Category: Magic History

Ask Alexander Magic Questions for Free!

Inside Magic Image of Ask Alexander LogoGreat News from the folks at The Conjuring Arts Research Center.   Ask Alexander, their incredible search engine / database is now free to use.

Their newest iteration is the Alex 3.0 and allows users to search and browse for free.

Visit the Ask Alexander page, type in your question or terms, and presto, Alexander delivers the images of the journals or sources containing your terms.

It is fast and very helpful.  You will need to login if you want to see the responsive pages — assuming the sources are available at your subscription level.

The Ask Alexander team inform Inside Magic that users can “test drive” the system for free.  “Though this subscription level is smaller than our Bronze, Silver, and Gold subscriptions (Gold now has over 1,000,000 pages!), it still contains a lot of great material. This free account even supports all of Alex’s features like collection building, instant translation and adding notes, just to name a few.”

Inside Magic intends to release its long-anticipated Ask Paw Lawton page in the coming weeks.  It has been in beta testing since 1997 but is almost ready for launch.  Unlike Ask Alexander, the Ask Paw Lawton service provides the instant recollections of our sainted father, Li’l Tom Hardy’s Road Chief on almost any topic you can name.  The answers are not nearly as accurate or complete as Ask Alexander and currently many of the responses are not truly safe for work or polite audiences (we’re working on that) but it should be a major step forward.

Until Ask Paw Lawton launches, though, we suggest you take advantage of Ask Alexander.  As Paw Lawton once said, “You can’t beat free, but you can beat cheap.”

Our Award Winning List of Magic Loves and Loathes

Inside Magic Image of Ed Mishell DrawingThere are things in magic we love and hate.

If there is one thing we cannot stand, it is trite or cliché opening sentences to rambling essays about personal likes or dislikes by someone hiding behind an artificially inflated pronoun choice.

But that is just us.

Other things that bother us include the following:

  1. Older magicians telling younger magicians that they have no future in the business.
  2. Younger magicians refusing to listen to older magicians when they are telling them how it is.
  3. The meaningless objectification of women as mere props for male mutilation fantasies poorly set forth as some sort of “illusion set.”
  4. Magicians explicitly or implicitly demeaning their assistants or any audience member.
  5. All one-trick DVDs – even if the DVD is free.  Write it down, make a photocopy of what you wrote and wrap it around the trick, bundled with a DVD if you must.  We won’t watch the DVD unless it is absolutely necessary to do so – perhaps because we are reviewing the trick as sold.  If you cannot write the trick, chances are you cannot teach it on a DVD or at least teach it in a cogent, organized way.
  6. Theft of another magician’s bit, trick, flourish or act.  Sure, if we could do all the moves and flourishes necessary to duplicate Lance Burton or Dai Vernon’s best routines, we wouldn’t.
  7. Mentalists who claim they have real supernatural powers.
  8. Jugglers who claim they do not, that it all comes from practice and skill.
  9. Magicians who perform whilst attending another magician’s show.  If you’re not on the bill, keep you tricks in your pockets.
  10. Balloon sculptors who use pre-inflated balloons.
  11. Anyone who still uses the line “This silk is imported, I got it from a broad.”  It is the modern era – we can call them by their proper name, handkerchiefs or pocket squares Continue reading “Our Award Winning List of Magic Loves and Loathes”

Magician Ricky Jay Can Make You Cry, He’s So Good

Inside Magic Image of Deceptive Practices Movie PosterInside Magic Favorite Magician Ricky Jay is so good, his magic can make people cry.

That’s how The Jerusalem Journal begins its very positive review of Deceptive Practices: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay.

We are told of a British journalist who dined with Mr. Jay in a café on a hot, sticky day. (The article doesn’t say “sticky” but we believe it was implied and will stand by our interpretation).

He related a story about Max Malini, “who once borrowed a woman’s hat, placed a silver dollar underneath it, then lifted the hat to reveal that the coin had transformed into an enormous chunk of ice. And at that moment, the journalist recounts, Jay lifted his menu with a flourish to reveal his own 1-foot-square block of ice, which materialized as if out of thin air. The journalist was so astounded by ‘this supreme piece of artistry,’ she says, that she ‘burst into tears.'”

