“When life is dull, people are unhappy. I simply try to make them forget their boredom.”
Those were the opening lines of a 1974 article in the American Press from an interview with Barbe High School graduate Bart Glatt, who, at 18, had already made a name for himself as a magician, hypnotist and freelance photographer.
Sitting in his home office, Glatt, 61, said those words still apply. “Everything that got me started doing this is still true,” he said.
Glatt has performed magic shows and plays for churches, schools, businesses and military units on six continents, gaining an audience on one occasion with former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
He said he’s moved around for much of his life, but is back for good — and has a busy year ahead of him.
Glatt plans to perform 365 shows in 365 days in the area starting Monday, Jan. 15, to commemorate 50 years of performance, dating back to when he opened his first magic book in the seventh grade. He said all shows will be free thanks to sponsorships from several businesses.
“It’ll average out to a show a day,” Glatt said. He said he’s booking local schools, churches and festivals now and will fill in the remaining days with street shows and restaurant table magic.
“He’s a crowd favorite,” said Danielle McGavock, programming librarian for the Calcasieu Parish Public Library. She said Glatt will perform during National Library Week, April 9-15.
Glatt said he moved back to Lake Charles, where the people “opened their hearts” to him for decades, in October from Oklahoma to settle down near his two children.
A familiar face at school assemblies and festivals like Contraband Days — he hosted the Kid’s World stage for 18 years — Glatt said he enjoys helping children get excited about life and introducing them to sleight-of-hand magic.
In addition to entertaining, he said, he weaves a message into his performances, such as the importance of reading and the power of saying “No.” He said one of his favorite messages is about the importance of working hard to reach a goal.
“There’s a verse in the Bible that says, ‘Dreaming instead of doing is foolishness, and there is ruin in a flood of empty words,’ ” Glatt said. “A lot of people do the dreaming, but it’s a whole lot more fun to do the doing. That’s what I want to teach the kids.”
Glatt has gone to extreme lengths to convey a message. On one occasion, he had himself hoisted 11 stories high while hanging upside down in a straitjacket outside the Lake Charles Civic Center to replicate a stunt originally mastered by Harry Houdini.
“I told them, ‘If I get down from this, I will share with you the escape Houdini never mastered,’ ” Glatt said.
He said the escape nearly went awry when inertia drove his rope off the hook temporarily — kicking his fear of heights into overdrive. But he said he completed the stunt and went on to tell the crowd how to “escape from eternal death to eternal life” by believing in Jesus.
Glatt attended seminary after graduating from McNeese State University and became a youth minister for local churches Trinity Baptist, Good Shepherd Episcopal and Boulevard Baptist, as well as churches in Texas and Oklahoma.
He said he was “called to the ministry” while studying pre-med at McNeese. Up to that point, he said, he had harbored dreams of becoming a doctor. As an undergraduate, he earned a federal research grant for his work on conscious control of the autonomic nervous system.
Glatt said he resisted the career change at first. Back then, there were no youth ministers, he said, and preachers were viewed as formal and aloof.
“What I really told him was, ‘God, I can’t be as boring as they are,’ ” Glatt said. He said he decided to use his experience performing, writing, photographing and filming to bring a new dynamic to the churches he served.
Despite his fears, he said, his life turned out anything but boring. In addition to his work as a magician and youth minister, he has filmed and taken photos for various oil companies, including Chevron and Citgo. He has also moonlighted as a voice-over artist, notably for the Los Angeles Public Works Department.
“If you’re ever in a nuclear plant in LA and it goes hot, mine’ll be the last voice you here,” Glatt said with a laugh.
He said he married his high school sweetheart, Renee, with whom he shared “a great life” with “no regrets” before she died in 2012.
Perry Vincent, president of local magic group Cajun Conjurers, called Glatt a “longtime friend” and a “very active” magician.
“He’s extremely dedicated and passionate about the arts and mentoring children,” Vincent said. “Anytime there are kids around, he’s always wanting to perform and get them motivated.”
Vincent, friends with Glatt since kindergarten, said Glatt has never been one to follow the crowd.
“He always had his own drive within himself,” Vincent said. “He was Bart Glatt. People didn’t influence him. He influenced his own self. He would see opportunities and put effort into going for it and being something.”
Glatt said he never really saw magic as work — he just gets a kick out of watching people “light up.”
“People get bored with life,” Glatt said. “They get into a routine, and when you shake them out of that routine they go, ‘I had fun today.’ It’s just a blast to be doing that.”