From Actor To Zee: An Interview With Eric Lindsay
Eric interviewed by Bela Lugosi biographer Andi Brooks
Eric as Zee when he was in Las Vegas (photo by Barkley Shaw)
“You have the eyes of a magician,” Bela Lugosi prophetically told Eric Lindsay when he played the role of Renfield in Lugosi’s 1951 British tour of Dracula. It was to prove no idle observation. Although Eric was working hard to establish himself as an actor, he would eventually enjoy international success as a critically acclaimed illusionist.
Born within the sound of Bow Bells in London’s City Road Hospital on November 13th, 1929, Eric discovered that he had the theatre in his blood at an early age. From his first tentative steps onto the stage in a Salvation Army production of Aida while a schoolboy, he went on to enjoy a long and varied career. As an actor, he starred in the original West End production of Tobacco Road, made films in France, appeared on British TV and, of course, toured with Bela Lugosi in his last full production of Dracula. In common with his famous predecessors, Eric earned nothing but praise from the critics for his portrayal of Renfield. As an entrepreneur, with his lifetime partner, the actor Ray Jackson, he opened two coffee bars during the great boom in the 1950s, including the fondly remembered Heaven and Hell, which was next door to the 2 I’s, the birthplace of British rock and roll. When Eric and Ray expanded into the nightclub business, their Casino De Paris club was so successful that Eric temporarily retired from the stage. When he returned, he enjoyed the biggest success of his show business career as Zee, one of the greatest British illusionists.
I first met Eric in 1997 while researching the Bela Lugosi biography Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain. During the interview, we focused on Bela Lugosi and the British tour of Dracula. Interesting as that was, it was only six months out a fascinating life and career, about which I have long wanted to interview Eric. Now enjoying his retirement, but still working towards fulfilling two outstanding ambitions, Eric gracefully submitted to my cross-examination and dug through his archives to make this first retrospective of his life and work possible.
When were you first attracted to performing?
At a very early age. There was a repertory theatre in Stoke Newington and my mother would take me there to see the plays. How she got the tickets I have no idea, but we used to go regularly.
Was it difficult to get tickets or was it a matter of money?
I really don’t know whether my mother bought the tickets or she was given them by a friend who worked at the theatre.
What is the first play you can remember seeing?
No idea, but I remember seeing Private Lives. Yes, I think it was Private Lives.
Did your parents or any family members have a theatrical background?
No, not at all,but my mother loved the theatre.
What did your parents do?
My mother was a Court Dressmaker in the West End of London. My father was a tailor and later a night-time taxi driver, so I never really saw much of my father except on his days off.
What were your first steps into the theatrical world?
When I was evacuated and the Salvation Army were putting on a production of Aida, and I walked on carrying a palm leaf.I joined an amateur dramatic group called the Angel Players when I was about 12 or 13 and did bits and pieces with them. At first it frightened the life out of me but I loved it. It was the smell of the grease paint, the scenery and everything that went on backstage. Remember, the War was on and I had won a scholarship to go to a grammar school, but there were no grammar schools in London. They were all evacuated to the country. There were only four emergency secondary schools in London,one in each corner,east, west, north and south. I went to Parmiters Emergency Secondary School, which was at Cambridge Heath, Bethnal Green, East London, as it was the closest to home. Forget about the schooling that I had,it was the time of the major bombing and of the Buzz Bombs and we would only go to school in the mornings, and then we spent most of the time sitting under our desks as it was just useless to keep on going to the shelters. So real schooling I did not have. In the afternoons I would get a bus and take myself off to the West End of London and go to all the theatre matinees or else the cinema. I was very lucky and saw all the great actors in spectacular roles and plays. That I remember, what happened yesterday I forget! School books just did not interest me. It was the theatre. Yes!
Where were the Angel Players based?
Itwas in a school off the Pentenville Road which is between the Angel Islington and Kings Cross.I have no idea what the name of the school was.
Did you have any heroes or role models in the theatre?
