Harry Blackstone Sr.
Suzy Wandas Bennett
Neil Foster (1920 – 1988)
Neil Foster was born Edgar Neil Foster, Jr. in Aurora, Illinois, but it was Colon, Michigan that would be his home for 29 years. The gentle practitioner of the presto trade left his mark on Abbott’s Magic Company and a generation of magicians. Bob Lund, founder of the American Museum of Magic, honored Foster in 1987 by proclaiming August 9 as “Neil Foster Day. Many magicians’ feelings about Neil may well be summarized by a banner that was hung across the interior of the museum that day; it read, “To know Neil Foster is to know real magic.”
Prior to Foster finding his home in Colon, he went to California to enroll in the Chavez Studio of Magic or “the Chavez Course”, as it is known in the trade. The year was 1947. The Chaves Studio, named after its founder, Ben Chavez, was a fully-accredited school in the State of California, and was approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs for returning servicemen who wanted to take up magic as an occupation. Foster was found to be an outstanding student and gifted performer, so Ben and Marian Chavez accepted him as an instructor following his graduation. Foster went on to be recognized worldwide as a great teacher and performer of magic. After Ben, and then Marian, Chavez passed away, it was Marian’s wish that Neil Foster continue operation of the school. Accordingly, a Chavez Studio was opened by Neil in Colon, Michigan. The Chavez Studio of Magic, College of Manual Dexterity and Prestidigitation torch is carried on today by Larry Wirtz.
After serving as a Chavez instructor, Neil spent time performing on the road as part of a magic duo. His partner was his wife, Jeanne (Hammond) Foster. The couple married in 1955 and started performing on the school-assembly circuit under the sponsorship of the lecture bureaus of the Universities of Wisconsin, Minnesota and North and South Dakota. This was followed by a stint for the Ireland Magic Co. in Chicago, Illinois.
In 1959, Neil and Jeanne moved to Colon. It is fitting that Foster moved to the home of The Great Blackstone, because it was Harry Blackstone who inspired him to become a magician. Neil, an influential force in the magic capital, encouraged Robert Lund to move to Colon by telling him about available properties there in a 1972 letter, although the Museum was to find its home in nearby Marshall, Michigan.
At Abbott’s, Foster acted as chief magician-in-residence and vice president. He revived the Abbott’s publication “The New Tops,” a magazine for which he served as editor. Neil further gave to the magic community as a frequent performer at the annual Abbott’s Get-Togethers. In 1977, the Academy of Magical Arts presents Foster with the Performing Fellowship Award. Neil was well known for his trademark presentation of Joe Karson’s commercial floating-ball effect known as the Zombie. Foster made it his own and took it to a new level by turning the small-scale trick into a stage performance with ballroom style flair. Foster’s Zombie ball and scarf are part of the collection of the American Museum of Magic.
Neil Foster passed away in Battle Creek, MI in 1988. The group formerly known as the Battle Creek Magic Club was renamed the International Brotherhood of Magicians Neil Foster Ring 89 in his honor.