Karrell Fox was one of the top magicians in the country. the
ultimate entertainer. He was also a comedian, master of ceremonies, mentalist,
hypnotist, children’s TV star, author, producer, lecturer and mentor to an
untold number of magicians. Plus, he did a mean W.C. Fields impression.
Karrell J. Fox was born in East Rainelle, West Virginia on
January 30, 1928. Fox’s interest in magic began at an early age. “My father
owned a hotel when I was a boy,” recalled Fox, “and this magician skipped
without paying his bill. He left his bag of tricks and I started practicing.”
When his family moved to Hillsdale, MI, Fox waited tables at his
father’s restaurant, entertaining customers with magic tricks and funny patter
while they waited for their orders. Luckily
for Fox (or was it fate?), he lived less than 40 miles away from Colon, MI, the
home of Abbott’s Magic Co. and the “Magic Capital of the World.”
In a 1961 interview, magician Monk Watson recalled his first
meeting with Karrell Fox. “(It) was in the show room of Abbott’s in Colon. I
did not work there, but was just standing around when in walked a mother and
father and a young nice looking boy. The mother said, ”We’d like to see
something to fit this boy”… “Yah, I’ll get on the counter and get a
counter fit” came from the boy.” The
ten year old Fox then spent a couple of hours going thru the magic catalog
purchasing magic trick after magic trick. Thus began Fox’s career as a
Fox was entertaining at birthday parties, churches, banquets and store openings.
The young magician billed himself as “Karrell Fox- the King of Korn.” His
style of magic was composed of equal parts of magic, personality and humor, with
a distinct emphasis on the humor.
By the age of 18 Fox had worked at two magic shops, appeared
on the cover of Tops magic magazine and became manager of the Detroit
branch of Abbott’s Magic Co. During World War II he performed on many USO
shows at service centers and camps in Detroit.
Fox was a pioneer in magic for industrial and corporate
clients. In 1944 he was one of the first magicians to perform at a trade show.
Fox realized that performing at local clubs, lodges and private parties
was fun but limited; the real money could be made in the corporate world.
In 1947 Fox wrote, directed and performed in a variety show
for the J.L. Hudson Co. He also began an association with the Detroit Auto Show,
which lasted for 20 years.
WWJ, Detroit’s first TV
station, signed on in 1947, and it
wasn’t long before Fox was basking in its phosphorescent glow. He was the
resident magician on Junior Jamboree, Detroit’s first children’s TV
program. In 1949 he starred in his own weekly program, also for WWJ, Famo and
his Magic Carpet.
In 1950 Fox was approached by the Luckoff, Wayburn &
Frankel advertising agency to host a new children’s television show for their
client, Twin Pines Dairies. During the planning stages of the show Fox received
his draft notice. When the agency
asked Fox if he knew of another magician to take his place, Fox recommended his
good friend Clare
Cummings. Milky’s Movie Party debuted in September of
1950 with Cummings as Milky the Clown while Pvt. Karrell Fox was in special
services at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for the next two years.
After his discharge from the army, Fox returned to Detroit.
The ad agency promised Fox that he could reclaim his role of Milky when he
returned from military service, but he couldn’t bring himself to take the job
from his good friend.
In the early 1960s, Fox managed to get an interview with
William Clay Ford to discuss the possibilities of a magic presentation to
promote the latest models of Ford automobiles. During the interview Fox offered
to show Ford a card trick. A card was picked at random from the deck, and Fox
attempted to find the selected card. When he failed to produce the correct card,
Fox instructed Ford to look out of his office window, where Fox had hired a sky
writer to write “ten of clubs” in the sky, which was the correct card. This
was the beginning of “The Magic World of Ford,” a three million dollar road
show with six units that travelled the country for four years and began a
twenty-two year association with the Ford Motor Company.
In 1964 Clare Cummings decided to retire as Milky the Clown to
devote more time to his day job as automobile paint salesman for DuPont. Fox
seamlessly took over the role of the magic clown until the show’s demise in
1967. An easy way to know which version of Milky you remember watching; Fox took
over the role just as the show went over to color. And of course Cummings was
easy to identify with his famous gap-toothed smile.
Guy Copland, the son of WWJ-TV weathercaster Hugh Copland, was
a budding young magician in the 1960s who got to know Fox both on and off
screen. “Growing up watching him as Milky and getting to know him in and out
of makeup had an impact on my insight to entertainment. Having a dad in TV I’m
sure helped in my getting to know Karrell, Larry Thompson (Mr. Whoodini), and
Bob McNea (Oopsy). And they all took time to talk and treat me like an equal
entertainer. And I was only 12. I am fortunate and proud to have known him. A
great man who connected with kids and encouraged them to try.”
Fox had another career as one of the country’s foremost W.C.
Fields impersonators. He appeared as “The Great Man” in over sixty
commercials for Faygo, Stroh’s Beer and Frito-Lay, as well as seven industrial
films for General Motors. He also portrayed Fields in a one-man show.
In the early 1970s Fox wrote and produced a magic show for
Michigan Bell Telephone, which was performed by Fox and others around the state
for three years.
Fox was known by his fellow magicians as magic’s best-known
“general practitioner.” He could entertain in every situation, from
children’s parties to the most sophisticated audience. His repertoire included
hypnotism, mentalism and motivational speaking. He used eight different
brochures to promote eight very different acts, each directed at a specific
Over the years Fox authored over a dozen books on magic and
created dozens of magic tricks. He was co-owner of the Fox Fun ‘N Magic
Shop, which was located in downtown Detroit at the Fox Theater Building (a
happy accident) and later on the east side of Detroit. He appeared at more
magicians’ conventions than any other magician, a record that still stands to