Interview with Lance Burton, magician [classic article]

As first seen on

When Lance Burton was a 6-year-old in Louisville, Ky., he was chosen from the audience to participate in an illusion at a Christmas party magic show. From there, his life would never be the same. He received magic sets such as TV Magic Cards from TV pitch man, Marshall Brodien, as Christmas and birthday presents, and he earned money performing magic shows for neighborhood children. In 1977, when he was age 17, Lance Burton, entered his first competition at a convention and won first prize.

His next stop was his first appearance on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Offers began to pour in. Lance accepted an eight-week trial engagement at the “Follies Bergere” in Las Vegas and ended up setting many new box office records and performing the show for nine years. In 1982, Lance Burton won the “Grand Prix” award of the Federation International Society de Magic in Lausanne, Switzerland and was recognized as a “World Champion Magician.” Since then, he’s made several television appearances, including guest starring in “Knight Rider,” and a series of NBC specials, and has also performed for the Queen of England and President Reagan.

In 1994, the group building the Monte Carlo Resort offered Burton his own $27 million, 1,224-seat theater, built to his own specifications. He’s been there ever since.

GREEN: What new projects do you have on the fire?

I just shot a couple of TV specials; I’m not at liberty to say for who at this point.

Are you involved with any charities?

I’m involved with the Shriners, doing benefit shows. The tickets cost $25, I raise about $25,000 to $30,000. They have 23 hospitals, treating children. My manager is a Shriner. I also do a little Christmas party for them here in town. I get my friends to perform, whoever’s in town.

When you’re on the road, how do you manage your finances?

I haven’t done that much touring. We went to California, Kentucky, Japan. We just fly in, play for a week. You don’t accept dates that’ll lose money!

Do you manage your own money?

I’m not very smart with money. I’ve got a business manager, Mitch, who’s been with me 18, 19 years.

Do you have any favorite investments?

I’m the wrong person to ask! I like having Mitch. It’s smarter to devote my time to the magic. A lot of people in show business are bad with money. Show business is two words, show and business. I concentrate on the show and hire people for the business.

You have a large crew working for you — how many?


Do you have any tips for hiring employees?

Make sure they’re qualified. Make sure everybody’s treated fairly. My people are happy — I have the lowest turnover rate in Las Vegas of any show. We have a really good deal; we’re the only show to have a 5-day work week. We’re “dark” on Mondays and Tuesdays.

So, what kind of money can a magician make?

It varies from being homeless on the street to more hamburgers than you could ever eat. I’m not the highest paid magician out there. Show business is very unpredictable. If you’re in it for the money, you’re in for a rude awakening. You have to love to do what you do.

What do you think about acts like Penn and Teller, or others who expose magic’s secrets? How does that affect your financial health?

They’re very good friends of mine; I just saw their new show. That’s their shtick — they’re the bad boys of magic. You think the secret’s being exposed, but they always leave a little something out.

What’s your idea of a splurge?

To stay home and watch TV with the remote. A night to relax.

What’s something you refuse to spend big money on?

Designer clothes. My car is 10 years old. I get my thrills on the stage; I’d rather spend money on a new prop.

When you were beginning your career, did you have to supplement your income?

I’ve been lucky, I’ve been able to do magic full time since I left school. About 90 percent of magicians are unemployed. As a boy, I mowed lawns, recycled cardboard, worked in a novelty andmagic shop. I did magic demos when they needed it, but I was mainly the stock boy.

You are known for “reasonably” priced shows… how’d that come to be?

Vegas is actually getting really high! Now, it’s over a $100 a ticket. We have a big family audience, but that’s a lot of money to spend for 4 or 5 people, plus dinner for the night. We used to be reasonable. There was a time when you could see Signature for $7, when the casinos were willing to lose money on the shows, make it up on the slots. Now, Las Vegas is a “destination,” like a resort. The majority of visitors don’t consider themselves gamblers. Of course, there’s still gambling.

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