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No tricks, just a treat

Magician conjures up happiness at Eagle’s Trace

Created date

September 25th, 2015
Eagle's Trace resident
Eagle's Trace resident

Mercer Helms tried his hand at a few careers before launching his professional magic act.

“Magic was all I really wanted to do, but it was just a hobby at first,” he says.

Born in New York, Mercer was raised in the South and attended Auburn University in Alabama.

“I majored in English literature, but I added a second major in journalism when the civil rights movement fired up,” says Mercer. “I wasn’t about to miss that.”

Mercer wrote for the Selma Times-Journal and the Montgomery Advertiser. As the civil rights movement began to wind down, Mercer designed brochures for an insurance agency.

“I wasn’t much for the corporate world,” he says. “So I put together a mailing list of 5,000 organizations that regularly used entertainers—Rotary clubs, PTOs (parent-teacher organizations), country clubs—and sent them flyers advertising my magic act.”

Honing his craft

Mercer began to hone his skills, stringing together magic tricks to form acts of varying lengths.

“I was self-taught,” he says. “Magic is all about getting the audience to see what you want them to see.”

Mercer moved up through a range of venues, from country clubs to cruise ships, gaining recognition for his work with doves.

“I incorporated doves throughout my act,” says Mercer. “I’d toss one up and make it disappear, or I’d crumple up a newspaper and unfold it to reveal a dove. At the end of the show, I’d make the whole cage of doves disappear.”

In the mid-1960s, Mercer accepted an engagement at the Vapors Club in Hot Springs, Ark. The nightclub had a main dinner theater room and a smaller lounge. Mercer was one of the lounge acts, while stand-up comedian Phyllis Diller was playing in the main room.

“Phyllis came in the lounge to listen to a singer who she was considering as an opening act for her show, but she ended up hiring me,” says Mercer. “I worked with her for 45 years, right up until her death in 2012.”

Steady work

Diller loved Mercer’s eight-minute, high-energy dove act. He became a frequent opening number for her stand-up comedy shows.

“I worked with other entertainers, including George Gobel, John Davidson, and Milton Berle, over the years, but I spent about 50% of my working hours with Phyllis,” says Mercer. “We became great friends. She was one of the most positive, generous people I knew.”

In 1991, Mercer and his wife Sherry moved from Montgomery, Ala., to Houston, Tex. “Sherry had a stroke, and we needed to be closer to the care available at the Texas Medical Center,” says Mercer, who continued his live performances on a limited basis.

“Any form of show business takes the audience to another place, if only for a few minutes,” says Mercer. “You stand in front of people and take them away from the mortgage payment, the car troubles, and the wayward child. You give them something beyond their everyday life.”

New beginnings

These days, Mercer still has a sleight of hand that leaves audiences in wonder. Even a tissue becomes something of a curiosity as he makes it disappear into seemingly thin air.

He’s also sporting something else on his hand—a new wedding band. After Sherry passed away in 2011, Mercer met Pam Daniels, a Houston widow whose husband worked in the oil supply business.

The couple married on August 8, 2015, in their custom apartment home at

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