Before pulling the first Mexican magic shop out of Sammy Hagar's money, before touring the country as the "Marlboro Magician," before keeping the last magic shop in Oregon afloat amid vanishing mini-malls, Mark Benthimer was just a boy with a dream.
Ever since first lying about his age to join a Phoenix-area magic club, he's been a passionate student of the dark arts.
"Pretty much the only thing I've ever done is magic," Benthimer says. "Made my living since I was a kid. Almost got arrested when I was 12 years old because of magic. And mailboxes—I stuffed at least a thousand with this little flier. 'Planning a party? Add a little magic! Magic by Mark.' The FBI didn't know 'Mark' was a kid and came looking. Mail fraud's a felony."
Benthimer nevertheless landed $25 gigs—his corporate gigs now run $2,500—and built up enough of a bankroll for a 1991 move to Oregon. And while his monthly All American Magic revues now feature ventriloquist performances and touring magicians from across the globe, Benthimer got his start in the '90s performing for a much less family-friendly crowd. He was Philip Morris' Marlboro Magician.
"The rules were very strict," says Benthimer. "I was only allowed to perform for people who were smoking, I didn't breathe in smoke, I didn't bash Camel or Winston, and I didn't hand out cigarettes. I went all over the country. Four shows a night, 80 nights a year, I was on the road—mostly small neighborhood R&B bars, some bigger clubs, opening for bands. That's how I got the millennium gig with Sammy Hagar."
After appearing with Blues Traveler at Seattle's Fenix Underground in mid-December 1999, Benthimer was booked for the New Year's Eve show at Hagar's Cabo San Lucas nightclub. Although the subsequent show was a success—"Sammy Hagar loved magic," Benthimer said, "he'd shoot at me at with his fingers and call me a gunslinger with cards"—the club never arranged for the Benthimer's work permit and paid his fee from the bar till. Stranded south of the border with thousands of dollars in 10s and 20s that he was loath to smuggle into the States, Benthimer canceled his return ticket and opened a store called Magic Fest.
"Nobody'd ever put an American magic shop in Mexico," he says. "I was the first one, so I had to go show these, I guess, bishops that the tricks were just tricks and not, you know, evil magic—el Diablo. It's a real Catholic town."
Many years and magic stores later, All American Magic thrives amid Mall 205's shuttered storefronts as the state's last remaining fount of magic. This summer, Benthimer plans a regional tour and hopes to bump up mall performances to twice a month. "Our show is great—two hours of magic and comedy and ventriloquism and illusions and pretty girls floating in the air and people being cut in half. There needs to be more than just comedy clubs and bars and airparks, right? The circus is gone. We're it."
This Year, More Than Ever, It's Important to Stop and Take Note of Everything That Makes Portland What It Is
Here are the Winners of the Best of Portland Readers' Poll 2017
Here are the Things WW Declared "The Best" in the Last 12 Months
Inside Mall 205, You'll Find Oregon's Last Remaining Magic Shop
Portland's Raging Grannies Have Been Protesting Since the 1960s, And You Do Not Want to Mess With Them
A Vancouver Man Bought Naked Falls Swimming Hole, So He Could Re-Open It to the Public
Rodney Scott Puts On Portland's Greatest Indie Firework Show
Cabel Sasser Found a McDonalds Mural That Led Him to Uncover a Secret Collection of Art
Two College Students Started An Organization to Provide Bras and Underwear to Homeless Women
Jim Hipsher Is Portland's Greatest Live Book of Poetry
These Two Women Make Showing Up for Jury Duty A Lot Less Terrible
On Northeast Broadway, You Can Learn Boxing From Two-Time World Champ Molly "Fearless" McConnell
Portland Urban Golf Makes the Entire Changing City Its Ever-Evolving Personal Golf Course
Did You Know You Can Play a 9-Hole Portland-Themed Mini-Golf Course?
