J.B. Bobo

As many of you know the world of competition doesn’t just include sports. As I look across our region I am interested in forms of competition no matter what area is involved. I have been connected to the magical world for some 50 years and have worked very hard to stay in performing condition through out my career. It is this conditioning that has made me aware of the importance of “The Competitive Edge” in every thing I do. I have observed many magicians, thinking, “I believe that I can be better than that.” In looking at the definition of Competitive Edge or advantage you discover the simple idea,an Edge, or Advantage is something that someone has over its competitors, allowing it to generate more victories or wins or to become superior over all others. This “Edge” can come as a point total on the scoreboard or the amount of revenue collected from sales of products or services. When looking at a business you find that there are two main types of competitive advantages or edges. The competitive edge gives a company an advantage over its rivals and an ability to generate greater value for the firm and its shareholders. The more sustainable the competitive edge, the more difficult it is for competitors to neutralize the advantage.
It is for this reason that I am featuring a real life experience in the world of competition.
I was thirteen years old when I attended a magic show presented by Mr. J. B. Bobo. Mr Bobo entered the stage decorated by colorful tables with cartoon characters and drapes. His show lasted some 45 minutes to an hour using several of my classmates from the audience. He was making scarves appear and disappear along with ropes that were cut and rejoined at will. He was making coins appear from his fingertips and dropping them into a bucket. It made such an impression on me that I began to research the art of magic. In 1967 at the age of 15 I made a phone call to Mr. Bobo and ask if he would be interested in providing me with lessons. His response is what ignited my burning desire to be “BETTER THAN HIM.” He simply stated that he didn’t have time to teach anyone and politely hung the phone up. I was totally shocked and disappointed at the lack of interest. I quickly realized that the art of magic was very secretive and the older the magician the more difficult it was to get them to open up. At that time in my young life I made the commitment to become great at the art of magic and become a competitor. I wanted to be the school show magician for the four states area.
Well my friends after a couple of visits to school officials I realized that it was not going to be easy, no matter how good I was, it was going to be very difficult to knock Mr. Bobo out of his gigs. I quickly learned that he had been working the schools for some 50 years. That meant that he was there performing for the principles parents and possibly his or her grand parents. Now that is what I call a COMPETITIVE EDGE. My solution was to offer the schools a second show in the Spring if Mr. Bobo was doing his show in the fall and vice versa. It was accepted and I began to offer school shows as planned. It was at a show at Pleasant Grove Elementary that I looked up into the bleachers and saw Mr. Bobo watching my show. That brought a state of satisfaction to me and my feelings were lifted when he came by after the show and paid me a wonderful compliment. We continued to be friends until his death in 1996.
Below is a historical account of Mr. Bobo’s life presented by the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. What a wonderful man that used his creative abilities to make so many kids happy with his magic show. I really miss Mr. Bobo and only wish I would have had more time to enjoy his friendship.
With such a colorful name, it is small wonder that magician J. B. Bobo is known throughout the world. Adults across Arkansas and the country remember him for taking his magic shows to their schools when they were children. Magicians around the world own copies of his books on coin magic, which are universally agreed to be the best ever written.
J. B. Bobo was born on February 11, 1910, in Texarkana (Miller County), where his family owned Bobo Grocery Store. He was christened with initials only, and he patiently explained this when anyone asked what they stood for. His French immigrant great-grandfather, Jean Beaubeaux, had anglicized the family name from the original spelling.
Bobo never really knew his father, Horace H. Bobo, who died when Bobo was young, but he learned later that his father knew several magic tricks. Bobo’s mother remarried, and she, J. B., and his sister moved to Chesley in Ontario, Canada, when he was twelve. In each of the four Canadian cities where Bobo lived (Chesley, Hanover, Hamilton, and Windsor), the family owned restaurants. Traveling salesmen frequently stopped at the restaurants, and Bobo met them and learned magic tricks and tips.
His interest in magic grew with each trick he learned and each magic show he saw. A family friend was an amateur magician who performed between movies at a local theater. Bobo went back, over and over, more to watch and study the magician than to see the movies. He went to see traveling medicine shows on their crude outdoor stages, which usually had a magician in their midst. Frequent traveling tent shows—Chautauquas—also had magicians. He went to every one he could. When the family lived in Windsor across the Detroit River from Detroit, Michigan—Bobo and his sister often took a ferry to Detroit to attend Sunday vaudeville performances. There, he saw many famous magicians who became inspirations for him to develop his own act and style. But he missed a live performance of Harry Houdini, which he later wrote was one of his biggest regrets in magic.
At age thirteen, Bobo discovered the famous Johnson-Smith Novelty Catalog, which featured many magic tricks. He ordered as many tricks as he could, but he could not afford many. He taught himself sleight-of-hand tricks—with cards, balls, thimbles, and coins—because they were free. These were mainstays of his act for the rest of his career. He also completed the famous Tarbell Course, a hardback series of instruction books on magic. He slowly honed his magic skills, many self-taught. His first public appearance was a contest for amateurs at the Windsor Theater.
When Bobo returned to Texarkana at age nineteen, he joined a troupe of “stage-struck friends,” as he called them, which performed locally and in nearby cities. These engagements helped him develop his craft and performing skills. While he worked as a show card writer and decorator for several retailers in Texarkana, he met Lillian Carlow. They were soon married, and she became part of his act.
Bobo was asked by a producer for the Graham Music and Lyceum Bureau whether he and his wife could fill a contract for a magician on a western circuit. He agreed, and it was the beginning of their traveling magic show career. The Bobos traveled throughout the western states, giving school shows.
After several years working for different entertainment bureaus—and learning the ins and outs of the school show business—the Bobos tired of traveling and quit to start working for themselves out of their Texarkana home. Building a schedule in public schools was difficult in the early years, but their reputation grew, and they signed repeat bookings in schools in Arkansas and surrounding states. They earned return visits because they changed everything about their show from year to year, from new tricks and apparatus to new jokes and colors of silks.
At the peak of their school show career, they performed 400 to 450 shows a year; this decreased to 300 a year in later years. It is estimated that they gave more than 14,000 school shows in more than fifty years.
In 1947, Bobo put many of his magic ideas in a book, Watch This One! But it was his classic book, Modern Coin Magic (1952), that earned him a worldwide reputation. The book has been reprinted several times and is still available. It was expanded by over 150 pages in 1966 into the New Modern Coin Magic. His success in school magic prompted him to write a third book in 1984, The Bobo Magic Show.
Bobo was well known as an accomplished magician and comedian, but he also excelled as an artist, cartoonist, photographer, cinematographer, and craftsman. He designed his own flyers and posters, and he made many of his own trick apparatus.
Bobo endeared himself to magicians throughout the country not only from his writings but also by presenting lectures to magic clubs and conventions. His last book was virtually a manual on how to make a living as a school magic performer. In 2006, a DVD tribute to him was issued as part of a new series, The Greater Magic Video Library. Volume 23, named simply Bobo, features an interview with him, a complete children’s’ performance by him and his wife, and demonstrations and explanations of a half-dozen of his favorite tricks.
Lillian Bobo died on August 12, 1989. They had no children. J. B. Bobo died on September 12, 1996, in Texarkana, where he is buried.
I must say that I really miss my old friend and competitor. His devotion to his family and his wonderful talent had a large impact on how I have conducted myself in business. I am forever thankful.

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