02-26-2012, 04:27 PM
Chapter Three: The Prodigy
Under Bill Whitmore's supervision, Luke Walker became proficient in illusions and escape. Hours and hours of rehearsing in fromt of a large mirror sharpened his skills to the point where Luke amazed even himself. In addition to Whitmore's experience, he began to delve into Eastern philosophy and mysticism, studying the fakirs and magicians of the Middle and Far East. It was from them Luke learned to control his body, increase his tolerance for pain, and psyche out distractions, skills which would prove invaluable later in his career.
Luke had the skills and the training. Now, all that was needed was the image. Whitmore wanted to create Luke into another Doug Henning: hip, contemporary, topical. But Luke wasn't going for the Seventies look. The early Nineties called for something a bit grittier, with more "street cred". Rap music was emerging as the dominant musical force; the "gangsta" look was just coming into vogue. Luke Walker sounded too geeky, too boy-next-door like. As the Walkers had abandoned him, so he abandoned his adopted name and chose one which he came up with, inspired by a comic book character: Blade, a half-vampire superhero, dark and mysterious. The perfect name for a budding magician.
Whitmore, not having any ideas of his own, agreed. But he insisted that Luke keep his first name to avoid copyright infringement. Thus, Luke Blade came into being. His jet-black hair and smoldering good looks gave him a menacing air, an aura of danger, someone who had bargained with the Devil for power over the laws of nature to achieve the impossible. Whitmore tried to dress Luke in more formal, tailored clothes, as magicians had in the past, but Luke preferred jeans and t-shirts; he was more comfortable in them, he said.
Bill said that was all right for rehearsals, but to make a good impression on stage, he had to dress more formally. Not in evening dress, as magicians had in the past, but at least appear well-groomed. They compromised on dark, long sleeved shirts, black slacks, and a simple medallion, the first of what would become Luke's collection of "bling".
Luke's debut would be in the Whitmore theater itself. Bill educated Luke in basic theater: stage right, stage left, center, wings, backstage, orchestra pit, green room (Luke claimed later he never found out why it was called that, since he never saw one that was actually green), the catwalks above where the lighting was rigged, and so on. Luke rehearsed on the stage to the point where he could do it in his sleep. He was determined to prove himself to Bill and the world he was the greatest magician who ever lived.
The big night came. Luke saw his name writ large on the marquee for the first time. Though later in life he would deny it, he was so nervous before his performance that he rushed into the small restroom and vomited. By sheer force of will, he pulled himself together and went on with the show.
From the reviews given in the local papers, the show was a resounding success. The twenty-year-old magician was called a "prodigy", a "young Houdini". Bookings from various magic clubs around New York followed. And Luke wowed them all.
While Luke was amazing audiences with his skills at magic, his business sense was clearly lacking. All finances were handled by Bill Whitmore. Luke's mentor, now his manager, was raking in the dough to the point of outright exploitaiton of his protege. It was he who decided what Luke would wear, what and when he should eat, and what hotel would he be staying in. Luke turned a naive eye to his manager's business dealings. After all, Bill had more experience with these things than he did, so he felt it best to leave it all up to him. Luke wasn't starving anymore; the audiences gave him a sense of self-worth, a feeling of acceptance he had never known before in his lonely childhood, and he was guaranteed a warm bed to sleep in after the show. That was gratifying in itself.
Luke began appearing in magic magazines and other entertainment periodicals, leading to national exposure. He was the new phenom to watch out for, the reviews said. In mid 1996, Luke Blade entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the youngest person to succeed in performing Houdini's underwater escape. The near-disaster in the past had been a learning experience for him, and he vowed to never slip up like that again. He still prided himself on doing escapes, though.
There were photo shoots and interviews. Luke posed semi-nude, covered with shackles and cuffs, for Cosmopolitan. He was photographed wearing a loincloth and leather cuffs, as if he was about to be sold into slavery. The female public ate it up; they swooned over this darkly handsome illusionist with the flowing black hair and muscular body.
As hard as Luke tried to keep himself in top physical condition, the grueling schedule began to take its toll. In June, 1997, while performing in Chicago, Luke collapsed onstage at the Magic Castle. He was rushed to the nearest hospital, where he was diagnosed as having a "low-grade virus" complicated by exhaustion, forcing him to postpone any future performances. Bill remained at Luke's side, encouraging him to recover quickly. The doctors, however, ordered a week's bedrest for Luke.
Luke's recovery was hastened by three days when he received word from Gateway Productions in Los Angeles that he was being offered a role in a movie titled Pentacle. It was a low-budget occult horror film about young witches and warlocks terrorizing middle-class America. Eager for more publicity, Luke jumped at it.
The problem was, Luke had no acting skills beyond what he had learned from Bill. He literally had to learn on the set, coached by the director himself. Still, Luke was a master of improvisation, and he made the best of it. The film, however, was a flop. The only good which came from it was that it gave Luke more public exposure. It also gave him a taste of LA life. To his credit, Luke never succumbed to the temptation of drug abuse, though he did consume a great deal of alcohol early in his career. Whether it was to become more socially accepted or to drown out the past is a matter of conjecture. Still, he dreamed of the high life, of having it all. He wanted wealth and fame, with all the trappings, but had no access to his own finances. It was at this point in time where Luke and Bill would go head to head, leading to a showdown.