Retirement can lead to a new career as with Trent and May Bessent, who turned their long-time hobby into a job after his retirement. The Whittier couple work as a tem of magicians, entertaining audiences ranging from schoolchildren to club members to retirement and convalescent home residents.
They travel throughout southern California and even into Arizona with their act, which has met with enthusiastic response. A recreation director at one retirement home said their act was the first one that none of the residents walked out on.
The reason for their success seems to be that the Bessents are careful to tailor their magic to suit each audience. The couple has found that children love to "help" with the magic, but older audiences produce few "volunteers" to participate.
"Older persons to not like to be made fun of, and too many magicians use tricks taht become a joke at the expense of the spectator," explains Mr. Bessent. He cites the current stage play, "Gin Game," in which Hume Cronyn plays the aprt of a senior citizen in a nursing home who is resentful of a visiting magician who humuliates the audience participant with the challenge: "Do you know one card from the other? Then what is the other?"
In the Bessents' magic, the joke, if there is one, is on Mr. Bessent.
"Magic is a brief interval of fantasy, a respite from one's problems, frustrations, limitations," says Mr. Bessent. He says the type of tricks that are audience pleasers are those taht magically solve a problem: a noisey alarm clock suddenly disappears, Mrs. Bessent's necklace breaks and is magically restored, money "multiplies" as he holds it.
"The key element in any magic show is the surprise that defies reality," says Mr. Bessent. "People always think they have figured out what is going to happen , so you have to surprise them. a magician, like a playwright, must start with an idea and then build it to create suspense. We learned a lot from watching old Laurel and Hardy films."
Mrs. Bessent is not just a "delivery girl" in their act, but successfully performs magic of her own. She decided soon afther their marriage that she would liek to join his act because she didn't want to become a "magician's widow." Whenever they saw a magician with a partner assisting in the magic, she would say things like, "Oh, I want to do that," and Mr. Bessent got the hint.
He had been interested in magic since he was a boy and had worked as a magician to help pay his way through college. He earned a doctorate in psychology from the University of Southern California and decided to work as a psychologist rather than a magician because it "offered a more stable income."
The Bessents built a small theater onto their homes where they can entertain small groups. They are members of the Magic Castle, a private club in Hollywood for magicians, and have won several awards from the Society of American Magicians, including one for originality, the Master of Ceremony Trophy, the Blackstone Illusion Trophy, and the best partner-assistant trophy.
The Bessents do an average of three or four shows a wekk and expect to continue for many years. "A real performer never retires," says Mr. Bessent. "I know many magicians who are going strong in their 80s and 90s because they are using their minds. Magic is a good mental exercise."