Thursday, Dec. 4, 2008 | midnight
There is a moment during David Copperfield’s performance at the MGM Grand when the magician picks a pretty young woman out of the audience and asks for her help. He borrows her ring, does a few other misdirecting things and then makes the ring reappear tied to something in his back pocket.
To set up the trick, though, the pretty young female audience member must verify early on in the sequence that Copperfield’s back pocket is empty. That means she has to slide her hand into it, cupping his butt ever so briefly.
It is telling that as I gasped, the rest of the adults in the crowd merely tittered at the obvious sexual innuendo and went along for the ride.
Telling, that is, because about a year on from some potentially career-ending allegations of sexual misconduct with pretty young female audience members, Copperfield remains a shockingly popular draw and not by any means a sleazy presence that parents with children or even pretty young female audience members try to avoid.
And there’s a reason for that: He puts on a good show. A very, very good show. A show that, after having slogged though the dregs of Steve Wyrick, Hans Klok and now Criss Angel in recent years, restored my faith in the existence of good magic shows. But more on that later.
First, we need to re-examine the curious case that brought Copperfield so low that he canceled shows last year and has reformed himself from a media yapper into a media recluse.
Copperfield was accused in October 2007 of raping a 21-year-old Seattle woman whom he allegedly picked out of his audience and lured to his Bahamian getaway for a sexual liaison. The Seattle FBI was as leaky as a Circus Circus faucet about the case at the time, tipping off journalists to a raid on the magician’s warehouse near the Strip to seize a computer hard drive, a digital camera system and nearly $2 million in cash. A grand jury was investigating.
That was all so deliberately incriminating; our minds boggle at what could have been on a suspicious computer! The Seattle Times worked its sources at the local FBI office to produce a litany of TMZ.com-worthy tidbits. The accuser was an aspiring model who saw Copperfield’s show in the Seattle area and who then began to engage in an e-mail friendship of sorts with the illusionist 30 years her senior. He made good on his promise to whisk her off to his private retreat in Musha Cay, Bahamas, in July 2007, where she claims he struck her, raped her and threatened her to keep quiet.
After the story broke, various other women and former Copperfield stagehands emerged to allege that this was the magician’s modus operandi, that he scouts his audience for hotties to score with.
The thing that happened next is the most important, but completely unnoticed by The Seattle Times or anybody else: nothing.
Nothing happened. No arrests. No grand-jury indictments. No Katie Couric interviews with the accuser. Nothing. Poof! The whole thing just disappeared.
Like many, I gave nary a thought to the saga for many months. Then, this fall, while I was working on a piece about family-friendly options for Vegas travelers, I paused for a moment at Copperfield, wondering whether a guy accused of this sort of conduct belonged in the family-friendly category anymore.
I reminded myself that my journalistic training demands that I remember these are allegations, and I went to the MGM Grand’s website to check on his show dates and ticket prices.
When I did, I was certain there was some sort of mistake. Between the weekend before Thanksgiving and the weekend after New Year’s Eve, Copperfield was scheduled to perform 116 shows. Except for a weeklong break in early December, he appears in the Hollywood Theatre every single day, Sunday to Saturday, at least two and sometimes three or even four shows a day at $100 a ticket.
Four shows a day! Who does that in Vegas anymore? Copperfield will, on Christmas and on the two days that follow.
Last week, I went to see what the fuss was about. How does anyone perform that much and produce a worthy show? And how tentative does it make a star accustomed to tons of audience interaction and, dare I say it, flirtation, when he’s under such suspicion?
Well, if Copperfield has altered his performance in any significant way, I didn’t notice. As I wrote up top, he even does the thing that might startle avid Us Weekly readers, coaxing the girl to—pun intended—cop a feel.
The magician himself, though, did look worse for wear. I saw him at Caesars Palace in the 1990s and remember thinking he was handsome and elegant, the whole package. Last week, he wore a beat-up, untucked white shirt, an unbuttoned black shirt and black pants. But it was his hair that I found strange; gone was the long, wavy black hair, and in its place was a frizzy Tony Shalhoub mess.
And even so, he did a better show than Criss Angel. Copperfield relied on that been-there-done-that persona for dry, volunteer-mocking humor, to lull the audience into familiarity before making something disappear or having a scorpion pull the correct card from a deck. Where Angel is so obsessive about reminding you what a big star he is even though his public history is actually quite brief, Copperfield proves he’s the real thing with a video showing how his name is uttered on a daily basis in popular culture.
I wanted to ask Copperfield about his breakneck schedule, about the allegations, about the media and police behavior in this case. It seemed similar to recent high-profile cases that cost the FBI a lot of money, those of Richard Jewell, suspected and cleared in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games bombing, and Dr. Steven Hatfill, suspected and cleared in the 2001 anthrax attacks.
But, alas, Copperfield has defensive publicists who decided, after days of back-and-forth, that he was too busy to speak to me. I was offered to submit questions via e-mail, which I would never do in a case like this; there’s no telling if it would be Copperfield or his many attorneys who would respond.
The formerly chatty Seattle FBI, too, now says only that the case remains under investigation. So I was stuck with Alan Feldman, the MGM Mirage spokesman, who says the company would have become more concerned “only if it had moved beyond someone’s allegations.
“Maybe there was a misunderstanding, a misinterpretation,” Feldman says. “It can be completely black and white. In some cases, it can be outright fraud, and in some cases it can be gray.”
Given that it’s been 15 months and the cops don’t seem to have enough for an indictment, my money’s on the gray. And once again, Copperfield has somehow managed to do the impossible: He’s done a death-defying dance with the cops and the media, and, at least for now, he’s escaped largely unscathed.