Deceptive Practices lovingly created by filmmakers Molly Bernstein and Alan Edelstein will open this Friday, May 17th in Los Angeles. You can check out the official movie site for listings in other areas and states here.

The Journal says Mr. Jay keeps his secrets – particularly when it comes to magic effects or personal matters – but does perform some pretty amazing things for the camera and the audience beyond.  It “unfolds like a magical mystery tour of Jay’s professional art and artifice. On camera, he transforms a paper moth into a real insect, flings a card at 90 miles per hour to pierce the skin of a watermelon and dazzles audiences with his specialty — astonishing card tricks — with maneuvers so virtuosic they defy the imagination.” Continue reading “Magician Ricky Jay Can Make You Cry, He’s So Good”

How Broadway Works: Magic Author Steinmeyer Recalls “The Merlin Crusade”

Inside Magic Image of Doug Henning's MerlinWe received the May edition of Genii today and were delighted to read Jim Steinmeyer’s incredible recollection of the logistics, politics and creative process that went to bring Doug Henning’s second Broadway show to life.

Mr. Steinmeyer’s “The Merlin Crusade” (subtitled, “Doug Henning’s Infamous Magical Musical Appeared 30 Years Ago.  Onstage It Was a Magic Show.  Offstage It Was a Holy War”) is a compelling read.  We could not stop reading once we began.

Yes, we had to apologize to those waiting to use the restroom, but to be fair, providing just two lavatories for a full coach section of a cross-country flight is hardly our fault.

We have two great loves: magic and logistics.  You give us an article about the logistical challenges of creating great illusions for a Broadway show and we give you our undivided attention.  It is an incredibly detailed account of a 24-year-old Mr. Steinmeyer as both participant and observer.  You should subscribe to Genii as a matter of principle but if you have not, get to your local magic shop or the  Genii website to get the May edition.

Mr. Steinmeyer was part of the “magic department” brought to Broadway to seamlessly integrate Mr. Henning’s magic into a complex and challenging musical.

Because the magic was integrated with everything in the show, there wasn’t a repair, a change, or a piece of scenery that didn’t have something to do with a trick.  Each of our changes on the work list was worded, “fix,” or “add,” or “align.”  Because no other department cared to understand the magic, it was the magic department that had to work with everyone else, watching what the painters were doing, seeing if the new pieces of scenery would foul on our illusions.  Each one of these jobs involved standing in front of the prop, scratching your head, experimenting, figuring out how the dancers were doing the routine, and then devising some solution.

You can read about the endless tuning of the show’s story, style and magic right up to its official opening.   The depiction of Mr. Henning is true to our memory of the great magician and truly gentle man.  Continue reading “How Broadway Works: Magic Author Steinmeyer Recalls “The Merlin Crusade””

Houdini Mystery House Still Not Found

Inside Magic Image of Location of Houdini's Stamford Home?Houdini has been gone (some say) for a long time.

We have had two comings of Halley’s Comet since he shuffled from this mortal coil.  (See what we did there, “shuffled”?)  Yet stories about the magician continue to grab the attention of readers and, apparently, assignment editors.  Some of the stories clearly strain to make Houdini relevant but that is okay with us.  We just like reading about Houdini no matter how tangential to current events.

Today’s article in Connecticut’s The Southington Patch gives a nice biographical essay combined with two local ties.  According to the story, Houdini owned a retreat in the Nutmeg State — a seven-room home in Stamford.  (Interestingly, “the Nutmeg State” is also the third level of consciousness in a therapeutic hypnosis session properly administered).

The Patch says “despite all of Houdini’s notoriety, there is no known photo of his Connecticut home; furthermore, no one seems to be able to locate the actual address of his home there.”

Strange, no?  One wonders how one knows Houdini actually owned such a home if there is no known address other than “Webbs Hill Road.”

We did a check of Webbs Hill Road in Stamford and searched for seven bedroom homes.  We found none.  But, we did find two six bedroom versions and both were pricey (close to a million dollars) and neither were for sale.

