How It All Began

One might be tempted to assume that a great entertainer—magician, illusionist, and performer—is born with a special talent, a gift he comes with that others lack. In truth, the opposite can be true. Those who excel in a given field often do so not because of innate ability, but because of a fascination that gives rise to a passion. Add to this discipline, drive, and persistence, and you have the makings of greatness. Craig Davis’s genius for magic was not just in his genes, but in his love for all things magical.

When Craig was about 5 years old, a circus came through his home town of St. Johns, Arizona, a small town with a population of about 2,500 in the early 1970s (still only about 3,500 in 2010).

“I had never seen anything like it before,” Craig remembers fondly. “I was absolutely enthralled.” Craig and his childhood friend, Vaughn, decided to stage a backyard circus with their friends, performing for their families. Craig, Vaughn, and their friends tried to identify their various performance-worthy skills for their circus. Craig’s friend, Paul, was good at jumping over things on his bicycle, so they had their sisters lie down on the ground, and Paul would jump over them on his bike. Vaughn was good at walking on the top of the rail fences that surrounded his yard. For the circus, Vaughn walked on the top bar of the Davis swing set, as on a tight wire. The children served refreshments. They charged a dime admission for their friends and family to attend their circus. Craig avers that he had no circus-worthy skills (as of yet), and felt quite jealous of his talented friends. “I was the ringmaster,” says Craig. He announced the various acts; he collected the ticket money; and, he paid the performers (reserving his ringmaster fee, of course). In this manner he launched his career in show business, or at least laid the foundation for it.

Around that same time, Craig saw some magicians on television, including Mark Wilson and Doug Henning. Craig explains, “Mark Wilson’s book Complete Course in Magic proved especially instrumental in helping me become a magician.” After seeing the circus in St. Johns, and watching these famous magicians, Craig Davis decided that he, too, would be a magician.

When Craig was in the 3rd and 4th grade, he used his father’s power tools—jig saw, drill, etc.—to fashion scrap plywood into makeshift illusions. “Weird, goofy ideas,” recalls Craig, like a box into which he could put his (or someone else’s) hand or arm, then plunge a knife through the box. (Today Craig locks his assistant Myryka in a wood box and thrusts steel swords all the way through.) Another illusion involved placing a friend in a large cardboard box then shooting it full of arrows. The friend inside hid, no doubt trembling, behind a large pot to avoid injury. Craig’s parents got after him for this stunt, though no one was hurt, and Craig’s interest in magic faded until he was in the 6th grade.

Kenny Pulsipher was the perfect teacher for 7th grade Craig. Fun-loving. Concerned with each student’s needs and gifts. “It is an understatement to say that I was not good at school,” Craig recalls. Craig was labeled an underachiever and placed into special education classes. Because of this labeling, Craig saw himself for a long time as being intellectually impaired. It is true that he couldn’t read, and couldn’t spell, like other children his age. But Craig appeared gifted in other ways. He could beat everyone in the school, including all the teachers, in the game of chess. He could see the moves in his mind; he could strategize multiple lines of attack; he could see things from beginning to end. Mr. Pulsipher encouraged Craig’s abilities, including with chess, and allowed Craig to play frequently. And Mr. Pulsipher would do card tricks, which absolutely dazzled 11-year-old Craig. Craig finally convinced Mr. Pulsipher to show him the secret behind one card trick. Craig today still uses Mr. Pulsipher’s secret slight-of-hand technique as one of his favorite card trick techniques in Craig’s magic shows. I have seen dozens of Craig’s card tricks, and always wag my head in disbelief. By the way, Craig defied the labeling and earned a bachelor of science degree in business from Arizona State University.

At Christmastime, the Davis children would help Santa know what gifts were desired by pouring over and choosing favorite presents from the inch-thick Sears & Roebuck catalog.

Craig’s eyes landed on a magic kit. Despite the magic kit being $10 over his Christmas budget, Craig’s parents relented and helped Santa bring the magic kit to Craig for Christmas. An excellent beginner kit, it included a set of eight 4-inch magic rings. Craig practiced and practiced with these magic rings. Magic rings, a larger variety, feature in Craig’s shows today. The rings slip in and out of each other, forming patterns and shapes, then separating with a breath to be just a stack of steel rings.

The Christmas magic kit also included cardboard production boxes, out of which apparently empty boxes the magician could make things appear. He filled the box’s load chamber with Marti Gras beads his sister provided. Craig played with everything in the magic kit for awhile, then it all went into a drawer in his bedroom.

Craig’s other great passion in 7th grade was basketball. Three older brothers played high school basketball, and were all very good, one brother making Arizona all-state. On Friday nights the whole town of St. Johns would show up for the basketball game, the big event in the small town. The whole audience would cheer and scream for the players. Craig wanted to be a part of that, to have everyone cheer and scream for him. So he tried out for the 7th grade junior high school team. “As I recall,” says Craig, “17 boys were trying out for 15 jerseys; of the two kids that didn’t make the team, I was one of them.” Craig describes himself as having been a very uncoordinated child. “I couldn’t walk and bounce the ball at the same time,” he says. Bitterly disappointed, Craig walked home in tears while all his friends were at basketball practice, on the team. Up to that point in his young life, not making the basketball team was the saddest experience of his life. His gut ached with disappointment. At about that time, Craig’s brother Gary came home from college with his girlfriend, Kathleen. Craig watched in disbelief as Kathleen picked up three apples and began to juggle them. At his request, she taught him the basic three-ball pattern. While all of Craig’s friends were at basketball practice, Craig practiced juggling. And he became obsessed. Since then, Craig has taught lots of kids how to juggle. “Most kids learn three-ball juggling in 30 minutes,” Craig explains. “For me it took months. But I kept at it. And I finally learned.” Again defying the labeling, today Craig juggles three balls in several different juggling patterns. He juggles bowling pins and cutlasses, around his back, under his legs, on a slack line, and even while riding a unicycle, blind-folded, on a raised platform. He juggles four balls, then five balls, then six balls—he is one of the few jugglers in the world who can juggle seven balls.

One day Craig’s friend, John, was playing at Craig’s house, and Craig dug out the old magic kit, showing him some tricks. John went home and told his mom about Craig’s magic tricks. Soon she hired Craig to do a little show for the town cub scouts, paying him $5. Craig’s next gig was to perform at a church social. These were the humble beginnings of Craig’s career in magic, illusion, and juggling.

Craig Davis has more than caught up from any delays others may have imputed to him. Simply put, he is a smart and coordinated guy. He has gone on to run a thriving illusion and magic show business, and to fabricate sophisticated illusion sets for his own shows and for other prominent illusionists, like André Cole. He has performed for luminaries like entertainer/actor Robin Williams and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. He has dazzled thousands of fans for the Phoenix Suns half-time show, and offers regular shows of the Davis Circus of Illusion at the Cattle Track Theater in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The lesson? Do what you love. Work hard at it. Don’t believe the labels. Don’t give up until you succeed. Craig Davis set his mind to becoming a great magician and illusionist, overcome daunting obstacles through discipline and perseverance. He didn’t let anyone tell him he wasn’t smart enough, or capable enough, or coordinated enough. None of that was true anyway. He was smart enough, capable enough, and coordinated enough. He found what he loved, and he kept at it until he became one of the most talented magicians and illusionists performing in America today. 

By Roger Evans Baker

May 2016


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