After all these years people still ask me about Johnny Bloomer. “You actually knew Johnny Bloomer,” they say. Yes, I knew Johnny Bloomer, from his earliest days. Johnny Bloomer grew up in the mean streets of the south side of Chicago in the early 1950s. Those were the days when Cadillacs were big and Martinis were dry. Johnny didn’t have an easy time of it. His dad abandoned his mom when little Johnny was 7 years old. She was left to raise Johnny and his two older brothers and four sisters. Not an easy life under any circumstances. When Johnny was 8, as luck would have it, his mother gave him a deck of cards. The boy was seduced from the first moment he took the cards out of the box. The kid became fascinated with magic and card tricks. Magic was Johnny’s means of escape. The inscrutable mystery of sleight of hand satisfied some existential need to make the pain vanish; it helped Johnny to transform his passive weakness into active mastery.
When Johnny was 16 he quit high school, and armed with the knowledge of a professional entertainer, he hooked up with the renowned Cartwright. They teamed up as Bloomer and Cartwright. They took their magic show on the road, traveling from town to town in a ramshackle ’48 Cadillac. They made a name for themselves throughout the country, from Tulsa to Teaneck — from Tampa to Trenton, New Jersey. They were the Penn and Teller of their day.
Bloomer had developed his own shtick, calling out “Cartwright, Cartwright” in the middle of a show. Audiences who knew about the act, would burst into applause when Bloomer called out his partner’s name. The team lived on the road. Some might have felt the insecurity of life on the road a torment. Not Bloomer and Cartwright. They reveled in their freedom and luxuriated in their unrestrained lives as libertines.
But Bloomer eventually succumbed to the bottle. Gin was his drink of choice. So expert in his craft was Bloomer that he could do two shows without a break all hopped up on ethyl alcohol. He eventually suffered a mental collapse, and Cartwright went off to create his own one man show.
Yes, Bloomer and Cartwright was no more. But the legend lived on — and grew. People still talk about Johnny Bloomer. In his hometown of Chicago, people still echo Johnny’s famous line, “Midget, get me another martini. And make it dry.”