Category: Guest Essay

A Thankful Magician

Inside Magic LogoLooking back over the last year, we have much for which to be thankful.  But we are never sure when we are supposed to be thankful.  We may have been thankful at the wrong time, at Thanksgiving and so technically our thankfulness will either be redundant or just for the blessings received since the day before Black Friday.

But there have been many things since the official start to the shopping season that we consider thank-worthy.  For instance, our eyebrows are growing back following what could have been a horrific flash paper ignition accident when we looked down the business end of our flash wand to see if the glow plug was working.  It was but we couldn’t see it because of the over-stuffing of the muzzle with what we thought was too old flash paper.

We are thankful that our neighbor here on Santa Monica Boulevard was evicted and we do not need to lie awake worrying whether he was abusing cats or learning to play a stringed instrument.  The new tenant seems nice.  She operates a “call service” – we’re guessing that means she acts as a human alarm clock and calls customers at appointed times to make sure they get a fresh start on the day.  Apparently some of her customers do not have phones – or maybe they don’t have good phone chargers – because she frequently has to leave her small office to call on them personally.  She works around the clock but is very quiet and frequently brings us gifts of personal-sized shampoo and conditioner from some really nice hotels.

We are thankful that our audition at The Magic Castle is coming up.  We will be performing before the membership committee in February and we were sponsored by the incomparable Pop Haydn.  The extra time before our ten to fifteen minute presentation has given us plenty of time to completely re-work our act at least twelve times.  We know the committee wants to see our skill set and so store-bought magic is eschewed.  So, we dropped our rather lengthy Hippity Hop Rabbits routine.  That could run – with the right crowd – fifteen minutes by itself.

We are thankful for finding Paper Cream to keep our very dry hands more moist and thereby allowing us to perform sleights like dealing seconds and bottoms.  We were getting complaints about our constant licking of our fingers before dealing cards or performing card maneuvers.  It got so bad we were asked to leave a party for licking one of our volunteers’ fingertips before she dealt the cards in a spelling card trick.  It is tough to say if it was the licking or the fact that we did a spelling card trick with someone named Ida.  Maybe the hostess didn’t appreciate us using a name that was so short.  Maybe she was jealous of our ability to triple lift.  Maybe we should have worn pants.  Maybe we should have shown up on time and not the next day, at 3:00 am.  Life is full of questions, just like the police.

We are very thankful for the invention of The Stripper Deck.  We use ours constantly and wonder how magicians survived without it.  We read that Dai Vernon once made his own using a shard of glass he found in a bathroom.  He was very industrious and wise.  We hope he washed his hands after making the deck, though.  We do wish they had a different name for the deck.  If you go to any of the stores here in West Hollywood and ask for a Stripper Deck, they treat you like you are crazy or they try to sell you something that is not a proper magic trick.  Because we take seriously our oath to not reveal magic secrets, we never correct the sales people or explain what we mean by the term “Stripper Deck.” If you ever come to our editorial offices / kitchen / bedroom / guest room / den, you will see piles of odd decks and personal-sized sample bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body cream.  If we are ever raided by the authorities, it will be difficult to explain that little corner of our little space.

We are most thankful for the friends we have in Magic.  Those who we left behind in Michigan and those we have met since coming to Hollywood.  Magicians share a common personality type that transcends the influences of environment and access to sunshine.  The magicians here have accepted us despite our pasty complexion and regional differences.  We would like to think they have been so ready to include us in their magic circles due to our exceptional skills and winning personality but fear it is really just because magicians are friendly and accepting.

Magic is a wonderful art daily brought to life and changed in exciting ways by people who are in it for all of the right reasons; and for that we are thankful.

UPDATED: How to Close a Show in 10 Days

Inside Magic Image of Writer and Performer Maren Wade

Maren Wade is a gifted performer, singer, dancer, skilled author and a really nice person.

We went over-the-top in our review of her essay on Robin Leach’s Vegas DeLuxe site.  Ms. Wade wanted to make sure readers understood she was not criticizing any particular producer or show.  She wrote:

“My intention on writing How To Close A Show In Ten Days was to poke fun at experiences that many performers have encountered in the entertainment industry and to praise those producers who have had successful shows.   I don’t, nor have I ever claimed my outrageous stories to be true much less to be true based on my own experiences.

“Much of what I wrote was apocryphal, over the top exaggerations of “war” stories swapped by various entertainers over drinks.  It was never intended as a criticism of any producer in particular or any producer with whom I have ever had the honor or privilege to work.

I have to make clear that I did not write the editor’s note and I did not mention anything about my credits.  The fact is over time shows can close regardless of how long they were running no matter how successful they may have been.

“Where there is a beginning, there is an end.  I acknowledge there are many factors at play and that producing is a challenging business with lots of hurdles to overcome.  It has been an honor to have performed in every show for which I have been credited.

