By JASON TONG, Special to The Rafu
Haruo Shimada was born on Dec. 19, 1940, in Tokyo. At the age of 15, he became fascinated by magic and decided he wanted to learn it so he could become a magician. As the schools were so crowded in Tokyo at this time, he attended his classes at night so he was able to start working at the Tenyo Magic Counter at the Mitsukoshi department store during the day. He worked and studied under Tenyo for several years, honing his magic skills.
At 17, he debuted as a professional magician with his Billiard Ball Routine. After watching Channing Pollock in the 1959 film “European Nights,” he was inspired to create his own dove act, which he debuted in 1961. Starting in 1965 he worked for three years in Australia, where he met his first wife, Deanna, before touring Mexico, Japan, Asia, and Europe.
Since there were too many dove acts in Europe, he returned to Mexico to create his parasol act, using his Japanese heritage as inspiration. It was poetry in motion! That act was later featured at the 1971 “It’s Magic” show in Los Angeles, produced by Milt Larsen, co-founder of the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood.
In 1975, he returned to Japan to add on the Dragon Illusion for an awe-inspiring finish to his parasol act.
Throughout his career, Shimada performed in the most prestigious venues and on the top stages around the world, including the London Palladium, the Olympia in Paris and a command performance for Emperor Hirohito of Japan.
He also performed in top hotels in Las Vegas, such as the Flamingo, the Hilton and the Stardust, and was a headliner for four years in “SPLASH!” at the Riviera Hotel. It was in Las Vegas that he met his second wife, Keiley.
Besides countless appearances on television, most notably “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” “The Dick Cavett Show,” and “The Merv Griffin Show,” he also guest starred on David Copperfield’s and Doug Henning’s network specials while also earning an incredible number of awards.
In March 1979, I had the pleasure of meeting this legend in magic. I was performing in the Close-up Gallery at the Magic Castle. Shimada came into one of my late shows, introduced himself to me afterwards and then asked if I would be available to help him in his performances. That was the beginning of a friendship that lasted over 40 years.
I opened for him at private shows throughout the city, filled in when he did multiple acts, and was one of the dragons in his big act. We travelled to many places including England, China, and Hawaii. We enjoyed each other’s company very much.
Haruo Shimada passed away this year on April 30. The world of magic lost an inspirational performer and a master magician who led the way for all other Asian magicians to make it onto the world stage, and I lost a good friend. He is survived by his wife Keiley Shimada, daughter Luna Shimada, son Jason Shimada, and grandchildren Tara, Adam, and Ione Shimada Losander.
Since 1978, Jason Tong has been a performing magician at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. Originally from Hong Kong, he moved to the U.S. in 1969. He was voted Magician of the Year by the International Association of Magicians, and was included in the book “Chinese in Hollywood,” published by the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California.
He will be one of the featured performers at the upcoming “Chinese Magic Festival” from Jan. 23-29, 2023 at the Hollywood Magic Castle.
Photos courtesy Jason Tong