We have been a fan of David Copperfield since his early days. We anticipated his television specials with the same excitement as we did with Doug Henning. These were two men with a demonstrable love for the artform around which we focused our life.
How great would it be to be either man. Have trucks, busses, roadies, technical experts and assistants working with a common cause — to entertain with the most entertaining art of all, Magic.
Given our past as prologue for this review, you can probable guess where we are heading.
We ordered our book from Amazon the day Mr. Copperfield announced it would be ready months later. Those months between our order and the book’s arrival seemed to tick slowly by. We wanted that book, we needed that book.
It arrived and we were then filled with apprehension and anxiety. What if the book was not all that we hoped. What if it was a flimsy (but hardbound) review of Magic’s history starting with tricks we already knew started our art and ending as a promotional piece for Mr. Copperfield?
We decided to cast our anxiety to the wind. This is tough to do in a small apartment located over the place where they bake dog treats here in West Hollywood. You cannot really cast anything. So we opened the book having received the cast anxiety’s boomerang back to us but with the smell of doggie cookies.
Well, let us tell you something. Our doubts and anxiety were for naught. This book is something to be read and enjoyed. It has stories about Mr. Copperfield’s love of the magical arts and those steps along his career that made him an international sensation. But even better — as if that would be possible — he shares stories and images of items from his very secret museum. These are the real objects, tricks, costumes and literature collected by someone who appears as fanatical about the history of Magic as he is in performing.
We could take hours extolling the virtues of his book but that would essentially be copying the book with our less than adequate style. We would still end the review with the gentle instruction to buy the book. You could buy it for the images, the history, the care with which it is written, or the peek inside Mr. Copperfield’s warehouse of Magic.
Our recommendation, buy the book. Get your own copy, share if you must but always with the firm instruction that the borrower must return the book promptly and would be better off buying it for him or herself.
This book moves past the garbage cans, feral cats that protect the cans they call home or cafeterias, around the now less-important yellow police tape and chalk outlines of fallen individuals (likely victims of the mean-spirited cats), under the poorly functioning but profusely dripping air conditioning units perched precariously on rotten wooden window sills, up the darkened stairway and to our screen door.
The book was published in association with the exhibition “Smoke and Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic” held at Wellcome Collection in London between April and September 2019. It looks like it would have been a great exhibition to attend. Check out the link to see some of the great offerings.
Here’s our checklist for an entertaining magic-related history book:
Mentions the Fox Sisters, Maggie and Kate. We don’t care if the work includes mention of their older and more exploitive sister, Leah.
Has dramatic images of both séances and the expose of séances.
Mentions Houdini’s importance in the stemming of Spiritualism.
Mentions Ectoplasm – we don’t need to see pictures of it being manifested during or after séances – those make us gag.
Posters, news clippings of either séances or their exposures.
As a bonus, if there is mention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Daniel Dunglas Home, the book is a must for us.
This wonderful book hits all the essential points and the bonus targets.
For those of us obsessed with this part of American and European history, much of the story told in the book is familiar. There were no new bits of information about the characters or their efforts to deceive or to uncover the deception. In fact, one (probably us) could argue there is a relative dearth of depth in the research revealed here. We have no doubt the author knows the history but because the book is to accompany an exhibition, it wasn’t intended to be a scholarly journal article.
The lack of depth is acceptable to us considering our knowledge about the history and the inclusion of images we have not before seen.
The book is replete with images – every page has fantastic illustration of the individuals involved – and is broken into five “Acts” and the segmentation fits well with the information provided. The penultimate chapter tells the story of parapsychological investigators and includes coverage of The Amazing Randi’s work along with Penn & Teller and Banachek, to debunk claims by folks like Uri Geller and Daryl Bem.
The final chapter looks at the psychology of illusion and, unfortunately, reveals some magic secrets that we thought should be kept in the Magic Fraternity’s vest pocket. How concerned are we about these reveals? So concerned that we won’t even tell you the tricks involved, lest someone finds them too easily.
