Last year at Easter time, Don Martin performed his multiplying sponge ball trick for Marilyn Quayle.
"She really enjoyed that. She laughed so hard she about fell off the stage," said Martin, a Bel Air magician, as he demonstrated the sleight-of-hand trick.
A participant (me), thinking she's holding two red sponge balls, opens her fist to discover a third one has magically appeared with the others.
"Amazing Don" will be back at the White House again tomorrow performing for about 30,000 children and adults attending the White House Easter Egg Roll. The event has been held annually on the South Lawn since 1878.
In addition to watching Amazing Don and othermagicians and entertainers, the children will spend part of the day searching for 30,000 wooden eggs, including some signed by famous personalities.
"I have no idea how they found out about me," said Martin, who began studying magic as a teen and now makes his living as amagician and part-time drummer for area big bands.
In addition tothe prestigious White House gig, Martin also performs about 100 shows a year at shopping malls, carnivals, picnics, clubs and home parties. He's usually accompanied by his sidekick "Bananas," a stuffed monkey puppet that is part of his ventriloquist act.
Martin, who bearsa striking resemblance to Henny Youngman, said he relies on comedy to keep his audience entertained between tricks. He varies his act according to the age group.
For instance, Muffin, a 3-year-old dwarf rabbit, pops out of hats at children's parties, but doesn't poke his furry ears out of a hat for adults, unless the trick is requested.
On evenings off, Muffin sits on the sofa and watches TV with Martin.
Amazing Don won't divulge the magic behind the rabbit trick, or how he makes goldfish in a bowl filled with water appear in place of adry, empty box, or how -- in a maneuver to make a journalist shudder-- he can tear apart a newspaper and put it back together again.
"Can you keep a secret? Well, so can I," he says smiling.
"I thinkthey'd throw me out of the International Brotherhood of Magicians ifI gave away any secrets. Besides, if you know how it's done, then it's not fun anymore."
When he performs in schools and children ask how the tricks are done, he tells them to go to the library and checkout books on how to perform magic, so that they'll be encouraged to read.
There is one secret of the trade, he will share: "Practice."
"My suggestion is if you buy a trick to use it, you should stand in front of a mirror. If you can see how the trick is done, then you're doing it wrong, and the audience, the mirror, will see it."
Martin said at his age -- another secret he won't divulge -- there's no act that hard to learn. But his tricks do take lots of practice, anywhere from half an hour to several nights. He tries out new routines in front of his wife, Judy, and his two grown children.
"If I say 'Hey, do you want to see something new?' they're right there," said Martin. "Without my wife's help, I really couldn't do this. She gives me criticism, which I hate, but it helps."
Martin's personal favorite is the trick in which a person appears to be sawed in half.
"That's because it's a two-part trick," said Martin. "But I don't use itfor children's shows because I don't want to give them any ideas andI don't want to frighten them."
Martin, who has made his living as a drummer for many years, said his career in magic began as a teen when he used to practice his ventriloquist act for customers in his father's small grocery store.
Now he uses a combination of music, ventriloquism, jokes, magic tricks and sleight-of-hand maneuvers to keep his audiences entertained.
He's been practicing his magician's patter for so long it comes easily, and he says his act still entertains today's sophisticated, computer-wise children and teens.
"Teen-agers. Usually you can't even talk to them, but show them a sponge ball and a card trick and they're fascinated," Martin said.
"If youcan fool them, you're doing all right," he said. "Magic makes everyone children again."