Not really. When it came to magic, now that was another thing, but much later in my life. Although when I was 13 my father took me to see Lyle’s Cavalcade of Mystery at, I think it was at the Aldwych Theatre in the Strand. That was something that stayed with me all my life. Cecil Lyle did the most amazing illusions. There was one called “Find the Lady” which I always remember and a levitation which when I became an illusionist, my Robert Harbin version was far better.
Where did you start your professional training?
With Marion Ross, she was my agent and she also had a drama school in London.The school was advertised in the Stage and I went along and auditioned for her and she took me on as a pupil. She also ran a theatrical agency and I was automatically put on her books
When did you become a full-time professional actor?
When I was 17. My first role was in Barnstaple Rep. in Devon. I played Octavious in The Barretts of Wimpole Street.It was only a short engagement, for about 3 months. From there I worked in various reps for about a year before going into Tobacco Road at the Playhouse Theatre, where I understudied and then played the role of Dude. From the West End I then toured in the same production for about 6 months. I went to France to make two films, Metro Pigalle and Antoine and Antoinette.I then filled in doing odd broadcasts and TVs until I auditioned for Dracula and got the role of Renfield.
Did you have any other jobs while trying to establish yourself in the profession?
Many. My father insisted I learnt a trade as an actor’s life, he thought, was terrible,you are more out of work than in, and he was right. So he sent me to the Morris School of Hairdressing, which was opposite Selfridges in Oxford Street. I was happy because I was in the West End and I could go and see all the shows and also go to my amateur dramatic group three times a week. I also worked at the United Services Supply Company where we sold everything form a handkerchief to a tent. I also worked at the Ideal Homes Exhibition, you name it I did it!
Did you work as a hairdresser after attending the Morris School?
Yes I worked in a shop in Shaftesbury Avenue called Shacks, and hated it. I then got a job in Brewer Street in a basement below a butcher’s, and all I remember about the place was the stains of blood that would seep through from the slaughter house above. I hated that too.
How difficult was it for a young actor to get regular work?
In the theatre regular work doesn’t happen unless you are in a repertory theatre. Unfortunately those reps, which were all around the country, no longer exist.
What happened to them?
They just went out of fashion and TV arrived and people didn’t go out that often. The cost of running those theatres became so astronomical that they just weren’t viable anymore and slowly, one by one, they closed. The Arts Council used to give grants out to various theatres, but that was stopped over a time.
What was your ambition when you began your career?
Really, I wanted to do films, but that didn’t happen for me. I suppose it’s the luck of the draw and my face didn’t just fit.
What was your experience of trying to break into films in England?
Hard! I was under contract for a short time with the Rank Organisation and was sent to the Charm School that he had. I was there with Diana Dors, Barbara Murray and Anthony Steele. Nothing really came of it. Just doing odd bits in pictures didn’t really further my career
Why did you decide to go to France to get film experience?
It was just the offer that I had from the director Henri Marchal. He saw me playing Dude in Tobacco Road at the Playhouse Theatre in London in 1949. He saw me in a matinée, and came backstage afterwards.
The Play by Erskine Caldwell.
Eric and Ruth Dunning in the West End production of “Tobacco Road”.
Could you speak French at that time?
No, although I learnt it at school for 4 years, really I hadn’t a clue.
Tell me about the films you made in France.
I played Roland in “Metro Pigalle” and Antoine in “Antoine and Antoinette”. Also there were a few others but I’ve forgotten their names, they were forever changing the titles.
A film by Henri Marchal “Antoine and Antoinette”
Antoine and Antoinett
Planning our escape from Paris.
Caught by the Gendarmerie.
Being sent at trial to the Bastille.
Eric as Antoine.
A film by Henri Marchal “Metro Pigalle”.
Eric as Roland in ” Metro Pigalle” in Paris
What kind of films were they?
Kitchen sink, made mainly on location, which saved the cost of hiring a studio. They were violent in a way and the type that were in vogue during that period. Although “Antoine and Antoinette” was a period piece.
What was it like working in the French film industry?
Great, far more easygoing than in England.The main thing that I remember is that I was always cold and very wet from spending most of our time outdoors on location.
How long did you stay in France for?
