Moments after the cuffs clicked shut around his skinny little wrists, Lamont knew he was in trouble. The handcuffs were a gift from his dad, a Boulder County sheriff's deputy, who'd finally relented after months of pestering. The set was cheap, made in Japan, with flimsy alloy keys, but perfect for a bespectacled, fifteen-year-old beanpole who could wriggle free from all manner of restraints.
But no sooner had Lamont slapped on the cuffs for an impromptu school-bus performance than he broke the keys. That morning he walked to class a prisoner, eventually to be cut loose by friends. "Embarrassing," he recalls. "Embarrassing."
That was the last time he failed before an audience.
TONY CURTIS AND MYSTO MAGIC SET
It all began when his big brother tied him up in the backyard with rope.
Actually, that's not true.
It started Christmas Day 1957, when six-year-old Lamont ripped open the Mysto Magic set and unpacked a ball vase, imp bottle, pair of dice and magic wand.
Then again, there was the Magic Land of Alakazam, starring Mark Wilson, which appeared every Saturday morning.
But to be completely accurate, it was Tony Curtis. In 1953, the actor played Houdini in a movie called Houdini. You know, the one where Houdini gets trapped under a frozen pond while escaping from a safe (not true). The one where he escaped from an iron vest (not true, either). The one where he dies at the end in the Chinese Water Torture Cell (also not true).
"I didn't know any better," Lamont recalls. "I didn't know who Houdini was. But after I saw it, I knew instantly what I wanted to do. That movie literally changed my life."
After that, he went to the backyard with his brother and the rope.
THE INCREDIBLE LAMONT
He escapes from:
A) Handcuffs, shackles, chains, ropes, canvas bags, packing crates and jail cells.
B) Steel milk cans filled with water and padlocked.
C) Medieval-style head and wrist pillories.
D) Trunks wrapped in chains, nailed shut and padlocked.
E) Whiskey barrels wrapped in chains, steel bands and padlocks.
F) Straitjackets, while dangling from cranes and wearing leg irons.
(P.S.: And he does card tricks.)
ABOUT THE NAME
Lamont Glenn Ream.
He hated it as a child and endured much teasing. "Hey, Longmont!" (He's from Longmont.) That sort of thing.
Besides, if you're going to be an escape artist, you want a name that evokes mystery, intrigue and wonder. Like Blackstone, Kellar, Houdini, even Thurston.
Lamont thought long and hard.
Lamont isn't so bad. It's distinctive. Unusual. Certainly better than Sam or Bob.
"The Incredible Lamont!" "The Amazing Lamont!" "Lamont: World Class Magician!"
Ladies and gentlemen, Lamont!
"Let me grab a few cuffs here and a couple of balls and chains. Let's see...and a pair of manacles.
"Normally I would have people in the audience lock things on me, but for now I'm just going to put a lot of stuff on.
"These are pirate-era locks that don't have a key. They'd simply throw people overboard. So they're really heavy.
"See that cuff that looks like a giant padlock with two loops? That's currently worth about $1,200. A lot of the smaller ones there are currently about $600...
"I just realized something. If you aren't really from the newspaper, and I'm all hooked up, I could be robbed! I hope I get out of this stuff.
"I have about 400 handcuffs in all. From all eras and all parts of the world. I've mastered all the locks you see before you. It usually takes twenty or thirty seconds to extricate myself.
"Gosh. I've only got room for one more pair. Let's see. Let's go for the best-looking ones.
"Take the padlock and lock my wrists to the shackles. Yes. Good.
"Now go ahead and drape a sheet over me. Yes. All the way over me.
(Lamont thrashes under the sheet like a ghost wrestling an alligator.)
"Man, am I sweating.
(An arm pops out. His head. Then it's back under the sheet.)
"One item left. And it's giving me some difficulty!
"Can't seem to get it...
(Lamont springs to his feet, and glares down at the pile of restraints like Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston.)
"Whew! Did that look all right? Great! Now I'll grab the straitjacket!"
HE WAS A HAM BACK THEN
In the spring of 1969, Lamont asked some friends to strap him in a straitjacket, lock him in leg irons and hoist up him up a light pole.
"I had never done it before and I just wanted to go out and do it," he explains.
Traffic screeched, women gasped, sirens screamed. Practically the entire Boulder police force converged on Canyon Boulevard in front of the Red Barn Restaurant as Lamont calmly freed himself.
"I had an instant audience. The parking lot was filled. They must have thought someone was trying to kill me."
That was the first time Lamont performed the escape that would become his trademark. It was also the first of many publicity stunts.
"I didn't get arrested. They probably didn't know what to arrest me for. Hanging around, perhaps? I was a ham back then."
BEWARE OF BOY SCOUTS BEARING ROPE
"When I was still in high school a troop of Boy Scouts basically tied my neck in such a way where it was strangling. They wrapped a rope several times around my neck very tight, stretched the ends out and then bolted them to each side of the stage.
"In the audience, it created a riot because family members who were part of the Boy Scout troop were on their side, and people who were realizing it was turning into a torture experiment were on my side. It caused a riot. Literally.
"I passed out several times within an hour and a half and finally extricated myself. It was the most grueling escape I've ever gone through. My neck was bleeding. My hands had blisters. It was a nightmarish show that I'd like to forget, actually. I was seventeen."
