Ephemeral Art: The Smoke Ring King
His day job was restoring antique pianos, but by night Harry Garrison blew smoke in people’s faces, and they loved it.
That’s because Harry Garrison is The Smoke Ring King.
I first saw Harry on the Tonight Show in the 1980s. A nerdy-looking guy who looked just like my seventh grade social studies teacher, he’d puff on a cigar and make sweet little smoke rings which he could maneuver with his hand to make bigger or send sailing over his head. His special trick was blowing one smoke ring through another.
Well before comedian Denis Leary smoked on stage as part of his act, Harry was reveling in politically incorrect smoke and turning it into an art form. Today many others make smoke rings, often using a hookah water pipe which allows them to inhale a massive amount of smoke.
But Harry was old school. He only used special cigars, 6 1/2 inch long Double Coronas imported from Honduras. To get the clean “water” effect like hookah smokers do, Harry very eloquently explains in the video below that his doctor required him to drink straight scotch or bourbon to get the right effect. Hey, you gotta follow doctor’s orders.
The pride of Cincinnati, (Cincy magazine named him one of the most interesting people in Cincinnati in 2010), at 76, Harry is now retired. When he was younger though he parlayed his smoke blowing abilities into a successful act by incorporating them with magic and comedy. Harry made appearances across the country and on numerous TV shows. He was even featured in a spread in GQ magazine.
One thing that was very important for the success of Harry’s act was having the right atmospheric room conditions. In order to make perfect smoke rings, a room needs to be as still as possible with no air conditioning or fans. If the conditions are right, Harry can make all kinds of smoke rings — big rings, double rings, multiple rings, rings through rings, and rings touching other things.
If the conditions are wrong, well… watch the video below. It includes a clip from one of Harry’s appearances on the Tonight Show where the atmosphere wasn’t quite right.
I’m happy to report that Harry is still around and living in Cincinnati, according to an April 12, 2013 web post by Dee Thomaz who said Harry Garrison is his/her uncle. Guess smoking isn’t always bad for everyone’s health.
One more title for Harry Garrison. He is now a member of Patricia Gay’s elite Ephemeral Art Hall of Fame, joining amazing chalk artists, coffee foam fanatics, and other talented individuals. All hail The Smoke Ring King!
Video with clips of Harry Garrison in action, including a disastrous appearance on The Tonight Show.