Gerard Enterprises Home Page.Gerard Enterprises is a manufactures of mascots, masks, magic supplies, special effects, haunted house props, costumes, movie props, and supplier of stage lighting and sound equipment.January 2002 Encore Story
January 2002 Encore Magazine Story
The Art of Magic and Other Pursuits
By Patti L. Mindock
Antony Gerard doesn’t do tricks; he practices the art of magic. Calling a magic effect a trick is considered derogatory, akin to calling a psychiatrist a “shrink.” “One particular sleight took me five years to master,” he says. That’s no mere trick. That's an accomplishment
If you are browsing at the Timid Rabbit shop on West Main in Kalamazoo and repeatedly ask him about “tricks” after he has gently corrected your use of the term, he may ask you to leave. To Gerard, who has built a successful career based on magic, costuming and masks, this is serious business. Gerard’s fascination with magic began as an infant in his native Netherlands, sitting on his grandfather’s knee. The old gentleman often performed sleight of hand effects to entertain family and friends. Tony also came under the spell of his charming Uncle Tiest, who in his eyes was a master magician. He demonstrated his prowess at the small nightclub that he owned in Breda, Netherlands. Young Tony would sit and practice his newly learned miracles and only after mastering them would he be allowed to perform them for the clubs patrons.
At the tender age of 5, Anthony Gerard William in’tGroen emigrated from Leiden, Netherlands, with his family in the mid 1950s. “We moved from Holland to Holland,” he notes. “My family was actually planning to settle in Phoenix, but while visiting relatives in Holland, Mich., my father, Ted, had a job offer as a financial advisor, so we stayed.” Antony now uses his stage name Antony Gerard almost exclusively, dropping the “h” to spell it Antony. His children still go by the family name Intgroen, which means “in the green.” “Which I wish I was,” he says with a chuckle.
Growing up in Holland, there were no local magicians to emulate, so he read books and started to teach himself, developing his own style of magic. “I did my book reports on Houdini. I would read stories about magicians doing certain things and then try to figure out how they would accomplish such a miracle. Some of my efforts were rather crude, but others got a bit creative.”
As a tiny tot in the kitchen, Tony got his first big break in sculpting when he discovered bread dough. “My mom tells the story of when the dog stole some dough from the table. She chased him out of the room with a broom. As she was running around, whacking at him, she noticed me up on a chair, sculpting my first creatures from the sticky stuff.” It was Tony who stole the dough, not the dog. That blossoming creativity became more evident at the age of 5, when the young Gerard won a puppet-making competition. A Grand Rapids television studio called for entries, and Tony’s father entered his boy’s puppets, not realizing the contest was intended for adults. The youngster took first, second and third places and the creations were used for over eight years on a program called “Miss Jean’s Romper Room.” In the 1960s, Tony designed several posters, which won national acclaim. One library promotion effort, an apple tree laden with books instead of fruit, is still in use today with the caption “Reading: The Roots to All Knowledge.”
Wanderlust hit Tony hard during his senior year in high school, so immediately after graduation in 1973, he strapped on a backpack and traveled across Europe, reveling in the sights and sounds of the Old World, including his homeland. During that trip he performed magic in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden.
He flew back home to West Michigan a few months later, hoping to settle down for a while. “When my parents picked me up at the airport, they started driving up north, saying they were going to visit some friends in Gaylord. I asked if they could just drop me off at home first because I was tired. They said no. Arriving in Gaylord, they walked right into this house and it looked sort of familiar. All our furniture was there! They never told me they were moving. It was quite a surprise.”
Gerard recalls the old joke where a bratty kid’s parents would move while he was gone and not tell him, leaving no forwarding address. “At least in my case, they picked me up and showed me where they had moved,” he says.
At that point in his life, Tony Gerard was seriously considering becoming a marine biologist. He had a plan in place: attend Ferris State College’s pharmacy program, cramming in 24 credit hours each semester to get his grade point up a bit, since it required almost a 4.0 to get into the school he had chosen in Boca Raton, Fla. In 1974, he had already opened his first small magic and costume shop in Gaylord. In addition, he worked as a bar “bouncer” and did magic shows to supplement his father’s tuition payments.
