Maxwell Blade is an illusionist and comedian based in downtown Hot Springs (Garland County) is a well-known attraction. He began holding Maxwell Blade’s Festival of Magic in 2013 and undertook the restoration of the city’s historic Malco Theatre.
Maxwell Blade was born on January 24, 1962, in Fort Smith (Sebastian County). As a child in the 1970s, he became interested in magic after watching magician and comedian Mark Wilson’s Funny Face Magic Show and Magic Circus on television. He began learning and practicing simple magic tricks as a hobby, in addition to teaching himself to play drums and piano. When he was eight years old, he began playing music at a local church. He graduated from Greenwood High School in Greenwood (Sebastian County) in 1980. When he was twenty-one, he auditioned for a rock band called Exit Five, who later changed its name to Shark Avenue. The group recorded an album and toured for several years.
Blade began a career as a full-time magician in 1991. Drawing inspiration from Mark Wilson, Harry Houdini, Elton John, and David Copperfield, he performed in clubs in northwestern Arkansas and as an opening act for local bands under the direction of his manager at the time, Dick Renko. On August 4, 1994, Blade’s first large-scale production debuted at the King Opera House in Van Buren (Crawford County). That show was dedicated to his mother; she died from Lou Gehrig’s disease on August 11. The King Opera House show was followed by a two-year tour.
Per an interview with the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, Blade and his family visited Hot Springs in 1995. On August 28, 1996, his show moved into the historic Malco Theatre at 817 Central Avenue. He began performing there in the Maxwell Blade Theatre of Magic with his wife, Cathy, and their two daughters, Courtney and Alexis, who were two years old at the time. In 2003, his youngest daughter, Gabrielle Blade, was born, and she later joined the show. The Blade family continued performing at the Malco until 2008, when they moved into smaller venue on 121 Central Avenue.
In the fall of 2013, Blade began the annual Maxwell Blade Festival of Magic with the help of other well-known magicians: Jay Scott Berry, Derrick Rose of Little Rock (Pulaski County), Jeff McBride, and Michael Ammar. The first festival consisted of events in a dozen venues in Hot Springs. In 2015, Blade purchased the property adjoining his Victorian-style theater and converted the space into the Maxwell Blade Museum of Curiosities to house his large collection of magic-related artifacts and medical curiosities. Local antiques dealer Davis Tillman also puts artifacts on display there. Among the many items on display is a model ship built by prisoners of war during the Napoleonic Wars; the ship’s rigging is said to be made completely out of human hair. Other pieces include a mummified cat named Felix, medical tools, a child-sized coffin, an electric chair, wooden dolls, Houdini handcuffs and promotional posters, circus photographs, and a re-creation of a mortuary drive-through viewing window. (The building housed the Ledwidge Mortuary from around 1900 to 1935, and the mortuary had a window so people could pay their respects to the recently deceased.)
In September 2016, Hot Springs’ Sentinel-Record reported that Blade was “going home” to the Malco Theatre at the end of his twentieth season. Blade invested in restoring and renovating the aging theater to suit his needs. He held the grand re-opening of the theater on December 8, 2017, and it is now home to the Maxwell Blade Theatre of Magic & Comedy.
For additional information:
Hot Springs Magician Has Museum of Oddities.” Sentinel-Record, March 23, 2015.
Maxwell Blade. http://www.maxwellblade.com/ (accessed March 3, 2017).
Wells, Lindsey. “Maxwell Blade ‘Going Home’ to Historic Malco Theatre.” Sentinel-Record, September 21, 2016, p. 1A.
Cody Lynn Berry
University of Arkansas at Little Rock