Seven Years Ago, New Trail Blazer Caleb Swanigan Was 360 Pounds and Living in Homeless Shelters
Each Week, a Group Goes to Laurelhurst Park to Throw Axes Through the Air—And They're Really Good
Portland Now Has a Nonprofit That Gives Kids Access to Free Pinball
Marathon Taverna Hosts Portland's Best Late-Night Raffle, Giving Away T-Shirts and 100-Level Blazers Tickets
The City of Portland Made a Sign Reading "Heartbreak Dead Ahead"
There's a Secret, Profit-Free Bookstore "Forest" on Division Street
You Can Get a Pre-Addressed Letter to Trump from Paymaster Lounge's Vending Machine
A Local Business Totally Trolled Willamette Week—And It Was Awesome
The ACLU of Oregon Has Emerged as Portland's Most Consistent Free-Speech Fundamentalists
Division Street's Oregon Theater Is Portland's Greatest NSFW Twitter Account
There's a Library in Vancouver Full of Hundreds of Books That Have Never Been Published, And Never Will Be
Alberta Street's American Legion Post 134 Went Rogue—Inviting Homeless In and Hosting LGBTQ Nights
Beaverton's Spectra Gymnastics Provides Play Spaces for Kids on the Autism Spectrum
There's a Hidden, Underground Sculpture Inside the Standard Insurance Center in Downtown Portland
One of the Oldest Retail Businesses in the City is a 127-Year-Old Woman-Owned Costume Shop—Now, It's in Danger of Closing
In the Portland Area's Wealthiest Neighborhood Lies a Hidden, Public Scottish Garden As Large as the Japanese Garden
The Zymoglyphic Museum is a Self-Contained World of Rogue Taxidermy and Steampunk
Every Sunday, Portland Hosts a Real-Life "Fast and the Furious"
Portland's Best Daycaction is a Cheap Flight to Pendleton, Where the Cowboys Still Walk The Streets
Oregon City's Tim Kovar Is one of the Nation's Foremost Tree-Climbing Experts
Hero Punk Stole the Satyricon Sign and Sold it to VooDoo Doughnut Owner in Exchange for Lifetime Doughnuts
High School Junior Won a Major Science Competition in the World By Investigating Where Portland's Fish Went
Who Do You Call When Your Goat Is Throwing Up? Portland's Go-To Goat Doctor, Of Course
Meet the Portland Poodle Who Dresses Better Than You
Every Saturday, A Train Runs Through Oaks Bottom, Making Birdwatching Actually Fun
Right Now, Three Dogs Living at a Southeast Portland Dispensary Are High on CBD Dog Treats
Feeling Sad Lately? Snuggle Up to One of Portland's Therapy Bunnies
Pet Barn Will Watch Your Boa Constrictor While You're Out of Town, But Not Your Dog
In the '90s, Two Portland Teenagers Aired Old WWF Matches. Now, They Have a Treasure Trove of Wrestling Archives
Portland Science Rapper Coma Niddy Has the Best Rhymes About Black Holes You've Ever Heard
There is a Secret Willamette River Bridge Most Portlanders Have Forgotten Exists
Hero Portland Man Built an 8-Foot Tall Multnomah Falls Out of LEGOs
There's An Alley in North Portland Where Robots Will Call Out To You
Daddy Mojo's Has the Finest Gallery of Signed Celebrity Memorabilia of Any Bar in Portland
Portland's Black Book Guitars Owner Has Tracked Down Guitars from Elliot Smith and Kurt Cobain
Thank God for the Los Cactus Food Cart, Which, For 14 Years Has Fed Junkyard Customers for Cheap
Two Portlanders Created a Willy Wonka-Style Edible Forest Near Milwaukie
Portland's Best Bagelmaker Was Saved By Someone in Line at WinCo—Now, He's Repaying Strangers' Kindness
You and Your Friends Can Drink for Free for an Hour on Your Birthday at This Portland Bar
The Portland-Area Finally Has Hong Kong-Style Ice Cream Bubble Waffles
Yes, There Is a Place in Portland Where You Can Try Witches' Brews and Heal Yourself with a Fire Pit
Portland's Best Fritters Come From Donut Queen on 58th and East Burnside
When a Pro-Trump Rally Came to Portland, a Good Samaritan Helped Calm the Tension By Handing Out Free Weed
If You Haven't Noticed Yet, the Trail Blazers Twitter Account is on Fire
The New Market of Choice On Belmont Has The Very Best Grocery Store Beer Selections We've Ever Seen
Yes, There a Secret Underground Bowling Alley in the Center of Portland
When Portland Saw Snowstorms, the National Weather Service Twitter Became Our 24/7 Therapist