Category: Magic Stories

Perhaps Non-Fiction or Fiction

Our Magic Confession

Magicians, as a whole, are prideful.  We worry about our image, practice sleights to perfect them before presenting, write and rehearse patter, and of course comb our little remaining hair and clip or appropriately decorate our nails.

So our admission is hard to make.  We are shaking at the keyboard as we type – likely attributable to the unsteady shocks in the Los Angeles Metro Bus – but still we’re shaking so that means something.

The person reading this post next to us on the bus – and that is very nosey and they should be looking forward and not correcting our prose – says we should just get to it and stop being so dramatic.  Further, he says it doesn’t look like we remembered to take pains to improve our image before leaving for work today and why would a famous magician be riding a bus along Santa Monica Boulevard instead of traveling by limo or at least Uber?

We hope he gets off soon.

Okay, here’s the admission: we cannot do a perfect pressure fan.  We can do all sorts of fans but not a proper pressure fan.  There, it is out in the open now.  You can judge us.  Our fellow rider said if he knew what a “pressure fan” was he would judge us.  He is laughing now.  Probably at his own joke or maybe he is laughing at us.

We have been trying to do a proper pressure fan since we were twelve-years-old.  We can do a one-handed shuffle with either hand and lifts that would impress anyone except they’re so good they can’t be detected.  The fellow rider has stopped reading and is now eating Fritos very loudly.

We’ve read the technique, we’ve watched young children do perfect pressure fans with cards bigger than their cherubic faces.  We fail.

He is now drinking something from what looks to be an adult sippy cup but because he hasn’t opened to top properly, it is making a thunk-pop noise with every suck of liquid.  We wish he would go back to the Fritos but fear this will be a constant part of the ride for a while.  He’ll eat the Fritos, loudly, get thirsty, drink from the sippy cup and then back to the Fritos.

At The Magic Castle we watch with envy as magicians perform their wonderfully practiced routines but become irrationally jealous, insecure and diminished when they perform a pressure fan with such a smooth handling that it appears the cards perfectly align about their fingers with ease.  If only, we say silently, we had such skills.

We have thought of asking the more talented members at The Magic Castle, to teach us how to do a perfect pressure fan but we feel so much shame for not knowing at this point in our career.  We feel we are an impostor, a fraud; in an art that relishes impostors and frauds — so there is that philosophical, logic puzzle to work through.

He is back reading and corrected our characterization of his chocolate milk container as a “sippy cup” and does not think it should be our concern about his eating and drinking habits.

Perhaps that is the key.  Maybe we should not jealously covet the skills of other magicians, accept that we are at this time, unable to do a pressure fan and even though we haven’t for the last 90-years, we may one day develop the skill.  Just as we should not be concerned about others’ drinking and eating routines, we should be focused on what we can do and not what others are doing.

Our fellow rider has pulled the stop cord and is gathering his full meal and drink to depart.  He read the last part of this post and disagrees.  “You shouldn’t care what other folks are eating and drinking but you should at least know how to do a pressure fan if you’re going to call yourself a magician.”

We are pierced.

Our seatmate has left the bus now and we have a vacant seat next to us.  It is time to close the computer before we encounter another critic/editor for our long ride.

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Magnetic Magic is Marvelous.

This article is about magic and magnets.  If you are offended by either, you can skip to the website listed at the bottom to see the best array of magnets but we don’t know why you would, if you are truly offended unless you are only offended by the combination of magic and magnetics and like each individually just fine.

Just like we don’t know why we read from the back of the magazine first or try to invent new methods of throwing our used paper towels into the trash, we love magnets.  Maybe it’s just the way we were raised.  We recall, fondly, spending summers out at our uncle’s magnet farm and watch as he harvested them – each  year hoping for a good planting season and each year being a bit, just a bit disappointed but hopeful for next year.

The freshness dates on magnets are close to forever but our family was never one for storing things, so we’d rush the magnets to market and offer them to those who waited the entire spring season for new magnets.  Some had plenty of magnets already but they wanted the latest model or one with more strength.  We didn’t blame them.  Magnets are magic in their own right.

It was years after those blissful days at our uncle’s farm that we learned that magnets can be used for things.  One can use a magnet to hold a note to a steel refrigerator door to show off artwork or attach a “to do” list – named “to do” after the Earl of Sandwich youngest daughter, Toodles.  She would bring him sandwiches during his all day card games and make a list of ingredients for the household staff to purchase.

In the past year, we have learned that one can even use magnets in magic tricks.  We don’t know if this has been considered before but we found a way to use magnets with different polarities to hold things together or even (with one of the magnets reversed) to repel.

We are currently working on a levitation where our assistant (and applications to be that assistant are still available because of the alleged “danger”) wears a special costume composed of magnets set to repel magnets in a specially designed, high-power electrically wired base.  This would cause – to the best of our estimation – the assistant to appear to float.  We have tried it with store manikins (our other true love) and the effect is a bit clumsy still. For instance, if the assistant rotates even a little, he or she will slam to the base with a horrible, fracturing thump.  We have also abandoned the steel ring we were using to show there were no wires.  We nearly broke our shoulder when we were pulled to the base because we wouldn’t let go of the ring – again with a horrible thump – and then struck by the manikin constrained by the ring and now attracted to the base.

Edison said invention is 99 percent something and 1 percent something dealing with sweat.  We know some work lies ahead of us to perfect the effect but that won’t stop us from advertising it for sale very soon.

We are trying to come up with a name for the effect that won’t give away the use of magnets.  “Floating Person” and “Floating Lady” are the two we have hit on so far.  We are thinking the pricing will be some amount more than what it costs to make – that is currently $32,000.00.