“I have developed deep and meaningful relationships with many people from the production teams, cast and crews that I have worked with and feel inspired every day to be surrounded with so many talented people who have such enormous ambition, drive and success.”

She is not only a great writer, she is classy and kind.

Personally, we would never put up with our hijinx and wise acre ways.

In fact, we would have been a lot less diplomatic and probably gone over the top again by attacking our own writing for being unprofessional  and taking great liberties with the original story.  Fortunately, we are so lazy we likely would not have even bothered to write us.

Ms. Wade  shared what she learned from her friends in the business in a satirical piece on Vegas DeLuxe.  She served as a guest essayist whilst Robin Leach is on his annual summer vacation.

While her helpful instruction is not directly related to magic productions, her instruction can help any show avoid a short run and embarrassing close.

For instance:

What is the No. 1 rule of business? Keep costs down. Here are some effective ways to do this: Advertising is completely overrated. Why should you spend money to make money? Your show should be Vegas’ best kept secret, so secret that no one knows about it.

Read her full post here.

We hereby extend an offer to Ms. Wade.  Please join Inside Magic’s writing team.  We love snark and especially well-written and insightful snark.

You’ve got what it takes to make it in the magic writing biz, Ms. Wade.  Give us a call.

[ Edited 4:23 pm]

Guest Article: The Kids’ Show Done New

Inside Magic Image for Tony Spain's Seance for Children[It is the policy of Inside Magic to offer its readers new and different views on the art of magic — even if they are offered by those who have no reputation for honesty or integrity.  Today’s submission is an essay on a new and different approach to magic for kids.  Inside Magic does not approve of Tony Spain’s thoughts or approach to kids’ magic.  In fact, we find them horrible.]

It is a given – and so I’ll write it at the beginning and get it over with – that people are reluctant to accept the new and cling so tightly to the old.  The old is comfortable, fits well with their beliefs (in part because the beliefs have been formed by the comfortable fit with the old pattern) and to leave the comfortable is to risk the unknown.

I think it was John Wilkes Booth that yelled Sic Semper Tyranus as he hit the stage floor after assassinating President Lincoln.  His words are reportedly from some foreign language, maybe Latin – even though people didn’t speak Latin then – and some scholars have translated them to mean, “So Always Goes (or With) Tyrants.”

Phillipe Anjou, the cartoonist and creative mind behind the 1870’s most famous one frame comic, “Li’l Trachea: The Funny Passage Way,” reworked the assassin’s declaration with humor.

The cartoon showed Li’l Trachea jumping from the Presidential Box at Ford’s Theater with a pistol in his ligaments and the ever-present hand-rolled cigarette balancing ever so gently on the top of his tube like head.  Li’l Trachea shouts “Let’s Try Something Different!”

Li’l Trachea’s little friend, Liver Boy is about to jump from the box as well and it looks like he will land right on the proud little trachea.  Li’l Trachea wants to try something different but only we, the audience, can anticipate the fun that will follow shortly.

I traveled down that side road of cartoon history, to make a point.  Even within 10 years of the death of a great public leader, the method of his assassination is lampooned as trite.

So what does this have to do with my innovation in Kid’s Magic?

Only this: I believe I have hit upon a formula that works and works independent of the traditional trappings we associate with the Kid Show or Kid Magic.  I believe it takes a certain kind of personality to perform this method but then again, so does any kid magic.  You have to feel comfortable with the children and make them feel that you are safe and you are there to entertain them for exactly 55 minutes pursuant to your written agreement with their mother, father or legal custodian.

Rather than go into the nuts and bolts right now, I thought I would relate to you my experience this weekend as I tried out my new, novel, approach to Kid’s Magic.

At the age of seven, psychologists tell us, children become aware of mortality generally and their own mortality specifically.  Perhaps a relative has passed away or maybe a family pet or close friend.  Regardless of the trigger, the age of seven, is the time to understand that few will make it out of this life alive.

Most Kid Shows ignore this ground-shaking revelation and allow the Birthday Boy or Girl to reflect silently that their birthday also means they are moving irreversibly along the river of life towards their final day.

The kids are terrified but they cannot verbalize their fear.  By pretending all is sugar and donuts, the entertainer is really just reinforcing their fear.  Every breath used to inflate a balloon is one less breath available to the child.  Blowing out the candles on their cake provides only a harsh reminder that, as Buddha said, they too will vanish from life like the flame from the candle — even a birthday candle.

I say, don’t fight these fears.  Exploit them.  Use them to make this the best birthday ever.

That’s where I came up with my concept for Kiddy Séance.  I will get to the marketing opportunities in a second, but imagine this scene.
Continue reading “Guest Article: The Kids’ Show Done New”

Inside Magic Editors: Sharing is Caring

Inside Magic Image of Attractive Reader Showing Shock at Finding Republished Magic StoriesIt is tough working as an editor at Inside Magic.

