One In A Million... a million people live, work and play in upstate New York's Catskills region. These are their life stories... in their own words.
Series produced by Kent Garrett
Photo editing and website design by Ed Kirstein
Artie Martello :
Mostly Folk & Magic
Artie Martello Transcript:
At 10:00 in the morning if you’re in the Catskills or anywhere in the world, that’s right, anywhere in the world, if you turn on your radio or computer or smartphone, you can hear the voice of Artie Martello. He is a magician, mastermind, and host of Mostly Folk on WIOX radio.
Here is his story in his own words:
Well, my family had been coming up to the Catskills for ages. When I was a little kid we used to come up. My uncles were both professional entertainers, and they had a lot of gigs in the Catskills. My family wound up going to boardinghouses and staying at boardinghouses, where my entire family would gather, and we’d have all sorts of sessions where we’d sing together.
Q – What kind of entertaining did they do?
Well, they actually, believe it or not, were in Vaudeville and sort of hillbilly jug band type of music. My uncle and my cousin both worked together, and my other uncle from my mother’s side was in the same band. He played violin. He played the clarinet. He would play violin with his teeth. He’d play it behind his back. They’d play saw, washboard, all sorts of incredible instruments like that. They played in the village at the Village Barn for many, many years. But like I said, we would be up in the Catskills, and that was my very first association with the Catskills through them.
Q – So, did you like it?
It was loads of fun. When I was a kid, you know, it was just the thrill of just driving up on the roads, you know, those back roads. My father used to drive the car over some of those little bumps in the road and say, “Oh, get ready for butterflies in your stomach,” you know. Yeah, we had a great time. In college, despite the fact that I always wanted to be a jockey, and my dad started giving me riding lessons when I was seven years old, and I eventually took lessons on a jockey saddle and was hoping to become a jockey.
Q – Why’d you want to become a jockey?
Because I loved horses. My dad was a horse trainer also, so you know, I hung out around barns and stables when I was a kid. But dad never wanted me to become a jockey because, you know, it was a very hard life. It involved shoveling horse manure and things like that. He said, “Become a veterinarian. That’s where the money is.” So that’s what I aimed at, and I went to college with all intentions of becoming a veterinarian. While I was in college, and I say this many times on the air, had there been special ed programs back then, I would’ve been declared math disabled because I couldn’t do math at all in high school. When I got to college I found that I needed the math for chemistry and for biology, so I had to change my major and I started to go into speech.
I went into speech and theatre, where I got a pretty good theatre background as well. You know, that kind of led into some of the things that I do today with magic. I went to St. John’s University as an undergraduate, and as I said, I majored in speech. From that point I really became interested more in the speech pathology aspect of it than the theatre or acting aspect. I had all intentions of working with autistic folks. When I was in college I did a lot of work with that group of people, but when I got out of college I couldn’t find a job anywhere. You know, like anybody else it was difficult because everybody said, you need experience.
I searched and searched for a job. Eventually, I did an interview with a doctor at one of the hospitals in Brooklyn. I think it was Kings County Hospital. He was interviewing for a school for the deaf, and I’ve told this story to lots of people. I had a great interview. I thought I really had this job, which only paid $6,000 a year, by the way, at the time. It was 1967. He asked me if I smoked. At the time I smoked a pipe, which I had smoked since I was 16 years old because dad would never let me smoke cigarettes. You know, then he went into this incredibly long lesson about the evils of smoking, and I left.
I never got a call after that, so I called the school itself, the school for the deaf. I said, I did this interview with Dr. Duffy, and the superintendent of the school immediately said to me, “Oh, any friend of Dr. Duffy’s is a friend of mine, so come on in and we’ll talk.” Next thing you know I had the job, and I was the first layperson that every worked in this school with many, many nuns and priests. It was St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf, which still exists. I eventually became the speech supervisor of that school. I went from there on to teach at New York University at Hunter College and for 14 years at St. Joseph’s College, where I practically taught the entire speech program.
Q – How’d you get into magic? Were you doing magic all this time or what?
Yeah. Well, when I was a kid I was into magic, you know. Like any other kid, my mom bought me a magic set. I became very interested in it. Then on television Ed Sullivan used to have a lot of magicians on his show. Cardini was one of those magicians, and he impressed me so much because this guy—you can’t do this today—this guy would walk out on the stage and he’d be wearing a tuxedo with white gloves. He’d be slightly inebriated, so it seemed. All of the sudden he’d have a cigarette in his mouth, and he’d throw the cigarette away. All of the sudden another cigarette would appear in his hand, and he’d throw that one away. Before you know it, cigarettes kept appearing out of nowhere.
He did the same thing with cards, and he wore white gloves. He’d make cards appear and disappear, and it was one after another. As a matter of fact, if you go to YouTube and search for Cardini, there are still some of those videos on YouTube. He just amazed me, and I think that’s kind of how I got into it.
Ten, 15 years from now, I hope I’m still here. I hope I’m still doing what I’m doing right now. I’m 68, and you know, I still don’t think of myself as being that. I still think of myself as being 17, and there are those here who also think I act like I’m 17. But I enjoy it, you know. You have to stay young at heart if you want to stay alive, I think. Yeah, I’d like to still be here. Hopefully, 15 years from now this radio station will be bigger than ever.
Q – Will you still be doing magic?
Will I be doing magic? I’ll always be doing magic. Magic is a part of me.
Q – I mean, what is the kick, or what is the skill in the magic thing? I mean, what does it take?
It depends what branch of magic you really get into. If you’re really into sleight of hand and things like that, it takes a lot of skill; it takes a lot of practice. I constantly practice magic. If I do a show, a formal show like the show I did in June for the Open Eye, I practice that show for at least three months ahead of time.
Q – You’re into sleight of hand; is that your area?
Yeah, I do sleight of hand, but most of it is pure entertainment. That’s what my shows are like. You know, people will tell you that it’s more acting than it is magic. I can do sleight of hand and entertain that way, but I’m more into the entertainment aspect of it. Robert-Houdin, which was where Houdini got his name from, he said that a magician is merely an actor playing the part of a magician.