Category: Magic History

The Magic Castle Looks Back on Johnny Carson’s Magic

The Magic CastleThe Magic Castle had a great presentation last night tracing the late Johnny Carson’s life-long appreciation of magic.

Dick Carson is an Emmy Award winning television director and the younger brother of the performer known as The Great Carsoni and proved be a great historian on the topic.

Dean Dill, Brian Gillis and the incomparable Mark Wilson came on after Dick Carson’s segment to share their experiences as performers on the iconic late night mainstay.  Mr. Gillis and Mr. Dill were also called  to provide the star personal tutorials in his Malibu home.

It was a great night to again enjoy the very unique talent Mr. Carson shared with the nation for so many decades.

Although Mr. Carson was very modest about his magic abilities, his talents were anything but modest.  He performed difficult sleights with polish and skill.  So many great magicians got their big break on Mr. Carson’s show and his support of the local (Los Angeles) magic community in general (and The Magic Castle specifically) was constant through the years.

One of the commentators observed he has never been replaced.  We agree.

Houdini Teaches Us How to Be More Manly

Inside Magic Image of Harry HoudiniSomeone smart once wrote, “Pride goeth before the Fall.”  We think that has something to do about not wearing white shoes after Labor Day but haven’t had the time to run a Google search on it yet.

We have been too  busy learning how to be far more manly that we have been heretofore.  We try to be manly every chance we get (not that often) but even when we try our rather effeminate laugh gets in the way.

Imagine our joy, then, when we found the website The Art of Manliness.  Imagine our double joy, even more, when we found their article Lessons in Manliness from Harry Houdini.

Houdini was (and is) a role model for our development.  He was into the exercise craze before it was even a craze or socially acceptable.  He didn’t drink, smoke, use drugs and worked hard at everything he tried.  Perhaps that is why he remains such an important figure in the public consciousness almost 100 years after his untimely death.

The advice derived from his robust approach to life is applicable to non-magicians and even non-males.  Maybe the article should have been titled “Lessons in Personliness from Harry Houdini” or maybe not.  Probably not.

Check out the full article and be inspired in your pursuit of goals important to you.

Penn Jillette’s Tribute to Lou Reed

Inside Magic Image of Penn & TellerLou Reed was not a magician but his friend and Inside Magic Favorite Penn Jillette’s moving tribute to the musician and innovator deserves mention on these august, virtual pages.

We are regular listeners to the Penn’s Sunday School weekly podcast and relish the time we spend with the taller of the magic duo Penn & Teller and his sidekick, and former juggler with Master Magician Lance Burton, Michael Goudeau.  The show is rarely structured and that is just fine with us.

One of the great joys of our youth was listening to the great magicians who visited our favorite magic shops.  Whether we were working or just loitering, we lived on their stories (even those repeated and embellished over time) and looked forward to learning from them.  We were not anxious to demonstrate our skills or try to compete with the professionals who stopped by Paul Diamond’s Magic & Fun Wagon (later just The Magic & Fun Wagon) in the newly built Palm Beach Mall, or A & B Magic owned by our mentors Ari DiArmona and Barry Gibbs.  We were content to listen and ask for more information or background.

It must be difficult for younger magicians to learn from their more seasoned elders without brick-and-mortar stores in which they can linger or act as a clerk/demonstrator/gofer.  Perhaps podcasts like Penn’s Sunday School can help meet this need.

Penn’s stories about the formation of Penn & Teller (we learned this week it was originally “Penn Jillette and/or Teller”) are fascinating, riveting.  On those rare occasions when Teller joins the podcast, his stories keep us spellbound.  Teller, for instance, shared a story of why he practices every trick thoroughly, to the point of a full dress rehearsal.  His description of his production of a previously live animal was hysterical and wonderful.

Folks who have seen Penn either on stage at The Rio, on television or in one of their many shows across the country, realize he is not restrained by conventions of good taste or polite discourse.  He is honest and, at times, not appropriate for children or the easily offended.  It must say something about us that we have no problem with his style, message or language.

Penn is also a profoundly sentimental person.  His recent books have recounted his emotional reaction to the loss of his father, mother and sister.  He comes across as sincere and for all of his bravado and bluster, he is also very human.

His tribute to Lou Reed is still available as a download from PennsSundaySchool.com and worth your time.  We were never really into Lou Reed but have found a new appreciation for his music and his work thanks to the heartfelt sharing of Penn Jillette.

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”