Prospect Heights magician to appear on 'Masters of Illusion'
As a kid growing up in Prospect Heights, Bill Cook would be glued to the TV watching "Masters of Illusion," a show where magicians dazzled audiences with their tricks.
Now, he'll be the one on TV doing the dazzling.
Cook, a nationally known magician -- and locally famous for his fall magic shows at Goebbert's Pumpkin Patch in South Barrington -- will appear on this season of "Masters of Illusion," a 30-minute variety show featuring some of the best magicians in the country. It airs Fridays on The CW network.
A longtime magician, musician, performer and comedian, Cook (whose real name is Bill Koch), 27, has been honing his magic skills since his days at Wheeling High School.
"When people hear what show I performed at, they'll go, 'Oh, I remember you!' But people don't recognize my face ... because I'm not David Copperfield. Yet," he said.
Television appearances help, such as his recent performances on NBC's "Today" show, SyFy's "Wizard Wars" and The CW's "Penn & Teller: Fool Us." But performing magic on TV is much harder than doing it on stage, Cook said.
"A camera doesn't blink, or look where you want it to. I can't direct the attention off of anything," he said. "It's definitely a challenge. But magicians can do anything, right?"
One of the tricks he'll perform on "Masters of Illusion" is his "dancing handkerchief" trick. He makes a handkerchief dance inside a bottle held by people in the audience.
It's a trick he spent months mastering in the basement studio of his Prospect Heights home. The studio has a stage with curtains and theatrical lighting, seating for 20, mirrors, props and more.
Every week, he invites friends over to preview his new tricks.
"The only payment is that you have to critique me. I don't want to hear 'Nice job.' I want you to make me cry," he said. "Some of the best information comes from this thing."
Besides magic, Cook supports veterans groups, even donating a portion of his merchandise sales to the Wounded Warrior Project. He'll also play taps and the national anthem on the trumpet July 2 during the dedication of a World War II memorial at the American Legion in Huntley. Cook's 92-year-old grandfather -- Stanley Koch of Marengo, a World War II veteran -- helped spearhead the legion's Huntley chapter.
Playing along with Cook will be his brother, Matthew Koch, of Hawthorn Woods, and his father William S. Koch, of Prospect Heights, who directed the Niles West High School band for 30 years before retiring a few years ago.
Looking ahead, Cook said he hopes to join the live tour for "Masters of Illusion," and will continue to work on new tricks while performing shows mostly around the Chicago area.
Cook finds inspiration for new tricks at GoFundMe and Kickstarter websites, where he sees unique items that he can use in tricks (for example, he bought about 20 minicomputers that can fit in the palm of your hand), and he's always shopping for props at places like Home Depot, Michael's and JoAnn Fabrics.
"At a certain point you don't have to buy tricks anymore. You can create your own," he said. "Being a magician, you have to be an interesting person. The more you reach out past your comfort zone, the more amazing you become."
-- Jamie Sotonoff
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"Masters of Illusion"Airs 7 p.m. Friday on The CW