A downside – or maybe a feature – is that when the base magnet is turned on and electricity is flowing, the platform emits the attractive strength to snatch from their owners: watches, pens, 1943 U.S. pennies (they were made of steel during the war), pacemakers, some orthodontia, steel plates in heads, animal collars (with or without animals), hip replacement parts, car parts and manikin stands.  It could be a feature if we could hide the fact that it was the magnetic base that was attracting these steel parts and if we didn’t kill anyone by having parts ripped from their bodies or injure animals – all of our magic is animal friendly.

Our uncle’s farm went the way of many magnetic fields.  The land was mined with specialized tools and sold off to rich people with a need for magnets and large freshly mined fields.  The 42 acre spread is now an empty field just off the highway in Southern Illinois.  It used to be in Michigan but was moved because it was attracting fish out of the Great (ha!) Lakes.  Now it is just a safe piece of land with an occasional magnetic just below its grassy surface.

In fact, if the farm hadn’t been moved and mined, we could have brought the price down for our illusion to free plus 10 percent of free for profit.  But now we need to buy magnets on the open market.

Fortunately, we found just the spot.  K&J Magnetics have every kind of magnet you could want.  Want a ring shaped magnet?  Want a square magnet? Want a round magnet? K&J Magnets has them all.

You can check out the K&J Magnetics site here.

By the way, we are receiving no compensation from K&J Magnetics.  We just love their site.  It is like a wishbook for magic and magnet lovers.

Read a full history on our uncle’s farm and the magnet price war of 1972 that led to the mining and sale of the farm in our upcoming book, Magnetic Money Maker: The True Story of a Man and His Magnets and the Forces that Sought to Repel Him.

Congressional Resolution on Magic Stalls

We learned today that the Magic Resolution stalled in House of Representatives

We’ve all done it and by “we” we mean “us.”  Read through the U.S. Congressional and Senate dockets, looking for magic-related items so that we can spring into junior lobbyist and fight for or against the bill by whipping up support among the very influential “magician vote” and donate tens of dollars to candidates supporting our position.

We are ashamed (for the purposes of this post only) that we did not notice a bill that remains pending in the U.S. House of Representatives; at least it appears stalled according to the “Actions” tab on the Congressional status page.

As far as we can tell, H.Res.642 — 114th Congress (2015-2016) is dead.  It was referred to committee and never returned.  Maybe it was replaced with another bill in this, the 115th Congress, but we have not found that piece of legislation yet.  The bill read in appropriate part:

Recognizing magic as a rare and valuable art form and national treasure.

Whereas magic is an art form with the unique power and potential to impact the lives of all people;

Whereas magic enables people to experience the impossible;

Whereas magic is used to inspire and bring wonder and happiness to others;

Whereas magic has had a significant impact on other art forms;

Whereas magic, like the great art forms of dance, literature, theater, film, and the visual arts, allows people to experience something that transcends the written word;

Whereas many technological advances can be directly traced to the influential work of magicians;

Whereas futurist Arthur C. Clarke claimed that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic;

Whereas one of the greatest artists of all time, Leonardo da Vinci, was inspired by magic and co-wrote one of the very first books on magic in the late 15th century;

Whereas modern cinema would not exist today without the innovative work of the accomplished magician Georges Méliès;

Whereas magicians are visual storytellers who seamlessly interweave elements of mystery, wonder, emotion, and expression;

Whereas magic is an outstanding artistic model of individual expression;

Whereas magic fulfills some of the highest ideals and aspirations of our country by encouraging people to question what they believe and see;

Whereas magic is a unifying force across cultural, religious, ethnic, and age differences in our diverse Nation;

Whereas magic is an art that transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary;

Whereas the American magicians Harry Houdini and David Copperfield have been the most successful magicians of the past two centuries;

Whereas David Copperfield, introduced to magic as a boy growing up in New Jersey, has been named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress;

Whereas David Copperfield, with 21 Emmy Awards, 11 Guinness World Records, and over four billion dollars in ticket sales, has impacted every aspect of the global entertainment industry;

Whereas David Copperfield, through his magic, inspires great positive change in the lives of Americans;

Whereas people consistently leave David Copperfield’s live magic show with a different perspective than when they entered;

Whereas Rebecca Brown of Portland, Oregon, left a David Copperfield magic show with a newfound inspiration to pursue her lifelong, unfulfilled passion for dance;

Whereas three months after Rebecca Brown attended the David Copperfield magic show, she performed her first choreographed recital in Portland, Oregon’s Pioneer Square;

Whereas programs such as Project Magic, created by David Copperfield, use magic as a form of therapy for children with physical, psychological, and social disabilities;

Whereas learning magic through programs such as Project Magic can help these children improve their physical and mental dexterity and increase their confidence;

Whereas learning magic through programs such as Project Magic helps these children realize that they are no longer less able than their peers;

Whereas programs such as Project Magic teach these children that they are more capable and have a newfound ability to do what others cannot;

Whereas cities such as Wylie, Texas, and its mayor, Eric Hogue, recognize and promote the art of magic with official proclamations, summer educational programs, and the first festival dedicated to the art of magic in the State of Texas;

Whereas Mayor Eric Hogue, who learned the art of magic as a child, continues to use those skills to teach elementary school students about the different roles and responsibilities of local government;

Whereas magic is timeless in appeal and requires only the capacity to dream;

Whereas magic transcends any barrier of race, religion, language, or culture;

Whereas magic has not been properly recognized as a great American art form, nor has it been accorded the institutional status on a national level commensurate with its value and importance;

Whereas there is not an effective national effort to support and preserve magic;

Whereas documentation and archival support required by such a great art form has yet to be systematically applied to the field of magic; and

Whereas it is in the best interest of the national welfare to preserve and celebrate the unique art form of magic: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives—

(1) recognizes magic as a rare and valuable art form and national treasure; and

(2) supports efforts to make certain that magic is preserved, understood, and promulgated.

