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Magician Roy Horn’s advice ‘saved my life’

Oct 7, 2003 8:37 AM

Roy Horn is known for his magic, showmanship, charm and humanitarianism, and now he’s fighting for his life.

But to me, he is the man who’s advice on exotic cats probably saved my life about 25 years ago.

When I worked for the old MGM Grand (now Bally’s), Siegfried & Roy were part of the Hallelujah Hollywood show.

As the hotel’s publicity director, I often sat with them at dinner or backstage, gaining valuable information for press releases or for my own understanding of what they did.

I learned a lot about showmanship and the selling of magic from Siegfried, and an equal amount about the nature and handling of exotic cats from Roy. Their partnership combined to create the best act that ever lived.

One evening, Roy showed me the animals’ territorial nature with his black leopard. He had me put my briefcase down in front of me, while I stood behind it.

Then, while keeping a firm hold on the cat’s chain, he walked him in front of me several times to show how the cat would eye the briefcase, slow down, but never walk behind it, where I was standing.

Roy explained the cat was giving me my space, as long as I didn’t violate his.

On other occasions, Roy would caution me to stay perfectly still, not to stare at the animals, and very slowly back away, if you had the opportunity, and move through a door you could close behind you.

Under no circumstances, he stressed, should I ever run or make any sudden movements.

It was almost six years later, while working with another magic act, Carlton & Co., that Roy’s advice proved chillingly valuable.

As the manager of the act, which was headed by magician Carl Beck, I had arranged a publicity photo session with one of his Bengal tigers at the old Las Vegas News Bureau studio.

At the time, in 1983, the News Bureau was located on east Desert Inn, just of Joe W. Brown Drive. The photo studio was in the back of the building, off the lobby and some offices.

The set was up, ready for the shoot, and I sat on a table, waiting for everyone to arrive.

For whatever reason, Carl had trouble getting the tiger to enter the building. It took several tries, but when it finally decided to pass through the doorway, it bolted and broke free of the handler and raced straight through the reception area and into the studio, where I was waiting for the session to begin.

The tiger raced back and forth, along the walls, before leaping up onto the table where I was sitting! For some reason, I suddenly heard Roy Horn’s voice, telling me, "Freeze, don’t move a muscle."

As I waited for Carl to come over to the table, the tiger paced up and back on the table, not making any noise, but breathing heavily enough for me to feel its hot breath on the back of my neck each time it passed.

Because I was in a frozen, numbed state, I can’t say how they finally corralled the animal and removed it from the studio. I just remember the group coming over to the table, including photographer Lee McDonald, telling me the coast was clear, and asking how I stayed so calm.

I said something silly like, "It’s easy to stay calm when your muscles won’t move."

But to myself, I was whispering, "Thank you, Roy. You just saved my butt!"

We replaced the big cat with a spotted leopard and the photo shoot went on.

For now, I hope the show goes on for Roy Horn. Once again, thank you, Roy, and get well soon.