Saturday, Jan. 27, 2001 | 10:44 a.m.
It began with a silver dollar.
In 1965 a young Lance Burton watched a magician produce one of the coins from thin air.
The wonder of the trick -- and the coinage -- hooked Burton.
At age 40 Burton pulls down multimillion dollar contracts, after spending 20 years as a headlining magician.
Burton appears -- and disappears -- nightly in the Lance Burton Theatre at the Monte Carlo. The $27 million theater was built for the magician in 1996 as part of his 13-year contract with the hotel-casino.
Meanwhile he remains guarded about his brief marriage to Melinda, First Lady of Magic (who headlines at the Venetian), and also about his 18-year-old son from another relationship, who Burton was introduced to last summer.
From his Las Vegas home recently, with his two Golden Retrievers, Monte and Carlo nearby, Burton discussed the man behind the magic:
Las Vegas Sun: When was the first time you were amazed by magic?
Lance Burton: I was 5 years old. I went up onstage and the magician pulled silver dollars out from behind my ears. I didn't quite understand that it was a trick. I really believed there was money behind my ear and I just hadn't noticed it all day long. For the next week I'd wash behind my ears really thoroughly to see if there was any more money back there.
Eventually I realized it didn't work that way. I started making a study of it. I started doing magic tricks for my family. I started doing birthday parties around 10 or 12 years old, when I went into business so to speak.
Sun: When the audience gasps at one of your tricks, do you still feel that sense of wonder?
LB: I don't get to experience that feeling very much myself -- being amazed. Although it still happens sometimes when I see somebody like Penn & Teller. They really amaze me.
I saw the Siegfried & Roy show recently, and I hadn't seen their show in almost five years. It reminds me why I got into magic.
Sun: Do any of their tricks elude you?
LB: Yes. The magic is superb. They are professionals. It's wonderful to be amazed. Most days I don't get to experience that. I kind of experience it vicariously through the audience.
Sun: You sponsor many local children's charities and encourage young magicians to hone their craft. Why?
LB: It's nice to give something back to the community and help people, kids in particular.
(As for magic), it's important for the art form, to prepare the next generation of magicians to take over. I'm not going to be around forever.
Sun: You began your career in "Folies Bergere" at the Tropicana in 1981 at age 21 and headlined at the Hacienda before opening at the Monte Carlo. How long will you continue to perform?
LB: They say the great magicians don't hit their peak until they get into their fifties. I'm still a few years away from being in my prime. I hope I haven't peaked already (laughs).
Sun: What specials are you working on for the Fox Family network that are airing in March?
LB: The special ("Lance Burton: Master Magician: On The Road") is much like my other specials -- magic and kids -- but shot on location around the country. We went to the Magic Castle in Hollywood and also shot a segment in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.
The ("Lance Burton's Young Magician's Showcase") special is completely new. I have had a young magician on my TV shows in the past. That was one of the most popular segments.
I'm also producing Fielding West (who performs at the Lady Luck) in "Hocus Pocus" for some time in March. It's a one-hour magic-and-comedy special.
Sun: What does a master magician do to unwind?
LB: I think all you need to know is that I am probably the most boring person on Earth. Magicians tend to be that way because we get so wrapped up in our work. It's basically all we think about or do even in our off time. A friend of mine, who's a magician, I heard his wife comment how boring we all are because when we get together for dinner we are just sitting around the living room playing card tricks.
Sun: What was the hardest part of being married to a fellow magician?
LB: I don't know that there's any extra problems with magicians being married. I think any marriage ... I don't feel real qualified giving advice (laughs).
Sun: How is your relationship with your son?
LB: I'm hesitant to mention too much in detail about him. He's a student. His friends know that I'm his father, and the people he chooses to tell. That's his decision to make and I don't want to take that decision away from him. I guess it's the parental instinct kicking in. I feel protective.
Sun: Has there been a moment in your career when you've known you've arrived?
LB: I'll let you know if I get that moment.