People: Ormond McGill: Life is a playground

Publication Date: Wednesday Feb 18, 1998

People: Ormond McGill: Life is a playground

"The secret is there's no point in retiring," said Palo Alto native Ormond McGill, his eyes twinkling.

And, at 85, McGill walks his talk. He will still occasionally perform as a stage hypnotist, travels across the country regularly to teach seminars on hypnosis and has just completed his 43rd book.

McGill was born in Palo Alto in 1913, the son of the city's telephone manager. "I remember the town when they had a street car going down University Avenue," he said. He also remembers, at 10 years old, buying an ice cream cone from the Peninsula Creamery the day it opened. Today, McGill still lunches at the Creamery daily, enjoying his favorite, a mocha chip milkshake. When he was a boy, he and his friends used to catch butterflies.

"There were a lot of fields in Palo Alto and there were a lot of butterflies," he said. "We used to go out on our bicycles to Runnymede, where they had a lot of alfalfa and butterflies."

Over the years, McGill caught and collected his own butterflies, and then bought collections on his travels around the world. Tragically, he lent his original collection to Marine World, when it was still in Redwood City, and the collection was pried off the walls and stolen.

Today, McGill has managed to replenish his collection, writing American consulates around the world who have connected him with butterfly collectors.

His collection, consisting of thousands of butterflies and moths in a dazzling array of colors, from red-orange to shimmering blue, line the walls of the recreation room of Stevenson House on Charleston Road. The insects represent nearly every country of the world, from Tibet to Hungary.

At a young age, McGill became interested in magic, and eventually took a correspondence course through the Tarbell Music School in Chicago while still in high school. He would often demonstrate his acts at school, including a chemistry magic trick involving water and wine.

"It was an opportunity to get out and express yourself," he said.

Eventually, he became interested in stage hypnosis, a performance involving the audience. In the early days, he recalls, Palo Alto had a clause in its laws that prohibited gypsies from coming to Palo Alto, along with fortune tellers and hypnotists.

After graduating from high school in 1931, he attended San Jose State, studying psychology, then commercial art and advertising.

He stayed interested in magic, traveling with "Mandu the Magician," and acting as his assistant. He continued his interest in stage hypnotism, in which volunteers from the audience are willingly hypnotized in the course of the performance.

After one Canadian performance, McGill was awakened late at night by a "Mountie" (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) at his door. The mountie explained that a woman at his performance had failed to come out of her hypnotic trance for nearly three days, and was at a local hospital, could he please come and help. By the time McGill showed up, she was out of the trance. The incident was picked up by Paul Harvey, a news radio commentator, McGill said.

McGill has written more than 40 books and manuscripts, including "The Encyclopedia of Genuine Stage Hypnotism." He prefers an IBM electric typewriter to a Macintosh computer. "They brought over a nice Mac. It sat there six months. You get used to doing things a certain way. I was thinking so much how to use the machine, that I was forgetting the writing."

McGill says he is "semi-retired," but has no plans for a full-time life of leisure. He just finished another book, called "The Search for Cosmic Consciousness."

His best piece of advice: "Make life your playground, not your battlefield."

--Elizabeth Lorenz 

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