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Nolan's Pop Culture Review, 2006!
Nolan's Pop Culture Review. Established A.D. 2000, March 19. Now in our seventh calendar year!
Number 329  (Vol. 7, No. 28). This edition is for the week of July 10--16, 2006.
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Sanford Summit 3 áby Nolan B. Canova
On "Superman Returns" áby ED Tucker
On "Superman Returns" áby Greg Van Cott
MOVIE REVIEW
"You, Me and Dupree" áby Mike Smith
Tampa Film Review Reminder áby Paul Guzzo
MIKE'S RANT
Shine On You Crazy Diamond....Tribute to Syd....Still Sucking....But He'll Have Company....Passing On....My Favorite Films, Part 28: "Jesus Christ Superstar" áby Mike Smith


by Nolan B. Canova

Sometimes to make something happen, you just have to make it happen. Such was the case when old friend and fellow PCR columnist William Moriaty decided to try and involve me in his newly organized "Sanford Summit" -- the name he gave to the meeting of the minds in and around Sanford, a gathering of Florida celebs of the weird-fan world. Well, not weird fans...but, fans of the weird! OK, it's a little of both.

Due to logistics, I had been unable to attend either of last year's Summits, the first (a pretty amazing success) in mid-Summer, nor the second one (less successful) during the Fall. This, the third Summit, was shaping up to be a winner. In order for me to attend, I was forced to call in at work, but I was prepared to take the loss (I'm out of personal days) in order to be available for this special adventure. I can tell you now, I have no regrets.

Traveling anywhere with Will is always educational because he can tell you the Latin names and genus of any tree on the planet. And he will narrate any trip thusly if he can. For the trip to Sanford, we took an alternate road (not I-4, another one I can't remember the name of) which saved huge amounts of time, as even early in the day, I-4 is backed up entering Orlando (Disney World and all that). Taking the road "less traveled" so to speak, was rewarding in and of itself.

Sanford, Florida
I learned that Sanford, Florida was once known as the Celery Capitol of the world. And that tons and tons of celery were shipped from the celery fields every day to everywhere on the planet. I made a mental note to ask the experts why this was no longer so, but in all the excitement, I forgot.

Together in Sanford, FL, in front of the home of magician Harry Wise. From left, Dottie Carlson, Harry Wise, Nolan Canova, and Charlie Carlson
My first impression upon entering the magical dominion of Sanford was how very green everything was. Deeply so, glowingly. As I was struggling to describe my feelings, Will muttered something like "verdant fields", an appropriate expression I immediately siezed upon and referred to Sanford for the rest of the day that way.

Wise and the Sanctum Sanctorum
As we neared our destination, the home of retired magician Harry Wise (or "Wise the Wizard"), Will called ahead on his cellphone. Harry answered and said that Charlie Carlson (Florida's "Master of the Weird/Florida's Man-in-Black" and Harry's biographer) and his wife Dotty has just arrived. I learned at this point that two others who'd been invited, Susan Hughes and Lisa Clardy (F-Bod Studios), both of the Orlando area, would be unable to attend.

As we pulled in front of Harry's house, we could see the three of them walking on the sidewalk toward us. Charlie and Dotty Carlson I had met before, very cool people, but this would be a first with Harry Wise. Harry is unmistakable with his Gandalf-like figure and long mane of white hair and long white beard.

The beautiful home of Art Litka in Sanford, FL. Will's car is parked out front.
I approached him, stuck out my hand and said, "You must be Harry Wise! I'm Nolan Canova, and I'm very glad to meet you, sir!" Harry responded, "Well I'm glad to meet you, too! Ya know, I was just telling Charlie when y'all drove up, 'Geez, look, Will's brought him a celery farmer!'" Ha ha ha! I told Harry that next to being called a figment of Will Moriaty's imagination (because I'm rarely seen outside Tampa), a celery farmer is the coolest description I'd ever heard!

Charlie and Harry briefly described their childhoods in Sanford. Harry still lives across the street from a small park that fronts his and Charlie's old elementary school which can be seen from Harry's front yard! It was at this school that Charlie Carlson first saw Harry Wise do his magic act. The park itself is breathtakingly beautiful, with stately old grand oaks, clean sidewalks and plenty of benches.

Inside Art's home in the elaborate playroom with the model trains. From left, Charlie Carlson (back of head), Dottie Carlson, William Moriaty, Art Litka, and Treena Kaye (Art's wife)
Harry invited me into his Sanctum Sanctorum, the enclosed front porch of his 1920s-era home, to show me some of his life's collections. Magic props, photos, newspaper clippings, way too much to try and take in in a single day. I met him around back for a similar trip through a back room, where some more old magic props (and fascinating verbal history) were displayed. I made a tentative plan to return here someday with a video camera and document this more thoroughly.

Harry was most excited to take us all to see a friend of his, Art Litka, a college professor who also happens to be involved in collecting model trains and building dioramas for them. Art lives in "the woods" (actually, about 5 or 6 acres of some to-die-for undeveloped property on the edge of Sanford). Art is also interested in creating a "Halloween Walk" on his property. I'm always for that! We piled into our cars and headed out.

Halloween Village
The amazing train set and diorama by Art Litka that out-Beetlejuices Beetlejuice!
Art's driveway is about 200 feet long and the trip from the road revealed some Halloween props already in place. We pulled up to Art's very beautiful house and met he and his lovely wife, Treena Kaye. Then we were hit with the playroom...

