Given the current state of affairs following this national election it is a particular cruelty that James “Jim” L. Spencer, who was a standard-bearer for magical arts, a mentor of rookie Toastmasters, and a profoundly decent colleague, should depart now, when we have never been more in need of those qualities.
To remember Jim was to recall anecdotes that scream “Holy Cow!” Once we were waiting under the canopy for the valet to bring our car. It was a very enjoyable evening at the Magic Castle in Hollywood where we had been guided through several timed magic shows by Jim and his lovely and talented wife of 26 years, Shirley Lorraine Spencer. Since Jim was a member of this exclusive club due to his proclivity and talent as a professional magician, we were treated to all of the “shows” because Jim knew how to time them and make sure we were in the right place at the right time. I never saw so much magic before or since! There were small stadium performances, as well as close ups with “sleight of hand” (my favorite) that were truly amazing. Along the way Jim attempted one on us while waiting in the hallway, and surprisingly he failed. I chose from the deck an 8 of spades but he failed to “conjure” it up and briefly remarked, “Well, that was a new one I am still perfecting. Let’s go on in to the next show.” Thinking it was merely one slip-up during a truly amazing evening of card cuts, close-up, parlor, and street magic, I forgot about it…until the end of the evening. Under the canopy interspersed among the revelers while waiting for my car a genie hologram appeared in midair and asked me, “Lou, is this your card?” And there it was:
The 8 of spades in the hologram’s hand! I turned to Jim and he had that impish smile which I readily understood meant, “welcome to my world.” That is the best example that I have which describes how I perceived Jim. Sharp and entertaining in a world filled with magic and unlimited possibilities.
The Ventura County Star reported that Jim passed away at the age of 74 from a swiftly-moving inoperable brain tumor on Sept. 30, 2016, with Shirley at his side. Jim was born Feb. 19, 1942, in Los Angeles. He graduated from Cal State LA and Southwestern School of Law, then served in the United States Army as military intelligence, spending time in both South Korea and at the Pentagon.
Jim’s solo law practice focused on estate planning and business law. He taught business law courses at Ventura College for nearly 40 years. His interest in magic began at age fourteen. He used the old unbreakable rope trick in jury summation. Glenn Campbell represented the defendant in a case in which Jim was trying to collect fees flowing from a contract that Jim felt could not be broken. Glenn describes Jim’s closing argument in disbelief: “There he was in front of a jury with a short rope that he cut in half, and then magically produced it whole and uncut before the attentive jurors, exclaiming that some things just refuse to be broken.”
“I just sat there watching my case go down the tubes. Jim captured their attention and won them over. What could I say or do in response? They loved him!” The jury concluded that Jim’s client’s contract was indeed unbroken, one of many examples of Jim’s communication skill.
As half of Spencer/Lorraine Entertainment since 1988, Jim brought magical and comedy performances to many charitable organizations and private parties. No matter if it was Toastmasters, Rotary or the Salvation Army, Jim had the flair for entertaining while making his point and keeping your attention. Once I asked him to advise on using an overhead projector (before Power Point), and he gave me a one hour demonstration of all the things you could do with an overhead projector during a presentation. I still remember the little cardboard flap that he attached with Scotch tape that assured a smooth transition without the busy screen between those pesky plastic slides.
Jim’s primary persona was that of Professor Tinker, a medicine show recreation of Old West vintage. His sleight of hand was very good and I think I may have bought some snake oil from him once. Jim was co-author of “Two On the Aisle,” writing theater reviews for the Ventura Breeze and the Ventura County Reporter for over twenty years. Evidence of his love for Shirley is epitomized in his repeated comment about their sharing of life such that “I write the vowels and Shirley writes the consonants… because there were more of them.” It was famously a team effort with each interacting in a loving and participatory way that was the envy of many. Succeeding as partners on and off the stage is not an easy feat, and that attested to Jim’s respect and love for Shirley. His own years of performance as an actor and singer on local stages endeared him to equally many.
Jim was a long-time member of the California Bar Association, Hollywood’s Magic Castle Academy of Magical Arts, Downtown Rotary, the Salvation Army Advisory Board, Toastmasters International, Business Network International Network of Champions, and many other arts and charitable organizations through the years.
An avid theater-goer, Jim was a major force behind establishing the Ventura REP awards for recognizing local talent which has evolved into an unprecedented cooperation among Ventura County theaters.
A memorial service was held on the day before International Day of Magic, Oct. 30, 2016, Jim would be honored to have contributions made to a local theater of your choice or to the Salvation Army (Ventura Corps).
Lou Vigorita, a frequent contributor and former CITATIONS editorial board member, practices workers compensation and Social Security law in Ventura.