Real Magic Duplicated for Effect

How could you not be intrigued by a man who is quoted as saying, “[a]nyone who considers arithmetical methods of producing random digits is, of course, in a state of sin”?

But you would correctly ask, what does this statement have to do with magic, Las Vegas, Barry Richardson, Criss Angel, David Copperfield and Doug Henning?

The answer that would come back would, at first, be unsatisfactory.

Dr. John Von Neuman was a distinguished polymath who could speak ancient Greek, helped to determine the scientific models necessary for the first atomic bomb and several schools of mathematics.  To say he was a genius is an understatement.

But it is his connection to magic and magic tricks that brings him to the front page of this humble publication.

Personally, we’re not good at book tests and don’t really enjoy watching them.  We have seen perhaps hundreds over our very long life but none have left a lasting impression.

While we take pride (also a sin) in our ability to speed read books but we don’t remember every word.

But Dr. Von Neuman could memorize entire phonebooks.  For real.  In fact, on one occasion he recited every entry until those listening agreed he had the phonebook memorized – that was after about fifteen minutes of reciting the name and associated phone number on each page.

The late genius of mentalism, Barry Richardson would often couch his effects with a story about some incredible individual who actually lived a real life and could be identified.  He would then duplicate the effect they performed allegedly by psychic powers but disclaim such powers in his performance.

We watched Mr. Richardson duplicate a demonstration performed first by a young Russian girl who could allegedly read any item with her fingertips.  She would be blindfolded or perhaps she was legally blind (we can’t recall) and could, through a pane of glass held by her examiners, read the serial numbers of currency, handwritten notes  and other documents using only  her fingertips running along the glass.  The pane of glass was used to prevent her from sensing the characters by feel.

Folks were amazed and attributed great powers to the young lady.

Mr. Richardson would then duplicate the effect, pane of glass and all, whilst blindfolded to the satisfaction of the magicians in the audience.  He could then read the serial number of a bill previously offered and signed by a random audience member.  The bill was signed to prevent his memorization of a pre-prepared note.  It was an outstanding performance.  We were astounded not only by the effect but also the story upon which it was based.

Dr. Von Neuman’s ability to memorize a phone book handed to him by a volunteer was performed as a trick for entertainment..  He used the power he had to entertain, not to boast.  Unfortunately for us magicians, he apparently actually did memorize the content of the phone book and there was no trick employed; thus making this duplicate by his method.

But, by combining Dr. Von Neuman’s story with a book test, magicians could elevate the effect on audiences.  In place of a book test, the memorization of an entire deck of cards ala Bob Cassidy could also benefit from the real-life story of Dr. Von Neuman.

We have performed the Bob Cassidy method of memorizing a deck of cards shuffled together by four audience members and then reviewed by us for just 15 seconds.  We never had a story to go with it.  It was at best a stunt or demonstration of our alleged powers.

But just think how using Dr. Von Neuman’s story in a method similar to that employed by Mr. Richardson could boost the effectiveness and interest in the trick by audiences.  It would no longer be a stunt but a duplication of a talent possessed by a real person who really existed.  It would therefore be possible and real.

We never claim to have psychic powers and disclaim any such ability but until today, we have never had a satisfactory story to present along with our performance.  We can now move beyond “hey, look at me and my clever stunt” to “let me tell you the story of an extraordinary man with a real history who had a real talent.”

Most book test performances we have witnessed involve the apparent guess of a word selected by the volunteer from a book selected from a collection of two or three volumes.  The magician asks the volunteer to select a page (either directly or through some apparently random process) and then proceeds to read the volunteer’s mind by having her concentrate on the selected word.  The magician presses his hand to his forehead for effect and then announces the word or phrase with some guessing (in some methods) or directly.  The volunteer is thanked for her participation and the audience applauds.

Perhaps this article is just a note for us and will be dismissed by those performing putative memorization or psychic readings.  We hope that it is more than that.

Mr. Richardson’s performance left a lasting impression on us not because the effect was impossible – the solution would be apparent to most magicians – but because it was couched in a story and built to the demonstration of what was apparently sufficient to have the young woman in the story proclaimed to be psychic and exceptional.

The memory of such a presentation lasts long after the volunteer retakes her seat and we move on to the next effect.  It brings the audience on a journey and leaves them with questions about the real person on whom the effect is based as well as the performer now duplicating that effect.

That’s a win in our book.

Read more about Dr. Von Neuman and his amazing skills and contribution to our everyday life through higher mathematics here.

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A Magical History of India

The Hindu has a great review of what seems to be a great book soon to be released although not soon enough for us.

