/Film Visits David Copperfield’s Secret Warehouse/Museum to Learn The Magic History Behind ‘Burt Wonderstone’
Posted on Thursday, March 14th, 2013 by Peter Sciretta
I’m in a black bus traveling south west of the Las Vegas strip to an undisclosed location. Even if I knew where the destination is, I am sworn to secrecy — I am unable to disclose the address.
We finally arrive at a large building with a very unusual small storefront: Korby’s Men & Boys, a clothing/tailor shop which advertises the “Finest Since 1964″. The store might appear to be from a different time and place, because it is. It is a replica of a New Jersey store once owned and operated by David Copperfield‘s father. Many people probably drive by this building, having no idea the wonders and magic housed inside the unsuspecting exterior.
I love magic. I’m not sure how my obsession with it started, but it probably was a plastic Fisher Price magic kit I grew up with as a child (pictured above). When a new David Copperfield television special was announced, my father and I would look forward to it like it was the Super Bowl. We would record all of the specials on VHS tapes, and I rewatched them over and over. We watched other magic specials when they came on, but Copperfield was steps above any of the others. Sure, he danced a little too much in the lead-up to some illusions and his humor was cheesy at times, but he brought an artistry and production value to big stage illusions usually reserved for the world of film. He didn’t just do magic, he told stories — full of wonder and heart.
My love for magic shares many attributes with my love for film. The set-up and payoffs of the best screenplays are comparable to the complex misdirection employed by great magicians. I also grew up watching the movie magic specials which would reveal how the amazing special effects sequences in my favorite movies were pulled off. (At the time largely with practical wizardry — think of them as a good version of Fox’s Masked Magician specials but with much more artistry.)
In one of David’s specials, he performed an illusion where he tore and restored a Honus Wagner baseball card. (Worth millions of dollars at the time.) Copperfield performed the mini-miracle inside his warehouse for the owner of the rare card, Wayne Gretzky. You can watch the illusion below:
It never occurred to me before that moment that Copperfield needed a warehouse to collect all of of the huge illusions he has performed throughout his career. The fact that decades of magic existed under one roof somewhere, someplace, blew my mind. I remember asking my Dad if we could actually go there, and he broke the news to me that it was probably not open to the public (it wasn’t, and still isn’t) and that with so many highly guarded secrets in one building, it was probably kept secret from everyone but David’s closest of confidents.
Over the years I read about the warehouse in various articles about Copperfield. He used the warehouse as a location in future television specials, and briefly in a couple TV interviews with the likes of Oprah. I’ve always wanted to visit the warehouse, but never thought I’d have the opportunity.
Writing about movies has afforded me the opportunity to travel the world and visit some amazing places. I’ve been able to cross some cool things off my bucket list, like visiting Pixar Animation Studios, talking to Kermit on the set of a Muppet movie, and walking through Hogwarts. But I never thought I’d ever get to step inside Copperfield’s warehouse. I mean, why would I?
As it turns out, in recent years David Copperfield and his team have been working as consultants on feature films, including The Prestige, The Illusionist, Paranormal Activity 4, and upcoming films Now You See Me and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. I’ve also heard he might be involved in developing a secret unannounced project at JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot. It is thanks to Burt Wonderstone and Warner Bros that I got the chance to make this trip.
Being a magic fan and a hobbyist, you might expect that I was excited for Burt Wonderstone, but that was not the case. I was very underwhelmed by the trailers, and just didn’t care about the movie. I’m embargoed from writing a review of the film at this time, but I will say this — it surprised me, and I’m betting that you too will find its much better than you expect it to be.
The film stars Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi as a Vegas-headlining magician duo ala Siegfried and Roy but less flamboyant. Copperfield appears as himself briefly, and also designed an illusion that appears in the film which involves a transposition during a traditional 19th century hanging. More on that later.
Below you can read about my trip to Copperfield’s warehouse, but you can also watch some brief video from our tour thanks to Luca Celada and VideoScope:
Copperfield’s secret Las Vegas warehouse isn’t as secret as it used to be. Gone is the large retro Korby’s sign; a copper-colored COPPERFIELD sign now appears in its place. A replica of Copperfield’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star is implanted into the sidewalk infront of the storefront (he was the first magician to receive a star). You might also see a couple big mac trucks covered with “The Magic of David Copperfield” graphics hooked into the warehouse’s docking bay.
The building was formerly the Nevada Nuts and Bolts factory, where the Statue of Liberty was restored. David Copperfield greeted us outside and soon gave us a tour.
“Stories are really important to me beyond magic, this whole tour is baseed in a story, the story of how I began. My first memories of anything wondrous were in my parents store. Korby’s Men Shop, a clothing store in New Jersey, my father’s store.
When I started doing specials, my parents would use the store to advertise my tv specials: “Please watch David Copperfield, he’s my son. They would pass out shopping bags that said please watch our son’s show, hoping it was a family named Nielsen so that it would help the ratings. They were awesome.”
David’s replica of the storefront even features a small display with newspaper clippings advertising one of Copperfield’s early television specials, as it was back in that time. The inside of the store is very small, much too small for the building it occupies.
The store is faithfully recreated, judging by a small photo that shows the real thing. On the counter sits a business card for “Davino, Boy Magician,” which his father set up to help young Copperfield land gigs at children’s birthday parties.The card features a drawing by young Davis and the word “Children” is not spelled correctly. Copperfield jokes, “we were not writers.” He hands me a copy of one of his old business cards before saying “Thanks you for the nice tweets last night, by the way.”
The night before this visit, Warner Bros had taken us to David’s show at the MGM, entitled “An Intimate Evening of Grand Illusion.” I had seen the show 15 months earlier on a previous trip to Vegas, and it was kind of a “best of” presentation of Copperfield’s modern stage illusions. I was surprised to find that Copperfield is testing a lot of new material, with almost half the show being completely new magic.
The new performances include an illusion where David travels through time; an effect where David e-mails all of the audience members a prediction which later comes true; he levitates “a twitter follower” above the middle of the audience; displays a new ability to pop balloons with his mind in impossible situations; and performs an impossible prediction that takes place on every member of the audience’s wrist.
With over a half million Twitter followers, Copperfield has recently been trying to find a way to mix magic with the wonders of modern technology. When I was a kid he would do illusions which would require people watching at home to get up and touch the television, and experience magic on the individual level. Copperfield is finding new innovative ways to make his magic interactive and involve every single audience member in the wonder. When the magic happens on the television or stage it is amazing, but when it happens in your own hands, it is mind-blowing.
“The first magical memory I had with my father was watching the tv show The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. Ian Fleming was one of the writers believe it or not, the man who created James Bond.”
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. had a secret lair which inspired David to build one in his father’s shop. David took us into the back changing room where men would have their suits tailored. When you pull the tie down on the dress shirt hanging on the wall the mirror wall opens to reveal a secret entrance to David’s lair.