It seemed he couldn’t avoid the web of magic anywhere he went. The controller of Ferris State proved to be a retired professional magician and one of his fellow resident advisors in the dorm, a criminology major, had performed his magic acts on the Merv Griffin and Dick Cavett television shows. Tony pulled all those tangled strands together and organized a magic club on campus, but his was not always a charmed life.
Destined for Magic
One night Tony was riding with a friend on the way to perform a magic show when a drunk driver came speeding over a hill, crossing into the wrong lane and smashing into their car. “He landed on top of us. I had over 20 broken bones and massive brain damage. I was told that I actually died right after the accident, but they kick-started me and brought me back, to some people’s disappointment,” Gerard recalls with dark humor in his voice. “Often, when I am asked how I am, I say, ‘I’ll live. I like disappointing people.’ It gets a chuckle and some ask if they can borrow that line.”
The accident destroyed Tony’s dream of a career in marine biology, but not his love of life or magic. It took his broken body a long time to heal, but the near-fatal crash barely made a dent in his sense of humor.
Gerard’s style of magic tends to lean toward comedy and special effects. “My very first paid magic show was for a fraternity benefit. I really didn’t have any desire to get up in front of a bunch of people to do a show. I did my effects for small groups of friends or family. But then, the fraternity offered to pay me and that’s where the Dutchman in me said, ‘Wait a second. You’re going to pay me to have fun? Let me re-think this.’ Since it was a benefit for underprivileged kids, I only charged them to replace the props which would get ruined in the course of the show, which came to about $25. They said there would only be about 30 people in the audience, but when the curtains opened, there were 300.”
The largest live audience Gerard has faced in his career numbered around 4,000, but he performed for millions of television viewers in a 1984 appearance on “Entertainment Tonight.”
Building on his success in mid-Michigan, Gerard eventually opened his second shop in Petoskey. Retailing running in his veins, his mother, Johanna in’tGroen, operated a successful yarn and craft shop in Gaylord, and Tony learned the tricks of that trade from her. His emphasis was primarily on magic, but when his first venture opened, a supplier sent him a catalog of costumes. He wanted one particular get-up for himself, but they could only be purchased by the dozen. “I ordered the stuff and put the extras in my shop at my cost, just to get rid of them,” he remembers. “The first customer who walked in the door asked, ‘Do you rent costumes?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ and I have often wondered where I’d be today if I had said no.” Tony then hastily assembled a batch of costumes gleaned from his own closet along with some pieces found at area flea markets and garage sales. “I did more business that October than I had in the previous two years combined. That’s when I found out costumes were a good thing.”
As a professional magician in the late 1970s and early ’80s, Antony Gerard hit the road, touring portions of Europe, including performing in the Netherlands and Monte Carlo. In the United States, he appeared in Las Vegas and was included in a 1984 “Entertainment Tonight” on-location special along with the well-known Seigfried & Roy and Paul Harris. He also toured with a band for many years, combining their sound and his talents in a show billed as: “The Mugicians of Spellbound present Rock-N-Magic.” Nowadays, Gerard rarely performs in public, except on special occasions.
Among the many talents Gerard has honed over the years are the antics of an escape artist, a la Houdini. He’s also a certified locksmith, and his expertise with a lock pick is what brought him to Kalamazoo in 1979. He was often asked to help law enforcement officials crack open safes, unlock cars or other items of interest in their investigations. That skill landed him a job as locksmith at the Kalamazoo Regional Psychiatric Hospital (KRPH), where he met Laura, the woman destined to be his wife. “I tell people I was there looking for help, and she was working in the admissions department at the time. We let them fill in the blanks on their own,” he says with a hearty laugh. When Laura first found out that Tony’s main profession was magic, she thought it was “cool.” “I’m not a person who likes to be in the forefront. So, it was easy for me to sit back and watch him be the center of attention without feeling left out,” she says. Laura Gerard A Kalamazoo native and graduate of Loy Norrix and KVCC, Laura’s 17 years at the state hospital is a family tradition. Her great-grandmother worked at KRPH as a nurse. Her mother, Barbara, retired from the hospital’s personnel department, and her brother is currently working there as a pharmacy technician. Laura’s father, Don Harrison, was a Kalamazoo police officer and detective for 25 years. After a busy fall season at the Timid Rabbit shop, Laura is ready to stop and smell the roses. Literally. She’s a freelance floral designer, learning that trade at Flipse Flower Shop, where she worked for seven years right after college. She often puts her artistic talents to the test, designing wedding arrangements for family and friends. Over the years of her personal and professional association with Tony, Laura has also become an accomplished costume designer and make-up artist. However, she is most proud of her work as a mother, exulting in the exploits of her two boys, age 14 and 20. They grew up in the store, with diapers being changed in the midst of leering latex masks and assorted costume paraphernalia. “The boys did their homework there after school, and young Tony was helping customers by the time he was four years old,” Laura notes.