Written by John Zubrzycki, the title is great on its own, Jadoowallahs, Jugglers and Jinns: A Magical History of India.

The book goes beyond a review of the particular magic effects performed by Indian magicians and delves into the “the lives and communities of practitioners.”  From the Atharva Veda’s early advice on proper “mantras and incantations assuring results as various as curing snakebite, ensnaring a lover, or warding off an enemy’s evil spells” to Indian fortune-tellers in Rome and “conjuring manuals were translated into Arabic as early as the Abbasid Caliphate.”

“Hindus have always credited yogis with paranormal control over matter and energy, earned through severe penance, so that supra-normal skills such as parakaya pravesha, divination, levitation, illusion etc. were part of the social fabric, magic catalogued as one of the 64 arts.”

The appreciation for magic and allied arts has not waned in India.

India’s magic intrigued western magicians “with imperialists looking for the exotic, while the native magician – like other Indians, brainwashed into regarding the white ruler to be superior in all respects – believed he had a lot to learn from western magic.”

The art passed from father to son but was shared with westerners for money to help the family.  Apparently the jadoowallahs were low in the social caste and often impoverished.  The money helped and the trick were shared.

Mr. Zubrzycki  relates that the Indian magicians would don the clothes and persona of fakirs; including taking on exotic names such as Alfred Sylvester as the Fakir of Oolu.

Mr. Zubrzycki’s book does not reveal the secrets and he admits that he does not know how many of the effects were accomplished.  But he is certain the magic he witnessed and describes in his book was accomplished by natural means, not supernatural.

“I’m primarily interested in people, which is why my book is not just a compendium of tricks. I look at the lives and communities of practitioners. There are still fabulous histories waiting to be told, which is why I also like biography,” commented Mr. Zubrzycki.

Read more about the book and a talk given by Mr. Zubrzycki in The Hindu here.

The book will launch in September at the Taj Club House on September 29, at 6 pm. The event will also have magician Gopal Mentalist on hand to perform.

Winter Magic Festival in Full Fete Mode

With Magician Stars (and Inside Magic Faves) Murray SawChuck, Gazzo, Steve Daly, Michael Kent and Kevin Burke performing, this week’s Winter Magic Festival promises to be your best bang for your magic dollar.  Shows begin tonight at 7:00 pm (Thursday) at the Indy Fringe event in, coincidentally, Indianapolis, Indiana.

The performers bring their fantastic comedy and magic to the heartland for four days only.  There is no excuse if you live within the seven states and regions surrounding Indy and fail to attend.

Mr. SawChuck is more than a television and YouTube star, he is a great magician who pushes the limits with his boundless energy and able engagement of the audience.  We have seen him in Vegas and The Magic Castle and been astounded – that’s tough for us.  We don’t astound all that easily.  His credits include a Hollywood F.A.M.E. award for Career Achievement in The Magical Arts, the Best Comedy Variety Show of the Year from the Los Angeles Comedy Festival, and Comedy Show of the Year by the Fans Entertainment Hall of Fame.

Mr. Gazzo (we’re not sure if we should say “Mr. Gazzo” or “Gazzo” and so opt for the more formal over the casual term) does one of the very best Cups and Balls ever.  That is not an overstatement to encourage you to see him at the festival.  It is verifiably true and has been evaluated by NASA scientists.  When someone brings up the topic of Cups and Balls, we immediately think of Mr. Gazzo.  He is funny, disarming and works a crowd evidencing his years as a busker in the UK.  Teller said of him, “When you are watching Gazzo you feel like you are watching a show biz Legend.”  We cannot disagree and wouldn’t even if we could.  We’ve seen Mr. Gazzo many, many times and always walk away feeling inadequate with our cups and balls routine (note small caps to underscore our inadequacy) performed in the very same way we did when we were a 12-year-old demonstrating the $1.25 version of the effect in a mall that no longer exists.

Steve Daly (link to his YouTube Sizzle Reel) has been featured on Inside Magic many times and has more than 10,000 appearances in Las Vegas (Nevada).  His act is hilarious and Mr. Daly is one of our favorite people in our art.  He began on the streets of  San Francisco and moved to being one of the leads of Amusement Park Entertainment Companies where he helped design and performing in theme parks across the our big country (USA).   From there he moved to Vegas and was, in our opinion, the true star of the Magic Revue Show called “Showgirls of Magic.”

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Inside Magic Letters to the Editor

Inside Magic, being a responsible location for the very latest Magic News, responds to comments and questions posed by our tens of readers as required by court order or when there is no real magic news to report on any given day. 

Today is just such a day.