Yes, the pay is incredible and the offices in downtown Mystic Hollow, Michigan are without compare.

We enjoy the club memberships, the morning coffee break, full gourmet luncheon with exciting guest speakers, the newly instituted policies discouraging most instances of corporal punishment and verbal humiliation, not to  mention the free weekly magic shows and clog dancing contests.

But it is difficult to write inaccurate, misleading and fully invented stories about magicians and the art of magic on a daily basis.

Outlandish ideas besmirching innocent public targets don’t grow on trees.  Scandal and gossip is easily created when based on at least a shred of truth.  We do not always have that luxury.

That’s why we are turning to you, the Inside Magic reader for help.

Our high-priced demographic surveys show that our readers almost universally:

1) Leave their house more than twice a week;

2) Know people to whom they are not directly or indirectly related;

3) Read or know someone who will read to them;

4) Like to watch, do, learn about and/or buy magic; and,

5) Have access to a computer with an internet connection.

Those are the characteristics of  just the type of contributor we need.

Shortly after the Burger Wars of the late 1980’s we were forced to close many of our foreign and domestic news bureaus.  As a consequence, we do not have the live information feed from places and people outside of Mystic Hollow we once enjoyed.

That’s where the sharing and caring comes in.

If you know of magic happenings in your locale, we would be excited to hear about it.

You can send a fully-written article, review, essay or press release for publication with full credit to you.  We can also send story ideas, links of interest and blurbs for us to follow.

We  made a simple form to get started.  There cannot pay you for your contribution — at least not in money — but we will like you and say very nice things about you.  Please be sure the submissions are your original work or that you have permission to submit the work to us.

Thank you in advance for bringing new blood, truth and news of interest to Inside Magic.

You can find our submission form here.

Don Timoteo Answers Your Magic Questions

Image of a Card Fan and a Woman on Inside Magic[Questions for Don Timoteo – Magic Expert – can be about any aspect of magic including escapes, big stage illusion shows, little tiny close-up magic, and even so-called psychic magic.  Send your question to and we will pass them along to the Master].

As you know, because of my fame I have worked around the world performing for standing room audiences as well as many theaters where there were chairs for everyone — but just enough.

My expertise in magic is second to none, as you know. And yet I offer this help to you, the questioning mob of pubic magicians. Why? Does Don Timoteo make money doing this?

A little, but not enough to put up with some of the questions I receive or the ridicule thrusted on me like a Watchtower Magazine through the slightly opened door to my inner-most soul.

The other professionals, like that reindeer with the glowing nose, do not like me to be different.  “Oh, Don Timoteo, you should be like us.  You should never reveal the secrets to our art to the common magician.  That is like throwing the baby pig out with its pearl-wearing babysitter!”

Don Timoteo does not care.  He does not hear much of it and that which he hears he does not understand.

So bring your questions to Don Timoteo.  I promise on my honor that so long as you show reverence for my incredible talent, and historic place in history, you will be fine. You will not be faced with the wrath like someone who sticks his face in a pie-throwing booth at the Wrath Festival.

I know many men would like me to tell all of my secrets of love or the conquests my secrets have earned.  But I am first a gentleman and would never reveal the what has been secreted by me and my many lovers.

So, instead, I answer questions about magic.  Love’s magic is a secret I will not reveal.

Senior Timoteo:
What is fanning powder and where can I buy it other than at the magic store? They rip me off there.  Everything is more expensive because they say, “you’re not really buying the props, you’re buying the secret.” So if it’s just powder that helps you fan cards, what’s the secret that I’d pay an extra $5.00 for?
By the way, I loved you on The Flinging Nun with Sally Fields.  Yes, I am that old! I liked her before she was in Forrest Gump or Sybil.
Your Fan, N. Warner Douglas, IA

Don Timoteo Responds:

My friend.  From your first name, Norman, I know you are not Spanish and so the subtle but oh so impotent differences between titles is probably of little meaning to your head.

I am not “Senior Timoteo” but Don Timoteo.  I am thinking you meant to say “Señor Timoteo” but even this would have been wrong and to another man with much less class and noble heritage, it would have been the last words you said.  I am the fifth generation of my family’s royal tradition. I am a Don, of noble birth. My family’s tree is thick and filled with leaves.  It traces back to España and the mystery of the love that clings to the Spanish land like a scared two-year-old clings to his mother’s thick, hairy leg. Continue reading “Don Timoteo Answers Your Magic Questions”

Guest Essay: 99 Percent in Magic Unite!