 

We understand that this is a hot button issue but suggest that Congress consider carefully whether they wish to drum-up the ire of magicians by letting this resolution sit.  We agree that “it is in the best interest of the national welfare to preserve and celebrate the unique art form of magic.”  We even agree not to move for an amendment proclaiming the inherent value of magic-based websites such as InsideMagic.com.  We would also leave off our language requiring a grant to such websites to study further the influence of Magic on the general population.  That’s how sincere we are.  We don’t often take political stands but when we do, we stand up tall.

Some will point with scorn at our 1988 attempt to become mayor of Mystic Hollow.  We lost by 15 votes in a community of 45.

It was a hard loss and we took it hard.

We tried to figure out who would vote against us and favor of the mayor who had led our town so ably for 20 years before.  Some pointed to our scandal plagued past (and there is still no proof we used a marked deck in our performance of “Pick a Card” on local cable television); or our inability to name any of the responsibilities of Mayor; or our very fashion forward wearing of Miami Vice colors sans ties.  We think the reason we lost was because Mystic Hollow was not ready for the type of change we wanted to bring to the hamlet.

Our platform:

  1. Free breakfast (meaning at least a donut) for all residents;
  2. Free lunch (meaning at least a potpie) for all residents who did not already have lunch or breakfast;
  3. Free dinner in exchange for a promise to perform a magic trick for other customers at the French Drop Inn;
  4. Free rent for all still living in their parents’ home;
  5. All cards should be made by U.S. Playing Cards in Cincinnati, Ohio (this was a toss to a local job creator that ultimately moved some production to Kentucky);
  6. Rabbit breeding should be inspected by the local vet;
  7. No wearing pajamas in public (this was said to unfairly single out Tony Spain and his family but the Tony Spain – Inside Magic feud was already too far along to stop);
  8. Free late night snack (meaning at least one donut not held over from the previous day although said donut could be of the population of donuts that would be offered for breakfast on the following day);

 

Our opponent, Mayor Niceguy (pronounced “Neece gee” in our campaign advertising) promised only to keep things the same.

After he won, he called to extend his gracious thoughts and appreciation of our down-and-dirty campaign.  We took it the best we could; considering we had used all of the napkins allotted by the always considerate staff at the Dunkin’ Donuts – site of our campaign’s anticipated celebration.  He offered us a job in his administration as a “gopher” or “go fer” to help out around the office and bring / pick-up things for him.  As flattered as we were to be considered for such a position, it seemed like too much work and we were in a bad place emotionally after losing.  As we told a reporter for Time magazine, “It hurts real bad.”  To be candid, the reporter was just in town covering a welding explosion and this was ten years after the election and we’re not sure the reporter heard us.

But our democracy is alive except the bill that would recognize Magic as an invaluable art form is apparently dead.  We’ll follow up on this after the elections in November.   We expect this bill to be a huge issue in the debates and advertising.  We also expect that the McRib will become a regular item available at McDonald’s and not just something that comes and goes.

Read the full bill and the activities behind it here.

Read a great Business Insider article on how the bill got its start here.

See the “I’m Just a Bill” video for further education on the process on YouTube here.

Read just one of our articles attacking Tony Spain here.

Magic, Mystery and Mentalism – a Moral Lesson

Mentalism, Magic and Mystery are three very different things – at least in our tattered book.  We have never gotten into trouble with Magic and Mystery but on a couple of occasions have experienced harsh but understandable reactions from Mentalism.

First of all, we are out of the Mentalism biz.  It used to be the cool thing around the time of people bending things and using specially patterned cards to read minds.  There was a time in our business when everyone claimed they could read minds.  Why they did that was always a mystery (little “m” mystery) to us.  It gained them some notoriety but it would seem to invite constant challenges.

Slowly the world of Mentalism evolved to not claiming to be capable of reading minds.  There were some who continued to make the claims but they were now considered psychics and not Mentalists.  We were always in the Mentalism camp – back during our Mentalism days.  We would, contrary to psychics, affirmatively tell audiences we cannot read minds.  We could influence choices and perhaps pick up tells given by volunteers but never, ever could we read minds.

Except one time.

The following story is an amalgam of two events to protect the innocent and make our point.

We performed what Magicians would call a one-in-a-million shot.  Our hole card is the Four of Hearts.  We don’t know why but it seems like a good even number and has pretty hearts that can be read from the back of the audience.  We were performing for some Boy Scouts and held an over-sized card before us and asked a woman in the far back to name a card.  Our intention was to fail to have predicted the card and then go about our act explaining why we do not claim Mentalism power.

She called out in a loud and clear voice, “The Four of Hearts!”

We were far less mature then.

We should have joked it off, not shown the card, and said that was why we did not claim to have special powers.  But we couldn’t resist.  We milked the moment and when we finally turned the card to face the audience, there was true amazement.  Unfortunately, there was also deep concern in the heart of the woman – the mother of one of a young scout.

She asked us almost immediately after finishing our routine, how we could possibly know the card.  She had told no one and didn’t even know she was going to be a volunteer.  Again, we were immature and in need of validation; even at the cost of someone else’s emotional toil.

“I don’t know for sure, we have a talent to read minds sometimes,” we said proudly.

It wasn’t true and still isn’t.  We can’t read minds.  We can’t even read fortune cookies without bifocals.  We do have a very special talent in reading The Racing Form but our mounting losses over the years have proven that talent does not lead to accurate predictions of horse races.

The scout mom became upset.  She asked if we could read her mind at that very moment.  We paused as if trying to gather psychic messages and had to admit that we could not.  But now she did not believe us.  We were lying and reading minds.  A very bad combination at a scout meeting.

“The Bible is against false prophets,” she told us as she took her boy behind her back and walked away from us.

