UNLV Hall of Fame inductee Lance Burton discusses career as master magician

By Annabel Rocha | March 27th, 2017
Photo courtesy of Lance Burton

After retiring from his 30-year career as master magician, Lance Burton was inducted into the 2017 UNLV Hall of Fame. His 1981 appearance on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson launched his career in Las Vegas and made him a local household name.

Burton scored a headlining gig at The Hacienda Casino three years later. In 1996, the award-winning magician became the main attraction at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino with a theater designed specifically for his show. After 14 years and 5,000 performances, the “Lance Burton Master Magician” show had its final act in 2010.

Burton’s magic show at the Monte Carlo might be over, but that hasn’t stopped the Kentucky native from working on new ways to entertain a crowd. The UNLV Scarlet & Gray Free Press spoke with him about his film career, love for animals and whether or not we can count on seeing him back on stage.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The UNLV Scarlet & Gray Free Press: Let’s talk about about the UNLV Hall of Fame first. What was that experience like for you?

Lance Burton: That was very exciting, and I was very touched that they wanted to induct me into the Hall of Fame. I think the first time that I was over there at one of those things was several years ago when they inducted Tony Curtis. When I was a kid, I saw him in the movie “The Great Houdini.” There have been many films based on the life of Harry Houdini, but Tony Curtis was the definitive one.

SGFP: What was your reaction when you found out you were being inducted?

LB: I was very excited. And I was excited also that [actress and singer] Debbie Reynolds was being inducted the same year that I was. Of course, she was still alive [at the time], she passed away in December. I got to meet her son Todd Fisher and tell him one of my Debbie Reynolds stories.

SGFP:  Are you working on any projects now that your show on the Strip is over ?

LB: I just recently completed my first feature film, and we’re releasing it in July on Amazon. It’s called “Billy Topit Master Magician.” It’s a comedy about a magician in Las Vegas, but he’s not a very successful magician; he performs at children’s birthday parties. There’s a lot of magic in it, there’s a lot juggling and ventriloquism. It’s something that people can bring their kids to and the whole family can enjoy.

SGFP: How much of it is based on your own experience of being a magician in Las Vegas?

LB: Probably all of it. I didn’t have to do much research. My friend Michael Goudeau and I wrote the screenplay and it was a lot of fun, a learning experience.

SGFP:  How long has the film been in the works?

LB: Several years. We started shooting in 2010. We shot for a couple of years, then there was a couple of years post production. Finally, we made our festival debut several months ago at the Wild Rose Independent Film Festival in Des Moines, Iowa and we won six awards, including Best Family Film.

SGFP:  What initially sparked your interest in filmmaking?

LB: It really came about because I had this thing in my head that I just couldn’t get out. I had to get it out somehow so I made a movie and shot it. The idea was having a story with a magician as the lead character and he uses his skills as a magician to solve the problems. For instance, in the car chase, he uses a magic technique to make the car disappear to get away from the bad guy. But then you get to see how he did it. As a viewer, you get let into a sort of backstage view.

SGFP: So are you giving away some of your secrets?

LB: Yeah, for instance the car vanish is something that I came up with. So I’m not really giving away secrets that magicians would be using in their acts, but I’m using techniques of a magician.

SGFP:  How did you like acting?

LB: It’s very difficult. I like acting and I like directing, but it’s really hard to do both of them at the same time. The scenes I directed that I enjoyed the most are the scenes that I wasn’t in because when you’re directing and acting in a scene at the same time you kind of have a split personality. You’ve got to concentrate on your performance, but then you gotta concentrate on what everyone else is doing.

SGFP: Of all the acts you perform, do you have a favorite?

LB: That’s like asking a parent who their favorite child is.

SGFP: Do you miss the show at all?

LB: Surprisingly, no. Not as much as I thought I was going to. I was going 100 miles an hour for 30 years. Finally! When the vehicle stopped and I was able to get off I was like “ahh, this feels great!”

SGFP:  What do you think about the current magic acts on the Strip?

LB: Criss Angel’s new show is fantastic. I gave him one of my tricks. It was a really hard trick to learn, too. He had to work for months and months rehearsing, but he’s doing a fantastic job. He fooled me on a couple of things. There’s always new guys coming in and out of town. Magic is still alive and well.

SGFP:  I understand you’re a big animal advocate. How did you get involved with the Nevada SPCA?

LB: I got involved with them actually through social media. I was following them on Twitter and I would share pictures of their animals. They messaged me and invited me to come down.

SGFP:  Is Vegas home now, or do you plan to go back to Kentucky?

LB: I love Las Vegas, it’s been my home for over thirty-five years. Eventually I will move back to Kentucky. I have a farm there that belonged to my grandfather. It’s very, very peaceful. And you know, it’s a farm so I can have more animals.

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