Inside Magic Image of Couple Learning Magic's True SecretsMark Panner is not exactly a friend of Inside Magic but he did lend us money to pay the server bill two months ago. In return for his kindness, we said he could write an opinion piece for the web site. This is that piece. He tries to find parallels between the 99 percent movement and magic secrets. We do not agree with his logic, argument or conclusions but a deal is a deal.  We note that while we do not edit Mark's writing, we had to change the title from its original, "99 Percent in Magic Untie."

As I was watching the occupy movement do their thing, I thought about inequity and how unfair it is. One of the questions that kept crossing my mind was, how come the Vegas Headliners get the best secrets and technology and we are all stuck with the turn of the century – Last Century! –boxes and mirrors. It's not fair at all.

There is no other word for it other than inequity and unfairness (okay so maybe two words) but it expresses the vas deference between the 99% of magicians who need to use boxes screens or assistants (if you can afford them or are able to even go to where they congregate to ask if they would like to work for you). The elite one percent get to make things vanish, float, change, appear, grow or shrink without anything at all.

I have been looking into this question for a long time. It's been six months so far and I think I have some answers but they are not good ones.

When magic began, there was relative parity among all magicians. Magicians could make things vanish, float, appear, disappear, change or multiply with equal ability. They all used the same skills and tools. In the Iron Age, everyone used Irons and in the Bronze Age they did the same and no one had better tools than their neighbor. One caveman's Iron thing was the same size and shape and substance as the caveman next door and that did not change until the end of the "Ages" part of history ("Iron," "Bronze," "Dinosaur," "Bird," and "Trains") and the start of the Jet Age (around the time of the Wright Brothers).

Until the Jet Age, people entertained people in their villages and huts with essentially the same tricks either bought from a central store or made from common instructions. All magic plans used to be printed in blue ink and sold in rolls to magicians who wanted to build their own tricks from supplies they had around their cave or hut.

It took a while for this to die out. As late as the 1940s, for instance, Harry Blackstone used the same equipment as all magicians to make the standard "magic rabbit" appear or disappear. Magic rabbits were raised to be genetically identical so that all magicians could interchangeably use their props to do the rabbit tricks regardless of their location. A Boston rabbit would fit a Chicago rabbit gimmick and vice-a-versa. But there was a war on and many of the rabbits were actually made in the equivalent of factory farms where they were grown by strict military specifications to fit standard government issue magic props as used by the professionals (such as Blackstone) or the amateur at home or the magicians who entertained the troops during the battles around the world.

With the advent of the space race, the "elite" magicians began to insist on using "different" methods to accomplish the effects performed by so many. "Good enough for government work" was an expression first used to denigrate the magicians who were forced to use surplus magic tricks left over from the war effort. The elite used bigger bunnies (or with different colored ears or faces) and insisted on different methods to make tricks happen.

Continue reading “Guest Essay: 99 Percent in Magic Unite!”

John Cox Reviews Masters of Mystery

Inside Magic Image of Masters of Mystery Book CoverInside Magic is honored to bring its readers John Cox’  great review of Christopher Sandford’s book, Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini.  Mr.  Cox owns one of our two favorite Houdini sites on the world wide webs, Wild About Harry (   The other Inside Magic Favorite site is, the incredible work of Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brooks.  Both of these sites should be on your bookmark toolbar or made your home pages. 

Full confession. In my 35 years of obsessive Houdini research, I’ve always found his anti-spiritualism crusade to be the least interesting aspect of his life and career. In fact, I’ve sometimes felt I’ve had to slog though these sections in biographies. But all this has changed with the new book Houdini and Conan Doyle by Christopher Sandford, which had me riveted, and is one of those rare books that I came away from feeling like I know Houdini better.

Houdini and Conan Doyle (which will be titled Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini when it is released in the U.S. next month) is the third major non-fiction book written about the curious relationship between these two famous men. The other books are Ernst and Carrington’s Houdini and Conan Doyle: The Story of a Strange Friendship (1932) and Massimo Polidoro’s Final Séance: The Strange Friendship Between Houdini and Conan Doyle (2001). While full props must go out to these first two books, especially Polidoro’s scholarly work, I do feel like Sandford has synthesized all previous research with his own new findings and formidable skills as a biographer to create the best book yet written on the subject of Houdini and spiritualism, and maybe the most skillfully written book about Houdini in general since Silverman (Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss).

Houdini haters will be upset to learn that Houdini actually comes off as quite scholarly and rational in this book. For all of Houdini's efforts to portray himself as a man of letters, it really wasn’t until this book that I finally saw that man clearly. Houdini was a man of action (and reaction) to be sure, but Sandford shows he put more thought into these actions then he is generally given credit for. In other words, he really was a smart as he said he was! This is because Sandford has gained access to some key Houdini diaries (as well as some "unpublished writings" of Bernard Ernst, Houdini lawyer and close friend) that offer a counterpoint to what was going on between the two men in their letters and in public. There was what Houdini said to the papers; there was what he said to Doyle in letters; and then there are his own beliefs and private feelings that are sometimes very different.

