As soup lines grew, the content of wallets shrank and the country reeled from the Great Depression, one boy made it his mission to make Americans find a reason to feel the wonder of magic once again.
Born Arthur Brandon in 1916 in Alliance, Ohio, the boy who would become known to audiences simply as ‘Milo’ had been studying magic for years when the stock market crashed in 1929. As a preteen only a few years before, Brandon had become adept at constructing his own props and structures he would use in the acts that he would proudly show to neighbors, family members and friends.
Years later in the late 1950s, the pair knew Bob Mizer well. Bob photographed publicity shots for them, including "Floating Lady", exhibited by the Bob Mizer Foundation at the 2013 New York University exhibition "Devotion: Excavating Bob Mizer". At that time, not much was known about this series of random magician photos found in the Mizer estate, but since then, the excavating has continued.
Brandon’s autobiography, “Milo and Roger: A Magical Life,” details Brandon’s childhood and ascent to fame. In addition to his flair for performing as a magician, Brandon earned a reputation for being a clairvoyant. For a country ensnared in the throes of hopelessness, Brandon’s amazing ability to predict the future offered a much-needed element of escapism in the lives of those around him.
In 1930, his reputation having already spread to those in neighboring towns, Brandon joined a traveling medicine show and, the next year, joined the ranks of vaudeville performers as ‘Brandon, the Boy Wonder Magician.’ In that same year, the boy who would later become his best friend and fellow magician, Roger Coker, was born.
As his fame spread, Brandon discovered as a young adult that the nation’s wealthy few were more than willing to pay top dollar for psychic readings. The baby-faced spiritualist continued to travel across the country and perform readings for rich clients, from New York to Los Angeles.
The 1939 World’s Fair in New York signaled a minor, absurdist turning point in Brandon’s career. Another form of ‘magic’ was unveiled at the fair that year as well – crowds caught a glimpse of the first operating television set. Ripley’s Believe It or Not paid Brandon the hefty sum of $150 to read a dog’s astrologic chart on the radio, reaching flummoxed listeners coast to coast.
Throughout World War II, Brandon’s fame continued to cross state lines, and he performed for war-weary soldiers in USO shows. Only a few years after the war, in 1949, he finally adopted the stage name ‘Milo’ – and the day after, his life changed forever.
Milo met Roger Coker, then a lad of only 18, and the boy soon became Milo’s assistant. But his stage fright created unintentional hilarity for the audience; in order to soothe Roger and get him better acclimated to a life of performing, Milo decided that their act should incorporate elements of comedy as well.
Only a year after they met, the pair moved to Hollywood, and throughout the course of the next decade, they continued to perform across the country as a pair. Seemingly, no venue was too squalid or too opulent. They took every request to perform that came their way, and often had to supplement their income by taking odd jobs. It was a small price to pay to live their shared dream.
In 1965, Milo and Roger’s act took them across international borders, when they were hired for a six-month engagement that traveled throughout Asia, including China and Japan. Upon their return, the actress and singer Mitzi Gaynor hired the duo as her opening act. The gig once again meant a cross-country trip.
Milo and Roger spent the remainder of their career in Las Vegas, performing at the Stardust -- a fitting end for such storied careers.
The two moved to Thailand as retirement loomed; it was there that Roger died at age 66 in 1997, while Milo died only a year after at 82.
For a team that had entertained audiences for nearly 50 years, it was a life well-lived. The two made audiences laugh, chortle, and gasp in amazement and bewilderment for their entire adult lives. Truly, for both Milo and Roger, there was no higher calling than that.
-- Foundation volunteer Keith Foote contributed to this article.