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Haskell Schweidel

LT in Army Experimental Station at Pine Camp


Born 1914 in NY, Died 1972

County of residence at enlistment: Los Angeles County, CA
Other residence(s): New York, NY; Pleasantville, NY; Los Angeles, CA; San Francisco, CA
United States Army, did not accompany the unit to Europe
Occupation before the war: actors and actresses
Notes: Rank from 1945 newspaper article; changed his name to Robert Haskell in 1948
Source: Documents/photos from family of Haskell Schweidel; photo from 1936 cover of Genii: Pacific Coast Magic News

Haskell Schweidel was born on January 27, 1914 in New York City, the second of five children. His parents had both been born in Minsk, Belarus (Russia at the time) and had come to the US on the SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, arriving in New York in 1900. His father worked as a salesman in a novelty store.

Haskell's mother died in 1921, when he was only seven years old, and he spent some months in 1921 and 1922 in the Pleasantville, NY orphanage run by the Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society.

Sometime after he graduated from high school he moved to Los Angeles, CA. His 1936 voter registration there lists his profession as "actor." A newspaper article from the same year records that he and his older brother Kermit (also a magician), who had graduated from West Point the year before, were guests at a golf party in Honolulu, and performed a magic show at a military gathering there.

His stage name as a magician was "The Great Haskell."

He registered for the draft in Los Angeles on October 16, 1940, and enlisted in the Army on June 5, 1941, listing his occupation as performer. A 1944 newspaper article states that when he lived in LA he was "a professional entertainer of considerable fame."

He married Madeline Mastrota on May 9, 1943 in New Jersey. It is possible he was already stationed at Fort Monmouth at that time, but he was certainly there in 1944 as part of Colonel Hilton Howard Railey's group. When Colonel Railey was transferred to Pine Camp, NY, Lieutenant Schweidel went with him and became part of the team at the Army Experimental Station at Pine Camp that trained the two sonic units of the Ghost Army.

Meanwhile, he continued to put on magic shows. Newspaper articles from the time state that he performed at military hospitals and USO clubs, and record that he entertained at several events in Red Bank, NJ where he and his wife had made their home: a Lions Club meeting in October, 1944; a Boy Scout dinner in December, 1944; and a Rotary meeting in April 1945. (Since Pine Camp is 350 miles from Red Bank, it's likely that his wife stayed in Red Bank when he moved to Pine Camp, and he came home when he could get away.)

Haskell's brother Kermit also served in World War II, retiring from the Army with the rank of LTC in 1963.

He was discharged from the Army on February 12, 1946, and then spent about five years as a full-time touring magician, performing with his wife in major nightclubs throughout the US and in Havana, Cuba.

In 1948 "The Great Haskell" bowed to the inevitable, and changed his name to Robert Haskell.

Eventually the Haskells settled in San Francisco, and became the parents of three: Kit, Taylor, and Maggie. Bob continued to perform as a magician, working extensively with Merv Taylor Magic in Los Angeles, creating and refining magic tricks and effects throughout his career. He appeared on at least two episodes of the TV show You Asked for It, and worked as a special effects technician (magic) for two Hollywood films: Siren of Baghdad in 1953 and The Mad Magician in 1954 (playing the magician's assistant in the latter film).

During this time, he also provided special investigative services for the Nevada Gaming Control Board, and had his own TV show called Honestly Dishonest on KQED in San Francisco.

In 1956 he joined Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) in San Francisco as a residential lighting specialist and a PR speaker for the company, in which role he was known for incorporating magic effects into his presentations. He also served as a staff lecturer at the San Francisco Police Academy and worked hard for better lighting in residential areas.

Bob and Madeline divorced in 1965, and in 1966 he married Laverne Glover.

In 1970 he published a book of his top tricks called The Magic of Haskell. A blurb about the book states that his "genius for brilliant story plots and well-thought-out mechanics made him a master of cabaret and platform magic. The inventor of such masterpieces as the Split Deck and the X-Salted Shaker digs deep into his performing repertoire to give you 17 of his favorites. Ranging from effects with cards, rope, a beautiful animated silk mystery, and a pair of mysteries using the “tap-it” principle, there’s something within these pages for almost any necromancer worth his (or her) salt."

Bob served as VP of the Society of American Magicians during the 1950s and was a member of the Bohemian Club of San Francisco.

He died, after a long illness, on March 1, 1972 in San Francisco, CA.


1936 photo (see 1936 Genii entry below)


1915 NY state census

1920 census

1921 Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society records

1921 Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society records

1922 Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society records

1922 Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society records

1936 article in the Honolulu Advertiser (HI) re an event he attended

1936 voter registration in CA

1936 cover of Genii: Pacific Coast Magic News

1940 draft record

1941 enlistment record

1943 marriage record (1st)

1944 article in Asbury Park Press (NJ) re his magic and military service

1944 article in the Daily Register (Red Bank NJ) re his magic and military service (now at Fort Monmouth)

1945 article in the Daily Register (Red Bank NJ); says he is magician and stationed at Pine Camp

1948 shipboard manifest Cuba to Miami

1953-54 in IMDB database (worked on two movies)

1966 marriage record (2nd)

1972 California death record

1972 Social Security death index

1972 VA death record

1972 obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle (CA)

Magicpedia article

2022 (January 20) GALP Veteran Biography Worksheet from daughter Kit and son Taylor

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