Almost a year.The Studio that we worked in was a very large warehouse in Pigalle. The other really big studios were on the outskirts of Paris. But these were much grander than ours. I stayed in a very small family hotel off of Place Clichy and when I wasn’t filming I would be out drinking and smoking and doing the usual!
Where you tempted to stay?
I loved France and still do, but I wanted to try to make it back home.
Did your French experience open doors in the British film industry?
Not really. My working in France didn’t mean a thing when I returned. It only meant that I was off the scene for almost a year.
Next came Dracula. Had any of your previous work prepared you for such an offbeat role as Renfield?
Yes, as I said,I played Dude in Tobacco Road, and he was retarded, so I just seemed to fit into these weird parts. Maybe it was because of my large eyes?
In terms of your career at that point, was taking on the Dracula tour a good career move?
The role of Renfield was such a great part. It is the second major role in the play, and also whenever they weren’t talking about Count Dracula they were talking about Renfield. What more could one ask for?
Did you do any special preparation for the role?
I’d seen the film, which frightened the life out of me. Then I used to loosen up in the wings before I went on. Like running on the spot and shaking all over.
Had you worked with any of the other cast members previously?
No, but I knew Sheila Wynn who played Lucy Seward from a Coffee Shop that we would go in the afternoons called Taylors in Rupert Street.
Sheila remembered you telling her that you had saved 100 pounds during the tour. That must have been a lot of money in 1951, what were you saving for?
Ray and I had decided that we would open a coffee bar, as espresso coffee was the in thing at the time after just arriving from Italy. It was just a question of when and where.
She also said that you were very serious about your role and could be irritable backstage while waiting for your first entrance. Is that a fair comment?
True. Renfield was a very nervous soul with an hysterical laugh which I really had to work myself up to, to get into the mood. So I didn’t like anyone talking to me just before I made my entrance as it would put me off my concentration. Also I was used to getting a round of applause on every exit that I made and if I didn’t get it I was doing something wrong. The other parts in Dracula are very staid and dreary, they are just feeds for Dracula and Renfield, giving the plot of the play to the audience. So, my getting a round on every exit did not endear me to the rest of the company. Still that was something that I was used to.
I was thrilled, excited and frightened.The man was a star. Whether he was washed up in the States really didn’t matter. He was there in the flesh and blood and I had the best role apart from his in the play. It was a gift, because although the roles of Dracula and Renfield are the smallest in the play, whenever we were not on Stage they are talking about us. The other players may tell you it was a tatty production, and the set was cheap, but with the lighting that they used it became alive in an eerie Victorian House.
Was it intimidating as a young actor to work as closely as you did with someone of Bela’s reputation and experience?
I never thought about that, I was too much in awe.
The wonderful Bela Lugosi.
Bela Lugosi a portrait.
Scared of Bela?
Scared, no, in awe maybe? No, never, Bela was like a big cuddly bear. He was a gentleman in every way.
How did he measure up to your expectations when you met him?
He was exactly the same as he was in films, but not so menacing. He was great and very funny.
It is said that Bela would walk through rehearsals, working for accuracy and not throwing himself into the part until the dress rehearsal, which worried producers and directors who didn’t know his work methods.
I suppose he would just mark his performance at rehearsals, but if he didn’t know the role who should. I cannot understand anyone worrying about him, after all, he was Dracula.
Sheila said that he told her that Dracula was his Macbeth. Did you get that impression?
That is perfectly true. In Hungary, he told me, where he was a big star he was at the equivalent of the Old Vic or National Theatre playing all the major roles. It was only when he went to Broadway to appear in Dracula that he got typecast and nobody saw him in another role. He was wonderful as Ygor in Son of Frankenstein, which was a completely different role. But those parts were few and far between.
Dracula was his play. He was the star. He was the whole reason for the production. How did he behave towards his fellow cast members?
He was generous in all ways.
Six months seems like an awful long time to tour. Was that unusual in those days?
No, some shows would tour for a year or years. Remember, there were so many theatres and there was no television.
How did you keep your motivation and performance fresh as the tour progressed?
