps your audience hear what you are saying, the power of the sound gives you great control and authority.
- My parents played a big part in my success. They drove me to all my shows because for most of this time, I was too young to drive!
- I got a job in a well-known Las Vegas style supper club, even though I was still in high school. My first show started at eleven pm, and my second show started at 2am. I learned a lot working there. :-)
- Also, because I have played piano since an early age, I earned money playing at Elks Clubs and Moose Lodges with my band. We called ourselves The Monticup Trio. There were two of us. My friend Jim played the drums. We called ourselves a trio because back then, bands were paid by the number of people in the group. Nobody ever said anything- they must have really liked our music! I still play my piano daily, and still like to play those old favorites from back in the day.
- I graduated from LaSalle Military Academy, and was the only student who was paid to attend the Prom. Yes, I performed a magic show!
- The decade was spent performing many, many MANY shows. In the 1970s, there were still a number of nightclubs that were always hungry for live entertainers. I also had steady bookings for either magic or music engagements at all the local Elks and Moose lodges. Plus there were many companies who had annual banquets and needed entertainment. From Thanksgiving through Christmas, I would have at least six shows booked on each Saturday and Sunday. Those times are long gone!
- I was a frequent guest on several locally-produced TV programs like The Mimi Scott Show (a talk show) and Dialing For Dollars (a game show). Over several years, I probably made over 100 appearances. And that got me a lot more work!
- I was also part of the cast of a Saturday morning kids show called "Up Up and Away". It was fun. Watching all the detail involved in producing a television show was fascinating.
- I also owned several magic shops. Starting with the House of Magic, which I purchased in 1971, I also opened it in a second mall plus co-owned MCM Magic, which I operated with two other magicians, Bob Carroll and Jack Miller.
- In 1979, I became a regional Ronald McDonald. One of my magic mentors, Clayton Albright, had been the Ronald for the region for years, and he wanted to retire. Though I am not really a kids magician, and defintely not a clown-type entertainer, I took the opportunity.
- And that was a most fateful decision. On my first appearance, I was introduced to the advertising account executive who would be my liason with McDonald's. The account executive was named Jackie Finnegan.
- Jackie and I were married on January 23, 1982. We were both 29 years old.
- Corporate money was crazy in the 1980s- we were able to book some huge corporate shows for much of the decade. We traveled a lot, we had a big payroll, we have a lot of stories and adventures to tell. All in all, it was a fun, lucrative but exhausting stretch.
- In 1986, we opened The Small Business Specialist, an advertising agency operated by Jackie, who just prior to our marriage was a marketing professor at SUNY Albany. One of our clients was a race car driver, who had us design the logo for his racing team, and he put MONTICUP IS MAGIC on the back of his car. His reasoning- he was so fast that people were only going to SEE the back of the car!
- We also helped launch a comedy club in Albany, which is still in business today. The owner knew the restaraunt business, but very little about running an entertainment venue, so we did all the booking management and promotion for the club for the first 26 weeks to establish the club. Of course, I performed twice a night, four days a week and Jackie was the MC many nights for the shows.
- Show business wasn't all we did. We also launched a greyhound rescue group in our upstate New York area to rehome retired racing greyhounds. We had two of our own rescues, and in one weekend, after getting coverage on the PM Magazine TV show, we found homes for over 300 dogs.
- In 1988 we opened The Old Curiosity Shop in the front of our house, which was actually an old grocery store. "The Oldest Magic Shop In Watervliet Has Just Opened" was our promo line.
We got a lot of TV coverage for the opening, as well as a lot of work doing magic for TV commercials.
- I also began buying and selling antique magic props, something I still do today.
- And in 1990 we suddenly got the craving for the country life and moved to a farm!
- The first half of this decade was all about horses. 40 horses, to be exact. I taught myself to ride and to jump horses, and worked months to build stalls in a big Dutch barn on our property. In fact, the 15-acre spread had an old farmhouse and 10 outbuildings, including the big 2-story barn, a carriage house, a milk house, an ice house, a shop, and a huge metal Morton building to store the tractors. Yes, we did have a silo too! All my time was spent building, brush hogging, hauling hay, and buying and selling horses.