We felt terrible.  Horrible.  We had offended – unnecessarily but for our own self-aggrandizement – a seemingly innocent, concerned mother and likely her son.

That is where the Mystery comes into the equation.  Magic, to us, is clean.  Things vanish, appear, and change shape or quality.  Birds come from places you would least expect and disappear into places far too small for them.  Magic is the kind of thing you would do (or we would do) for children, teens, adults and even people our age.  Mentalism requires some advanced thinking on the part of the audience and if introduced as a real power can cause real concern.

We don’t want to concern anyone with our act.  We do our double-lifts, false shuffles, second deals and what passes for a bottom deal and no one is emotionally concerned.  We do a short card divination but never describe it as Mentalism.  It is merely a demonstration of influence and picking up “tells.”

There are performers with more experience and ability than us.  They would handle the troop mother incident in a far better manner.  Perhaps they could even devise a method of proclaiming psychic powers that would cause no concern.  We lack those abilities.  But we can drink whole milk without having stomach or intestinal upset so we are all blessed in different ways.  (We are not saying and would never say all self-proclaimed psychics are lactose intolerant; only that most are and we are not).

The Mystery is why we would do such a thing?  Why would we concern a troop mom by persisting in the “gag” and asserting an ability we do not have and have never possessed?  We learned our lesson years ago but pass it along for those starting out in our wonderful Art.  There are very real consequences to what we do and how we choose to entertain.

The Problem with Magic is Our Perception

Until recently, we thought there was a problem with being a magician.

In our youth, we participated (but never won or even came close to winning) talent contests.  Singers and modern interpretive dancers usually got the first, second and third prizes.  We stood on stage at the end singing the then-popular talent show song “Up with People” and tried to match our dance steps with those around us – in the back row of the talent for the evening.

As we aged – like a fine ball of wine or a bottle of cheese – we thought often about the differences between the variety acts.  If a singer is not a good singer, she or he can still sing.  The audience will wait the three minutes for the song to end and applaud politely.

If a dancer is a bad dancer, the audience will do the same.  But if a magician is a really bad magician, he or she is not performing magic at all.  He or she is just doing things on stage that have no amazing effect on the audience.  If a magician exposes a trick, there is no magic.  It is not like the situation of a bad singer or horrible dancer.  They are still singing and dancing.  The magician is just opening and closing boxes, sticking things into or pulling them out of tubes or holding his or her hand awkwardly whilst pointing at the other paw.

The worst-case scenario for the magician is an audience that will not play along.  A card magician faced with an audience member who will not take a card; or who will take a card and then promptly forgets it.  Singers do not face this problem.  There may be audience members who want to sing with the performer from their position in the audience, and that is usually welcomed.  They even have a term for it – a sing-along.

Additionally, we doubt there are relatively few singers or dancers accused of being in league with Satan.  We don’t get that accusation as much as we used to; perhaps because we perform in the amateur rooms at the Magic Castle and folks coming to the Magic Castle either do not believe all magicians are in league with Satan or they do believe it and it does not occur to them to mention it.

Singers and dancers are accused of satanic links only when their lyrics or dance steps directly reference satanic sources.  Actually, we can’t think of a recent dance act accused of being inspired by Satan since the late 1950’s when the Blink Twins were thought to be “Stewardesses to Hell” because of their dance routine where they allegedly “invited the audience to take a flight to the ‘Hottest Place on Earth.’”

We spoke with Sandra Blink in the late 1960’s and she said the controversy was “ridiculous but did bring additional bookings” in the Southeastern states.  They even had little devil tails added to their stewardess uniforms, she said.  The tails added nothing to the act and were soon dropped because of the pain they would occasionally cause when they did splits on the “runway” portion of the stage.  Ironically, Sandra was the older of the Blink Twins.  She was two years older than her sister, Samantha, who passed away in 1965.  Our point is that they weren’t really twins.

Additionally, we would note for the record that the “Hottest Place on Earth” could not be Hell because that is thought by most religions to be someplace other than on earth.

Rich magicians – and we know of one or two – have the added problem of flaunting their wealth.  A singer or dancer can wear rich looking clothes but then, again, so does the average magician.  Many wear tuxedos or fine dresses as part of their performance.  Even the most expensive deck of cards is within the price range of the poorest magician.  We’ve seen great magicians kill with a roll of toilet paper.  There is no easy way to demonstrate to the assembled crowd that you, the magician, are richer than them.

We were performing recently for a very nice crowd.  They had diamonds and fancy bags made by people in Europe and were wearing evening wear we could only dream of owning – the male evening wear especially.   All we had was a deck of cards and a used, worn deck at that.  Sure, we spent $3.75 for the deck and added accouterments that cost us an extra $1.25, but there wasn’t much else we could do to show that we deserved to be in the company of very rich people.  We tried to use big words and talked about performing around the world (not that we have but we are not above lying to impress a stranger) but at the end of the night, we felt we had failed in our mission to demonstrate that we deserved to be in the company of those people we wanted to entertain.

But the evening was saved by a drunk audience member who slurred/whispered something complimentary towards us.  And, surprisingly, that was enough.  We dropped at that moment our jealousy of the dancers, the singers, the rich purse owners, and fine dressers.  We had, with our gimmicked deck, impressed one person.  It did not matter that the speaker could not form consonants or conjugate – who were we to judge?  All that mattered was one person was impressed and apparently entertained.  We realized at that moment that having low standards for satisfaction in one’s work is a blessing and we have been so very blessed.

Dr. Derek Livingston’s Reflection on Danger of Magic & Science

“Our focus is sharp, but our light faded,” so wrote the famous, or perhaps infamous scientist and magician Derek Livingston in 1965. The man commonly associated with the dangers of quack-science or a magician’s claims of super-natural powers, was born on this day in 1936.

Dr. Livingston’s phrase had many possible meanings but all were tied to his confusion of magic and science.