While there are no Charmian London level bombshells in Houdini and Conan Doyle, there are a several things that I found revelatory (my apologies if these are in Polidoro – I hoped to re-read that book before I wrote this review, but that didn’t happen). My jaw hit the floor as early as page 3 when Sandford says Houdini, at age 11, attended a "series of séances" in a failed attempt to contact his dead half-brother Hermann. Also, at age 18, Houdini sold his watch to pay for a "professional psychic reunion" with his recently deceased father. Forget the death of Mama in 1913, certainly the seeds of Houdini's hostility toward mediums can be at last partially attributed to these early disappointments in his youth.


I was also fascinated to learn that Houdini purchased Doyle's father's art portfolio in auction, and that Bessie returned this treasure to Doyle after Houdini’s death; that J. Gordon Whitehead was born on the same day Houdini performed his first ever public handcuff escape (Nov. 25, 1895); that Houdini prided himself on having a substantial collection of Sherlock Holmes memorabilia, and struggled to prove that Doyle lifted his Holmes material from the writings of Edger Allen Poe. (Houdini seems eager to unleash this evidence on the world, he even teases it in his spiritualist lectures. But despite spending "long hours in his library comparing the two texts", he doesn't seem to be able to prove the theory to himself and never publishes.) And then there's the suggestion from Will Goldstone that Houdini occasionally "partook in a nip of opium"(!).

(Also, on a fun personal note, I had no idea that Dr. Daniel Comstock, inventor and founder of Technicolor – my current employer – was on the Scientific American committee with Houdini.)

The narrative of Houdini and Conan Doyle is pretty evenly split between the two men, relating their respective biographies in equal measures (maybe a little more weighted to Doyle in the first third). Of course, I came for Houdini, but I found the Doyle material just as fascinating, and sometimes downright shocking! I had no idea just how far off the rails Doyle went near the end of his life, firmly believing his prophetic spirit guide, Pheneas, that the end of the world was imminent and preaching preparedness to his followers. One thing Sandford never really addresses is why Lady Doyle, as the voice of Pheneas, perpetuated this fiction for her husband. (At times

Pheneas would implore Doyle to buy new home furnishings or kitchen appliances.) Unless they were both just flat out bonkers. It really is a strange, strange story.
My only complaint might be that the collection of photos included in the book leaves something to be desired. There is not even a single photo of Houdini and Doyle together (at least not in the UK proof edition, which is what I'm writing this review from — maybe the final book will have more photos*). But photos are not what's important to us Houdini nuts and historians. It's the text that matters, and this is where Houdini and Conan Doyle by Christopher Sandford delivers!


UK edition (left) and U.S. edition (right).



*UPDATE: Having now received my copy of the finished book, I'm happy to report that it does indeed contain more photos than what was in the proof, including a photo of Houdini and Doyle together.



Classic Bra Trick Upsets Some

Mark Panner is occasionally permitted to write on topics of interest to magicians here at Inside Magic thanks to his willingness to write for free and that his mother is Inside Magic Editor Tim Quinlan’s sister. As always, his article has not been reviewed by Inside Magic and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Inside Magic, its shareholders or employees.

Inside Magic Image of Birthday Girl Embarrassed by Hired MagicianMagician Russell Fitzgerald performed a classic of magic with aplomb and yet his name is held up for public ridicule.  That is what America has become today.

Read the full article here. Learn about how this school board member did the Twentieth Century Bra Trick on a teacher at a public and televised meeting and got in trouble for performing it perfectly.

Henry Ford once advised, “Never Complain, Never Explain.”

Of course, Henry Ford would not have performed the classic Twentieth Century Bra Trick because it had not yet been invented.  We don’t know if they even had bras back then.

But if he could have performed the trick, we know for darn sure he would not have apologized for it.

Yeah, critics might have chastised the great industrialist for humiliating a school teacher on live television. And you know what? He wouldn’t have cared one bit.

He was richer than anyone we know and didn’t need to depend on anyone liking him.

Those days are gone, gone, gone. We live in a different time and place. It is no longer fashionable or “correct” or “nice” to pretend to remove a woman’s bra in the course of performing a magic trick during the live television broadcast of an important civic event and where the magician is technically the boss of the unwilling assistant.

But to say it is no longer acceptable means there was a time in this country’s rich history where it would have acceptable and even expected.

There had to be such a time or it would not have earned the laudatory title “Classic.”  Check any magic catalog, the trick is always called The Classic Twentieth Century Bra Trick.

We long for the days when magicians could perform the classics without getting a topit full of backtalk and sass. Back then the victim and the audience actually thanked the magician for getting them attention and coverage in the news.

Underwear is always funny. It is a known fact in the world of comedy that bras, panties, underwear of any style are funny.  You don’t have to show them, you can just talk about them and people will laugh.

