LEN COOPER - He was 75 years old
He held I.B.M # 3218312 and was a member and past President of the Sid Lorraine Ring #17 in Toronto. He was also a magic dealer and founder of the Browser’s Den of Magic.
Let me tell you about the friend who I now very badly miss….
Len was born in Brooklyn, New York on January 2, 1928. He was first exposed to the world of magic at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Len witnessed a pitchman demonstrating the Svengali deck. He found the pitch fascinating but at this time did not get the magic bug.
Two years later when Len was 13, he and a friend joined a magic club at the library and this time Len was infected with the magic virus. In the early 1940’s Len got to meet other magicians and make some lifetime friendships by joining a magic group called F.A.M.E. This was run by famed puppeteer Shari Lewis’ father Abe ‘Doc’ Hurwitz; better known as Peter Pan the Magic Man.
Other members of F.A.M.E (FUTURE AMERICAN MAGICAL ENTERTAINERS) included George Schindler, Stan Burns, George Gilbert, Albert Goshman, Ken Krenzel, Jack London, Danny O’Bryan, George Sands and Howie Schwarzman. Len absorbed as much as he could during these years and eventually put together a Pitchman Act. Of course Len and his friends haunted the New York magic shops. Len was most fond of Tannen’s Magic Shop because, of course, of the presence of Lou Tannen himself. Len always told me that Lou Tannen was a fantastic demonstrator but most importantly a wonderful person. Len would eventually have a part time job filling mail orders in the backroom of Tannen’s. In 1946 at the end of the war Len was drafted into the army. Len having a good head for numbers was sent to the Radio School and ultimately taught Morse code to other soldiers. However, his main contribution was in performing magic shows for the other servicemen. Len was stationed at the Pentagon building. Len did many, many shows during this time and perfected his comedy magic act.
After the war Len became a professional magician and performed in clubs and on early television. Len had a bad hay fever problem and decided to go to the Laurentian Mountains in Montreal for a vacation. To help pay for his vacation he performed his magic act at the hotels. It is at the Laurentians that Len met the love of his life; Bernice from Toronto, Canada. Bernice and Len were married in 1956 and brought up three children.
At the time of Len getting married he decided that the business side of show biz was not exactly to his taste and he bought a music shop in Port Chester, New York; after all, music was also one of Len’s life long passions. Twenty years of being in the music business went by and he and Bernice decided it was time to make a change in their life.
In 1975 Len and Bernice moved to Toronto and opened up a magic shop, called the Browser’s Den. Toronto already had a very small, but well known, magic shop called the Arcade Magic and Novelty Shop run by Sophie and Harry Smith. Initially the store was stocked with books, records, games, and souvenirs. And at the front of the shop was a corner devoted to magic.
As a kid I used to go the shop and all that I can remember is the magic part of the store. I suppose I was so fascinated with magic that I never took notice of the rest of the shop. And of course most importantly I remember that man behind the counter who looked a lot like a tall version of Groucho Marx with a New York accent. Len found that the magic was the only stock turning over well at the shop and decided to turn the entire shop, about 1000 square feet, into a magic shop and get rid of the books and games.
The shop was a home away from home for many magicians and future famous and not so famous magicians. This home feeling was of course because of the generous and friendly qualities of Len and Bernice, his able assistant and wife. Len was a mentor to a lot of young and not so young magicians. He gave of his time freely; so many words of advice about magic and show business. And while Len was mentoring the want-to-be magicians we could always count on Bernice to have an ear for our other life’s problems and concerns.
Better known magicians who ‘grew up’ at ‘The Den’ include Jay Sankey and Gary Kurtz. And of course Len and Bernice had many famous magicians pass through the shop such as Doug Henning, Blackstone Jr., Reveen, Harry Anderson, David Copperfield. The late seventies was a good time for magic with Canada’s own Doug Henning introducing a whole new generation to the world of magic.
Some of Len’s favorite magicians were Cardini, Roy Benson, Jay Marshall, Carl Ballantine and Albert Goshman.
In 1995 after twenty years in the magic business and Len at 68 years old, he and Bernice decided to enjoy their golden years and sold the business to me. For the past seven years since I took over Len came into the shop to give me a day off on Mondays. During this time I was fortunate to get to know a different side of Len. He was such a wonderful guy with a terrific dry sense of humor and so intelligent! But most of all I discovered that he was a genuinely kind and gentle soul.
In May 2002 Len’s kidneys began to fail, and this started the downward trend in his health, which ended with his death in January.
My memories of Len? Well too many to mention; but here are a few for you to fill in the blanks: His Cigar, His Moustache, His Voice, Color Monte, Wunderbar, The Egg Bag, The Chinese Sticks, The Arm Chopper, The Stories, His Act.
Len, if you are reading this up there in heaven I just want to say thanks for teaching me a little bit more about life and about being a better human being.
Len I miss you; we all miss you.
Jeff Pinsky, Toronto, Canada.