Dr. Livingston’s fame and infamy arise from the same experiments in the late 1950s and 1960s with laser technology (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) as well as his life-long love for magic.

Dr. Livingston worked his way through the distinguished and ivy-draped halls of the country’s finest schools. He was not from a wealthy family or noble ancestry but relied upon the kindness of others for his housing, food and supplies. In 1955, the then Mr. Livingston, took up work at the prestigious Bell
Labs whilst he considered the question of light’s structure. Was light made up of waves or particles?

He supplemented his income by performing magic shows for co-workers and their families in Murray Hill, New Jersey. He was known for his deft sleight-of-hand and charisma. His show was billed as “lasts 20 minutes, more than an hour’s worth of magic, you’ll remember for a lifetime.”

It was an old question. Prior to Sir Isaac Newton’s corpuscular theory, light was thought to be made up of particles. Newton demonstrated his wave theory by showing light could be reflected and refracted with mirrors and prisms.

So great was Newton’s legend that none dared to challenge his theory until early in the 1800s. Light is made up of waves, suggested some scientists. Their proof? When light is split into apparent constituent parts, it can be made to interfere with itself.

Just as waves going in one direction can be “cancelled out” by the same size waves going the opposite direction, light properly cast on itself could cause the lack of light.

Einstein postulated that as later proven by breath mint technology, light can be made up of two things at once. Light is a wave when one is looking to test its wave properties but exhibits particle characteristics when testing for particles.

This postulation gave support for quantum mechanics and our modern understanding of light, particle physics, and even scientific inquiry.

But back to Dr. Livingston. The good doctor studied light and its properties with the single-minded determination of a man possessed. He was particularly excited (pun intended) by the new field of lasers. In 1958, two Bell Labs scientists released a paper demonstrating that it was possible to build a functioning laser. (Physical Review v. 112, issue 6, “Infrared and Optical Masers,” A. L. Schawlow and C. H. Townes, Bell Telephone Laboratories).

Dr. Livingston’s loyalty for Bell Labs was evidenced in his public support for their patent application over the later-vindicated claims of Dr. Gordon Gould of Columbia University. (Dr. Gould challenged Bell Labs’ patent claims. It took 20 years, but he was finally awarded the patent rights for their patent application over the later-vindicated claims of Dr. Gordon  Gould of Columbia University. (Dr. Gould challenged Bell Labs’ patent claims. It took 20 years, but he was finally awarded the patent rights – see article in “MIT Inventor of the Week,” January 1998; List of Dr. Gould’s patents related to the laser from 1975 forward here). He spent his own funds to advertise support for Bell Labs’ position.

But back to the connection with magic.

Dr. Livingston struggled to find a way to incorporate his obsession with the nature of light, love of the new laser technology, and magic. He initially offered a public lecture for civic groups and schools where he discussed the newest laser/maser technology and used magic to enhance the demonstration. A
laser in 1965 weighed over 22 pounds and required an enormous power source.After months of lugging the “portable laser” from lecture to lecture, Dr. Livingston decided to replace the real thing with a light-weight prop and use magic techniques to duplicate the effects of the laser beam.

The lecture was a hit and his aching back recovered from its painful and repeated insult. When demonstrating the real laser, Dr. Livingston would demonstrate its awesome and precise power by igniting paper held by a spectator, lighting a cigarette in the mouth of another spectator (without burning the volunteer’s face or lips), carve the host’s name into plywood, and measure the
distance of any moving object (without harming the object).

Using magic methods, he was able to duplicate these effects but instead of a high-powered laser, he needed only a pen-light encased in a plastic “gun” device. Dr. Livingston never viewed his demonstrations as fraudulent but he also never advised his audience the effects were caused by magic tricks rather than laser science.

There are many articles written about Dr. Livingston’s arrest and conviction following the New York World’s Fair and this essay will not repeat those sordid details here. What has not been covered previously, is the psychological and emotional trauma Dr. Livingston suffered in the days prior to his arrest on the fair grounds.

Dr. Livingston’s understanding of laser technology was capped when he left the research field and entered into entertainment. At the time of his arrest and the alleged “Mass Laser Burns,” Dr. Livingston had no idea how far laser technology had progressed since 1960. He still carried his “laser gun” and magic show, and still carried on his charade of demonstrating the effective power of the space-age technology.

As an adjunct to one of the corporate pavilion set-ups, Dr. Livingston offered 12 demonstrations a day to interested laymen from around the world. It is remarkable he was not challenged by a scientist during the first few months of his appearance at the World’s Fair.

Dr. Livingston’s repertoire had grown from lighting, burning, and measuring things with the “laser gun” to effecting miraculous cures and changing the very essence of items.

Using a slightly modified Dove Pan trick, he was able to light a fire in the pan, extinguish the fire by covering it, and producing a live rabbit from the pan. With the help of a modified Bengal Net trick, he demonstrated the ability of the laser to “vaporize” anything in its beam. The previously produced rabbit was loaded into the net, the beam was fired at the bunny, the net dropped open and the bunny had vanished.

He also used the laser beam to help cut and restore rope, open and immediately and seamlessly fuse steel rings (ala Chinese Linking Rings), bring an apparently dead pigeon and rabbit back to life (using the well-known “animal hypnotism techniques”), and finally to read the thoughts of spectators.

It was this last effect that brought him much attention and ultimately tragedy.

Modern psychics have considered Dr. Livingston’s methods for mind-reading. They uniformly agree the techniques were basic (essentially center-tear and one-ahead) but the presentation was breath-taking.

On July 2nd 1965, Dr. Livingston was confronted with a choice whether to reveal his magic secrets or affirmatively commit fraud. He chose the latter and paid dearly.

The following is taken from reports in the local newspapers of the day as well as police investigation reports:

Dr. Livingston began his demonstration the way he always began. He gave a  short description of the “concentrated and focused” power of laser light beams.

