By SHELLY WILKISON
If he could take away the pain and suffering of a Liberty Hill teen who was mangled when an intoxicated driver rammed barricades and struck her as she stood amidst a crowd of pedestrians, CJ Johnson would say the magic words.
Johnson, a Liberty Hill magician who has built a 20-year career wowing audiences across the globe, has spent much of the past two weeks being amazed and uplifted by the spirit and determination of Mason Endres.
Miss Endres, 18, was seriously injured March 13 during SXSW when she was struck by a vehicle in downtown Austin as she and her friends were preparing to go home. She was among 23 people injured in the rampage that also killed four.
A senior planning to attend the University of Texas in the fall, Miss Endres suffered a broken femur, fractured neck, broken nose, concussion, severed artery in one leg and a shattered knee. She has had two surgeries so far with a reconstructive knee surgery pending. At press time this week, Miss Endres was still hospitalized at St. David’s Rehab Hospital undergoing rehab three hours daily.
“Mason is such a good kid,” said Johnson. “There’s been no complaining of any kind. She’s handling it all like a champ.”
“I’m slowly getting back to normal and getting up a lot more, but hopping on one foot instead of using my walker,” Miss Endres told The Independent Tuesday. “The support has been overwhelming.”
Miss Endres still has no memory of the crash.
As medical and out-of-pocket expenses mount in Miss Endres’ recovery, Johnson said he approached his friends with the offer to perform a benefit magic show. While the family has some insurance, Johnson said more help is needed.
As Dan and May Endres’ closest friends, Johnson and his wife, Kim McCrary-Hofstetter, have been at the hospital daily since Miss Endres was injured. In fact, the couple drove May Endres, Mason’s mother, to the hospital the night of the crash. Mason’s father, Dan Endres, was on his way to pick up his daughter and her friends and was in traffic five blocks away when the incident occurred.
Johnson said his friends were ruluctant to accept the offer to help, but he insisted.
“They’re (Dan and May Endres) the ones who are the helpers,” said Mrs. Hofstetter. “We had to tell them that people want to help you and we’re going to do this (show).”
“People have no idea how much this is going to cost the family, even with insurance,” added Johnson.
“This girl (Miss Endres) was having the best day of her life, and through no fault of her own…. She was at the right place at the right time when some guy comes through and hits her. Her parents have been off work all this time, eating meals out and having out-of-pocket expenses, parking,” added Mrs. Hofstetter.
Johnson said he continues to be moved by the goodness of so many in the Liberty Hill community and beyond who have reached out to the family. And while he is hoping a good crowd for the magic show April 18 at Liberty Hill High School will raise enough money to help his friends, he is nervous about the event.
“This will be tough because I love these people so much. We know what they’ve been through, and to have them seated right there… I’m a little nervous about that,” Johnson said.
An Evening of Wow
The name for the benefit magic show was inspired by Dan Endres, who Johnson said has been “wowed” by his daughter’s healing process and the positive attitude that is driving her recovery and inspiring so many.
Magically, it fit nicely with the mantra of the magician who has been “wowing” family audiences for more than 20 years.
Johnson’s comedy magic and illusion show evolved from a childhood interest in a magic trick to an entertainment business that has him booked for performances 200 days of the year.
“When I was a kid, I paid $6 to learn a card trick, and that was a big investment for me considering I only earned $4 a week in allowance,” Johnson said. “It was my first great card trick and I still do the trick in some of my shows.”
Johnson describes himself as a “goofball” whose comedic personality appears to be the perfect fit for his suitcase full of tricks.
“I’m not a typical magician in that I’m not obsessed with fooling you,” he said. “I’m more interested in entertaining you. I want you to enjoy spending time with me, and if you’re fooled along the way, well that’s all the better.
“I’m old school, laid back,” he added. “I have (magician) friends who go for deep, mind-blowing astonishment, but the point of my show is to have fun and be entertained.”
Johnson, who is also a hypnotist, performs mostly for family audiences, at schools and colleges, and for community organizations and fundraising events. A father of three, Johnson said he feels at home interacting with young people on the stage.
“I’m a talking magician. I talk through the illusions,” he said. “That’s just my personality, which is driven by the way I look. The style of magic I’m drawn to gets more laughs and people have a good time.”
His comedy magic show earned him the Best Comedy Magic Award in 1991 by the Texas Association of Magicians.
Johnson said two-thirds of the tricks in his repertoire are fewer than 50 shows old. He said the more practiced the trick, the better the performance.
“When I know the trick so well that I can spend time connecting with the audience, the better the show,” he said.
Johnson said the trick that gets the biggest “wow” in his show is the Floating Table. And the biggest “gasp” is in response to an illusion he calls “Rubberneck.”
“Then, there’s that moment in the show that gets a huge uproar response from everyone,” he said. However, to increase the suspense and not spoil a surprise, Johnson would not offer any hints about that one.
He said his favorite trick varies from show to show, and mostly depends on how his audience is interacting with him.
“I think my special gift as a magician is working with tkids on the stage. Almost every trick involves audience participation, and the whole show is very audience driven,” he said.
His wife, who quietly admits she has most of the illusions figured out after traveling with her husband and assisting behind the scenes over the years, says her favorite is the Fruity Bird. Without giving that away, Mrs. Hofstetter reveals that yes, it involves fruit and a live bird.
Mrs. Hofstetter said she has never had any aspiration of performing on stage with her husband, but does enjoy the time they spend together traveling to shows. In addition to helping back stage, she is a photographer and her business Fun Fotos To Go provides souvenir photos for guests who attend Johnson’s shows.
Johnson is also a hypnotist and does comedy hypnosis for college and corporate audiences. He also does game shows for similar audiences.
But among all of his offerings, Johnson as the magician still captivates the most crowds.
“I think we’re seeing a renaissance of the magic show,” he said. As a society, “we’re so wrapped up in the technical stuff that it’s cool that something in front of you can give you such wonder.
“Of course there is no real magic. It’s all illusions,” he said. “But, it’s fun to watch groups that disbelieve, because something will cause them to wonder.”
Johnson and his wife frequently attend magic shows and enjoy being entertained. They don’t try to figure out how an illusion works, instead they just enjoy the show.
“If you spend time wondering about the technical side of it (an illusion), you’re not being entertained,” he said.
Johnson, who attended Texas A&M University as a student in the College of Architecture’s Construction Management Department, mastered the unicycle as his mode of transportation around campus. He then taught himself to juggle objects and ride at the same time.
Johnson said he got his start in entertainment as a college student. He juggled and rode the unicycle and performed a few magic tricks at children’s birthday parties in the College Station area to earn some extra money.
“I discovered the more people I could play to, the better the business,” he said. Today, he performs only in theaters.
The show at Liberty Hill High School’s Auditorium will be the second show he has done in Liberty Hill. The first was about 10 years ago when he did a school fundraiser.
In addition to the magic of CJ Johnson, the Evening of Wow includes a silent auction. All proceeds from ticket sales, donation buckets and the silent auction go directly to the Endres family.
Tickets are $10 each and are on sale now at Tina’s Cottage and Simply Home Decor & More. The Liberty Hill All Sports Booster Club will also be selling tickets at concession stands, and tickets may be purchased at the high school office.
“This has all been so amazing,” said Johnson. “Friends who don’t know them (the Endres family) really want to help. It’s amazing how many good people in the world have come together to make up for this one jerk.”