It was difficult sometimes. You would get a sort of blockage with a sentence or a line, maybe through lack of real concentration. Also, Bela was inclined to add or change the odd line. So you had to be on your toes.
His interpretation of Dracula wasn’t fixed?
Sometimes he would change slightly, but not a lot. It was always basically in the same format
Both yourself and Bela received excellent reviews, even if the play itself or other cast members were criticised. Did you build a special relationship?
I like to think so. My role was a gift and I used to grab it with both hands.
The nearest the play got to the West End was the second week of rehearsals at the Duke of York’s Theatre. What do you think it would have taken to have got the play into the West End?
Luck! We did play Golders Green and Streatham Hill, both theatres close to the West End. There was always talk about us going to the Comedy Theatre for the Christmas season. It was a toss-up between Dracula and a farce which starred Mishu Auer, a comic film star also from America. The farce won, but I think it only ran for two weeks. But by that time ourDracula production had already finished.
There were some cast changes during the tour. How did they affect the production?
I don’t think it helped, but it didn’t really affect me, when I was on stage I was doing basically a solo performance which did not take in any of the other actors apart from Bela.
What did you do immediately after the tour?
Nothing, I was looking for work.
Bela and Lillian stayed in Britain until December while he made Mother Riley Meets the Vampire. Did you see him again before he left?
We had tea together at Fortnum and Masons just before they left for America.They had given me their telephone number when we finished the tour and we arranged to meet for tea before they sailed home. So Fortnum’s it was. I just remember that it was very pleasant and that they were looking forward to seeing Bela Jnr.
Did you stay in touch with him or any of the other cast members?
Only Sheila, who I would see occasionally in Taylors.I was only friendly with Sheila and Joan Winmill during the tour. Really, I had nothing in common with Richard Butler and John Saunders. They would stay in a little clique togetherand Richard Butler would treat John as a taxi service because he was the only one in the cast that had a car. The rest of the cast were old, so they used to do their own thing.
I understand that you spoke to Bela Jnr. and Lillian when you later visited America.
Yes, it was the first time I went to America in 1960. Bela had already died and I rang Bela jnr., who was a lawyer in L.A. and absolutely charming and helpful. I told him who I was and he gave me Lillian’s phone number but when I rang her she could not remember going to England or anything about the tour.
Why do you think Lillian said that? It couldn’t have been easy to forget eight months in Britain?
I think she was suffering from some sort of illness. I seem to recall that Bela Jnr. might have told me that she had been ill. So my phone call could have come at a bad time for her.
What kind of work did you do between Dracula and you and Ray opening your first coffee bar?
You name it I did it. The hundred pounds that I had saved I just kept in the bank and I made up my mind that I would not touch it until we used it for a business of some kind. I sold non-slip floor polish at the Ideal Home Exhibition. From there I decided to work as a hairdresser, although I had forgotten everything that I had learnt. So I decided that I would start off at the top and work my way down the list of jobs for a junior assistant. The first place I went to was a salon in Davies Street, Mayfair, called Martin & Douglas. This was Lady Docker’s hairdressers and also Princess Margaret’s. The top man there was a French man called Rene who did both Lady Docker and Princess Margaret. He was a tall handsome, charismatic man with a great personality. In fact, he was a young Bela with all the French charm. He had a wicked sense of humour. I was there only two weeks and the assistant to Rene left and I got his job with really not a clue what I was supposed to do. But I coped and fortunately Rene liked me. He found me amusing. His ladies, as they sat there, would touch him up as he would lean over to either set or cut their hair. I used to catch his eye when this occurred and he would give me the odd wink. Who knows maybe he was worth touching up!
What year did you open your first coffee bar?
I think it must have been some time in 1954. Espresso coffee had just arrived in England.
Heaven & Hell, Eric and Ray’s coffee bar, next door to the famous 2 I’s
RAY AND ERIC IN THE “HEAVEN & HELL” DAYS AT THE BLUE ANGEL NIGHTCLUB.
What prompted you to go into the coffee bar business?