With the flash of a beam from his “laser gun” he started a small fire in the dove pan and produced the rabbit. So far, so good.

In the next portion of the lecture, Dr. Livingston would show the laser’s enormous potential for weapon technology by making the bunny vanish in a puff of vaporized smoke. Witnesses said they could actually smell what they thought was an animal burning. These reports are likely evidence of the power of suggestion. There is nothing to indicate the rabbit was hurt in any manner.

The last portion of the lecture offered spectators a “glimpse into tomorrow’s laser.” It was at this point that the bunny (possibly the same one from the Bengal Net but there is no record of this) and pigeon were “killed” by the beam and then then brought back to life with a different hued beam.

The response to this section was always strong but on this sweltering July day, the reaction was near hysteria. The following from a witness as captured in the police report:

“Then he made the rabbit come alive and the rabbit seemed to be fine and breathing. We were all amazed and started to applaud like we have (sic) just seen a magic trick or a miracle. A lady near me said something I didn’t hear but it was loud enough to hear over the clapping. She pushed through the crowd up to the stage, up front and told him she had some tumor or something he needed to kill with the laser gun. He said he wouldn’t use it for that purpose because it was unethical.”

From another witness, we know the crowd encouraged Dr. Livingston to carry through with the ad-hoc surgery.

“We all yelled, ‘help her!’ And he kept saying ‘No, No!’ Another lady came up and said she had a growth in her that was causing her to bleed and he needed to help her too. He kept saying ‘No, No!’ and was trying to get off the stage towards the fire exit on the right.

“The first lady jumped up to the stage and went to grab the gun from him to shoot it herself, I think. He was fighting her to see who could hold it and was trying to keep it from going off or hurt anyone. But she was real strong and angry and she got the gun away from him and pointed it at her stomach or around there and shot herself with it for a long time ’til he got it back.

“We all smelled the same smell that we smelled when the rabbit got lasered the first time so we thought something went wrong or that she was hurt from it. The lady let go of his arms and fell on the stage and hit her head on the table on the way down. She was knocked out but I didn’t know if she was knocked out from the head hit or the laser beam.”

We do know from press reports that the first woman was unconscious for much of the ensuing activity and did not regain consciousness until she arrived at the medical pavilion a half-hour later. The second woman took advantage of the first woman’s fall to take the laser gun from Dr. Livingston and she too used it on herself. There was a similar odor produced and she fell unconscious to the stage but was quickly revived.

More audience members came forward and stormed the stage demanding they be healed. Dr. Livingston said later he must have been caught up in the hysteria to do what he did next.

As the crowd approached, Dr. Livingston pointed the “laser gun” at the first few spectators and told them to stand back or he would “vaporize them.” The crowd stopped and some jumped off the stage to flee. A few men and women remained but did not progress further. There was an eerie silence as three women and two men faced Dr. Livingston. The doctor and the five audience members were about ten feet apart. The two unconscious women were in a heap between the opposing sides.

Dr. Livingston said in court documents later that the moment felt like “the old west, like the quiet before the shoot-out at the OK Corral.” One of the women took a step forward and Dr. Livingston pointed the gun towards her and “fired.”

The same odor was produced, and the woman dropped to the stage. Dr. Livingston the fired the gun at the remaining four on stage and one-by-one, they fell to the stage amidst the smell of vaporized matter.

Before a second wave of the mob could attack, Dr. Livingston tried to escape through a curtain at the back of the stage but was apprehended by New York police.

Later forensic examination of the “laser gun” proved it was nothing more than the pen-light with a connection to the trigger of a plastic gun body. Experts for both the prosecution and defense agreed the gun could not have injured any of the victims and that their reaction was purely a function of their hysteria.

“It was similar to mass hypnosis. They believed so fervently this gun was real, they fainted from ‘being shot.'”

Dr. Livingston wrote a portion of his attorney’s closing argument; including his now famous defense “Our focus is sharp, but our light faded.” Some wondered if he was making a philosophical point, giving an assessment of his legal defense, or just trying to explain his defense.

Although Dr. Livingston was convicted on seven of the eight counts, those seven charges were misdemeanors relating to fraud in shows or exhibitions. The eight count was essentially a battery charge and the court dismissed the charge after hearing the evidence. Under the law, a battery consists of the “unwanted touching or striking of one person by another, with the intention of bringing about a harmful or offensive contact.” The court ruled the gun could not have caused harm to the victims and there could not have been a battery.

The lawyer in us wonders why the prosecutor did not charge Dr. Livingston with assault rather than or in conjunction with the battery count. Assault does not require a physical touching or striking but only an act that causes a victim to believe he or she will be injured, a threat of physical harm. Perhaps the New York Criminal Code in 1965 included the language found in some versions of assault requiring the attacker to have the physical ability or the means to carry out the threat.

Dr. Livingston served just two months in the city jail for his offenses. His victims recovered from their “laser burns” on the day of the incident. Sadly, the first woman on stage, later died believing she had been cured by the laser beam. She was struck by a streetcar six weeks later while returning from a “celebration of her cure.” The autopsy found no evidence of any tumor within her body.

There is no documentation that a physician ever told her she was dying of a cancerous tumor and some have speculated her belief was unfounded but seemed as real to her as the “laser gun.” There are a few commentators who suggest she did indeed have a tumor and either by miracle or placebo was “cured” by the soft glow of a pen-light.

Dr. Livingston traveled to Europe for a few years after his release and gave a new lecture about the power of suggestion and the danger of charlatans. He returned to the United States in 1972 and gave an updated version of the same lecture for the next five or six years before settling down in Bisbee, Arizona — just south of Tombstone, the site of the shoot-out at the OK Corral — an event he referenced in describing the “laser burn” incident.

