The Guardian newspaper had a great article this weekend about what it is like to be a psychic and astrologer.
The author of this fascinating piece quit the practice but leaves the reader – us in this case – wondering if she still believed she possessed some power to read the future or the inner-struggles of her customers.
“The range of problems faced by people who can afford $50 for fortune telling turned out to be limited: troubles with romance, troubles at work, trouble mustering the courage for a much-needed change. I heard these stories so often I could often guess what the problem was the moment someone walked in. Heartbroken young men, for example, talk about it to psychics, because it’s less risky than telling their friends. Sometimes I’d mischievously say, ‘Let her go. She’s not worth it,’ as soon as one arrived. Once I heard, ‘Oh my God, oh my GOD!’ as an amazed guy fell backwards down the stairs.”
She explains her start in the practice beginning with studying astrology and the tarot. She signed up for a year-long course at the Sydney Astrology Centre, where she learned how the planets and their alignments vis-a-vis the birthdate of individuals could reveal much.
Her conclusion after studying the mystical methods of the astrologer? “Astrology is one big word association game.”
Her appreciation for the life of a fortune teller waned with the realization that no matter what she foretold and no matter how vague her readings, customers readily made all of the mental associations to give truth to her predictions.
“What broke the spell for me was, oddly, people swearing by my gift. Some repeat customers claimed I’d made very specific predictions, of a kind I never made.”
It is a fascinating article, in part, because she does not conclude the ability to read people is bunk. She found a talent for evaluating what and how people asked questions that gave away what they wanted to hear. In essence, she discovered cold reading but without an intention to defraud.
We couldn’t help but be reminded of a great book by Ian Rowland, The Full Facts of Cold Reading. While the author of The Guardian article apparently stumbled upon the tricks of honest and dishonest practitioners of Cold Reading, Mr. Rowland provides a crash course chocked-full of secrets and methods.
There are a lot of innovative magicians out there. They invent magic tricks we could never conceive. But as we were told at a bus stop in West Hollywood, “Invent what you know.”
We have no idea what its real purpose was but it inspired us. We should create tricks that are based on the things we handle every day. Then we should find an audience of similarly minded (and aged) people to whom we can perform and sell the tricks.
The CPAP of Mystery:
This is a trick involving a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine. It is a staple of those afflicted with sleep apnea – one of the few disorders that affect the entire family except for the person with the disorder. It stops obnoxious and annoying snoring.
(Ironically, Obnoxious and Annoying was the name of our first duo act. We played the mischievous character Annoying (despite being underweight for the part) and a current star of stage and screen played Mr. Obnoxious. We were true to the script as written by Shakespeare and even wore period costumes. Few playgoers have read the original text and, to be honest, it is a play often over-looked by Shakespearean scholars. Additionally it is four hours long. And we performed it without scenery or props. And we could not afford stage lights so we used flashlights to shine on each other. And our make-up was overdone due to a product placement deal we had with L’Oréal. Nonetheless, it was up for a Tony® award but it was a tough year and we lost to A Chorus Line. Our agent’s protests that we should be in the category for dramatic performance fell on deaf ears and we were pitted against one of the most popular Broadway musicals of all time. As most English majors can recall, Obnoxious and Annoying does have some singing and dancing in the seventh act when Annoying pretends to be dancing with the love of his life, Spiteful. The New York Times gave it a middling review, “There is a good reason this play is overlooked when one considers the full range of Shakespearean plays, it is terrible. But here we have two men willing to perform a play that should have been burned or used as scrap-paper acting without any accoutrements on a stage too small in a room too large for its pitiful audience size.” The New Yorker was not as kind, “Obnoxious and Annoying and Too Long” should have been the title for this forgettable foray into a play the Great Bard himself said was “not worthy of his cheapest ink.”)
But back to the illusion of the CPAP machine. An audience member selects a card from a freely shuffled deck, signs it, returns it to the deck. And then she throws the deck directly at the performer wearing a CPAP mask. The card instantly appears in the mask and when turned around (with either the performer’s fingers or tongue), it is shown to be the signed card. With a CPAP machine, we could sell it for $1,700. Without the CPAP machine – in case the performer already has one – it would cost $3.00. We think it would be a big hit. Continue reading “A New Magic Niche: Oldsters”→
We are considering launching a magic podcast with an emphasis on some of the older magicians who can provide a narrative history of our wonderful art. From our review of the current world of magic podcasts, it appears the topic of young and innovative magicians is covered.
We find great joy in hearing stories of those that worked the same roads and rooms (and roads and rooms no longer in existence) and imagine podcast audiences will feel the same way.
When we say older magicians, we don’t mean old in age but in experience. If you are aware of or are a magician with a great story, we’d love to talk to you. No need to come to our posh studio apartment on top of the dog food store in West Hollywood. We can set up a Skype session or even use the telephone to talk.
Send your nominations to email@example.com and let’s set it up. It would be helpful to give us a little of your background and then our research staff will dig to create questions designed to let you tell your story.
The podcast will not just be for magicians, but everyone in the variety arts — including agents and managers.
We are warming to tattoos and body piercing (other than earrings) but we are having a hard time with deck collectors.
Admittedly we have no place from which to speak on this topic.
People like different things.
We love The Ball and Vase and have bought maybe a hundred in this short shuffle up on the mortal coil from which we will all be called up one day to justify our choices, decisions and purchases. We figure we can defend the first 20 Ball and Vase tricks. We were young, we didn’t know, others were doing it, we were raised by doting parents that would indulge our every whim as long as it had to do with schoolwork or applications to go to another school to do school work. We had thousands of pencils (mechanical and wood), pens a plenty (the name of our first writing instrument internet shoppe.
It failed due to a horrible spate of product liability suits brought allegedly due to springs that were too tight. When you would open the container to refill the pen, the old refill would shoot from the pen body with the force of Titan rocket (first stage). The good news, we sold very few of them and the even better news, we sold even fewer refills. The bad news, enough people bought the pens to narrowly miss horrific physical injuries. No one was injured or claimed to be. We took the pen off the market and went broke. Ironically, we wrote the bankruptcy papers with one of the killer pens.
But let us return to the subject at hand. Card decks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Free breakfast (meaning at least a donut) for all residents;
Free lunch (meaning at least a potpie) for all residents who did not already have lunch or breakfast;
Free dinner in exchange for a promise to perform a magic trick for other customers at the French Drop Inn;
Free rent for all still living in their parents’ home;
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);
Rabbit breeding should be inspected by the local vet;
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);
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.
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.
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.
“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.