Hollywood has always been an alluring place for people in search of their dreams, elusive as they might be. But every so often, even in a town like this, the dream finds you. And when it does, it’s magic.
For Trish Alaskey, growing up in rural upstate New York with a father in law enforcement and a mother who is an RN, the entertainment business might as well have been light years away. And yet, today, Trish finds herself at the center of one of show business’s most unique venues. How she got here is a story of pluck, luck and blind faith.
Today, Trish serves as Membership Director for the Academy of Magical Arts, whose home, the Magic Castle, is a legendary Victorian mansion tucked away just moments from Hollywood Boulevard.
That wasn’t supposed to be the plan.
At the age of four, coached by her pop, Trish discovered a love of basketball, and her natural talent for the game was apparent even then. By the time Trish was in high school, basketball was her life. In her junior year, she became part of the Amateur Athletic Union, which raised money so young sports stars could travel the country, play games and be scouted by college coaches.
It didn’t take long for Trish to make the short lists for numerous universities, and ultimately, Trish chose a small college in Rutland Vermont. Small by size, but big in basketball, with a Division II ranking for women.
That was the plan.
“I was ready to go. Excited. It was what I thought I wanted,” Trish says with a hint of longing. “But two weeks before I was supposed to leave, my grandmother took ill, and that changed everything. She was my best friend.”
Her grandmother was a strong, independent woman whose beliefs belied her years. “I learned so much from her, Trish says. “I learned how to be a lady and how to be a strong, respectful young woman. Hanging out with my grandma turned me into an old soul.” The two developed an incredibly strong bond, so when her grandmother became sick, it shook Trish to the core. “I didn’t want to be away from her. I was scared to lose her.” And so, instead of opting for the basketball scholarship, Trish chose a nearby community college and stayed home to help take care of her beloved grandmother.
“That decision changed the course of my life,” Trish says with a knowing smile. “I thought it meant giving up on my dream. What I didn’t realize at the time was that by staying, I was opening up the possibility for an even better life than I could have imagined.”
But her grandmother wasn’t Trish’s only strong female mentor. In fact, throughout her life there have been a continuum of women who’ve helped shaped her personality, self-esteem and ideals. First and foremost for Trish, there was her mother, who was devoted and encouraging, teaching Trish to believe in herself. And when Trish’s mom and dad were working, she and her sisters would spend time with her aunt, who was like a second mother to them. Trish recalls, “She was strict and she was wise, but she was so much fun to be around!”
“So there I was, tending to my grandmother, wondering what to do next,” Trish remembers. “We watched a lot of movies together and talked about the olden days. We loved spending time together.”
But reality, being what it is, stood up and demanded attention, and Trish soon had to get a job, if only for gas money. Enter Toys “R” Us: about as far from Hollywood as you can get, but pretty much the perfect role for Trish, and certainly a precursor of her days ahead. She was hired as a greeter, welcoming people as they entered the store, answering questions, being the face of the organization. “I love helping people, so I did really well at it.” Management agreed and promoted Trish first to cashier, and then, in quick order, to manager of their customer service department, where she handled employee scheduling and maintaining the floor. It was a big job for an 18-year old.
All this, by the way, happened in the course of a single year. And then Trish’s uncle came home for a visit.
Joe Alaskey. He started in radio, moved on to doing stand up and later starred in a movie and hit TV show. He was always phenomenal at impressions, including those of Looney Tunes characters, which were always his big close. Years before, Mel Blanc had passed away and Warner Bros had scouts out looking for the new voices of Looney Tunes. You know where this is headed. Joe was one of the talent who got the gig, and today, he’s an Emmy-winning voice actor credited with being a successor to the late voice acting legend Mel Blanc, amongst an array of other characters like Plucky Duck from Tiny Toon Adventures and Grandpa Lou of the Rugrats.
So in 2001, Joe comes home for a visit. Trish and he are close; “I was always so proud to have an uncle in the entertainment industry. He really fueled my love of the business.” It will come as no surprise then that when Joe asked Trish if she would move to Hollywood and become his personal assistant, he was unable to finish the question before Trish said, “Yes!”
“I hated leaving my family but they encouraged me to go. They wanted me to see the world, to have a bigger life.”
Two weeks later, Trish was on a plane to Los Angeles. And for the next seven years, Trish managed Joe’s books, handled his finances, scheduled his bookings and drove him from session to session. “I learned so much about the industry from him,” Trish tells us, beaming her characteristic huge smile. “He has a huge private library of videos and DVDs, books and old radio shows, so spending time with him was like a Masters course in old Hollywood.”