Tony II and Nick
Following in his father’s footsteps, Tony II began performing his magic professionally at age four, attracting local news coverage on WKZO Channel 3 and WOOD-TV 8 in Grand Rapids. Tony II was recently certified by the American United Stuntmen Association School in Seattle and plans to pursue a career in films. Mom says, “He’s able to set himself on fire, jump off buildings and a variety of other really excitingly-stupid things. We often say he is now certifiable.” Young Tony still does magic shows for private parties and corporate events, teaches juggling to beginners and conducts magic workshops at Timid Rabbit. He’s currently working at Best Buy, saving his money to put together a portfolio so he can join the Screen Actors Guild.
While both boys trained in karate, Nick has taken the martial art to a higher level, racking up an impressive number of awards in competition. Laura and Tony are unabashed cheerleaders for their son, attending most of his local, state and national competitions. He competed internationally in 2000 as part of the Junior U.S. Karate team in Budapest, Hungary, and brought home a Gold Medal in 2001 from the Junior Olympic Games in Virginia. The events of September 11 forced cancellation of a number of Nick’s competitions, including one representing the United States in Italy, but he has a full slate of competition scheduled for 2002 as part of the Junior U.S. Karate team. Agility is his middle name, and he is a whiz on the skateboard. Big brother’s influence has also prompted Nick to take an interest in stunt work, so he plans to attend the special stunt training school after graduation, to team up with Tony.
Karate is also a family pastime, with Mom and Dad joining in when they can. “I love it; it’s a good work out,” Tony says. He’s also proficient in the Philippines martial art of kuntaw. Laura stresses she’d rather watch her son perform than engage in the discipline herself. “There’s nothing I enjoy more than sitting in the stands watching a karate tournament,” she says. “Many moms seem to resent having to take their kids to tournaments and practices, but I just love it. I sometimes help out at small tournaments with scoring. It’s wonderful to see kids doing something constructive. Nick being one of the youngest in the club for so long, the older members would watch out for him and kind of latch onto us. We have a lot of young friends.”
After Halloween, when the retail section of the Timid Rabbit is less full, it becomes a space for karate practice or magic workshops.
Laura is thoroughly amazed at both of her boys’ expertise in make-up. No, they don’t mince around in heels or dress in drag. Think horror flicks. Halloween. Their male macho tendencies lean toward the gruesome. “There was one time when Tony had applied fake bruises on his little brother and didn’t tell me. When Nick took off his shirt to get ready for bed, I thought someone had beaten him to a pulp. Then it dawned on me what was going on. Still, there was that second of motherly panic,” she says. “Nick also thinks it’s cool. He still takes jars of make-up to school and places fake cuts and pretend bruises on his friends.”
As a family, the Gerards find time to travel, with Florida one of their favorite destinations. They are all avid fossil hunters and scuba divers. On vacation, while the boys enjoy freestyle mountain climbing, Laura climbs on the back of a horse to do some riding.
Although his business is based on fantasy, when Tony finds the time to read, he immerses himself in fact, devouring history books, paleontology texts, or the latest in marine biology. “My career was supposed to be marine biology with magic as my hobby, but due to that car accident, it switched around. If I was given the opportunity to change it now, though, I wouldn’t.
