Milt Larsen, who wrote for the game show Truth or Consequences co-founder of The Magic Castle in Hollywood for nearly two decades, died of natural causes in Los Angeles on Sunday, his family announced. He turned 92.
Larsen produced TV specials for ABC, CBS and NBC and wrote songs with Richard Sherman, the Oscar winner who teamed up with his late brother, Robert, to create tunes for such Disney classics as Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang And The Jungle Book.
He was also the creator and consultant of the $50 million Caesars Magic Empire at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
In 1963, Larsen and his late brother, Bill, founded The Magic Castle in a 1909 French mansion on Franklin Avenue. With its many stages, labyrinthine corridors and old-fashioned decor, the place would become a renowned private magician’s club.
Larsen wrote five joke books and three books about The Magic Castle, wrote a weekly column for members of the club, and edited a monthly newsletter. He was still chairman of the club’s parent company at the time of his death.
In 2000, Magic magazine surveyed its readership and named Larsen one of the 100 most influential people in the history of the craft. Six years later he celebrated the 50th anniversary of his annual show, It’s magic!
Larsen was born in Los Angeles on April 9, 1931. His father, William W. Larsen Sr., was a performing magician and attorney and his mother, Geraldine, entertained children on television as “The Magic Lady.” In 1936 his parents started publishing Genii, the magazine of magicianswhich is still in publication.
While still a teenager, Larsen was a weekly guest with Jim Hawthorne on a CBS radio show featuring his old records and commentary from CBS founder Andrew White. He also worked as a record archivist for singer Eddie Cantor, and stars such as Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Buddy Ebsen and Steve Allen often called on him for his musical expertise.
Larsen’s first job as a professional writer was with ABC Radio on a daytime audience participation program featuring variety acts and a 25-piece resident orchestra.
As a writer for Ralph Edwards’ television production company, Larsen was often asked to maintain the subjects of Edwards’ NBC show. This is your life occupied as the team geared up to surprise their subject. So Larsen was accused of entertaining the likes of Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel, Ed Wynn, Mack Sennett, George Burns and Jack Benny.
Edwards was also the original host of Truth or Consequenceswhich Bob Barker took over in 1956 and operated until 1975.
He and Sherman wrote comedy songs like “Bon Voyage, Titanic,” “We Depend on You, General Custer,” and “When the Hindenburg Lands Today,” as well as a musical, Pazzazzwhich premiered at the Lobero Theater in Santa Barbara in 2008.
Larsen also opened for The Amazing Johnathan in Las Vegas and lectured at the Smithsonian in Washington and at magic conventions around the world.
He owned and operated the Mayfair Music Hall in Santa Monica, where he produced live revues, and the Variety Arts Theater in downtown Los Angeles.
Larsen, who hosted a radio show on CRN the Digital Cable Network, began collecting recordings of show business personalities as a teenager and donated his entire vaudeville collection to UC Santa Barbara.
Survivors include his wife, Arlene; cousin Dante; niece Erika; and second cousins Jessica and Liberty.
In 2015, Larsen and his niece were involved in a legal battle over a 5.5 percent royalty from the venue’s annual food and drink sales (that lawsuit was settled). A year later, a class action lawsuit was filed alleging that the club’s management failed to pay in full the wages of at least 100 hospitality workers.