Here’s the strange thing, though. We didn’t order this book or purchase it at a store. We didn’t even know of its existence. It showed up in our mail one day. Spooky, no? We receive things from magicians looking for reviews but they are usually sent after we at least provide our address (we’re above the shop that makes cakes and biscuits for dogs on Santa Monica Blvd., in West Hollywood but usually the Post Office requires more address information. Also there are two bakeries for dogs on Santa Monica in WeHo so the need for an address is even more profound.)
So, was it some evidence of spiritual forces that we received this book? Probably. We can imagine no other explanation, therefore it must be the spirits.
You can pre-order it from Amazon.com and it looks fantastic!
From the Amazon preview page:
This funny, irreverent, unique, eccentric memoir, magician Steve Spill reveals how he managed to survive decades inside a rarely profitable, sometimes maddening, but often deliciously rewarding offbeat showbiz profession—magic!
Spill tells of how his tailor grandfather sewed secret pockets in a magician’s tuxedo back in 1910, which started his childhood dream to become a magician.
This dream took Spill on a journey that started with him performing, as a young boy, at a “Beauty on a Budget” neighborhood house party to engagements in Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean, to today in Santa Monica, California, where he’s been starring in his own shows since 1998 at Magicopolis, the theater he designed and built himself.
Being a magician has given Spill the opportunity to interact with the world’s most famous and fascinating people. In his memoir, Spill reveals the many unique encounters that his profession has led him to enjoy and endure: hosting Sting as his opening act one night, spending two days on camera with Joan Rivers, and selling tricks to Bob Dylan, as well as encounters with Adam Sandler, Meg Ryan, Jamie Lee Curtis, Stephen King, and other celebrities.
I Lie for Money . . . is a literary magic show that captures the highs and lows of an extraordinary life that will delight and amaze you with wit and wickedness.
This book should be an obligatory read for anyone considering a creative career, and it serves as an inspiration to those who desire to craft an independent life.
We’re looking forward to what sounds to be a great read. Congratulations to Steve.
We have a “Submit to Inside Magic” button at the top of every page. It has been there since we first started Inside Magic in the late 1940s. The country was getting back to work, the big wars were over, neighborhoods were building, cars had big fins and transistors were just a pipe dream.
When the button was first installed, we received a couple of submissions – some were even magic related. But we haven’t heard much since.
We had our crack IT staff check things out and we learned tonight why they are called “crack” – but that is a different issue – and we learned why we haven’t seen any submissions. The staff had the submissions routed to an old website we no longer use: PocketFishermanKnock-Offs.com.
We hadn’t checked that site since the cease and desist letters from Ron Popeil’s blood-thirsty lawyers.
We are so sorry.
The server was filled with news releases, story suggestions, fully written essays and interview suggestions. Some of them were quite good but are now out of date.
If you have a story, a suggestion, a press release, essay or interview suggestion, please resubmit it for consideration by our previously under-worked editorial staff.
If you previously submitted your news and thought we ignored you, please accept our most sincere apologies. As a small but earnest magic news daily, we cannot afford to alienate a single reader and it was never our intention to give that impression.
Here is to new beginnings! Click the button above or this link.
Whit “Pop” Haydn is to Magic what Marconi was to communication. He is a legendary performer with the skills of a ninja and the charm of a religious idol. In a word, we think Mr. Haydn is pretty impressive.
We recently saw his performance for Magnetized Water at The Junkyard in Simi Valley, California (“Simi” is pronounced “see – mee” and not “seh meh” or “Sigh My” as we learned from about five people along the way).
He was in full character as Pop Haydn extolling the virtues of his latest discovery. With illustrated charts and graphs, he explained how Magnetized Water matches up with the body’s own natural polarity. It was a fantastic routine filled with genuine magic and a convincing sales pitch.
Even more exciting, for us, was the well-developed character of Pop himself. He is a treasure from an earlier century who readily admit his inner hustler tendencies but promises to lie only once per show. Once that one lie quota is met, he will shade the truth and perhaps be less than candid but promises to never lie outright. You have to respect an honest con-man.
We met Mr. Haydn aboard a ship decades ago. He was performing for the huddle masses on the luxurious over-sized yacht and even called upon our bride to be his assistant in his famous Four Ring Routine.
We were more excited than she at his choice and her performance. Our beloved eschews the spotlight and despite her elegance on stage, was happy to return to the relative anonymity of our stage-side booth.