“However,” Trish says with a certain amount of apology in her voice, “you can only do that for so long. It was time for me to move on, but to where? After all I’d seen, how could I just go back to some ‘regular’ job? I didn’t have a dream what to do.”
Enter the dream, on its own volition, completely out of the blue, in the form of a call from a recruiter. “They told me the Academy of Magical Arts needed someone to work in member services. The recruiter was aware of me, and thought I’d be a good fit. I was told that the Academy had already seen almost 200 résumés, so I figured, good luck to me.” After a beat, Trish adds, “Of course, I had to try.”
As she remembers the moment, Trish’s enthusiasm grows. “I had only been to the Magic Castle, the Academy’s clubhouse, once before, and I loved it. You know, it’s got a lot of old Hollywood in it, a lot of “ghosts” and memories. And magic — who doesn’t love good magic? We had to a get all gussied up and we were going to go to dinner and see a magic show, and I walked through those doors and went, oh my God, what is this place?”
We met up with Trish at the Castle to continue our interview. “I feel like I belong here,” Trish says, peering from behind the secret sliding bookcase that serves as the entrance to Hollywood’s exclusive private clubhouse, where guests utter “Open Sesame” into the ear of an antique owl and a world of mystery and imagination is revealed.
“I belong in the 30’s or 40’s. The movie stars, the glamour, the elegance, the manners. Somehow I’ve ended up in a job that pretty much lets me live that out.”
Founded in 1963, the Academy serves to promote the arcane art of magic, though it does much more than just that. Its more than 5,000 members worldwide come from all walks of life, including, of course, the greatest close-up and stage magicians in the world.
It takes a staff numbering in the hundreds to keep the Castle running, but for members, Trish is often the first point of contact. Ever-smiling, ever gracious, ever running around like crazy. Every night the Castle treats members and their guests to a magnificent restaurant, multiple bars – each with its own personality, and of course a constantly rotating array of wondrous shows in its three main showrooms. Keeping it all running smoothly is the great magic trick that most people never get to witness. “We have a strong team,” says Trish, “and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
For a small town gal from upstate New York, it truly has been a remarkable journey. Over the years, Trish has been able to meet and even forge friendships with some of her favorite stars who are fans of the Castle. “It’s unreal. After seeing the 1985 TV special Alice in Wonderland as a young girl,” Trish tells us with obvious glee, “I adored Jayne Meadows, who played The Queen of Hearts. Lo and behold I met Jayne, and we became fast friends. Remarkable lady. But there have been so many. Magicians, writers, politicians, royals, sports stars, a ton of Hollywood…I can’t even think of all the amazing people I’ve met.”
Trish reports to General Manager Joe Furlow and works closely with the Academy’s President Erika Larsen, whose family started the Academy some 50 years ago. Trish beams when she tells us about another inspirational Castle leader: “Irene Larsen, Erika’s mother, not only helped found us, but to this day is our greatest and most loved ambassador. She’s one of my greatest role models.” And part of the continuum of Trish’s remarkable female mentors.
Even after all these years, the Castle is sold out practically every night, and the Academy has actually stopped taking new members for the time being. The long waiting list to join? Yeah, Trish has to deal with that, too. “I love picking up the phone and never knowing who might be on the other end. It could be celebrities, executives, carnival people, mentalists, card sharks; they come from all over the world, and I’m usually the first person they call.”
As an 8-year member of First Entertainment, Trish freely offered up her opinion on what it’s been like to have us as her second “club”.
“I was with a large bank,” she says rolling her eyes, “and they were going through a change in ownership and I kind of got lost in the mix. Customer service has always been huge for me, as we’ve talked about, and I wasn’t getting the customer service that I felt I deserved. They were just downright rude, and I didn’t feel protected. When you have your money in an institution, you want to be able to feel like you’re well taken care of — and I wasn’t. They didn’t know who I was, I was just another person walking through a turnstile to get into this place to deposit my checks or take money out or whatever.”
Trish continues, “Being with First Entertainment is exactly the opposite. It’s bright and cheerful and welcoming. The people know you and genuinely care. And I have to admit,” Trish says with a wry grin, “I love the show business part of it.”
Do tell. “I don’t get starstruck, by any means, but I sure do love walking in and meeting other members. You find out who they are and what they do in the industry, and you walk away going wow, these are my people. Oh, and when I did my loan with First Entertainment, they were incredible.”
Coming from someone who witnesses miracles on a daily business, it’s a compliment that carries some weight.
We can’t get enough of stories where big dreams come true — heck, that’s one of the reasons we started the credit union, to help people realize their life ambitions. And we especially love Trish’s story because it’s an encouraging reminder that sometimes, instead of the other way around, a dream comes in search of you. Now that’s magic.