Dear Inside Magic:

The name of this blog led me to believe it is a good source for interior decorating tips. I read the entire post twice and found not a word about interior decorating.

Editor’s Response:

Thank you for your kind email comment.  For our first twenty years we were dedicated to interior decorating tips.  See for example:

“Your Furniture Choices Can Determine Your Life Path,” June 1, 1973

“End Tables and Doilies: A Dangerous Combination or Essential for Living,” August 18, 1978

“Why Persian Rugs Lead to Static Electricity Death,” December 7, 1979

“Cats on Furniture: Decoration or Scratching Worry,” May 9, 1980

“Pizza in the Formal Dining Room: Experts Say ‘Sure’,” September 9, 1985

“High Backed Chairs and Their Effect on Your Horoscope,” November 11, 1990

“Why We Don’t Like Embroidery – A Six Installment Examination,” April 1-6, 1995 (Nominated for Pulitzer)

“Lemon Pledge, the Smell of Death?” June 6, 1999

“Chippendales: Dancers of Bad Design?” October 31, 2002 (Led to Litigation and Costly Settlement with both Furniture Association of America and a Male Dance Troup)

“Keep Your Area Rugs in the Area with Magnets, November 25, 2007 (Nominated for Magnet News (Feature Category)

“Nick Knacks – Why Knock What Works?” March 15, 2010 (Caesar Day Award Nominee (Least Relevant Category))

We did move to magic related news in 2011 to avoid litigation and an on-going (later settled) investigation by the Federal Trade Commission for false domain name use.  “Inside Magic must include news of Magic (whether of the occult or by professional magicians doing magic tricks for entertainment purposes).

Our lawyers suggested we focus on magic by professional magicians rather than the occult to avoid further litigation by psychics and occult practitioners (“Voodoo may or may not be real but the risk is not worth the Google Ad money.”)  At the time, we were dejected and in debt to our legal counsel.  We attempted to pay with free magic shows for their children but the offer was rejected; which coincidentally, led to further dejection.

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Magician Amazing Johnathan Documentary

Each year we miss the Sundance Festival and kick ourselves for it.  There, wonderful films seeking distributors are offered, promoted and awarded with prizes.  For instance, we first heard about La La Land through Variety’s review of the film at the Sundance Festival.  We knew that if and when it was picked up by a major studio, it would be a must see.

But, because we didn’t go to the festival, we missed it.

This year we missed the Amazing Johnathan documentary.  It is currently untitled but we’re guessing the words “Amazing” and “Johnathan” will be in or very near the final title.

As readers of this award winning magic news site know, we have never actually won an award and we never let the truth get in the way of a good headline or story.  Readers will also know that we love the Amazing Johnathan and one of our greatest disappointments – other than our failure to play for the Chicago Cubs or even be a batboy for goodness sakes – was missing the performance of this great entertainer at the Magic Castle in what was billed as his last performance ever, anywhere.

Johnathan has a fatal heart issue and literally any show could be his last.

Nonetheless, he continues to work and provide entertainment for thousands.  We saw his show in Las Vegas and laughed so hard we split our shirt collar – we always keep it buttoned to prevent body lice from either entering or escaping, depending on the season or our access to showers.

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Non-Magic, Strictly Speaking

Inside Magic prides itself in bringing the very latest magic news to magicians around the globe.  Our tens of readers depend on us for such news and we hope to never disappoint with filler or advertisements cloaked as magic news.  We obviously had some stumbles in both departments over the past 20 years we’ve been publishing.

Who can forget (unfortunately none of our readers) our filler contributions:

Spoons are Great! – June 22, 1994

Why We Love Automobiles – March 17, 2001

Magic Backwards is Cigam! – December 1, 2017

Spoons Continue to be Great! – February 2, 2018

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Masters of Magic Moves to Turin

The Masters of Magic Convention is on the move from Saint-Vincent to Turin, Italy.  For those already invested in the event, the good news is that only the location has changed.  The dates, the program, the organization, and the cast will be exactly the same.  The great news for those who did not previously sign up for what is promising to be an incredible event is that there is still time to join.

According to organizers, Turin made a strong case for moving the convention to their location.  Locations and hotels will be identified to participants in the near future.  But the good news is that the prices will not increase despite the fact that the number of performers will increase and the convention will have additional activities outside of the convention and even a special program for non-magician guests.  The seats previously selected for the big Gala Show will stay the same too.

The World Championship of Street Magic will as well be organized in Turin on May 17-18-19.  If you think you have what it takes or would just like to see what you have, drop a note to mario.baldantoni@mastersofmagic.tv for an application form.