Emo Phillps’ great line fits nicely here:

“I got some new underwear the other day. Well, new to me.”

Combine natural funny qualities with the dynamic situation where an unaware audience member appears to loose said underwear and you have a mélange of mirth.
Continue reading “Classic Bra Trick Upsets Some”

Wolf’s Magic Releases Chompers!

Inside Magic Image of Wolf's Magic's New Effect Chompers!Editor’s Note: Mark Panner is a young magician known to long-time readers of Inside Magic for his rather unvarnished take on our art.

He begged to include an article in today’s edition and because we need to attend a probation hearing (not our own), we agreed.

Although the following sounds like an advertisement for Wolf’s Magic, we can assure you Inside Magic has not received any promotional consideration or money for the following embarrassing paeon to Wolf’s Magic.

By the way, we agree with his high estimation of Wolf’s Magic.  They do make wonderful equipment.  This review, however, may be over the top in the same way The Titanic may have had a short delay in the mid-Atlantic.

Mr. Panner can be reached by email:

I own many of the items developed and built with loving care by Chance and Shelly Wolf of Wolf Magic.

Because I am incredibly wealthy, I could buy virtually any magical effect from anyone at anytime but I choose to purchase from Wolf Magic because it makes me unique — in a good sense.

There are about five magicians per household in the greater Mystic Hollow, Michigan area.  That’s great for magic club meetings or for sessioning, but lousy for booking shows.

Fortunately, as I mentioned earlier, I am so wealthy that I hardly depend on the income I get from performing for birthday parties, school assemblies, or even public libraries during the summer months.  In fact, the money made from Three-Card Monte runs at the local elementary school is literally just pennies (sometimes dimes but mostly pennies) compared to my personal wealth.

But, assume for a second that I wasn’t filthy rich or both.  Assume, just for fun, that my ability to eat and to cover the rent on this double-wide as well as the monthly utility bills here at the practically gated mobile home community of Mystic Hollow Acres / Yogi Bear Campgrounds depended on finding shows to perform.

Well, my third set of foster parents didn’t raise no dummy.
Continue reading “Wolf’s Magic Releases Chompers!”

Bob Sheets – Guest Review

Guest Contributor Mark Panner submits articles to Inside Magic on almost a daily basis. For the most part, we reject them but still try to encourage his work. He took a break from listening to his Bearcat CB/Police Band Scanner to critique Bob Sheet’s work at this weekend’s Glass City Magic Conclave in Toledo. We began to edit the story but due to time constraints, we decided to just run it as is. This is an encore publication of the original article.

Write this name down: Bob Sheets. I don’t know if he goes by “Bob” or “Robert” but friends, let me tell you, you’ll be hearing from him again no matter what he is called.

As many readers know, we keep our pulse on Magic’s wrist and know just about everyone that is anyone in the business. We’re tight with the big names in our profession like Darin Brown, J. Marshal, Dave Copperfield, and even the first lady of magic, Matilda Saxe. But we had not come across this newcomer before. Chances are that if you are not as connected as we are, you haven’t heard of Bobby Sheets either.

Mr. Sheets was appearing at the Glass City Conclave in Toledo, Ohio this weekend. On the whole, we think he has a chance to go all the way. He has an affable style that reminds us of ourselves. He is unpredictable in his behavior — just like us. He does new magic or at least new to us — and we will be doing the same tricks soon. So, Mr. Sheets struck a chord with us.

We’re always looking to help the new kid on the block get gigs and further lecture dates. He is not really a kid. In fact, we thought it kind of neat that someone of his advanced age would be getting into magic this late in life. But, remember Churchill (with whom we were very tight) didn’t start water coloring until he was 87 — and by then, he’d already out-lived FDR. (FDR, by the way, did a completely nasty version of the slop shuffle, into a Doc Dailey’s trick — no one knew at the time it would be Doc’s last trick).

Mr. Sheets is a sturdy man. He looks to be one who works out or perhaps he has just had a very hard life and earned his muscles and physique by lifting barges and toting bales. His hands, though, are without tremor and his gait appears within acceptable range. He speaks without a noticeable accent or stammer. Despite his marred smile (he has a gap between his upper teeth – we discuss this later), he projects his voice well and without a hissing sound. His eyes were alert and focused on objects without confusion. His posture was remarkable for a man of his age.

What may limit his budding career is his trick selection. We’ve been around a while and know the tricks that sell and those that don’t. No mom is going to hire a magician who stabs cards on her dining room table while blindfolded — it just won’t happen. This kind of magic won’t sell in the restaurant venues either. Managers at the IHOP (where we perform each Tuesday night and then on Thursday night as our other character, Fluffy the Clown) were very clear: no fire, no furniture damage, and no race-baiting.

