Letters to the Magic Editor

Book of Kells Inspired Magic Illustration.jpgWhen in the course of human events (magic related), it becomes necessary by regulation or law to respond to readers and or correct mistakes in content, Inside Magic will provide its Letters to the Editor service to our dear reader.

To The Editor:

Do you call it a “silk” or a “handkerchief” or something else?

Editor Responds:

Good question.

Magician’s often display a piece of cloth made of silk or some synthetic blend.  The wave it before the audience and sometimes need to identify it for some reason.  This is whence the “silk” versus “handkerchief” debate arises.  We have performed exhaustive research into the topic and some of our long-time readers will no doubt recall our six-volume set on the topic, Silks, Hanks or Cloth: A Complete History published through Magic Text, our failed (we are not afraid to admit it) hard-bound publishing division in 1998.

We didn’t see this whole internet thing taking off and never thought a book could be made available in electronic format.  We were confused at the time by the onrush of so many alternatives for information distribution so we figured we’d take the safe path and publish our books the old-fashioned way; in leather-bound, handmade tomes illustrated in the same style as the Book of Kells.  The shipping cost was very high – the set weighed some weight in British “stones” or metric or something.

The other thing that hurt sales was the threatened injunction from Tom Hanks – who is a nice guy but has aggressive lawyers – to stop the publication for fear that folks would assume erroneously that we were using his name to indicate some kind of connection to or endorsement by the then Academy Award® winning actor.  That was not our purpose – of course.

In fact the first book of the six-book set specifically pointed out how “Hanks” should not be used as a term because it could be confused with a person or even an actor.

For our other books, Magic Wand Handling: Safety and Security (a three-volume set with illustration set by a comic book writer from Tokyo) did very well but couldn’t make up for the losses we suffered with the first set.  Magic Text went out of business in 1990 and we were despondent – the two are not related.  We tend to be despondent and so this was just more of the normal but now with a reason to be despondent.

We had to lay-off twelve Irish illustrators and one Japanese comic book illustrator.

They all took it well – or so we thought – until they all filed wrongful termination claims against us.  While we were despondent to be sued, we were so impressed by the beautiful way they illustrated their claims, that our souls were lifted as we settled for a confidential amount.

Ironically, the Magic Wand Handling book was later made into a movie and that is all we will say about that.  The royalties were minimal and it was later pirated on a thing called Nutmeg or something like that so the royalties became non-existent.

We had hoped that Martin Scorsese would direct the picture but it did not catch his fancy or his screener’s fancy.  It was ultimately made on a very small budget (filmed in one day) in an undisclosed location in Los Angeles County and starred three people with fake names.  But enough about that.

In our book set, we urged magicians to use no term to refer to the cloth they were holding.  We quoted 17th century conjurer, D’alberto and his famous instruction, “not the props, ’twill only bringeth attention to yond des’rving of nay attention.  Focus on the magician.”

It turned out that D’alberto was a man of robust health and died in the 18th century thus falling under the Statue of Anne (the English Copyright Law) and his progeny (some 45 in total) claimed rights to the phrase.  Unlike the beautiful illustrations in the employee litigation, the estate of D’alberto’s children wrote in Old(e) English and neither we nor the courts could understand a darn thing.  The case was dismissed with prejudice.  Phew.

The modern practice is to refer to the object as a “silk” if the magician is under the age of 30 and “handkerchief” or “cloth” if over 30.  If one is exactly 30-years-old, convention allows for any of the designations.  William “Wild Billy” Bonhivert was found by the International Brotherhood of Magicians to use the term “silk” while performing on his 31st birthday and lightly fined.

So for our preference, we like “hanky” to describe the cloth we use in our only cloth-centric performance piece, Glorpy (a/k/a Hyrum the Haunted Hank).  We have to explain why we are folding a piece of cloth into a special form to cause the ghost of Glorpy or Hyrum to appear and so “hanky” does the deed.  Not to brag but our version of Glorpy (43 minutes in length) has garnered great reviews from our relatives no longer with us on this mortal coil.  We perform the full set only on special occasions – like during séances where we think one of our departed relatives will be present.  Otherwise, we have found that the trick loses the audience interest we hope to gain.

Dear Ed:

How do they do that trick where they make a Lifesaver candy go through their neck and appear on a string?

Ed (not the Editor but a guy named “Ed”) Responds:

Another great question.  We have seen the videos of magicians performing this very trick or tricks similar in effect on YouTube.  But, as it is the policy of Inside Magic to never reveal a magic secret, we won’t be able to say.

That’s not that we don’t know – we do.  Seriously.

It’s just that we can’t tell you because of the Magicians’ Code and our own policy.  But we really do know how they do it and have tried it ourselves.  We can tell you, from our practice sessions, that it is a dangerous trick.  One (us) could (did) choke badly on a mouth full of Lifesavers candy on more than one occasion.  We had to do self-Heimlich (ironically still illegal in many states but not California so we were lucky) and as a result made a mess of our smock and the kitchen table and then the hallway from the kitchen to our privy.  It wasn’t a pretty sight although the wonderful colors of the different Lifesavers candy was something to behold and left a trail we thought would be important if our self-Heimlich did not work and someone needed to find our body later – if that cats weren’t too hungry.  We tried with a shoelace, dental floss, a rope and hemp string.  All but the last failed.  We don’t really remember what happened with the hemp string but recall it being “nice.”

