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Harry The Hat

"Most people know Harry Anderson as Judge Harold T. Stone, the affable star of NBC's Night Court, which ran for nine seasons from 1984 to 1992," David Hill writes at The Ringer.

"To Anderson, however, playing Judge Stone was just a job. He never set out to be an actor, and his arrival at the center of a hit sitcom was something of an accident. Harry Anderson was no actor. He was a magician. He was a comedian. He was a storyteller and a showman. At his heart, however, Harry Anderson was a hustler."

True. Night Court was the least of it.


"Anderson was born in 1952 in Newport, Rhode Island, into an unhappy home. His father, a salesman, left him and his mother alone. Anderson moved around a lot in his younger years, living in a dozen states by the time he was 16 years old. He and his mother moved to Las Vegas, where she took a job as a casino dealer, then to Chicago, where she worked as a prostitute - a fact about which Anderson has been blunt and refused to hold against her.

"She did what needed to be done to try to keep us together," he told People magazine. In Chicago, Anderson spent many days alone in the lobby of the Ambassador East Hotel, a popular spot for men to play cards and gamble. The card players would look after Anderson while his mother was busy, teaching him to play games, make wagers, and perform card tricks.

By the time he was 16, Anderson left Chicago to live with his father in Los Angeles. He took up magic as a serious hobby during high school, and joined a club in which he socialized with other future magic stars, like Jonathan Pendragon and Paul Harris. During the summer of his senior year at North Hollywood High School, Anderson visited San Francisco. It was here that he first saw a street hustler performing the shell game. For Anderson it was a revelation - he could put his magic skills to work and earn some real money! He developed his own shell game routine and hit the streets, though according to Anderson he was impeded by not having a crew. He had to hustle "against the wall," meaning he had no shills to interrupt the game, to place winning bets when the crowd grew tired of losing, or to look out for the police or trouble. After Anderson had his jaw broken by an upset customer, he reworked his shell game into an act instead of a con. He performed it as a parody of a street hustler and kept a hat out for donations rather than taking bets on where the pea was each time. He channeled the men he played cards with in the Ambassador East Hotel in his youth and adopted a persona he called "Harry the Hat," a fast-talking con man who was always one step ahead of the audience but still "a bit of a nincompoop." "I've played cards with people who don't share a language, but we can play cards," he told The Globe and Mail. "It was out of admiration for them that I decided to become a magician. I think that's where Harry the Hat came from."


"Here's the ten bucks I'm gonna owe you in about five minutes."


"Pick A Con, Any Con."


"It's covered."


On Late Night, 1982-87.


On Carson, 1988.


"A liar, a thief, a braggart, a cheat."


Comments welcome.


Posted on April 19, 2018

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