Success Was Always in the Cards for La Verne Magician

January 21, 2010
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magic-card-float1With Wayne Kawamoto, you never know what’s up his sleeve or under his hat. For one, he’s now 50-years-old, but doesn’t look a day over 30. He’s La Verne’s charming chameleon. How else can you explain the Cal Poly engineering and MBA grad giving up lucrative positions as a project engineer and then as a top video game reviewer to become a professional magician?

He didn’t just enter the world of magic; he busted the doors down (or made them disappear). He performs hundreds of gigs a year at corporate events, private parties and restaurant performances, including a running four-year engagement at Mama Petrillo’s in La Verne. He the hardest-working man in show business this side of Jay Leno. Once he gave seven different magic performances at seven different venues in a single day.

His success isn’t the result of some sleight of hand, snapping of the fingers or saying abracadabra. He works at his magic, perhaps channeling that unerring engineering mind of his that’s always questing for perfection. He’s also published a book on his passion, “Picture Yourself As a Magician.” Moreover, he’s a regular correspondent for Reel Magic Quarterly, a bi-monthly video magazine that covers magic. The New York Times thinks so highly of his work and craft that he’s the “magic” expert for its subsidiary, where an amateur or an authority can keep up on the latest and greatest innovations in magic.

Chex Mate

Like all great stories, Wayne’s has a strong beginning. As a kid, he recalls hounding his mom to buy boxes of Chex cereal. “If you sent in 11 box tops, they would send you a magic kit,” Wayne recalled. “I ate cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The kit came with these simple magic tricks, and I got completely hooked.”

However, in a Japanese-American family growing up in northwest Altadena, where his father was a gardener and his mother a cafeteria worker, then the few types of jobs available to them, his parents had higher aspirations for their son.

“When you grow up from that perspective,” Wayne said, “one tends to think, ‘Well, I have a chance to go to college, I better do this because my dad’s out there raking leaves.’”

As he grew older, Wayne often joined his dad, too. “I used to spend summers out there raking leaves and mowing lawns, and I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I had the opportunity to go to college.” Ironically, years later, he performed at some of the same San Marino houses where he had worked as a gardener alongside his dad. “I recognized all these houses,” he reflected. “That always kind of stuck with me.”

Wayne Kawamoto

Wayne Kawamoto


Unlike the illusion of magic, engineering offered a safe, sensible and tangible career choice. The aerospace industry in Southern California was taking off. “I was able to do my job well, but it wasn’t necessarily my passion,” Wayne said. After obtaining his MBA, he went into project management, earning more than enough to pay the mortgage and support a growing family. He moved to La Verne in 1992.

Always interested in video games, he also started writing video game reviews, which led to a whole new career as a freelance writer, working for PC magazine and other trade and industry periodicals. Instead of thinking her husband was going through some early mid-life crisis, Wayne’s wife was completely supportive.

Happier at Home

“She knew I was happier just being home in my office writing all day, and having the freedom to not show up at some place every day and deal with all the personalities in an office and all the headaches you can encounter,” Wayne said.

From about 1998 to 2002, Wayne happily reviewed new releases for not only video games, but also software business applications, when it seemed there were new competing word processing, spreadsheet and data management programs hitting store shelves every day. That was until the implosion. Many of the magazines that were his bread and butter disappeared or merged. “I had written for all of them,” Wayne said.

As advertising pages and dollars dried up, Wayne began thinking of adding another act to his increasingly diverse career. The attacks on the World Trade Centers on September 11, 2001, accelerated his thought process. “I always felt that the dot-com thing wasn’t going to last,” he said. “This computer thing was kind of this new innovation. There were a lot of publications, but the shakeout was inevitable.”

With Wayne’s engineering training and experience, plus his professional, high-tech writing background, he weighed several career choices, the least of which was working in magic. “I never thought that a hobby, such as a magic, was something I would essentially make my living from.” Moving into the growing GPS (global positioning system) field seemed like a more logical career option.

magic-wayneAs Wayne was mulling over his career options, his wife met somebody whose husband was a magician. The mere mention of someone making a career out of magic conjured up all kinds of latent boyhood feelings. “All these feelings just came rushing back,” said Wayne, whose natural showmanship and affable nature seem too broad and expansive for the rigorous, strait-jacketed world of engineering.