Mr. Sheets (and we are assuming that is his stage name) doesn’t use any blue material in his act and that is a plus because you will never get the birthday party bookings if they know you say sexist stuff or talk like a drunk sailor — we know this from experience.

Let’s talk for a second about the Knife Trick this novice with potential does.

He invites a young person out of the audience and then has him (it was a boy when we saw it but it could have been a girl) go back down into the audience give four people one card each. They were supposed to select a card freely from the boy but he didn’t really do that. He just sort of handed them to the people. No matter how hard you work with volunteers, you need to remember they may not understand your instructions.

Now, the boy has to walk back up the stairs to look at a blindfold Mr. Sheets is going to put over his eyes. He tells everyone that the blindfold is real and stuff and that no one can see through it.

Now, Mr. Sheets has the boy draw a funny face picture on the card he selected and writes his name. When we saw it, his name was “Gary” but it could have been any name and even a girl’s name if he had been a girl.

So far, so good. Mr. Sheets comes down into the audience and collects the four cards while Gary is writing his name, “Gary,” on the face of the card he picked.

Mr. Sheets then walks back up to the stage and has Gary cut the full deck in three piles.

Okay, let’s stop here for a second. We know that he’ll pick up showmanship the longer he is in the business but tip to Bobby, make your actions logical. The audience knows Gary could have just picked up all the cards while he was down there. You could have thrown him the magic marker so he could write his name, “Gary,” on the card while he still sitting in the audience.

Audiences notice things like this. And why cut the deck in to three piles? Anyway, he’ll learn.

So now Gary puts the blindfold on Mr. Sheets. Mr. Sheets said something weird that no one got about how people think he can still see through the blindfold and “I used to push bread dough in my eyes and wrap my head like a turban but they still thought I could see.”

Excuse us? Bread dough? Where is a magician supposed to come up with bread dough? And who puts bread dough in their eyes to prove they can’t see — or for that matter, wraps their head like a mummy — especially if they already have bread dough in their eye sockets?

We’ve checked all of the big internet magic shops and no one sells Magician’s Bread Dough or Bread Dough Hold-Outs. L and L do not carry a DVD about bread dough. In fact, we have reviewed our entire magic video library and no where does Michael Ammar mention bread dough on any of his tapes.

He was talking crazy talk.

Gary is his eyes for the next part.

He has Gary move his hand and knife over each of the three piles.

Oh, wait, did we forget to tell you he had a knife.

Yes, he did. A big knife.

It was shaped like a lightening bolt and looked more fitting for a gang member or a prisoner during a riot than a magician. Note to Mr. Sheets, knives scare people. Who hasn’t been cut accidentally when they’re trying to use a knife to cut a bagel or as a substitute for a Phillips head screwdriver? You will get a lot further by losing the knife and doing the trick with something less threatening. A knitting needle or even a balloon that is shaped like a knife would work.

One of the balloon objects we’re asked to do all the time at the IHOP when we appear as Fluffy the Clown is a “sword.” We can make them like a pirate sword or a regular sword. The kids love them and the parents love them because they know the swords aren’t real — they can’t hurt their kids. Mr. Sheets, parents are very protective of their kids — which is natural — but they are not going to want you swinging something that looks like a prison shiv near their children even if you weren’t wearing a blindfold or “bread dough in your eyes.”

This may be picky but we need to say it to help Mr. Sheets get better: have a girl come up on stage with you. There were many pretty girls in the audience last night and you could have had one of them help you. You could even have some fun with it by whistling at them as they walked up, or asking if they’re married, or give a big smile when they bend over to pick up the cards you drop.

When you had Gary grab your arm to move the knife over the cards, it sent a mixed message. Two men on stage shouldn’t be holding hands; especially if one has a knife and the other just tied a scarf on the man’s head. We’re not being politically correct here but you need to know that people may not be as tolerant as I am with “alternative life-styles.” If a girl was holding your arm, it would make sense and you could even joke with her about liking pain and so “please grip tight and stick your hot, sexy finger nails in my skin.” With a boy, you can’t do that without offending people.

Anyway, he tries to mix the cards around the table with the tip of the gangster blade.

Another critique: we know you are just starting out in the business but the table did not look magical at all. It looked like a suitcase stand from a hotel room with a board on top. There was no mystery to it.

We love our Black Art Table that we got from Tannens in the late 1980’s. It has gold fringe and two wells built into the table itself. There is even a servante (that’s like a ledge in the back). When audiences see the table, they know there is mystery afoot.

Your table, Mr. Sheets, just seemed like a prop you threw together at the hotel. There was no reason for the audience to suspect anything about the table and so you lose a lot of misdirection potential. Next time, plan your show ahead of time and get the right props. You might want to put a drape on the front of the board so that the audience can’t see that you “borrowed” a luggage rack from your motel room.

Back to the routine.

