The Original Bird Manipulator
Jack Kodell A Magic Ledged
Born, John Edward Koudelka at Mankato, Minnesota Nov 4th 1927-May 17th 2012. With his fathers influence to do something different, by the age of nine, he had learned to fly a Taylor Cub Airplane. At thirteen he became the Soap Box Derby Champion.(The biggest deal for a young boy, back in 1930-40's).
During that same year of 1941 soon after moving to Chicago, 13 year old little John Koudelka spent most all of that year bedridden in Chicago due to rheumatic fever. His father gave him books about card magic along with a few decks of cards to pass his time away. With each passing day he became more intrigued with card magic, practicing most of the time, giving him the much needed incentive to eagerly get well so he may visit the magic shops to learn more.. Kodell's love of magic grew as he became well, and by the end of the summer, at thirteen, he had become quite good with a deck of cards.
Young John took very seriously the advice two gentlemen George Boston & Vic Torsburg at a local magic shop gave him “Do something different” because you’ll never do the other guy’s act as well as he does.” To Do Something Different were the same sentiments his father had instilled in him, so that was the first goal he had to achieve…
One day, Koudelka saw Bill Baird appearing at the prestigious Empire Room of the Palmer House Chicago. With much polish & charisma, Bill presented his brilliant billiard ball act. It was truly magical. The future Kodell was so inspired he had the answer to doing something different...He was about to create & perform the impossible. Replacing the Multiplying Billiard Balls with Live Birds...Soon, he began breaking in the act, performing at Moose and Elk Clubs around Chicago. The rest was history.
With much devotion throughout his teenage years to individual creativity, whilst refining & polishing the act, branching out playing the small town Midwest club dates, the parakeets became more prominent. John became Jack and Koudelka had been shortened to Kodell and he was ready to show his unique creation.
In early 1947, at the International Magic Convention, in Chicago, he won the prestigious award of being the most original, presented by the guest of honor, the great Harry Blackstone Sr.: as he proudly announced “This young boy has revolutionized magic. Kodell has created "A Fantasy in Birds" an act in which he manipulates birds from bare hands, as others handle cards and billiard balls. “
That summer, Kodell was eventually ready to be offered the best of the best top venous, including a six weeks contract at the El Rancho Hotel/Casino La's Vegas, for $1,500 a week, with full room & board, & air fare. (Over half a Century later, Kodell is still impressed, as he’s often heard to say; “It was a huge amount of money, not only for me, a young nineteen year old student still in medical school, but for a King- any King!”) The latter gave Kodell the most privileged & unique honor of being the First Magician to be featured in Las Vegas.
For over the next few decades Kodell worked and played in much of the world he belonged too. He was a frequent guest on the Western World's major television shows and played the top most prestigious venues, including the swankiest of Hotel dinning rooms, and the glorious Theatres throughout the Universe to great acclaim
Kodell was so privileged for his magic to take him around the world multiple times. He loved every minute of it, particularly learning about different cultures and meeting incredible people of all status in life.. Throughout the world, he met & performed for Royal Families of Europe& Heads of State. In England, he met and performed for the Queen Elizabeth and most all of the Royal Family, including intimate private parties for the Queen Mother Elizabeth and also for Winston Churchill. The Queen Mother was a particular fan of Kodell’s & requested he and his clever birds to perform on more than one private party occasion. She proclaimed him to be America’s goodwill Ambassador.
Jack humbly recalls “What a privilege and an education magic gave to me. Time has not diminished my enthusiasm for the fabulous opportunity of those years full of unmatched glorious experiences.”
Even though his entrance to Europe was still ravaged by World War II, and Britain was still on war rations for almost a decade into post war, he described the people as most tolerant, kind hearted with the greatest of dispositions with an unmatched wicked sense of humor.
The British pro’s soon accepted him into their hearts, as he was a well-mannered, classy and decent man. “Those of show business that knew him, respectably, would say, ‘Have you seen Kodell? He wears the most beautiful clothes, and they look so fresh & new. Do you know he even wears silk socks?” His then future wife Mary recalls “Into a strict wartime rationed country, already five years after the war, immaculate Kodell with manners to match dropped into our drab & war weary world.. Naturally, he fascinated all of us. He was like a breath of fresh air. It seemed he was from another planet. One of plenty. We thought the silk socks epitomize the luxury we marveled, as we didn’t have anything .We were lucky to have socks period. Our shop windows and shelves were empty Even though we won it, we literally had nothing after that war for most all of a decade…It was a devastating costly war for Britain, she won the war, and lost the peace”
Kodell recalls “The rationing was so severe, he was so hungry, and he would occasionally work a USA Air force base to get something to eat.
