Modern-day Houdini survives stunt |

Modern-day Houdini survives stunt

Rick Chandler

His local fans always figured that Tony Clark would someday find his special place in show business … but they never could have guessed that a car would be speeding toward it at 50 miles per hour.

The South Lake Tahoe magician/illusionist has had a fairly popular act running at the Horizon Hotel and Casino in Stateline for a little more than two years. But Clark has long wanted to take his career to the next level, and these days one doesn’t gain national attention by pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

So how about pulling a man in chains and a strait jacket out of a box, just a split second before a car plows into it?

The stunt was one part danger and nine parts showmanship, but the 700 or so people on hand Saturday in the Horizon parking lot ate it up – proving that the 28-year-old Sanford, Conn., native may have a high-profile future in the business after all.

Oh yeah, Clark made it out unhurt. And he added all the right touches; leaping from the box a split second before impact, lying motionless on the asphalt for a minute or so as paramedics rushed to check on him, and even exhibiting a well-placed trickle of blood on his forehead during several succeeding press interviews.

“I’ve had this stunt in mind for a long time,” Clark said. “I was scared to death because we’ve had no full rehearsal with it. Then, in the box, the chain got wrapped around my neck and I couldn’t breathe. I blacked out for a second and didn’t know where the car was.”

Like we said, all the right touches.

“Tony has always been the best-kept secret in the business, and frankly, he wants some national exposure,” said United Star Associate Producer Robin Bond, who co-produced the stunt with Clark’s Phantom Productions.

“Lake Tahoe has been very good to us, but it’s a small community. We want to reach out to a larger viewing audience, and I think today we accomplished that.”

Even though he has played venues throughout the world, Clark’s popularity indeed has come mostly from word-of-mouth reviews. Many in the crowd at the Horizon just stumbled upon the event.

“My dad was here to make football bets, and my sister and I decided to come along,” said Haley Colan, 11, of South Lake Tahoe. “Then we heard about this stunt, and we hurried home so I could call all my friends.”

Tommy Franks, 11, was home playing Nintendo when he got the call from Haley.

“It sounded cool, so I came over to see it,” Franks said. “I didn’t think he was really in danger, but it looked more exciting than the video game I was playing.”

And capturing the imagination of the video game generation is exactly what Clark is trying to do.

“I was always very impressed with Evel Kneivel,” Clark said. “As a kid I remember always trying to get my friends to tie me up in the back yard. This is an extension of that fascination with escape, I guess; with an element of danger thrown in. I wanted to present a Kneivel-type event, but updated for the ’90s.”

Clark’s long-running show at the Horizon (he’s under contract through 2000) takes more of a David Copperfield approach. It’s slick and glitzy, with an emphasis on illusion and pyrotechnics.

But with Saturday’s stunt, Clark took a stride toward the legendary Harry Houdini’s side of the street.

“I think he pulled it off really well,” said Horizon security officer Ralph Castellanos, a friend of Clark’s and part-time actor and stunt man. “He’ll get a lot of attention from this. From now on, the world will be watching to see what Tony comes up with next.”

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