So, let’s recount.  The convention is moving to Turin – a great city with an amazing history – adding features for magicians and non-magicians alike, holding the Street Magic competition and keeping the same prices.  Who will be there you ask? Oh, some folks you may have heard of before such as: Derek DelGaudio. Luis Piedrahita, Marco Tempest, Juan Tamariz, Morgan Strebler, Niek Takens, Raul Cremona, Luis Otero, Roberto Giobbi, Stuart MacDonald, Jay Sankey, Den Den, Aaron Pang, Omar Pasha.  Organizers promise even more to come.

We are finagling our books and working favors to find a way to attend.  It sounds like our kind of event.  If you are interested in learning more, check out their website here.

Dai Vernon’s Legacy

This cannot be an endorsement of Magician Edward Brown’s book (The Card Magic of Edward G. Brown by Trevor H. Hall and Andi Gladwin) because we have not yet had the chance to read it.  But when you have praise from the true Dean of Magic, Dai Vernon, one’s attention must be drawn.  “England’s finest sleight-of-hand performer.” That is what Dai Vernon said of this performer and yet we never heard of him. 

Dai Vernon’s word is good enough for us. 

In our youth we had a chance to watch Mr. Vernon perform close-up (within a few inches on one occasion) and he astounded us. 

He astounded us to the extent we had an existential crisis.  On a warm afternoon in May of 1974, five hours after we won the Florida State Magic Close-Up Award as a 14 year old, we encountered Mr. Vernon sitting beneath a large table umbrella.  While we were convinced our win was due to luck we were still a bit full of pride as we sat down near the master.  We were feeling our oats or whatever we had stuffed in our pockets to provide sustenance during at our first magic convention. 

We sat with Mr. Vernon on the pool deck of the beautiful Langford Hotel.  It wasn’t a private audience – we were one of ten or so magicians of all ages – but it felt special and private.  We studied the famous Stars of Magic publications and even could perform some of Mr. Vernon’s effects – not well.  What we saw that afternoon was too much.  There was no rush, no strange configuration of fingers, apparently no distraction – although we knew there had to be – and no end to the incredible card and coin magic performed. 

Being 14 and having acne problems weighed in our existential decision.  We didn’t have the suave manner of Mr. Vernon.  We couldn’t perform sleight of hand whilst holding a drink or cigarette.  We couldn’t even legally drive in the state of Florida. 

We knew, at that moment, that our freshly gained title would not serve as a sufficient bed of laurels upon which we could rest.  But, we wondered, did we have the innate ability to perfect our sleight of hand to the level of this phenomenon.  Again, Mr. Vernon never rushed, never gave a hint of performing anything other than what the audience could see.  We, on the other hand, feared being caught out with sleights and our clumsy palming talent that was usually distracted by humor. 

We are proud that we took the path we did.  We resolved in that moment that while we could never master the true Master’s ability, we could be inspired by him to continue working and performing in his style – never rushing, nothing out of the ordinary, sharing in the magical experience with the audience.  An audience willingly in attendance to watch something they could not explain but enjoyed.

We could have given up magic in that moment. 

Despite our big trophy and gift certificate with which we purchased “Instant Art” by Supreme Magic ($25.00).  But we didn’t.  Now decades later, we have come nowhere near the perfection we sought.  In fact, as we have aged, our hands have grown drier, our moves less certain and our reliance on humor to hide our moves has only intensified.  Still, before we perform – especially at the Magic Castle – we think about Dai Vernon and his kindness to our younger self and his encouragement to continue “what you’re doing.” 

It was hardly the endorsement received by Mr. Brown but, to come full circle, it provides a great incentive to learn more about the performer who received such accolades from the man we respected so well. 

We look forward to reading the new book from Vanishing Inc.  You can do the same by clicking here.

The Year in Review, 1926

To All our Magic Friends, We Wish You a Happy New Year!

2019 is upon us and we thought it would nice to look back on 1926.  We intend for this to be a yearly feature but didn’t think of it until now so we are starting with earlier years and working our way up to the present day.  We figure by the time the sun burns out, we will have matched the year in review with the previous year.  We’re happy that we will have completed our task but a little melancholy about the end of the universe as we know it.  And we know it as having a heat and energy-radiating center that affects our planet according to the portion of the globe facing the center.

But we began this post with the word “Happy” and we should continue in that vein.