“I do tend to be too busy. I hate idle time. Even on vacation, I’m always wanting to run, run, run.”
In her down time, Laura bounces from snacking on light fantasy fare such as Harry Potter books to sinking her teeth into grisly, real-life crime tales and murder mysteries. Her husband is currently in the middle of writing a book of his own, which he calls “The Humorous History of Magic.”
In the Beginning
The Timid Rabbit first opened in their Kalamazoo home on 11th Street on a part-time, evenings-only basis. It grew so quickly that Laura jokes they were actually living on the back porch as their business took over the house. The whole kit and caboodle eventually was moved to the West Main Arcade and bounced to a few other sites around town before finally settling in the current Timid Rabbit location, 2011 West Main. For 11 months of the year, Laura and Tony handle the shop duties, but their staff swells to about 10 people between the end of September and Halloween. Family is pressed into service, with Tony’s mom coming in to help, along with brothers, sisters and sundry nieces and nephews. Laura’s mother and father also lend a hand. The shop contains over 11,000 costume pieces or accessories, and the owners declare the potential combinations are almost infinite. The shelves are stocked with everything from simple items like a hat to a full, 37-piece suit of armor.
Halloween isn’t their only busy season. Christmas calls for dozens of Santa suits, elves, reindeer and assorted other holiday finery. Parades, theme parties, special theatre orders and the perennial interest in the art of magic all help to keep the Timid Rabbit hopping throughout the year.
The shop’s name was simply pulled out of a magician’s hat. However, it was Tony’s mother, Johanna in’tGroen, who performed that feat of prestidigitation as she observed a doodle her son was drawing during breakfast one morning. Tony was sketching a rabbit coming out of a magician’s hat. His mom thought it looked as though the rabbit was actually trying to pull itself back in and said, “Look at that timid rabbit.” The name stuck, but Johanna proclaims it was her first and last performance. “I’m not into it,” she says about magic and wearing costumes.
“My husband was the one who loved letting it all hang out, especially during Mardi Gras back in the Netherlands,” she says. “His whole family would dress up and be involved in the parades. He made bikes with square wheels to ride, just to be silly. Ted loved the crazy time when they would select the carnival prince to reign for a year. That was always at 11 o’clock on the 11th day of the 11th month, November. I would just watch,” she states.
Johanna’s other children chose careers considered more mainstream than Tony’s occupation. One brother is a pilot, a captain for American Airlines, another brother was an air traffic controller, and his sister in Montana is a nurse. Tony’s siblings have been known to join the rest of the family working at the Timid Rabbit during the busy season.
The seed for Gerard Enterprises was planted back in 1975, when Tony made a W.C. Fields and Mae West mask duo for Halloween. (His girlfriend was Fields; he went dressed as the blonde bombshell!) His prototype masks had to be glued onto the face, but Gerard soon designed ones that were held on by elastic. A decade later, he was showcasing his creations at trade shows across the country and producing almost 30,000 latex masks per year at the Kalamazoo and Chicago facilities. A major business setback came in the late 1980s when a trusted employee absconded with tens of thousands of dollars worth of masks, molds and supplies. That betrayal not only hurt the enterprise’s bottom line, it made an impact on Tony and Laura’s faith in their fellow man. It took a few years to recover the business momentum and to mend their broken hearts.
Of Masks and Mascots
As is true with most artists who love their work, money isn’t everything. Gerard has consistently refused offers to mass market his designs, preferring not to sacrifice quality for quantity. His venture now produces between 600 to 2,000 pieces each year, selling about 400 locally at the Timid Rabbit. “I’m happy staying smaller, not making as many masks, but keeping the quality up,” he says. ”We market to mom and pop costume shops around the country. We won’t sell to any of the mass merchandisers like Spencer’s or Toys-R-Us because we know how hard it is to operate a small shop. Having something not offered at larger outlets gives the smaller stores a chance to compete.”