While in London in late 1950, Kodell met the young lady who would become his future wife, Mary Naylor. Jack was invited to appear on her very popular BBC TV Saturday Night Variety Show during that era. Mary was a much loved very popular Singer Actress in fact she was the pin-up girl of the RAF (Royal Air Force), and the Sweetheart of the Merchant Navy. After her London Palladium Command Performances, the Queen called her “The Typical English Rose”
During Jack and Mary’s first meeting on the show, both were too preoccupied in their work to hardly notice each other. Later Mary agreed, after being asked by Jacks agent to allow him to escort her to one of the three major Theatrical Balls of the year, held in London’s Grosvenor House Hotel. They had a fabulous time, after which, as their closest of friendship blossomed, each tried to handle two very exacting and committed careers…
Mary continued her TV and Radio spots, as she played the Principle Boy in British Pantomime in Belfast Ireland for four months, followed by touring the Moss Empire Theatres in Britain. Kodell returned home briefly, to play the ‘Copa Cabana’, in New York, then on to visit his parents in Chicago. He then returned to Britain and Europe for a few more years. During which he and Mary began courting, and they were married at Caxton Hall, London March 7th 1953 (the following Saturday, after Liz Taylor married Mary’s dear friend, Michael Wilding) The headlines read “Mary Naylor Marries Ice Magician” (At that time Kodell was appearing with his birds in an Ice show at London’s Empress Hall). A magician on ice, was another first. They were married at 10am, and at 1;30pm Jack, committed by contract for the 12 month run of the show, with two weeks left to go, had to leave his wife and guests at his wedding reception. He had a 2:30 matinee and two evening shows before he could return to his bride. Two weeks later, another absence of nine months was followed by yet another show on ice contracted commitment, at the Boulevard Room, Conrad Hilton Chicago from April –December. Unable to join him, Mary, with the same committed circumstance appeared in the last show at the London Hippodrome, in March 1953, before it was sadly redesigned into a nightclub A La Lido Paris, renamed “The Talk of the Town” in late 1954-5. Jack joined Mary in the Hippodrome show, just three days after his last successful engagement in Chicago just a week before Christmas of 1953.
.(These career separations carried on throughout their careers. To this day, 56 years later they are still happily married, and unlike their early separations they are now inseparable. as happy as ever. Mary said she still sees him as a “classy handsome young man” Jack, likewise, speaks affectionately to her and about her.)
For over those past few decades they continued their separate careers. Mary, always a success in everything she did, and Kodell successfully toured the world, having created two most unique acts. The first, a Parakeet act featuring the famous Indian rope trick, using a live bird to climb to the top of rope, then to vanish into a puff of smoke., Later he created his dramatic Pigeon act performed on Ice Skates, with the flight of 40 pigeons released from the back of the theatre, ice arena or dinning room following Kodell off stage at the conclusion of his act. Always trying to be different, he dramincaly never return for his bows.
Mary & Jack tolerated their seperation as they each enjoyed the sweet smell of success. At the height of two most successful careers in show-business, it was then Kodell became aware the world’s classiest venues were closing at a rapid speed, with nothing to replace them. Still in his early thirties, he was much too young to retire, and soon to be too old to learn something new. It was then Kodell progressed on to his next and most important faze of Show-business...The Incentive Travel in 1960
Kodell brought to this new venture, a lot of fresh ideas bringing much needed new venous, not only benefiting magicians, but ALL working pros ( who were feeling the pressure of the closing of the world's great venues, as the younger public’s preference for the new wave of rock & rollers succeeded, over the performers of their day) . Into this new concept of Incentive Travel, Kodell successfully instilled into the most powerful of VIPs of the large Corporations of America, the immense importance of introducing Professional Established Entertainers to their Conventions, giving our sagging business a new and handsomely lucrative venue
Within that same year, still ambitious to “Do Something Different,” Kodell played the most important role of creating the transformation of The Worlds Transport Shipping Lines, into Floating Holiday Resorts known today as Cruise Ships. With his creation, Kodell brought to this new venue for the first time, the glamour of lavish full production shows, still running today, as strong as ever. Kodell’s foresight singlehandedly brought about two new and most important lucrative and dynamic venues for performers of today, fifty years later... Cruise Ship Entertainment and Corporate Conventions
From the early beginnings to the end of his working career, Kodell certainly was unique in most everything he touched. He dazzled audiences with his birds and laid the groundwork for future magicians. He’s been called “an innovator,” “a pioneer,” an “inspiration” by world-renowned magicians like Lance Burton and David Copperfield. Nearly 63 years after he first performed in the Entertainment Capital of the World, originally known as
“Las Vegas, The Hollywood Stars Playground”
Kodell’s success is credited to originality, by other famous magicians who were influenced by his work. In a DVD titled ‘Legends of Magic’ (you can buy on this website),
David Copperfield, a close friend since his own childhood, stated “Kodell was the first magician to produce live birds from bare hands. Being an above average ice skater, Kodell was also the first magician to perform his magic on Ice.. Kodell was unequivocally the first Magician in Las Vegas, and the first magician to open the door for others in many International Five Star Venues.” In conclusion, Copperfield states “Kodell was a foremost trail blazer of magic, & a true inspiration for others to follow”. Indeed, when David was young, he successfully used one of Kodell’s effects in his act. At present, Copperfield has a large estate housing his own fabulous private museum in Las Vegas, where he proudly displays Kodell’s act complete with equipment in his museum.
Another close friend, Lance Burton, said; “Magicians have used animals in their acts going back thousands of years, but Kodell was the first to do an entire act built around birds. Jack Kodell was the pioneer of that branch of magic"
Living and loving life as much as ever, Jack & Mary enjoy it in the warmth of friendship and sunshine in OrlandoFlorida. With friends all over the world, both are an extremely sociable couple. They are eager to support this present generation of great talent, and to pass on the gifts that were given to them. They often return to Las Vegas, spending time with their special dearest of talented young friends Burton and Copperfield.
Much appreciated by his peers, Kodell was recently honored in a night of tribute as a Living Legend of Magic
Jacks Magic is on display inside
David Copperfields Museum
Jack on the cover of Genii Magic Magazine
Murray,Lance Burton,Jack Kodell
Jack on Ice
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