The Playroom
Art's den/playroom is stuffed with an elaborate model train set filled with noise-making Halloween-themed buildings and creatures, several shelves full of animated Halloween-ish props. A mechanical flying bat circles the room, a monster guards the doorway, and, oh yes, everything is atmospherically lit. Of course, to get the full impact, night viewing is required. But we definitely got the gist of the set-up in daylight, haha.

The Summit
After touring the grounds and getting an idea of what Art wanted to do for Halloween, the Summit itself started in earnest in an adjacent, open, spacey room. We all traded stories from our past having to do with anything weird.

Close-up quasi-false-perspective shot of a billboard featuring Harry Wise ("Welcome to WiseAcres") on the road to a Gothic mansion.
William recounted his volumious past with the paranormal, UFOs, and his documentation of such through the years. Virtually all of these have been logged into his La Floridiana column over the years and can still be read (visit our Paranormal Page for guidance here).

Charlie Carlson
I recounted the first time I'd ever heard of Charlie Carlson: Will had shown up at my house in the spring of 2005, waving a flyer he found that said in huge letters, "$10,000 reward for capture of a live Florida Skunk Ape!" I turned the flyer over (something Will hadn't done yet) to discover the flyer was tied into a book-signing party at The Blue Dahlia restaurant in Sanford, FL. The book was "Weird Florida" and the author was Charlie Carlson. I couldn't make that date (end of April, 2005, I think), but Will went and life hasn't been the same since! Soon after, I became a Carlson enthusiast, too.

A close-up to show the detail on a train miniature of a manually-operated car.
Old friends and Sanford citizens Charlie Carlson (left) and Harry Wise.
I asked Charlie a few questions about his film "Search for The Devil's Chair". If I remember correctly, I believe that fairly short, low-budget effort was getting a second chance at a better life from the original director and will be remade soon with more money and better equipment. Charlie and I talked a bit about his book "Weird Florida" and how much I admired it. I told Charlie that even though I am fairly skeptical about paranormal claims I would never tell anybody their experience didn't exist. I merely like to examine the evidence. In any event, the great thing about "Weird Florida" is, besides being a great read, the locations and mysteries involved can all be visited and investigated by anyone, anytime. And we have some weird sh*t in Florida, lemme tell you! The Coral Castle and Spook Hill await!

Harry Wise
On right, PCR publisher and honorary celery farmer Nolan Canova joins the group!
Besides being a touring magician from the '50s through the '80s, Harry Wise was a featured television performer in a show broadcast in the Sanford area for a few years in the '50s and '60s. I asked Harry what he thought of modern magicians, everyone from (the late) Doug Henning to David Copperfield to David Blaine to Chriss Angel. When Blaine's name was mentioned, Harry's eyes lit on fire and he said, "That guy is LEWD, CRUDE AND RUDE!" Message received, not a fan. I don't think he was familiar with (or terribly interested in) Chriss Angel except that he appeared to follow David Blaine in TV antics. I remarked that the two appear to use television itself as a stage prop and that electronic media seemed crucial to their brand of "magic". Harry nodded, but seemed uninterested in discussing it further other than they were both crude examples of magicianhood. I got a much more positive reaction to Henning and Copperfield, likely because they follow more traditional methods, despite their intense involvement in TV.

Charlie Carlson and Nolan Canova get a kick out of Art's miniature train village.
I brought up the name Roy Huston which got a major reaction. Long-time PCR readers may remember I reviewed Roy's Spook Show, performed at the Royalty Theater back in 2002. Turns out Harry and Roy are old friends and, in fact, Roy visited Harry in Sanford about a year ago. I told Harry I had a great time at the Spook Show, but was saddened at the poor attendance. Harry said that Roy told him that the theater's Greek owner (Socrates Charos at the time) wasn't aware he'd booked a spook show, and that it conflicted with his religious beliefs (or some such thing). Since he couldn't get out of the contract, he did everything he could to NOT promote it!   So...after all these years, now we know. I told Harry that Roy had just recently discovered my review and called me at home about 2 months ago to react to it. I was delighted to get the call and talk to him, but had been in bed half-asleep when he called, so misplaced his phone number afterwards. (I know he must've given it to me because we'd discussed a possible interview at his home in Gibsonton.)

Epilogue
Mr. Monster guards the village!
We had been having mixed luck with rain this day, but upon one clearing we all went outside to tour grounds we hadn't seen before. Will and I were stunned to see an eagles nest high up in a tall, dead tree (it was explained that ospreys take over eagles' nests once the tree dies). We all made tentative plans to come back on Halloween to see what Art does with the place! Thanks to Art and Treena for having us out and being such gracious hosts.

P.S.
Even though I was pretty tired by this time (I sleep days, normally), Harry talked us into going to a Sonny's Bar-B-Q for some supper. He was most enthused about the All-U-Can-Eat plan, haha, man after my own heart!

I don't usually talk all that much about my family, but mention of my father's first cousin, '40s movie comedienne, Judy Canova, elicited quite a reaction and I was very pleased to know that Harry was a big Judy Canova fan! He even recited many of her movie titles from memory. Harry assured me that despite modern movie historical texts relegating Judy to second-tier status (at least to me they do), that he always felt she was a BIG star. I was extremely honored by this, of course.

Another sight to remember: an abandoned eagle's nest high up in an old, dead tree on Art's property.
I pretty much slept all the way home, but remember a definite feeling this would NOT be the last visit I'd have with Harry Wise, Charlie Carlson, or Sanford, Florida!


All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ę2006 by Nolan B. Canova.


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