|Andy Gross performs a “cut-in-half” illusion that amazes people.|
Andy Gross said people get worried when they can't buttonhole his act. Is he A. a stand-up comic; B. a ventriloquist, C. a magician or D. an illusionist?
The answer is E. for entertainment and all of the above.
"It's entertainment, and all falls under the same category of 'having a good time,'" Gross said between convention shows during a telephone interview from Grand Rapids, Mich., on Sept. 13. "My kids tell the others their dad plays with dolls for a living."
Gross will appear at Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 13. Veteran juggler Fred Anderson appears with him.
"It's a family-friendly show, totally appropriate for kids - especially those 7, 8, 9 and up who can understand and be amazed a little bit," Gross said.
A dedicated family man himself, Gross and his wife, April, met in St. Louis where he grew up, when she was only 16 and he a bit older. They've been together 24 years and have four homeschooled children, who occasionally travel with him, but not as often as they used to. The kids have their own entertainment careers, and don't try to capitalize on their surname.
The oldest, Jordan David, 20, is an aspiring folk musician with a band called Cape Sable. He also has found steady work in television and film.
Morgan Lily, 12, already has had break-out roles in several feature films, including an X-Men movie at age 9, as young Mystique.
"She was jetting off to London to film and I was going to a Midwest livestock feeders convention in Iowa. She looked at me and asked, 'So Dad, how's your career going?'" Gross, who has done his share of television and Las Vegas shows said, adding, "But I probably had more fun with those guys."
Morgan made a surprise appearance on one of his shows.
"It was amazing how many people knew of her," he said. "I told her afterward, 'I can't bring you anymore because you overshadow me.'"
He said he doesn't worry his eldest daughter will grow up to be like so many child actors who messed up their lives.
"It has to do with parenting. I think we're pretty normal. We don't drink or smoke, and we never pushed her. She just loved it (acting)," the proud father said. "I don't see competitiveness among the kids. They seem to be happy for each other."
Riley Jane, 7, is "doing stuff, too," including quite a lot of modeling, and 2-year-old Audrey Lynn first appeared on an overseas version of America's Next Top Model as a tiny baby each model had to hold.
Gross said he and April's Midwest roots keep them grounded.
"Being in Hollywood is strange," he noted. "It (success) is a lot of luck."
Perhaps it's not that much stranger than his background.
"Racquetball was my whole entire life from the time I was 7 years old. I turned professional at 15, when it was one of the fastest growing sports," he said.
At 26, after winning many doubles tournaments with his older brother, David, Andy retired.
"The natural progression after racquetball is to become a ventriloquist, right?" he joked.
He actually started learning the craft when he was about 12 after seeing the Anthony Hopkins flick, "Magic," about a deranged ventriloquist.
"I went to the library, started reading books," Gross said. "I even called a visiting ventriloquist at his hotel in St. Louis. He gave me the name of a company and I ordered a course in the mail."
He learned to throw his voice - and had fun doing it at schools, on elevators, at funerals ("I'm not dead yet"). He even fooled comedian Bob Newhart while waiting for an elevator, pretending someone was trapped in the approaching car.
"He fell for it and said, 'Stay calm, I'll get some help.'"
After Gross admitted he provided the disembodied voice, Newhart exhibited his usual dry demeanor without comment.
He scared himself once, early on, in an incident he swears is true.
"It was a scene out of a movie. I was home alone with one light on, doing my homework. I saw my first good dummy's eyes move to the left, then to the right. Then its head tilted left, then right. I swore the dummy was moving by itself. Then my cat came out. It had been sleeping in there and woke up," he said.
He now has a collection of more than 200 dummies, from vintage to his own designs.
For 16 years he and brother, David, have continued their partnership by running their own specialty toy company, L.A. Magic & Toy, designing and supplying magic tricks, toys and novelty items to toy stores, gift shops and museums around the country.
He said some of that merchandise will be available the night of the show for those who want to attempt their own "magic."
But he's hoping people just will come and be entertained by the 90-to-120-minute show (with intermission).
"The best audience is when people just enjoy (the illusions) and don't worry about how it's done," he said. "It's why I try to use comedy, because even if people know how a trick is done, they will enjoy themselves."
Find more information on Andy Gross and his family on their Facebook pages, or visit: lamagictoy.com.
Tickets are available online at www.timstoyotacenter.com, at the TTC box office at 3201 N. Main St., Prescott Valley, and at the Prescott Gateway Mall Guest Services desk. For show information and group rates, cal 928-772-1819.