Dr. Livingston never married and had no close friends or family. He was a prolific author of magic books and tricks under various pseudonyms. Some of his effects can still be seen in stage shows performed in Las Vegas. Because he did not publish under his real name, few magicians ever linked the inventor of so many unique effects with the events of July 2nd 1965. Dr. Livingston wrote that he had received enough publicity in his life and preferred living outside the limelight.

He ultimately passed away in his sleep on June 11th, 2000.  A slightly corroded penlight was found under his pillow.

Our Irish Magic Heritage

We are almost never asked about our proud Irish heritage; likely because people avoid making eye contact with us after shows and some have gone to the extreme of faking (we think) illness to quickly depart the performing area as soon as we complete our standard 80 minutes.

Yet, despite never being asked, we thought it appropriate to share our story with our kind reader(s) of Inside Magic.

We descend from a long line of magicians who willingly fabricate their lineage – each adding to stories of greatness as the generations rolled through the years and across the Atlantic.

Our great, great, great step-mother, Maeve Hardy was the assistant to Ireland’s third or fourth greatest street magician for the time, Buster Seamus who performed under the stage name, Busted Seams.

At the time, there were very few streets in Ireland for a performer to utilize so Buster would waddle (he was very heavy, hence the stage name) up and down dirt roads looking for intersections and audiences.  He was delighted to find Dublin after several years of wandering and that was where he met the matriarch of our proud family.

They shared a love for entertaining, drinking, fine art and horse racing.  It was natural that they would develop an act that included none of those loves.  Buster performed the standard street magic fare: Cups and Balls, the Chop Cup, Multiplying Balls, Cups from Nowhere, Balls from Nowhere and, their finale, Hippity Hop Rabbits.

This was a different time.  Magicians could not buy tricks in magic stores because they did not exist and the Internet was apparently unavailable in Dublin.  Consequently, Maeve and Buster made their own props and are credited with innovations still used today.  For instance, their Cups and Balls were made from allegedly gold chalices they “found” whilst performing at a local church.  The balls were hand knitted by Maeve from wool taken from their pet sheep, Woolina.  Buster’s wand was a long wooden dowel “snapped from the face of a lying, Italian, wooden boy who wouldn’t keep his yap shut during our act,” wrote Maeve.

But it was their Hippity Hop Rabbits that set them apart from the rest of the magicians working at the time.  They used real rabbits, sedated with “a wee bit of ale” and “affixed” to small placards.  The trick delighted or horrified audiences depending upon the crowd’s willingness to “go along with the gag” and the potency of the pre-show ale administered to the bunnies.

On a fateful day just outside of Trinity College in the heart of Dublin, Maeve and Buster performed for a “taciturn, dour man with glasses and a nasty breath.”  That man was James Joyce.  The great author watched their show throughout the day and noticed how the routine did not change regardless of the audience or their reaction.  He wanted to help the couple and offered to write bits for them for a “kind word as a reference for future writing jobs.”

Maeve and Buster understood this to mean he would work for free and took him up on the offer.

It was Mr. Joyce who first suggested they ditch the real rabbits and use “painted images of the vermin on placards” and to shorten the trick to a few minutes.  The suggestion was genius and gave the act a new sense of purpose and entertainment value.  It also provided some respite from the angry complaints they would occasionally receive from “do-gooders” who would “spit hateful and nasty things at them for the sake of the bunnies.”

Some of the crowds wanted the couple to free Woolina as well, but for reasons never really discussed in our family, Buster was adamant that “the beautiful creature would remain always close.”

Mr. Joyce wrote several jokes for the couple as well.  His work was acerbic, more biting.

“Is that your head or is ye neck blowing bubbles?”

“This trick is foreign, I got it from a broad.”

“Want to know how to keep a Dubliner in suspense? I’ll tell ye on the morrow.”

Mr. Joyce wanted to learn magic and join the act.  He did a mean series of card manipulations with beautiful split fans, back and front palming, diminishing cards and color changes.  All were impressed with his skill but Buster and Maeve dropped him from the troupe.  Yes, they hated sharing their meager proceeds with a third person but they also objected to his constant, stream-of-consciousness narration during the tricks.

“Just shut up and do the tricks,” Buster yelled at the bespectacled author as he performed in front of a fairly large crowd.

“That’s what she said!” replied Mr. Joyce.

The crowd roared with derisive laughter and commented that Mr. Joyce had “burned Buster but good.”

Buster was humiliated. Mr. Joyce was elated.  He felt the adrenaline rush that comes with succeeding in front of an audience.  He then used his new catch line “Aye, that’s what she said!” incessantly.  Audiences never tired of it.  Buster and Maeve, on the other hand, grew impatient and resentful.  They hated being the foil.

They agreed to go their separate ways on this very day, St. Patrick’s Day, so many years ago.  Mr. Joyce went on to write novels and occasionally performed his manipulation act as an interlude during his public readings of his stories.  Audiences seemed to enjoy his “incessant jabbering” as he worked the card miracles.

Mr. Joyce never fully left magic and was credited for the invention of several items still used today such as: Torn and Restored Newspaper, Glorpy (or “Hyrum the Hilarious Hank”), Sucker Sliding Die Box, the Whoopie Cushion and, of course Hippity Hop Rabbits.

Maeve and Buster were married but a few years before he passed away due to a gas explosion – an internal one.  He was a very heavy man who ate poorly and experimented with fire-eating.

Maeve migrated to the US where she married a young performer who would later become the scion of our magic family, Thomas “Big Tom” Hardy.

And so on this special day for Irish and those who want to be Irish, we remember our proud history.