Perhaps the person or persons who purchased Houdini’s retreat converted one of the bedrooms into a library, a den, a knick-knack room, an extra kitchen, a billiard parlor, a theater or theatre, an indoor pool with either an in-ground pool or an above ground pool stuffed into a former bedroom, a yoga and/or Pilates center, a very small ice rink, a home planetarium (to chart the comings and goings of a certain comet), a not-so-free-range poultry farm, a sublet apartment complex for down-on-their-luck magicians (it could easily accommodate seven in one room if properly constructed and fire codes were ignored), a holy shrine to a saint or a deity or several deities, a handball or squash court (assuming European rules dictated the size and not the unwieldy Asian dimensions), a séance room, or even a laundry.

We did a quick check of the construction permits pulled for each home on Webbs Hill Road in Stamford from 1926 forward to identify renovation or construction on any of the residences that would explain the apparent loss of at least one bedroom. Continue reading “Houdini Mystery House Still Not Found”

Bill Kalush and Conjuring Arts Research Center Featured on Wall Street Journal

Inside Magic Image of Kellar's LevitationMagician, writer, historian and keeper of rare magic secrets Bill Kalush are featured on the Wall Street Journal’s Page One website.

The video piece features Mr. Kalush explaining the mission of the Conjuring Arts Research Center.

He provides an excellent summary of the role of secrecy in magic’s history and its vitality.

Check out the video here.

Visit the Conjuring Arts Research Center here.

Jim Carrey on Starving for Magic Physique

Jim Carrey with Perfect Magician's Body from Burt Wonderstone Movie Publicity StillIt is a familiar story to magicians, the incessant physical training and weight maintenance to achieve the perfect body for magic. For actor Jim Carrey, however, the rigors of our art were daunting.

He told People (the magazine, not just a collection of individuals standing near him) his strict diet gave him a great body but “it’s not a happy place to be.”

“It’s not a natural place to live in that kind of shape,” he said. “It looks great. It’s fantastic and gets a lot of attention, but you have to eat, like, antimatter to stay in that kind of shape.”

Indeed, many magicians have found the diet and exercise required to maintain the perfect “magician’s body” just too demanding and have left the profession.  Michael Jordan once commented that he had hoped to be a magician but found the constant physical conditioning “just impossible.”  “It was like trying to hit a curve ball in triple-A; I just couldn’t do it.”

Magic historians credit Harry Houdini with setting the standard for the “magician’s body.”

“Before Houdini,” said one magic scholar, “magicians looked like the average audience member.  Some were in great shape, some were in terrible shape and some looked like they were in great shape but were really in terrible shape.  There were none who looked like they were in great shape but were really in terrible shape.”

Houdini’s emphasis on physical conditioning forced him to run several miles a day and perform calisthenics.  He ate right and did not smoke.    In his youth, he was a competitive runner and circus performer.  Those two avocations sculpted his body to near Adonis perfection and set his own personal standard for a lifetime of physically demanding discipline.

It was not commonly known that Harry Kellar could bench press in excess of 200 lbs or that Adelaide Herrmann could perform one-handed push-ups with either arm.

“In those days, most magicians kept their superb bodies under wraps, so to speak.  Audiences were not attracted to performers because of their physiques,” one commentator noted.   “Only freak show performers removed enough clothing to show anything.”

Today, most magic conventions look like a gathering of Olympic competitors.  “Compared with the other performing arts, amateur and professional magicians have far and away the best bodies and physical conditioning.” Continue reading “Jim Carrey on Starving for Magic Physique”

Magic Patents Don’t Help: Learn from Horace Goldin

Inside Magic Image of Saturday Evening Post Advertisement from Camel CigarettesWe uploaded into the Inside Magic Library, the 1938 decision by the federal district trial court in the Southern District of New York dismissing Horace Goldin’s lawsuit against R.J. Reynold’s Tobacco for an injunction blocking their alleged exposure of Goldin’s trade secret for Sawing a Woman in Half.  You can see the decision here.

The Court’s decision was correct — Goldin was wrong and apparently didn’t even appear for the hearing.

The Court buys R.J. Reynold’s defense that it did not take Goldin’s secret.  The tobacco folks claimed they got their version of the secret by reading a book written by Inside Magic Favorite Author Walter B. Gibson.

We are publishing the decision to demonstrate an unfortunately frequent mistake of magicians.   A patent only keeps others from making the exact same illusion — it cannot protect the secret or even the idea behind the secret.