Coffee bars were in vogue and they were full of young people who would sit there for hours at a time. I suppose they were the hip and cool people of the day. Things then were so much simpler, there wasn’t the pressure and stress that there is today. We didn’t have any live music, we left that to the 2 I’s that was next door. Originally the 2 I’s was called the 3 I’s and it was run by three Iranians. One of them left the business and they renamed it the 2 I’s, and then two Australian wrestlers bought it and the rest is history.
Weren’t there any problems with you opening up next door to another coffee bar?
You must remember that coffee bars were all the rage in the ’50s and it was the more the merrier. So they and we were only too pleased to be next door to one another because people would go from one bar to another, backwards and forwards and that’s the way they spent their evenings.
You named your coffee bar Heaven and Hell.
Ray and I were in Paris together in Pigalle and there was a cabaret of some kind called Heaven and Hell and the name intrigued me.
How did you and Ray meet?
We appeared in a play together called “Murderers Child” written by Edward Rutherford at the New Lindsey Theatre in Nottinghill Gate and became friends. He was a child star from the age of 13 during the War when he appeared at the Old Vic in Oedipus Rex leading Sir Ralph Richardson onstage as the Blind Muse.
A portrait of Ray by Vivian
Did the success of your coffee bar mean that you quit acting at that point?
No, not at all. I worked at the Richmond Theatre, which was very close to East Sheen,and Ray did many TVs and films.I made the TV some time when Ray and I had The Regency Coffee Bar in East Sheen,don’t ask me about the date because I have no idea. The Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel was a TV series that ran for about 6 months and I appeared in a couple of the segments of it.The only person I remember in it was the star Marius Goring he played the Scarlet Pimpernel.
Your next venture was to open a nightclub, wasn’t it?
Yes, we opened aclub, which was called the Casino De Paris at 5-7 Denman Street, Piccadilly Circus. W.1.I think it was April 21st, 1958, the same day as Paul Raymond opened his Revue Bar.
You stopped acting at this point, didn’t you?
Yes, at the time we were making too much money. but Ray continued filming.
Ray (left) with Richard Todd in Yangtse Incident
Were you still running the coffee bars?
Yes, but the manager that we had, slowly ran Heaven and Hell into the ground and we sold it at the same time as the 2 I’s.
What kind of entertainment did the club offer?
It was a Striptease Theatre.
Because a new law had come into existence which allowed striptease to be performed in private members clubs. The Windmill Theatre was the only place in London where nude posing was allowed, provided the artist did not move. With this new law, providing it was a members club, artistes were allowed to move naked. We also opened another night club whilst we still had the Casino de Paris. It was called Ricky Renee’s in Covent Garden. We spent a fortune on it, but it was a disaster and we had to close it and lost a great deal of money. But that’s Show Business!
Click on the following link to watch aBritish Pathe newsreel film shot at Ricky Renee’s on April 20th, 1967
It was during this time that you got a taste for magic and embarked on the next stage of your career as an illusionist. How did that come about?
I always had it. When I was 13 my father took me to the Aldwych or the Strand Theatre to see the Great Lyle in his Cavalcadeof Mystery, so you see I was into magic at a very early age, but it was only the big illusions that interested me.
Bela Lugosi once told you that you had magician’s eyes. Did you take him seriously at the time?
It was whilst we were on tour. Of course I took him seriously, I used it enough in my publicity.
Didn’t you also receive encouragement from the girls at your club?
I always tried to have a magician in the show at the Casino De Paris and I always produced and choreographed the show, designed the costumes and lighting, and swept the stage. In fact I did everything including the music, which was on click back. So whenever a magician was there I would dress the act with strippers as assistants and include as many illusions as possible. Basically the magicians were only used to doing small magic and that was how I met Robert Harbin, because a magician brought him in to advise him on two of Harbin’s illusions that he was using. So we became friends. I also had the first nude male magician called Malcolm Vadell who would appear nude at the end of his act from the Substitution Trunk. The magic fraternity were in shock ! But that’s Show Business !
When did you begin your career as an illusionist?
I think it was some time in 1977, I’m not quite sure.
Did you give up the club?
Yes,the lease was up, and they were supposed to be rebuilding the area, which later never happened.