We performed the effect in public just once.  We were entertaining a kindergarten class and didn’t get past the putting Lifesavers in our mouth and pulling string tightly to our throat before the show was ended by Miss Tashma, the teacher.  She was very nice and helped those children apparently affected by our show.

So, see, we do know how the trick is done because we almost did it.

Dear Tim (the editor?):

What is your favorite trick?

Editor (Tim?) Responds:

That’s a great question.  We have so many tricks that we perform on a nightly basis that it is tough to pick one.  Obviously we love Glorpy (a/k/a Hyrum the Haunted Hank) in short or long form.

We really like to do that trick where you lay out a bunch of piles of cards and then the audience member tells you over and over as you lay out new sets of piles, in which pile their card appears.

We learned that from our step-uncle.  He married into the family seeking fortune but  left six months later despondent – maybe we also learned that mood from him.  He married Aunt Miriam in a very short but respectful wedding ceremony at the corner of Ivy and Sheridan in a small burgh just out of Chicago, Illinois.  It was where that bank used to be but is now a CVS drugstore, across from the Shell that is now an 7-11 (that sells gas).

The wedding was officiated by a fellow magician and former member of our father’s traveling show, Paw Paw Lawton.

Paw Paw was licensed to perform marriages and all the parties were fine with the location, the vows and the ceremony.

We had a wonderful reception at Hinkeys – a wonderful rib joint.  Names are important and Hinkeys was truly a rib joint.  They only gave your table one rib and you were expected to share by gnawing on different parts of the very large rib.  If you got the joint of the rib, you were considered special.  We didn’t get the joint.

We got the other end but tried to eat our way towards the rib but our step-uncle slapped our hand away.  That led to a battle between our aunt and the new member of our clan.  Words were said, and the next day he filed for divorce.

It took six months to secure the separation and divorce but in that time he taught us magic tricks whilst we dined at Hinkeys as sort of a make-good for the unfortunate start to our relationship.  We never got his name.  We just called him, “Step-Uncle.”  That was good enough for him.  Though they were divorced, Step-Uncle lived in our aunt’s basement for the next 15 years.  There were times of tenderness between them but the lives they had hoped to share were forever broken.

He worked as a  CEO for a major Chicago Bank and our Aunt kept her job at the watch factory in Elgin.

But we digress.  Our very favorite trick is the Milk Can Escape, brought to fame by the great Harry Houdini.  Reading from his poster, “Houdini’s Death Defying Mystery: Escape from a Galvanized Iron Can Filled with Water and Secured by Massive Locks.”  As if to emphasize the point, the bottom of the poster has our motto, “Failure Means a Drowning Death.”

We purchased a used Milk Can Escape prop and have been performing it regularly except in Miss Tashma’s class because whatever.

We enjoy the peace we feel as we rest in the watery tank awaiting the all-clear knock from our trusted assistant, Clarice.  Once we hear the knock, we can begin our struggle with the handcuffs (usually not a problem) and then try to figure a way out of the water-filled can.

Because we bought the prop used, we did not receive any instructions but thought our desperation not to experience a “drowning death” would inspire us to find a way.  We did and have enjoyed performing it since we were 14 (the legal age in Florida for performing water-filled vessel escapes in public).

We got a student permit to perform before we were 14 but could not perform the effect with water or after dark.  We would do the shows with the can filled with the diet soda Tab® to avoid the water restriction.  The bubbles would often help us identify which direction was up – a key part of the escape and survival.

We now perform the effect at senior living facilities with the can filled with Mylanta® due to a very lucrative product placement deal we worked out with one of the Johnson brothers of Johnson & Johnson.  We think it was the younger guy with the beard – although they both had beards, but this one looked younger.  We called him Mr. Johnson to be safe.

Clarice is no longer with the act.  She asked me to be sure to write that.  She is dating our Step-Uncle’s son.  We don’t know how else to describe him because we were never good with that “second-cousin once removed” rhetoric. We did have two cousins removed on one occasion but that was due to security concerns on public transit.


In the November 12, 2001 edition of Inside Magic’s Coloring Book, we did not draw the carrot correctly and so it looks like the bunny is being impaled.  We regret this mistake.

In the August 15, 2011 edition of Inside Magic’s Word-Seek Puzzle, we left out the rules pertaining to combined words like “bellybuster” and so users could get two points for “belly” and “buster”; or “hotdog” or “northpole” or “proteomics.”  We regret the error but hold a grudge against those who cheated when they knew all along what the point of the puzzle was.

In the July 4, 2016 edition of Inside Magic’s pamphlet, “Making Fireworks Yourself and Saving Money,” we regret the whole thing.  We wish it never happened.  Sorry.

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