- It was all fun and games until I fell off one of the horses and the horse stepped on my arm and broke it. My RIGHT arm, the one I need the most to do my magic! Luckily, I had a good orthopedic surgeon and I healed well.
- We had some great parties at the farm. Each summer we had a party for Jackie's birthday and invited a mix of friends, both magicians and non-magicians. We had a big barbeque (I did all the grilling) followed by a magic show in the barn. We set up bleachers, and all of the magicians had to do something in the show. Of course, the show went on for hours, and was hilarious. We actually have the shows on video, and will be posting them for you to see in the future.
- And in 1994 we suddenly decided to move away from the cold and snow, and we moved to Virginia!
- We live on a 20-acre farm, all open pastures (so a LOT to mow!) and plenty of room for livestock. We brought three horses to Virginia with us, along with four dogs, eight cats, three geese and a rooster.
- We opened a brick-and-mortar called Magic Tricks, located next to the University of Virginia. It helped us to quickly make many friends in the area, especially with the local magic community. We also met a number of celebrities who were visiting Charlottesville, including Judd Nelson, Wallace Shawn, Ric Flair, Dave Matthews and Sam Shephard.
- I acted in a movie filmed in Charlottesville by a German production company, called "Heart's Lonely Hunter". I played a magician named Monticup.
- We headlined the first few First Night Charlottesville celebrations, performing to sold-out crowds on New Year's Eve at the Jefferson Theater, where Houdini performed in 1924. Unfortunately, that wonderful venue was closed in 1999.
- We launched MagicTricks.com in 1996. For the first few years, we operated both the brick and Mortar shop and the Internet business out of the same space in Charlottesville.
- By 2001, MagicTricks.com had become so big that it wasn't possible to run the brick and mortar AND the Internet business, so the brick and mortar was closed. We moved the MagicTricks.com offices and warehouse to a building on our property, where we operate from today.
- I acted in a campy horror film called "Super Hell". I played a magician named Monticup.
- We continued to have livestock on our farm. For a while we had three alpacas, then four Alpine goats, and now we have four dwarf goats.
- I learned to play the saxophone. I got carried away and at one point owned 13 saxophones.
- I became interested in parrots. I got carried away and at one point owned 17 parrots.
- So I started to trade the parrots for Chihuahuas. We ended up with nine Chihuahuas and a Pug. Good thing we work from 'home"!
- In 2011, we decided to add video demonstrations to our product descriptions on the website. Our neighbor, Dirk, quickly developed into the perfect sidekick! He is still actively participating in the shenanigans today. We have filmed nearly 3000 videos to date.
- We put together a major stage show in 2013. Called The Carnival of Wonders, the show featured my comedy magic, done in a vaudeville style, and Sideshow Steve's talents as a sideshow performer (walking on glass, laying on a bed of nails, eating fire, etc.). We used Steve's vintage sideshow banners as backdrop, which really made the show look amazing. Yes, we do have the show on video.
- We put together another major stage show in 2014. Called Houdini Now, the show featured my comedy magic (of course!), as well as Alexanderia the Great, the escape artist who was a semi-finalist on America's Got Talent, impressionist Mark Cline and several other acts. Yes, we do have that show on video as well.
- We had the Joe Walsh band out to our house for dinner. We are friends with the music director (who also is the director for Stevie Nicks) and when they played Charlottesville they grabbed one of their tour busses and drove out to our farm. I cooked spaghetti and my famous meatballs for everyone, and they got to chill and relax. Of course I did a magic show for them in my library. And I even got to jam with them, playing "Kansas City" on my electric piano!
- COVID happened. We were lucky- we did not get it. But it was still life-changing, wasn't it?
- I took up my accordion again. I have played accordion since before I could even hold one up, but for years I played on and off. In September 2022, our friend Barb asked me to play the accordion at her wedding. So I not only brushed up on the Hokey Pokey (her special request), but I also bought another accordion, this time an antique French musette style (you know, the one that sounds like you are strolling along the Champs Elysee in Paris).
I became interested in French accordion music and French accordions. I got carried away and now own 5 accordions.
- So what's next? STAY TUNED - you know it's going to be FUN!