How did you pick your new stage name?
I went from A to Z and realised that an illusion act could never be the star turn, or so I thought. Then it would be better if you cannot be at the top of a Bill to be at the bottom. So that’s how I got to a name beginning with Z. I came up with two names, Zarak and Zee. I decided that Zarak was too circus. Zee was much more modern. So, ZEE & Co. The Co. came from a film at the time with Elizabeth Taylor called Zee and Co. I thought the title was very with it and modern, not like Zarack, which was, as I said, a bit circus.
Zee & Co. performing the Sword Impaling Illusion at the Magic Castle at the Cambridge Theatre in London
What was your act like?
Fabulous, if I say it myself. I only performed major illusions in the finest Theatres and Cabarets throughout the World. I would open with flaming torches that turned in walking sticks, followed by two large diceboxes that were shown empty and from which I produced, umbrellas, flower bouquets,a chinchilla cat, which promptly vanished and turned into a silk, two enormousflags and a silk that was four metres square, from which, when placed over the dice, my female assistant appeared. She was then hypnotised, ala Bela Lugosi, and laid onto a table by my two boy assistants. She slowly floated up from the table to my fingertips. The table was removed and she floated around the stage as I passed a hoop over her. She floated down into my hands and when I shouted, “Go!” she vanished. Next I got into to a box which was already on stage and showed it empty. I placed a light into the top of the box and did a few hand silhouettes, clapped my handsand the girl reappeared by burstingthrough the paper in the front of the box. I then put her into an empty cage, spun it around, pulled off the silk and, voila, my leopard, Scorpio, was there in her place. That was the fastest change that has ever been done! (See the Zee & Co. Gallery after the interview for photos of Eric’s act.)
Earlier, you mentioned that you became friends with Robert Harbin, the renowned magician.
Robert Harbin was my mentor. He was one of the finest magicians in the world. His mind was exceptional and I was very lucky that we became friends and that I had his guidance and advice to prepare me for the Magic World as one would say. So when I decided to become an illusionist it was he who sat with me for hours as we worked out the finer points of the act. When I told him that I was going to get a leopard for the act, he said that it would “rip my throat open” and fifteen years later that is what happened. It was my fault completely and to go into how it happened would take too long.Suffice to say, he ripped my throat open and I was in hospital in Marbella for a week. He was put down by the vet, and it was all my fault.
My Mentor Robert Harbin
Eric’s mentor and friend, the celebrated magician Robert Harbin: “We would spend hours, weeks, months talking magic and how to evolve ZEE & CO. Unfortunately he didn’t live long enough to see it accomplished. I know he would have been very proud.”
This is Harbin’s dedication to me.
Here is a letter from Lyle to Robert Harbin congratulating him when he had heard a lecture that he gave at the Magic Circle.
Scorpio the Indian leopard was one of the big attractions of your act, wasn’t he?
My beloved Scorpio
He was my Baby, I had him from 2-weeks-old. He had been abandoned by his mother and could not be left in the cage with her for fear that she would eat him. He was bottle fed for 3 months on Complan. Then as he grew he had to be weaned onto meat, which was a production in itself. Then he started to grow. As a matter of fact, I kept a diary with his measurements for 6 months, which is somewhere around. He was completely tame. I used to feed him by hand, and how he could tell the difference between my fingers and the chicken bones would amaze me every time I fed him.
I’ve seen a photo of him arriving at a theatre in a Rolls Royce. Was that usual?
No it was a one-off, just a publicity shot at Sandown Pavilion on the Isle of Wight.
Scorpio arriving at the Sandown Pavilion in style
In an interview with the TV Times you said that Scorpio began to speak.
He would make a heavy meow sound that would go into a yawn as though he was trying to shape the words. To me I understood him.
You also used a tiger in your act, didn’t you?
He was rented. I worked with him in Vegas and Reno, but I would not go near him. Far too dangerous!
The magic circle described you as the greatest illusion show in the UK.
They were perfectly right. All the hours of talking and planning with Robert Harbin paid off.
How long did it take to bring your act to that level of perfection?