Our Magic Plan for the LA Marathon

Pure genius is how we modestly describe our latest development in bringing our act to the vast, unwashed and sweaty masses of Southern California.
We have done our research and determined some interesting facts about the greater Hollywood area: there are several movie and television studios within an Uber ride from the Magic Castle, many people who work at high-levels in popular media are health conscious and run to stay in shape, and a substantial subset of moguls and moguls-to-be (we think they are affectionately called “mogulettes”) will be in the Los Angeles Marathon this Sunday.
We think you see where we are going with this.
We have been working on an act we can perform for the high-fliers as they run the marathon course right by our spacious studio apartment near the bakery for dogs on historic Santa Monica Boulevard.
Because the marathon will be run outdoors, we have eliminated several effects from our tentative set-list including: our barehanded dove production, our gloved-handed falcon production, our take off on the classic Think-a-Drink we perform with scratch-and-sniff imbued playing cards under the title Think-a-Stink, the Kellar Spirit Cabinet and Kevin James’ Snowstorm.
Our research confirmed that by the time the throng of influence-wielding runners reach the water station adjacent to our staked-out position, they will have run 17.3 miles. They will likely be pretty tired and because it is supposed to be a very hot day, they will probably be thirsty too. As they slow to grab a cup of what scientists inexplicably call H2O, we will be there with our well-rehearsed abbreviated routine ready to entertain.
The genius part of our plan – other than what we have set forth so far – is that as the marathon proceeds, the slower runners tend to follow the faster runners. So, yes, we won’t be able to do our full routine for the Kenyan front-runners that should pass our table just minutes after the race begins, but after about two hours, we will have gobs of heaving, perspiring audiences filing past.
Our research also revealed that professional marathoners do not tend to be members of upper-management in the major studios. World-class runners have to focus on things like training, eating enough to maintain their ideal weight and studying the latest techniques in not dropping dead whilst enduring horrible physical torture.
Studio moguls, on the other hand, are often able to run 17.2 miles in 3 to 4 hours. What a treat they will have when they hit what we are calling The Magic Mile Marker®.
Because our time with each runner will be limited, we have cut down much of our opening monologue. Yes, we’ll still do our beloved bits about our brush with mental illness, how unattractive the last audience was and, of course, how airline food is terrible. But then, it is right into the good stuff. By meeting up with the runner/audience as they approach the water station, we can lengthen our time together, giving them time to select a card, return it to deck and watch with delight as we go into our wacky Ambitious Card routine.
As our fan knows, our original take on this classic card trick – which we cleverly call, Oh, No, Not Again! – usually lasts about 90 minutes and involves revelations from all parts of what some less-attentive audience members believe is a well-shuffled deck. We have shortened it to 90 seconds by limiting it to just seven reveals.
Even a runner cannot jog in place for all 90 seconds, we can run along with them and finish the bit with our big finale where their card ends up in small box, inside a bigger box, inside a handkerchief removed from our specially-tailored silk MC Hammer sultan pants. Because of the ingenious method in which we perform this effect, it resets almost instantly.
We expect this to be a big hit and it will probably be pilfered by less-creative magicians but we do not care. As we say during cold and flu season, “there’s a lot more where that came from.”
See you Sunday!

Flop Sweat – A Magical Metaphor

His fevered brain was unmerciful.

“A grown man reacting like this?  What are you going to do, cry?”

His consciousness was becoming focused as it careened off the neural pathways on its way to activating the part of his brain where options were binary: fight or flight.  It was not a direct path, however.  His psyche made an apparently mandatory stop along the way to trigger the cluster of neurons that apportion shame and blame.  It was hard to believe there was an evolutionary benefit to having shame and blame sensors in the neural pathways but they were there.

The sweat – which, if he survived, he knew he would later describe as “flop sweat” – was spreading across his flushed face and he could feel his body rapidly heat up.  His vision narrowed to exclude almost all but the botched effect sitting before him on the table.  He had to physically lift his head to see the audience and then lower his head to again look at the prop.

What could he do?  He could fight – think of a way to get himself out of the botched effect, hope the audience indulged his mortal failing and move on.  Or he could take flight – give into the panic and embarrassment and walk briskly from the small stage.

At the moment, however, he was unable to make a decision.

He was frozen on stage, looking at the table and the visible evidence of his failure to sufficiently practice a new effect before adding it to his routine.  The shame and blame sensors were firing even if all other parts of the brain were quiet.

He was amazed that he could have these feelings of panic and indecision and shame at this point in his career, his life.  He was no kid, not even a young middle-aged performer.  He had been around for quite a while and performed audiences larger than this, on stages far nicer and for more money. So why was he on the verge of tears?

Time was stopped, it seemed.  Perhaps it was the same sensation experienced by the deer caught in the headlights or the gazelle being stalked.  This wasn’t life or death.  There wouldn’t be a scar or anything more than a good, humiliating war story that he could to choose to tell.

But tears?  Why would he cry about this?  Why would tears be a response to a public failure of his own making?  Wouldn’t tears just add to the shame and embarrassment? Was that part of the evolutionary plan – make the humiliating event thoroughly and irretrievably a moment of failure?

The audience was looking at him but apparently without judgment.  Perhaps they had not seen his failure or thought it was part of the routine? They would soon realize it was a failure that would cut short his performance.  Then the faces would reflect a different attitude, he thought.  That’s when the judgment will kick in and his shame, flushing, sweat and inability to calmly fix things would become obvious.  They would see that he was a fraud – not a good performer, worthy of their attention and enthusiasm.

He could survive this if he just had to deal with the flop-sweat, the feeling of embarrassment and a momentary lapse in what had been a smoothly running routine.  All of that could be explained and laughed about but if he couldn’t avoid crying, all was lost.

He felt his consciousness move towards one of the two impulses.  His battle would focus solely on not crying.  He took a breath, smiled, stepped forward and took another breath.

“For my  next trick . . .” he offered with a forced smile and a humbled tone.

Guest Article: The Kids’ Show Done New

[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”