As an adjunct to the masks, Gerard also creates mascots for sports teams, colleges and businesses. Many of the area high schools, including Gull Lake and Portage Central, feature his designs cavorting in the midst of their pep rallies. That sideline occurred when he purchased a turkey mascot head for his shop and had to repair the broken beak after one rental. The heavy, brittle material was replaced with a sculpted latex piece, and Tony moved on to making entire head molds out of the much lighter, unbreakable stuff. “We’re not going to get rich making masks and mascots, but we sure have fun doing it,” Gerard says. Some of his more famous creations include a giant credit card for the Visa Corporation, the Exxon tiger, and mascots for the New York Mets and the Baltimore Orioles.
A Sense of Humor
Laura handles what she calls the “grunt work” in the design process. “I make the costumes that go along with the mascots. I paint the horns, the teeth and do a lot of the hand detailing.” She’s also the business office manager, taking care of the billing and shipping of special orders. Laura still wonders, even after 21 years of marriage, whether Tony fell in love with her as a person or with her potential as a partner in his business. “When he first walked into my house and found out I was a secretary who also owned a sewing machine, that was it. I think that’s why he chose me,” she chuckles.
“It was a plan that goes all the way back to elementary school,” Tony confesses. “One time, my parents were called in because I wasn’t paying attention in class. My puppets were being featured on Romper Room, and I was making some money from that and the posters and other art projects. It seemed like a fortune to a little kid. I told the nuns I didn’t have to study or practice my handwriting because I was making money with my art work. When they dragged me by my ear to the principal’s office, he asked me how I would run my own business without a decent education. I told him I would marry a secretary. And I did.” Attending a strict Catholic school made a small impact on Tony’s business, eventually. “I do rent out nun’s habits,” he admits, “But I refuse to rent out any yardsticks with them!”
Even with all his accolades as a professional magician, an artist and a business owner, Antony Gerard considers his family the most important part of his life. “We kept Tony and Nick here with us in the shop almost all the time. We had so much fun together. I got to watch them grow instead of hearing a babysitter tell me how they’d grown. The boys had the run of the place and knew where all the stock was located. I remember this one woman who was looking for a chicken costume, so young Tony got the huge head and put it on. He was so young that it dropped all the way to the floor. She turned around, saw that head just walking toward her across the floor, and let out the most blood-curdling scream you’ve ever heard. He still laughs when he remembers that story,” Gerard says. His wife also enjoyed having the kids underfoot at work, rather than in a day care situation. “You get to know each of them better as a person, not just as your child,” she says. “Sometimes it was more frustrating because you could see when they were not doing their homework, but you don’t miss those special moments, like a baby taking its first step.”
The Challenges and Future
For Laura and Tony, the most stressful part of operating their family business is not being able to go home and leave work behind. They say the benefits include setting their own family vacation times, traveling in conjunction with trade shows and meeting new people.“ The boys have met magicians other people only read about,” Laura points out. “They’ve had lunch with Lance Burton, met Penn & Teller, Harry Blackstone Junior and Seigfried & Roy. Not just to say hello, but actually sat down and talked with them.”
On the future of Gerard Enterprises, Tony wants to get better organized in his business and become more computer literate. “We tend to take on more work than we can possibly get done, yet we always get it done,” he says. “We thrive under pressure. I love being busy, but I often forget to figure into the scenario the chance of an accident happening.” This past Fall, Tony ran a bit behind on finishing an 11-foot alligator prop for a special order client because his hand was crushed between two 500 pound drums of latex. He had been moving the drums out of standing water from a flood in his production area caused by drainage problems from the massive West Main street construction project just outside his shop. He couldn’t sculpt for a while as his hand healed.
Gerard also dreams of working with young Tony on future Hollywood style productions. Adept at special effects, he recently helped a Vancouver television show called “Storm Warning” with the heavy fog needed for the re-enactment of a freak plane crash in Lake Michigan. Both passengers were saved by using the tire of the aircraft as a life preserver. The Canadian producers took Gerard out on a Coast Guard cutter to “make fog” as they filmed the water scenes. The elder Gerard hopes someday his special effects might come in handy when teamed with his son’s talents for stunt work.