Within three months of working with Ken Dodd every night, I had it down to perfection. And really, if I say so myself, we went from success to success. When we did the Magician’s Convention in Blackpool we stopped the show. They truly had not seen anything like it for years. It does sound very much as though I’m blowing my own trumpet, but it was true.
You did a “record-breaking” season with Ken Dodd in Scarborough. Was that your big break as an illusionist?
Business wise it was record-breaking and audience wise also. My big break came before that with Ken Dodd when he did his Xmas Laughter Show in Liverpool.
Where else did you perform as an illusionist?
Within 18 months Zee & Co. was appearing at the London Palladium.
After the Palladium you took your act to America. What was that like?
We were in America from the end of 1982 onwards working at the Sheraton Bal Harbour Hotel in Miami for about 6 months. We then went on to Las Vegas where I rented Juliet Prowse’s house for about a year. Ray and I loved America until we worked in Reno, which I hated.
The only thing that was big about it, were the signs! From the sophistication of Las Vegas to the unsophistication of Reno, it was like chalk and cheese. The audiences were basically cowboys and they thought I had come from Mars. They would sit in the show room with their cowboy hats on and their feet on the table. It was so different from Miami and Las Vegas and was not my scene at all.
Entertainer of the Month at the Reno Hilton
Did you go to America with the act again?
No, never. after Reno it finished me, I had no desire ever to work there again.
You did make a big impact in America. A review in Folie a la Carte said that you were as impressive as David Copperfield and Doug Henning.
I did my best.
Were you able to fulfill the expectations of the critics during your career? Did you continue to develop bigger and bigger illusions like Copperfield?
I didn’t have major corporations backing me. I was the one who had to pay to build all my Illusions, unlike David Copperfield.
Did you take your act to other parts of the world?
Yes. France, Spain and Portugal.
At one point you lived in Spain, didn’t you?
Yes, for ten years. It was after I finished working at the Magic Castle in London that Ray and I decided to move to Spain, mainly because of the climate. We looked around Marbella and finally decided to build a villa close by. Of course, I got carried away and basically built a palace that was enormous and quite beautiful. It took nearly two years to build, during which I was starring in the show at the Scala Melia Castilla in Madrid in a revue that was built around Zee & Co. The villa had four master bedrooms – one for Ray’s mother, one for my parents, one for Ray and one for me. By the time the villa was finished and it cost a small fortune, my parents had died, Ray had died, his mother had died, Scorpio had to be put down because he ripped my throat open and I stupidly didn’t know what I was doing and listened to the Vet who insisted on it. (I think he wanted his beautiful skin) Suki, my chinchilla cat, was dead, and I was left in a bloody big house alone with no-one and the money was very slowly running out.
Eventually you moved back to London.
Yes, because I was sick of living in an enormous house all alone. After Ray died I never really properly worked again. It was as though all my amazing luck had gone. The date was October 25th, 1989.
Have you completely retired now?
Yes, I’m forced to………too old
When was your last professional engagement?
In Dubai in 2001 when I did a command performance for the Sultan of Dubai.
Eric in Liberace’s palatial bathroom
When you look back upon your long career, are you satisfied with it?
I have to be. I can’t change it. I have been so lucky nearly all my life, but you cannot expect everything to run smoothly all the time. It was just that the shit hit the fan all at once, when my Mother and Father died within 6 months of each other. Followed a year later by Ray, and that really screwed my head up.
What was the highlight of your career?
There were many, and also a lot of ups and downs.
Which gave you greater satisfaction, acting or being an illusionist?
When you are an illusionist you are acting because basically you are a furniture salesman selling boxes and dreams. So you can say I had the best of both worlds.
Do you have any ambitions left?
Yes, to perhaps do a lecture tour one day about Bela Lugosi and Dracula and Magic and IIlusion and my mentor Robert Harbin, and also stay alive long enough till my money runs out. Then it’s Bye, Bye, World!
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You can read more about Eric’s tour of Dracula with Bela Lugosi on Vampire Over London, Andi’s Bela Lugosi blog, at: http://beladraculalugosi.wordpress.com/