Here is a partial list of the objects on the walls, shelves, windowsills, countertops, appliances and tables of his one-bedroom apartment:
A Hindu sword basket. Houdini's Chinese Water Torture Cell. Houdini's milk-can escape. A walk-through-the-mirror apparatus. The Houdini Metamorphosis trunk. Another Metamorphosis trunk. Yet another Metamorphosis trunk.
Posters of Houdini, Blackstone, the Great Heaney and Kellar. Certificates from the International Brotherhood of Magicians and the Society of American Magicians.
Two hundred pairs of handcuffs. Two iron balls and chains. A medieval-style pillory. Three bowls stuffed with silk scarves. Three chrome hoops. Assorted decks of cards. Assorted pairs of dice. A jar of skeleton keys. A crystal ball. A stuffed dove in a birdcage. A jack-o-lantern. A box of Cap'n Crunch.
"I guess it's kind of a strange lifestyle," Lamont admits. "But at least there's no question as to what I'm into."
THE SECRETS (GENERALITIES, REALLY) OF THE INCREDIBLE LAMONT
"Escape artistry is very physically demanding. You have to be in good shape. I've come away from shows where my clothing was completely shredded and my wrists bleeding. I cannot collapse the bones in my hands. I'm just like everyone else.
"I've spent years studying locks and lock mechanisms. All locks have defects, and it's my job to find them. I practice opening locks under impossible conditions and have friends handcuff me in unbelievably uncomfortable positions. Basically, you practice a lot.
"Houdini said, 'All my escapes are done by purely natural means. If I divulge the secret, you'll be able to do what I do.' Let's leave it at that. The Masked Magician on Fox 31 has done too much damage already."
THE OLD GETTING-YOUR-HAIR-CAUGHT-IN-THE-APPARATUS ESCAPE
"The absolute scariest thing I've ever done--I had really long hair back then; this was in the Seventies--was the Houdini milk-can escape. I wasn't deep enough underwater in the can when the assistants jammed the lid in place and locked it. Then I noticed my hair floating upward. It was caught in the lid.
"Realizing that, I panicked and literally ripped a bunch of hair out just to be able to keep from drowning.
"That was very memorable. It taught me to prepare for anything. Nowadays when I hang upside down from cranes, I make sure at least two people know how to operate it. In case one of them is ill."
"Once I fell off the stage at the Hungry Farmer restaurant tied with a hundred feet of rope and chained to a chair. That was interesting. But I got a standing ovation when I got up."
BUT SERIOUSLY, FOLKS
Lamont has written two books, Coin Creations and Card Creations, and is working on a magician's encyclopedia that covers locks and handcuffs. Among his colleagues, he is known for an effect called the "Time Twist," which seems to make time stand still just by using a playing card and shot glass. He also performs mentalism effects and appears to read minds.
"It pays the rent. I do make a living as a magician. I'm a little lax on the business end because I spend so much time practicing. I'm one of ten what I would consider to be full-time escape artists performing in the United States. I do take it seriously."
Although he could make more money in places like L.A. or Vegas, he prefers his lumpy living-room couch, the mountains outside Longmont and intimate audiences at intimate restaurants and clubs. He's a rarity, and he knows it, a rangy, nerdish, divorced grandfather with one foot in 1998 and the other in 1906.
"I can't pinpoint why that era appeals to me," Lamont admits. "The world was simpler in many ways. On Saturday night, instead of staring at the TV, families would go see vaudeville shows. It was live. There was audience participation. It was somehow more thrilling. Definitely more personal. There's a point with lasers, fog machines and dancers where it ceases to become magic and becomes special effects.
"Houdini sent a message to people that nothing was impossible, that you can achieve anything. He gave people hope. When they saw him, they said, 'If he could be locked in a crate and thrown in a river and get out of it, then I can overcome my problems.' Although I function in this nowaday world, that era appeals to me. I'm just nostalgic, I guess."
THE GRAND FINALE: THE STRAITJACKET!
"This is absolutely one of the most difficult and physically demanding of all escapes. And this is one of the best straitjackets you'll see. It's heavier and has straps and buckles most don't have. It would put any magician to the test.
"Strap me around in back. Yes. Now pull these between my legs and buckle them. Good.
"No. We don't need the sheet. I'll just do it right here.
"Now go ahead and make sure the straps are tight. Okay. Ready?
(Lamont staggers, thrashes, drops to the floor.)
(He rolls back and forth.)
"I can't believe this!
(He thrashes wildly, legs flailing.)
"I can't seem to get this strap. I'm usually halfway out by now."
"I don't believe this. I'm dripping in sweat. I don't know if I can continue.
"I don't believe this! I've done this hanging from cranes!
"No. I'm fine. Contrary to popular belief, Houdini did not do lightning-fast escapes. It often took him quite some time to extricate himself. But they were real. All real."
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"I'm going to be too exhausted to continue. A buckle in back seems to be caught on something.
"Can't give up...
"Oh, my God!"
"I don't believe this! This would have to happen in front of a reporter.
(Lamont peels off the jacket, springs to his feet, collapses on the couch.)
"I can't believe it! That was the longest straitjacket escape I've ever had. I didn't think I was going to make it."
"But you never give up. Not in this business. Never give up.