My Great Grandfather - Frank Merryfield
Here's a story about the person that inspired me to start my show business career as a 10 year old birthday party magician and ventriloquist in Victoria, BC. Frank Merryfield was born August 1, 1879 in Cornwall, England. He accomplished many things and had a variety of professions throughout his 86 years.
On October 10th, 1937 his desire to become boxing champion was realized when he won his first and only boxing title. The next day’s sports page read, “Kid Merryfield Licks Bat Nelson” to claim the Pacific Coast Flyweight boxing championship.
In October of 1940 he successfully won the position of junior cadet for the Victoria Fire Dept. He went on to lead the VFD band and spent 20 years and where he rose to the position of Captain.
The love of cooking and baking was with him all his life and this passion earned him the job as head baker and patisserie chef for the famed Empress Hotel. His outgoing personality and natural ability to entertain his friends and family drove him to perfect his athletic skills on a bicycle so much that Ringling Brothers hired him to tour with his trick bicycle riding act for the famed circus.
During his years on the road with the circus he met one of the most famous touring magicians of the day, Hermann the Great.
A friendship was formed and for many years Frank was the lead assistant while Hermann toured Europe with his grand magic and illusion show. It was during this time that Frank’s life long love of magic was developed and it remained for the rest of his life. As the two magic enthusiasts toured the world they would meet with some of the most famous magicians of the day. Thurston, Kellar and the most famous of all, Harry Houdini. All of who would become life long acquaintances.
During a break from touring in 1930 Frank perfected his own magic act and set off touring with his very own show. He performed as a magician from that day and for the rest of his life. He became known in magic circles by his stage name, The Cornish Wizard. His show featured many of the same amazing feats perfected by his legendary friend, Houdini. Including one of his most memorable, the up side down straight jacket escape.
In the spring of 1935 a show business friend introduced Frank to the seldom seen or performed world of ventriloquism. Frank fell in love with the art form and immediately began practicing. Within months ventriloquism would become a major part of the act. Frank’s sidekick, known to ventriloquists as a figure and never a dummy, was known to his audiences by his first and only name, Sonny. Sonny would be by Frank’s side for the next 30 years.
Frank Merryfield performed professionally for over 50 years.
He died on February 24th, 1965 never realizing his dream of becoming the best-known ventriloquist in the world.
Why, you may ask do I know so much about this man?
Because Frank Merryfield is my great grandfather.
His widow auctioned off all his magical equipment to the local magic club, including his life long partner, Sonny.
After I began my show business career at the age of 10, my grandmother, Frank’s daughter and assistant, Violet Foot, sat me down and told me all about her father’s life and career as a magician and ventriloquist. I remember her telling me that nothing brought him as much joy and fulfillment in his life as performing did. I asked her about Sonny and what ever became of him. She did not know as the figure was sold in the estate auction and nobody remembers where it went. The only items left in the family were a few black and white photos and his scrapbook, which my grandmother proudly passed along to me.
25 years had gone by since Frank Merryfield’s passing when I received a call from one of the senior members of the local magic circle and an old friend of Franks. His name was Don Robinson and he asked me to stop by his house sometime as he had something for me. I arranged to meet him and when I arrived he asked me to wait in the living room while he went into his basement to get something. When he returned to the living room he held in his hands a familiar looking character, it was Sonny, my great grandfathers long, lost figure. He told me that my great grandmother had given it to him 25 years earlier and he put it in a trunk in his basement and forgot it was there. This meant the world to me as it felt like an old family member was back in the family and in an odd way I now had a connection with the great grandfather I never knew.