Unfortunately the year 1926 wasn’t good for the magic world.  Harry Houdini died just after 1 pm on October 31st of that year in Detroit.  See the New York Times coverage of the event here. He did not pass performing the Water Torture Cell (aka “Upside Down”) but from a vicious (or as our spellcheck suggested “viscous”) attack in Montreal. His remains were moved to New York for burial days later. Some historians suggested he was being silenced by agents for Spiritualists.  Houdini was intensifying his efforts to expose the fraudulent practitioners.  Others suggested it was an accident, still others believe it was just an an attempt to humiliate Houdini gone wrong.  Whilst talking with the students, Houdini accepted a challenge from one of them to be punched to demonstrate his excellent musculature.  The student punched the great magician before he could get ready and continued punching until Houdini asked him to stop.

The punch(es) may or may not have ruptured an appendix that may or may not already been infected, thus spreading infection through his peritoneum and leading to his eventual death.  He allegedly left an estate worth $6,743,910 in today’s figures. According to a November 1st edition of The Montreal Gazette published ten-years after his death, Houdini’s spirit could not be encountered by séances attended by his wife or brother.

For all things Houdini, we turn always to Jon Cox’ incredible site, Wild About Harry.

So, that was one of the big news magic items during that year.    Earlier in October, 1926, the film The Magician was released.  It was panned for being too gross as one would expect when one is dealing with using the blood of maidens to make life; with the central character being a magician and a surgeon.  Critics have later praised the film for its innovative storytelling and cinematography.  We haven’t seen it yet and understand at least one of the scenes is “unwatchable” for the gruesome transformation of a character bitten by a venomous snake.  We’re not big on watching others in pain, so we might fast forward through this section and determine later whether it is essential to the plot.  The movie had nothing to do with Houdini – who scrupulously avoided drinking or obtaining blood from maidens and stuff.

Carter the Great published one of his greatest posters, “Carter Accused of Witchcraft.”  The poster is remarkable and dark.  It features the gallows on which he will be executed and text giving us hope that the great magician will cheat death and perhaps prove he is not using witchcraft.  We would have included the image for you to peruse but the only link we could find was from an eBay auction and we have a policy about endorsing products for sale – especially where we don’t get a cut.

“Professor” Joseph Dunninger published his Popular Magic Book in 1926.  The book cost fifty-cents.  In today’s money that would be $6.78 plus shipping.  Things are not as cheap as they once were.  It used to be we could buy just about everything (except for TVs) cheaper than we can now.  If we had a time machine, we would use it to go buy things in 1926 and tell Houdini to avoid Montreal.  We would sell the things we brought back through the time vortex and feel good that we helped Houdini live a long and valuable life.

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Potter & Potter Magic Auction 2 Days Away

Two days away from Magic Only Auction

We heard from Rebecca Kaufman of Potter & Potter Auctions that this December 15th, the distinguished auction house will hold an online only magic auction.

Magicians and collectors will be able to select from more than 200 magic collectibles, posters, books, ephemera, and apparatus.

While the auction will be traditional in most ways it will have no live floor or phone bidding.  You can check out the items to be offered online in their beautiful catalog but you can only purchase the items, one lot at a time, on the day of the auction.

You can check out the sale catalog here.

Here are some of the highlights of the auction:

  1. Lot 208, a Wu-Ling Pagoda Mystery, made in Los Angeles by F.G. Thayer & Co. in the mid-1940s.
  2. Lot 198, a disembodied wooden rapping Hand, made in New York by Hornmann around 1918.
  3. Lot 183, a Walter Sheppard 1990s era head chopper stage illusion with quality paint and a dragon motif.
  1. Lot 163, an Insull for Lewis Davenport 1950s era talking skull prop.
  2. Lot 129, a Stanislaw Miedza-Tomaszewski for Cyrk “Sawing in Half Poster” from 1967.
  3. Lot 113, A c. 1900 Casino de Paris color litho of Annie Abbott, known as the “The Little Georgia Magnet,” alongside vignettes depicting her feats of strength.

It is this last piece that intrigues us the most.  We are a student of “The Little Georgia Magnet” and  her story.  It was an amazing time in our magic history and some of her effects are still being performed today.  We also noticed that the other items belie magic’s macabre side.  Disembodied hands, talking skulls, slicing women in half and a head chopper.

When we were younger than now, we used to do the finger chopper sold in most magic and novelty stores.  It was a great trick but we had dreams of one day getting an Abbott’s Discecto or a proper hand chopper.  We once even moved up to the head chopper for stage performances and finally a guillotine.

We were asked after a show if we thought it proper to do a full-sized guillotine illusion for party guests ranging from 4 to 7 years of age.

The question came from a little kid who was not related to the person paying us for the show but we still took it seriously – or at least gave the impression that we did – as we packed up the illusion in the back of our Volkswagen Fastback to head to our next engagement.  It was a non-magic engagement, we had to buy puppy treats because of a bet we lost with our dog.

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