When conjuring the thought of eventually selling his business and retiring, the master of macabre masks admits the mere notion sends shudders down his spine. “The problem is finding a person with similar motivation and commitment. Someone will probably come along, buy it and run it right into the ground,” he says. Laura concurs: “They’ll see it as just a business and not their life. It’s just so much work. You have to love it. If we ever did retire, we’d never sell the wholesale business because that’s Tony’s creation. We’d still show his art at trade shows, do consulting work, and create haunted houses like the new Phobia House which we opened this Fall.” Both of the partners in Gerard Enterprises plan to maintain their dedication to the creative, theatrical aspects of costuming and magic as an art form, with or without the physical presence of the Timid Rabbit shop. Their happiness is no illusion, but it is magic to see a couple remain married for over two decades while running a successful business and raising healthy, happy children.
There will always be a market for make believe, according to Antony Gerard. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in a recession or going about your everyday lives, people need a little bit of magic. Not necessarily the stage magician pulling rabbits out of his hat or sawing a lady in half, but the fantasy. TV, movies and computer-generated images bring some of that to people, but I think there will always be a place for variety artists and creators of masks, props or special effects. Every October, people have the chance to be anything they want to be, at least for a while. They can do as I’ve done for many years—let their hair down,” he says, referring to his own profusion of unruly locks. “For me, I can have fun while making people laugh and smile. That is true magic.”
Thirteen Years of “Guess Who” Costuming For the past 13 years, Encore’s centerfold has featured a unique photo layout showcasing local celebrities, businesspeople, community leaders and government officials. However, you don’t recognize them at first glance. The “Guess Who” section portrays these brave souls in all manner of disguises, most of them professionally crafted by the experts at the Timid Rabbit. While you may have an inkling just looking at the photo, you usually have to solve a riddle to discover the subject’s true identity.
Tony Gerard and his wife, Laura, volunteer their time to put make-up on mayors or glue fake mustaches on merchants. That can take anywhere from five minutes to two hours, depending on the theme. They collaborate with the Encore staff on ideas and specific costumes to match certain personalities.
“When the Briscoes took over the magazine’s operation, I even created a costume to give outgoing publisher Phil Schubert a memorable send-off for his last issue in April of 1996,” Gerard says. Gerard’s son and namesake, “young Tony,” once appeared as the gruesome lab assistant Igor to accompany a local doctor dressed up as Frankenstein for one photo session.
Some of the more outlandish “Guess Who” spoofs included the late Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra Maestro Yoshimi Takeda dressed as Elvis Presley, former State Representative Mary Brown as Betsy Ross, community arts advocate and former Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra pianist Alice Mullen as Liberace and KVCC president Marilyn Schlack as Cleopatra.
“Guess Who” made its debut in December of 1988, featuring WMU President Diether Haenicke as Santa Claus. Haenicke has the distinction of being one of only two “repeats” for the feature. He also appeared in a group photo when the entire Greater Kalamazoo United Way Board dressed as WMU football players in the September 1991 issue of Encore. Tom Lambert also donned shoulder pads for that infamous football shot, and he wound up in the center of the magazine again in September 1995. The second time around, Lambert portrayed a hockey goalie because he was chairing the United Way annual fund drive.
“People enjoy being the centerfold,” says Richard Briscoe, Encore’s publisher. “Reactions vary, from surprise to ‘Why would you choose me?’ to ‘I am honored,’ to ‘This will be fun.’ It’s never a problem finding a willing centerfold.” The riddles that provide clues allowing the reader to “Guess Who” are written by Encore senior writer Tom Thinnes.
According to Gerard and Briscoe, most of the subjects enter The Timid Rabbit with a degree of apprehension. While they know who or what they are going to become, there is still a bit of the unknown ahead. When Gerard begins the transformation process, every “Guess Who” relaxes and starts to have fun.
As a professional make-up artist, Gerard never tires of helping someone don a new persona via the “Guess Who” feature. As a master magician, he’s had his share of center stage and now prefers to let others bask in the limelight. “Since my photo often accompanies the ‘Guess Who’ answer located in the back pages of Encore, I may be the most photographed person in the magazine,” he laughs, “but no one knows who I am.”