Because Mr. Sheets is blindfolded, he can’t see what he is doing while he mixes the cards. Again, he needed to think through his routine before getting up on stage. There were cards flying everywhere and some even fell off the table. It looked sloppy and poorly planned.

If he had done this without the blade and without the blindfold, he could have neatly arranged the cards around the table top. Audiences like to know you are in control; cards flying off the table are not control. Moms do not want to have to pick up after you leave the party. Keep it neat and tidy and you’ll get referrals.

Now Mr. Sheets proceeds to stab each of the audience member’s cards. This was neat but too chancy. What if he had accidentally knocked one of the selected cards off the table while mixing them? He’d be stuck. He’d have no trick. And he would get no pity from the audience because they would blame him for making such a mess in the first place. They would say to themselves, “Oh, of course he can’t find the card because he accidentally flung it across the room and it is now stuck in some bread dough or birthday cake.”

The fact that he could stab the right four cards in order was a miracle but not one he can depend on doing again. He was just lucky the cards were still on the table and that he could stab them.

He really took unnecessary chances with the final stab. He kept “mixing” the cards with his knife and pretty much cleared the table of all but a few cards. He then stabbed but because he couldn’t see, he missed the few remaining cards.

This makes sense and is another reason to not be sloppy. If he had more cards on the table, the chances of him missing a card and stabbing just the table are decreased dramatically. Either drop the blindfold so you can see where you are stabbing or leave more cards on the table. To do it this way just made it look like you were stabbing blindly and had no idea what you would hit. Audiences want to know you are in control.

Under the theory that even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes, Mr. Sheets got very lucky again by stabbing one of only a few remaining cards on the table. Sure enough, it was Gary’s, complete with his signature, “Gary,” and his smiley face.

Here are some suggestions from someone who has been doing this a long time, Mr. Sheets.

Number one; lose the knife for the reasons mentioned earlier.

Number two, don’t wear a blindfold if you’re going to use a knife — you need to see where you are stabbing.

Number three; don’t fling cards all over the place when you’re mixing them. You got lucky this time, but you would have no “out” (a magic term meaning an alternative ending to a trick that has gone wrong) if the selected cards were on the floor.

Number four; don’t talk like a crazy person. Don’t say crazy things like you’re going to push bread dough in your eyes. No one has ever done it and it sounds like you are a wierdo. You don’t think moms want you to tell their children to push bread dough or cookie dough or, worse, Play dough into their eyeballs.

Number three, why not have the last card appear in your zippered wallet? The knife thing is neat, but as we said, too risky.

When we have people sign their names on cards like Gary did, we make the card appear someplace special like our zippered-wallet. Audiences understand that.

There was no surprise (except for the mixing part) that Gary’s card was on the table somewhere. It was there at the beginning before you started mixing the deck.

You might worry audiences would think it is weird for you to have a zippered wallet. First, it is no weirder than pushing bread dough in your orbits. Second, they know you are a magician and so you would have special, magical things. Just like we have a table that looks like it could be hiding anything, they know there must be something “special” or “magical” about our zippered wallet.

Finally, number four, why not do the act silently or to music? Audiences love music and they love to see magicians do magic to music. You could use some appropriate song like “Mack the Knife” or “Big Spender” or “The Girl from Emphysema.” The “Big Spender” song would fit because there is a line in it where she (the singer) says, “So let me get right to the point.” “The Girl from Emphysema” is a good one because it features Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. They are well-known and catchy. It is one of those songs we have all heard a million times but no one knows the title.

This Bobby Sheets may not make it to the IHOP (I don’t know if he does a clown and balloon act) but he should do well in some other setting. He may want to check out bar magic. Back in Chicago, we had bars where the bartender would do magic tricks and it went over well. They would get a little extra tip for their effort. We’re guessing a week’s worth of extra tips would be roughly equal to our two days at IHOP.

Plus, people at bars are usually sloppy and they would not be so offended by the cards flying all over the place — but please check with your manager to see if it is alright first.

He was good. Even though it sounds like we were picking on him, it was only for his own good. By the way, he should get his tooth fixed. He has a gap in his smile. Someone in the bathroom said they thought that made him look “charming” or “charismatic.”

Take it from a man who dated a girl who was going to be a dental hygienist, get it fixed and feel better about you. We know that it can be fixed relatively easily and it would give you a whole new level of confidence. Maybe you could push some bread dough in the gap and no one would know. We’re joking, don’t put the bread dough in your teeth, all dough made with yeast has some sugar component and that can eat through the enamel of your teeth. Remember, a good smile improves your “face value.”

Well, we’re off to work now. Still intrigued by the bread dough comment though. We wonder if you could do a cut-and-restored Pillsbury Dough boy trick. You could still use the big knife and kids will understand how if you put two pieces of dough together, they will rejoin. Think about it and good luck, Bobby.