Mr. Goldin also failed to understand what is meant by “Trade Secret.”  This is still a common mistake made by magicians.   True, one can protect trade secrets under US intellectual property law but a trade secret must be secret first and foremost.

The method of performing a magic trick is not a trade secret if it is known by others — even if it is known only by magicians.  It may be a secret of the trade but that does not make it a trade secret.

A magician can protect a trade secret only if it is truly secret, he or she has taken the steps to protect the secret, and the person being sued had some agreement or contract with the magician to keep the secret.  Unless there was an agreement between the parties or there was some sort of special relationship between the parties where a court could conclude all agreed the secret was to be kept, there is no basis for a lawsuit.

Blaine Does Trademark Card Tricks

Inside Magic Image of Johnson Smith Ad for Magic SetDavid Blaine played to a nearly empty theatre in Holland recently.

The dearth of audience members was intentional, however.

DNA India reports his sponsor, Madonna, rented out the entire movie theater “so that she could enjoy a night out at the movies with her boyfriend Brahim Zaibat.”

Described as Madonna’s “Toyboy” by the media source, Mr. Zaibat is a 24-year-old dancer on tour with the iconic performer.

Mr. Blaine was brought in to entertain the small party of Madonna, her companion, daughter and manager at The Tuschinski cinema in Amsterdam.

DNA India says Mr. Blaine performed his “trademark card tricks.”

We are told that Madonna was wearing “a cardigan, knee length skirt and glasses” and her ensemble could be considered “demure.”

We have attempted to learn more about Mr. Blaine’s “trademark card tricks” but to no avail. Initially, we assumed this was some new effect in which trademarks of various companies or services vanished or transformed visibly whilst in the able control of the magician. This left us without the satisfaction we crave when we encounter something new.

We immediately tore through our books and periodicals collected in the anteroom to the great Hardy Estate’s Southern Annex. We found nothing about “trademark card tricks” in the more recent journals and books.

Knowing Mr. Blaine’s penchant for reviving the classics of the great masters – such as Buried Alive in the spirit of Harry Houdini – we thought “trademark card tricks” maybe a knowing wink to the performance of his predecessors.

Interestingly, it is widely accepted that one of the very first trademark was created by and for the Dutch East Indies Company in Amsterdam around 1601. Perhaps that was why Mr. Blaine performed the “trademark card tricks” whilst in the city.

We were able to find one reference to a trick that sounds similar to the “trademark card trick” in an old Popular Science magazine advertisement from Johnson Smith & Co. The writing is difficult to make out and we have tried to highlight the portion that seems relevant. Our reading of the original (sorry for the poor quality scan) is:

“but none MORE entertaining then (sic) TRADEMARK Cards trick . . . VANISH and REAPPEAR with EASE . . . friends and even GIRLS!”

We will continue looking for additional references and supplement this article as we find them.

But for now, as the Sherlock Holmes commented to Dr. Watson upon learning his toilet seat was stolen – no doubt by Professor Moriarity – “I’m afraid there’s not much to go on.”

 

Houdini: Who’s Your Daddy?

Inside Magic Image of Novel Ferret Out by Tim QuinlanHoudini’s father was a ________?

If you answered Rabbi, you may or may not be correct.

If you said, “lawyer,” you may be close.

If you asked, “who is ‘Houdini’?”  You are on the wrong site.

If you whined, “a person is much more than what he does for a living,” you are probably also on the wrong site but because your response evidences so much depth and sensitivity we assume you have lived life of considerable pain and disappointment and would hate to add to the long list of places and people who have rejected you.  You can stay but don’t touch anything.

The Houdini File is publishing a multi-part series on the question of Houdini’s daddy.  It is absolutely fascinating.

The series is a product of The Houdini Birth Research Committee of the Society of American Magicians.  Their task was to “ferret out hard facts about Mayer Samuel Weisz.”

As an aside, we love the phrase “ferret out hard facts” for inducing a wonderful melange of visual imagery.  In fact, our first World War II novel was titled “Ferret Out!” From the dust jacket “Captain Elmo Ferret was a young aviator trained as a crop duster in rural Key West, Florida drafted into Uncle Sam’s Air Corps to put a hurtin’ on a different kind of crop-destroying pest.”

Continue reading “Houdini: Who’s Your Daddy?”