BOB FITCH - A LIFE IN THE THEATER
By Margaret Steele
From the March 1999 issue of The Linking Ring, reprinted with permission.
One of Bob's most important contributions to the magic community has been his work as a director and choreographer of magicians. For many performers, he's been the "missing link" between magic and real world theatre skills. Working with Bob can be an almost overwhelming experience. He's painfully honest when pointing out weaknesses, but it's based on real caring and and a desire to help his clients succeed. Bob's energy level is unbelievable, and his untethered flights of imagination can be disconcerting until you understand his "shotgun approach" of throwing out a million ideas, hoping one or two will "stick." Eugene Burger described Bob as, "a secret national treasure." But now, the secret's out!
Robert Fitch was born on April 29th, 1934, in Santa Cruz, California. His father was an inventor, and his mother, who'd been a schoolteacher until married, ran apartments and hotels in Santa Cruz, which was then a resort town.
At the age of eight, Bob heard tap dancing on Major Bowe's radio show and convinced his mother to take him dancing. She thought this thin, emaciated kid wouldn't last in dance class, but he was a natural. He continued dancing and also began doing children's theatre. When he was twelve, his grandmother gave him a cigar box full of small magic props which had been left to him by his uncle. There were no instructions, which left Bob to figure out what they were and how to make them work. Later he discovered Ottokar Fisher's book at the library, which explained the gimmicks he'd inherited. An early magic mentor was a businessman named Goldy Goldstein, who was the inventor of the snowcone machine. Born with thumbs but no fingers, Goldstein loved magic and taught a group of area kids, taking them around to Lion's Club and Rotary shows in which he did box tricks. Bob continued figuring out tricks on his own with daydreaming and imagination, while working at home in his mother's business and studying.
At the age of nineteen Bob Fitch competed on "Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour" tap dancing, and was a three-time winner. On his first appearance he won over a young magician named Bob McAllister, who was making his second appearance. (Years later the two Bobs briefly did an act together, in which they played the tapes of their Ted Mack appearances as teenagers and performed magic.)
Bob attended the University of Santa Clara and Fordham University, majoring in philosophy, but when his father died he left school and went home. He continued dance classes and teaching, and, until being drafted into the Army, was the first jazz dance teacher in San Francisco. For two years he worked in the Army Public Information office, writing newspaper articles, also creating news and entertainment films, as well as radio programs. He then was selected for an all-Army show in which he performed in a comedy singing and dancing duo, touring nearly every Army base in the world. During the nine-month tour he also performed close-up magic in hospitals. In the midst of the tour he married, and after being discharged from service, Bob and his new wife Pauline settled in the New York area, eventually becoming the parents of six children. They now have ten grandchildren (at last count).
Bob's first theatre work was in summer stock, where he performed in ten different shows in twelve weeks. He worked his way up to Off-Broadway then Broadway musicals, joining the ranks of that rare breed of performer known as "triple threats," equally skilled in singing, dancing and acting. In a business with almost impossible odds against success, Bob has thrived for decades. He has appeared in an unbelievable twenty-seven shows on Broadway, most recently as Senex in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," (starring Whoopi Goldberg). In the Broadway production of "Annie," Bob won the Burns-Mantle Award for best featured actor in a musical for his villainous performance as Rooster. He's also performed in films, dancing with Steve Martin in "Pennies from Heaven," and more recently as a rather scary character in Stephen King's "Thinner." These are just a couple of highlights pulled from a performing resume that goes on for seven, single-spaced pages--listing television, films, industrial shows, commercials, tours, regional and stock theatre, and night clubs. In addition, he's worked extensively as a director and as a choreographer.
Bob has incorporated magic into many of his theatre roles and throughout the years has maintained his connection to the magic community. He is known as a master topit worker, which he first began learning after seeing Patrick Page do a topit move. He also specializes in the holdout, which he learned from Jack Miller. Bob lectures for magic clubs all over the country.