IN RECESS

The Magic Touch

A Dallas litigator entertains and connects through illusions.

Interview by Jillian Beck and Hannah Kiddoo

Grant Walsh Magician
Grant Walsh with his antique magic collection (above left), showing a card trick, and demonstrating an illusion where he cuts his assistant into thirds. Photographs courtesy of Grant Walsh.

It all started with toys in a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Color-changing picture frames and a box that transformed a string from white to bright hues fascinated 6-year-old Grant Walsh. When a magic kit for Christmas from his parents followed, so did many performances, and the art drew a quiet boy out of himself and into the law.

“As I grew more confident in my performance skills, I became very comfortable speaking to audiences full of strangers,” said Walsh, now a commercial litigator and managing partner of Culhane Meadows in Dallas. “If I had not embraced magic as a means to move beyond my shell of shyness, it is doubtful that I would have become a lawyer.”

As a young boy, Walsh tried out his tricks and illusions on family and friends, making his pet hamster appear in an empty box or lifting a lid to reveal a fluffy live chick in a pan that had contained burning tissue paper. As a teen, he performed paid gigs at churches, libraries, and schools—even at the State Fair of Texas, where he opened for the then little-known country group the Dixie Chicks.

Magic shows helped him pay his way through undergrad and law school, but the best part of the craft for Walsh has been how it connects with people. “People of all ages love watching magic—even if we don’t speak the same language,” he said. “Being a magician gives me the ability to relate to people from all walks of life and to put smiles on their faces by creating little miracles right before their eyes.”

Walsh still finds time to put on a show—whether it’s at a firm retreat or on demand for his three young children. His kids don’t quite get what a lawyer is yet, so they like to say: “Our dad is a magician!”

Do you prefer the term “trick” or “illusion”?
It depends on the setting, though I typically use the term “illusion” to describe what I do. “Magic” sometimes has negative connotations so I make it a point to remind my audience that what I perform always has a trick behind it. Within the magic community, “trick” usually refers to a small close-up effect and “illusion” means a large stage effect.

Grant Walsh Levitation Magician
Walsh practices the art of levitation with his daughter, Cadence. Photograph by Grant Walsh.

What do your co-workers think of your hobby?
I think people tend to view magic as a nerd’s hobby, and that’s probably not an unfair stereotype. However, I think this mindset is changing with the recent “street magic” trend among famous modern magicians like Steve Wyrick, David Blaine, and others. I actually wasn’t the first magician to perform at our firm. I arranged for my friend David Hira to be the keynote speaker for our partner retreat, and his motivational message with integrated magic resulted in rave reviews. A year later, many of my co-workers did not know much about me outside of my professional life, so I think they were surprised—and hopefully impressed—with my follow-up magic performance during the next partner retreat.

What illusion do you most enjoy performing?
My favorite is Metamorphosis, which originated from Harry Houdini and his wife, Bess. The effect is part escape and part illusion. It involves me being handcuffed, tied inside a large canvas bag, and locked in a wooden packing crate. My assistant then lifts a curtain over the trunk, and less than three seconds later, the curtain is dropped and I am standing in her place. I unlock the crate and untie the bag to reveal my assistant inside wearing the handcuffs. When I do large stage shows, I use this as my closing routine because it still impresses audiences even though the effect has been around for more than a century.

What entertains your audience members the most?
Something I continue to work on is learning to perform new magic tricks using everyday objects. For example, I have developed an entire close-up routine using regular rubber bands that can be performed anywhere, anytime. This always creates excitement and leaves audiences with something to talk about long after the show.

How has making magic affected your law practice?
A large part of my practice involves presenting the client’s factual narrative to a judge, jury, or arbitrator. Sometimes the facts of a case may seem boring on the surface, but that’s where the art of performance and creative storytelling are important to help make the case come alive in the courtroom.

What is your most prized possession in your antique magic collection?
My first autographed photo of Houdini was what really triggered my desire to collect vintage magic pieces. It was amazing to hold a small piece of history in my hands. I was later able to acquire a pair of handcuffs that was used by Houdini in the early 1920s.

Who is your favorite magician?
Every magician is unique in his or her own right. There are some impressive female magicians who I like to point to as inspiration for my daughter. The greatest American magicians are commonly identified as Harry Kellar, Howard Thurston, Houdini, and Harry Blackstone Sr. Of course, David Copperfield now dominates the scene as the most successful international magician of all time.

What do you like most about doing magic?
It makes people smile. Throughout high school and college, I began volunteering in local children’s hospitals by putting on group shows in common areas for the patients and their families. Sometimes I would go room to room to perform for the children who were too ill to be moved. To this day, it brings me so much joy to provide a time of happiness and distraction for the children and their families who are otherwise absorbed with hospital routines and seemingly unending medical treatments. Watching their faces glow with excitement, even for a brief moment, is truly inspiring and satisfying. TBJ

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