At 40 and at a career crossroads, he seriously wondered whether a career in magic was the right course to pursue. “I knew it would be odd that after having worked so many years in the engineering field and then as a freelance writer that I would be working kid shows,” Wayne said. “Yet, I still felt young enough to kind of say I want to try something,” he said.

So he auditioned to be a member of the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood, and was accepted. At the Magic Castle there was a vast library of magic books that he devoured. “I was very diligent about studying,” he said. “I started diving into magic and watching lot of acts and learning their moves.”

Finally, a family friend who was planning her son’s birthday party popped the life-altering question. “She said to me, “Well, you do magic, would you mind coming over and doing a show at the party?’ That was really the impetus to try to really put together a show.”

Wayne’s show has been evolving ever since. He has performed literally hundreds of illusions and tricks, his mastery honed by countless performances in front of audiences and stages ranging from the Los Angeles County Fair to performing for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Wherever he performs, Wayne’s audience won’t find him in top hat and tails or dressed like a clown or Barney the purple dinosaur. “I decided I was never going to do that. I think I would look ridiculous.” Nor does he play up or play down his Japanese heritage. “I simply want to create a magical experience for my audience,” Wayne added.

Stand-Up & Close-Up

Wayne performs both stand-up and close-up magic. Stand-up is a little more formal, where he might be handed a mike and a stage (backyard patio, basement, conference room, banquet hall, etc.) whereas close-up plays to a more impromptu audience found at a restaurant, bar or cocktail party. He is an excellent office breaker at holiday office parties, where the spouses are dragged along not knowing a soul.

Meanwhile, at Mama Petrillo’s in La Verne, he keeps guests entertained and engaged while they’re waiting for a table. Just as often he’ll go from table to table flashing a deck of cards, cups and balls, different size ropes, exotic coins, or the many of the other magician’s tools of the trade. But his repertoire is not necessarily a bag of tricks or illusions. He doesn’t have to saw a gorgeous lady in half to get a laugh or a gasp or a smile.

“When I started magic, it was all about tricks,” Wayne said. Now, his performance almost has more to do with his personality and creating conversation with his audience. He has mastered magic and the art of the show.

After the restaurant section of Petrillo’s closed, Wayne slid over to the sports bar that owner John Petrillo opened a few months ago. There Wayne’s material moved from a “G” rating to “PG,” a slightly bawdier version of his restaurant renditions. Wayne is also a poet, not of the Wordsworth or Longfellow ilk, mind  you, but maybe just as much fun and entertaining.

For now this career chameleon and Svengali of the San Gabriel Valley continues to perform weekends at Mama Petrillo’s and wherever else he is called to work his magic.

He’s more than just a magic act. He’s a class act.

To learn more about magic or about Wayne, visit We’ve also posted Wayne’s video spot introducing his magic book under Reel Video on LaVerneOnline’s front page. Enjoy the show.

4 Responses to “Success Was Always in the Cards for La Verne Magician”

  1. As the friend who asked Wayne to “do some magic” at her son’s birthday party (we ‘paid’ him with a bag of Sweet Tarts), I can tell you Wayne is not only a fine magician, but a dear friend and a good soul. Wayne is quite the Renaissance man. I am delighted La Verne residents get an opportunity to know him through your article. KGK+

  2. As a fellow magician, I’ve always found Wayne’s magic top notch. He really connects with an audience. This article really captured him. He’s the best.

  3. Back in 1999, I had known Wayne as a casual friend, unaware of his talent as a magician. The first time I saw him peform his talents, I was blown away! I didn’t know that he was hiding this alter ego- “Magic Wayne”! The one thing I couldn’t get over was how good he really is! It is great to see the accolades for his magical talents in the La Verne spotlight. Everyone should see his act. He is very approachable & personable. Once you meet him, you’ll agree, you’ve not only have seen a top notch magician, but you’ve made a friend as well. You go Wayne! TP

  4. Wayne has a fan base in Orange County as well. He’s fabulous!

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