“You were on stage with Whit Haydn,” we exclaimed with a mouthful of caviar.
“Who is Whit Haydn? Is he famous?” She asked, dabbing away the delicious roe from our lips, chin and tie.
“He is the man,” we offered proudly.
“Oh, the magician?” She asked.
“Yes. Yes, that is Whit Haydn and you were on stage performing his Four Ring Routine.”
“He seems very nice. Why can’t you do magic like that?”
We admit that she was very young at the time and it was likely the champagne and fluster talking. Nonetheless, she continued to sing his praises throughout the rest of voyage. Despite our natural jealous nature, we could not begrudge her crush-like admiration for Mr. Haydn.
To see Mr. Haydn perform is to forget about magic entirely. We tend to have a critical eye when watching other performers. We are not critical but we do see flaws in sleights that can distract from the overall experience. Mr. Haydn reminded us then – and now – of Dai Vernon or Slydini. Natural without forcing the impression of being natural.
It is available on Amazon.com in both paperback and as an ebook. We ordered the paperback late last night and are downloading the digital rendition as we type this very line.
To say that we worship Mr. Haydn is to grossly misstate our true feelings. He is not just an incredible magician with enviable skills and perfect timing; he is a great person as well. Mr. Haydn has supported Inside Magic since its very earliest days. In fact, his was the very first Inside Magic Celebrity Interview and still one of the most read.
We will give a full review of the new book as soon as the download is complete and our uploading (reading) is finished.
We are not a spy but of course, even if we were, we wouldn’t tell you for your own safety. But we are a magician and that is somewhat like a spy. Our specialty is Mentalism and that is very much like a spy. 62.7 percent of our act is based on intuition, pre-show work and informed guessing. Perhaps that is why we found so much of the information contained in former CIA operative J.C. Carleson’s new book Work Like a Spy: Business Tips from a Former CIA Officer.
Ms. Carleson worked in the business world and then decided to join the CIA to serve her country and find adventure. Along the way, she learned to collect, analyze and use information without detection or suspicion. Those skills translated well when she returned to the corporate world and so her book is addressed to her new peer group – corporate executives.
Of course the ability to collect information from those who do not wish to give information – a doing so in a way that does not tip off your target – is what we as magicians do for a living. Even if you are not into mentalism and work solely with automatic tricks requiring no “read” of your audience or volunteer, this book will help you tune your routine to the crowd.
On the other hand, if you are a mentalist or street magician, you need to get this book. We pride ourselves in being very in-touch with our audience and able to easily pick up on their unspoken communication. Ms. Carleson says we are precisely the type of person who could be a lousy spy. Once you are convinced you can read people or discern truths from their behavior or background, you blind yourself to the reality of the encounter. She provides a step-by-step method to acquire the skills you need to be successful building rapport as a business person, a spy or a magician.
We enjoyed the exercises she prescribes such as picking a stranger at random and learning the make and model of their car in a way that this perfect stranger has no idea you obtained the information. You can do it – we know because we did it. (But not on the first through fourth attempts).
Inside 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 (http://www.wildabouthoudini.com). The other Inside Magic Favorite site is Houdini.org, 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!
Simon & Schuster invited us to review Penn Jillette's newest book, God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales. We were flattered and excited to get the advance copy and read it several times over the last couple of weeks but resisted writing a review.
Our resistance was not logical. After all, we promised we would write it up and we try to stick by our word – as long as it is convenient or makes us look good. Also, we always need copy for the internet's number one web site with a domain name that includes the words "magic" and "inside" and is not about Walt Disney's properties, a NBA franchise from Orlando, or images depicting things that may be "magic" but are a bit too "inside" (some images are practically "internal" or even "interstitial") for our refined taste in exploitive media web sites featuring three-day trial subscriptions for $1.00.
Our hesitancy was more at the sub-conscious level. As many readers of Inside Magic know, we obtained an advanced degree from a prestigious seminary with a focus on scripture and patristics (study of the church fathers). The experience was grueling and in many ways more difficult than our later studies at law school. Seminary and law school shared epistemological philosophies if not content. The first year of law school challenges students to think like a lawyer. We learned to assume nothing is true without proof of sufficient strength to withstand an opponent's best challenge. We gained the ability to identify significant issues and methods to either use them to our client's advantage or blunt their impact on our client's position.
