Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2008 | 6 a.m.
When I first came to Las Vegas in 1982, I drove a yellow Plymouth Duster filled with some birds and magic tricks. Now my show includes some 60-plus doves, geese, ducks and a parakeet named Elvis.
I was beginning to fulfill my dreams of what is known as the quintessential American success story.
When I was 12, I grew up in a hardscrabble section of Louisville, where residents scratched out their livings by being factory workers, waitresses and truck drivers, I first became interested in Las Vegas after watching Siegfried & Roy on The Merv Griffin Show, which helped to inspire me to pursue a career in magic.
It all began before my sixth birthday, when my mother, Hilma, took me to a Christmas party. The featured performer was magician Harry Collins, who later became my mentor. A neighbor gave me a book titled, Magic Made Easy. I learned the tricks and performed a show for the neighborhood children for five cents admission. I produced and starred in a DVD called Lance Burton’s Magic Made Easy! It's available for sale in The Lance Burton Magic Shop at the Monte Carlo.
My mother and Harry Collins met where they worked at the Frito-Lay potato chip factory in Louisville. Harry pulled a silver dollar out from behind my ear and I was mystified and elated. That was just the most wonderful revelation in the world. An important portion of my education was spent in perfecting the art of misdirection. The mastery of the art earned me the title among my peers as “A Magician’s Magician.” Before Siegfried & Roy, you had magicians doing 10- to 12-minute acts in Vegas. They were the first to do a full-time show, paving the way for me. Their original act was brilliantly constructed psychologically, so the audience would think, “Ah-ha, I've got them!” Then it was, “Wait a minute, I wasn't expecting that!” Two hundred years from now, there will be a list of great magicians, and Siegfried & Roy will be right at the top."
Nevada Magazine has recognized me as the "Best Entertainer in Nevada." I was deeply gratified and appreciative of this honor by a magazine that is closely partnered with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and the Nevada Tourism Commission. In my 90-minute show, which Entertainment Today magazine chose as the No. 1 family magic act, the most obvious example occurs when I invite a group of kids on stage. One young boy left me speechless. He had this little English accent, and his name was Myles. I said, “How old are you, Myles?” He said, “Five.” I said, “Are you married?” He said, “No.' I said, “Do you have a girlfriend?” He said, “No.” So I said, “Do you want to meet one of the girls in my show?” And he said, “No, we can't afford one of those.” Well, the audience howled for two minutes. Out of the mouths of babes, you know.
In 1980, at age 20, I won the Gold Medal award for excellence from the International Brotherhood of Magicians. In 1982, at 22, I was the youngest person and the first American to bring home the Grand Prix award as "World Champion Magician" from the Fédération International Société de Magie in Lausanne, Switzerland. The larger rewards quickly followed and led to a 1981 booking on the annual It's Magic show in Los Angeles. (I drove out west in a broken down car with a leaky radiator -- just me, my tuxedo, and seven doves). Within a week, I had landed an appearance on The Tonight Show. Johnny Carson, a magician and comedian, watched me at age 21 in rehearsal and let me do an unprecedented 12-minute routine on the air.
The Monte Carlo developers built me a $30 million theatre. When I first struck it big, I built my parents a lavish home on my grandfather's farm in rural Russell Springs, Kentucky (population 2,399). I go there a couple of times a year to relax and visit family. I live in what might be called a high-tech hilltop castle overlooking Henderson. There are city people and there are country people. I like living in the country. If it hadn't been for that Christmas party 43 years ago, I'd probably be driving a tractor.