Seminary dedicated the entire first year to challenging the reasons for our faith. The professors wanted to be sure our spiritual world-view was not based on superstition or self-deception. We were being taught to think like a lawyer as well as theologians.
There is a significant drop-out rate among first years students in seminary and law school. Some leave to follow a different career path, some fail to adopt the mindset needed, and some just fail out for academic reasons. At the end of our first year in seminary, we were convinced we had been stripped of our faith. The cozy intimacy we felt with the subject and persons of Christianity was gone. Within one academic year, we were left to ponder deeply and constantly questions we thought were long resolved.
Did God exist? Assuming existence, was God anything like the entity we thought we knew? Should we care whether God exists? What is the reason for suffering and pain in the world? Was Friedrich Feuerbach right when he claimed in The Essence of Christianity that God is nothing more than man's projection of his best hopes, highest ideals personified as a transcendent being? When man prays to God he is speaking to his alter-ego?
We continued our studies and pressed on with the hope (and faith) that everything would come into balance.
And so the point? How does this have anything to do with Penn Jillette's newest book, God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales?
We think it is related to our hesitancy to write this very review.
We enjoy Penn Jillette's writing and performing on any subject – even magic or atheism. His style fits neatly into our 8-bit processor size brain and is always just the right mix of irreverence, hyperbole, out-of-the-box thinking, humor and substance. Unlike the class clown who is always "on," Penn Jillette has the courage to not be funny on every page and in the description of every event.
His cadence never seemed forced or the result of sophisticated and marketing driven editing. The reader is given a chance to meet Penn Jillette without apology or shading. The writing had us laughing out loud in our high-pitched, embarrassing, girl-like screech and within two or three pages we were in tears, unable to speak due to the lump in our throat.
When we tried to read portions of the book aloud for friends, we were often incoherent either because of our laughter or tears. Penn Jillette's recounting of his father's passing and his own battle with hospital social workers was unexpected, moving and impossible to read out loud.
So far, so good. The book is a wonderful read for magicians or lay folk. Yes, the language is a bit salty but we doubt you expected anything else. If the book was nothing more than an enjoyable grouping of stories about this incredible performer's life and passions, it would be well worth the cover price. But the book is more – at least for us.
The purpose of the book is to convince the reader that Atheism is not just valid alternative to Theism and more specifically Christianity and Judaism; it is the only explanation that holds water. To be an atheist, he writes, you don't have to be smart, brave, a martyr or a saint. You need only to say "I don't know." Of course there is "I don't know" and there is "I don't know (and don't really care)." He distinguishes the Atheist's "I don't know" from the Agnostic's in a humorous but superficial way. And that is okay. Agnosticism does not hold much sway for Penn Jillette. He essentially rejects it as a serious school of thought within the first chapter.
Atheism and Theism are significant philosophical / theological concepts that have occupied the thoughts of great thinkers over the centuries. This book adds nothing to that legacy. But we think it was never intended to advance discourse on such a lofty subject. We are guessing Atheism was forced to fit over the story collection to provide an apparently unifying theme that just happened to be a great title for a book written by someone like Penn Jillette.
You can call us “moronic,” “unethical,” “psycho,” or “scum-bag-esque” but we admit we love to be verbally abused — especially in writing.
But that’s not the reason we loved — absolutely and in all connotations of the word — Penn Jillette’s How to Cheat Your Friends at Poker.
The book is based on material putatively provided by an old acquaintance of Mr. Jillette, called by the nom de plume Dickie Richard. Mr. Jillette was permitted to create any pseudonym for his source and for some reason chose the name “Dickie Richard.”
Our therapist says were obsessed with these types of things but the name gave us pause.
After all, the last name Richard is rather rare in the United States. The surname is most often “Richards.” According to the U.S. Social Security Death Registry, there are a mere 13,353 folks in their database of over 77 million with the last name spelled in this manner compared with fewer than 40,000 for “Richards.”(Interestingly, there are only nine records for “Jillette”). Continue reading “Penn Jillette’s How to Cheat Your Friends at Poker – Magical”→