This weekend, we will be at the feet of the masters, Pop Haydn, Bob Sheets and Chef Anton together teaching the ways of the Scoundrel at The Magic Castle here in Hollywood. It is a two-day class in the essentials of scoundreling with special attention paid to Three-Card Monte, The Shell Game and Fast and Loose.
The esteemed professors note that the course is “perfect for the historian, steampunker, gambler, lawyer or police officer as well as the magician, this course gives you the inside information.” We are at least two or three of those types of people so the course should be a perfect fit.
We understand there were only 20 seats available and they may have already been sold out by the time this article posts.
We will report back on what we have learned both in the classroom and in any wayward attempts to scoundrel on the mean streets of Hollywood or Beverly Hills.
We are thinking of getting a specially made cardboard box on which to perform our soon to be acquired Three-Card Monte skills just outside the Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset.
We could make it look like it was a shipping container for Louis Vuitton handbags or Christian Louboutin shoes so it would not arouse suspicion amongst the throngs we expect will encircle us with cash money in their hands and dreams of big winnings in their hearts.
Check out the School for Scoundrels site for more information and peruse their great offerings here.
Not because he does dangerous magic and teaches others how to do it during his five-star lecture but because he makes the difficult look easy.
Mr. Ellis is from Australia – a land where danger and adventure await all and at all times.
We have never been there but have developed our conception of what it is all about from television, movies and Outback Steak House. It is a place where people are always friendly, helpful, genuine and innovative. We have met seven people from Australia and every one of them met that stereotype. Ipso facto, QED.
Mr. Ellis has been a supporter of Inside Magic since the early days of this virtual news source. We first met him in Garden City, Michigan where he and his former partner and spouse Sue-Anne Webster lectured a capacity crowd on how to be innovative (and have fun) with magic. It was a great experience and we accurately reported about it on the old rendition of Inside Magic.
Mr. Ellis took the time to correct our various grammatical mistakes and word choice and we developed a perfect – if co-dependent – relationship with him from that day. He is a great writer and so we gladly accepted his submissions and story ideas over the years. He was kind enough to send us several items for review and, not surprisingly, our reviews were almost always glowing.
Longtime readers likely recall the one exception to our effusive praise for his work. We dismissed his 24 Years of Living Next Door to Ellis DVD but retracted this criticism once we realized we needed a DVD player to watch the disk. We had spent hours trying to fit it into our GAF ViewMaster — a technology that apparently was not compatible with the new DVD format.
We revised our review to hide our error and tried to delete the negative reviews from the internet. But you know how that goes. The stuff you don’t want to live forever does and the stuff in which you have great pride, doesn’t stay a day. That is why you can still find videos of our unfortunate scuffle with security backstage at the H.R. Pufnstuf National Tour but our classic articles on the history of magic cannot be found.
But we digress.
Tim Ellis is to magic what diamonds are to minerals. He is the best and brightest and can cut glass and liked by women.
He is charming and clever and generous. His lecture begins with his silent Razor Blade swallowing trick and is followed by attempts to switch a coin from the clutches of a mouse trap and then a bear trap. Sure, not the best stuff for kids’ shows but then again kids today are growing up so quickly and it will give them something to talk about with social workers later in life.
To be fair, Mr. Ellis does not believe the Razor Blade swallowing or bear trap trick is for kids. In fact, we are pretty sure he explicitly said they were not. But that is just one magician’s opinion. Perhaps kids in the US are more able to handle such magic. After all, we have more television channels in the US than they have in Australia. We think we read they only have one or two channels and one of them is ABC but not our ABC – a different one where the A stands for Australian. Sort of like how people knock-off Dairy Queen by calling their ice cream stores, Dairy King.
Again, we are far afield of the true purpose of this post. We are here to praise Mr. Ellis, not to bury him in ephemera and trivia.
Mr. Ellis provided attendees with a simple mnemonic to improve their acts. He speaks from a wealth of experience. His message is woven like a high-priced hair transplant throughout his lecture. And like a great hair-transplant, we left with something with which we can work. Sort of a virtual comb-over to hide the glaring bald spots in our routine. Perhaps the hair transplant metaphor has limited usefulness. Perhaps we need a better copy editor.
[Editor: You have a better copy editor, you just ignore me].
Mr. Ellis performed later in the Parlor of Prestidigitation and was outstanding. He has adopted a somewhat more serious persona on stage – still playful but less non-stop comedic – and it works very well for him. He endears himself to the audience in the opening fifteen seconds with a simple, silent entrance that is quirky and engaging. He performed his Razor Blade routine and did so with such great effect that audience members were genuinely concerned about his safety. They were urging him to not swallow the blades and were relieved when the trick was complete. He clearly connected with them from the outset and held their attention for the remainder of the show.
To return to our thesis: Mr. Ellis is dangerous. He performs so effortlessly that one (namely us) could easily assume that what he does takes no effort. We would be wrong. His smooth presentation is perfectly timed to the music selections and yet seems spontaneous. Clearly it cannot be that his spontaneous interaction with his audience just happens to end perfectly and at the exact same time as the music ends but it sure seems like it. We are guessing it has something to do with planning, rehearsal and experience. But this is just our guess. It could be that he is incredibly lucky to find audiences that interact exactly on cue to help him perform tricks they have never seen to music selections they do not choose.
Mr. Ellis will be heading back to Australia soon. If you have had a chance to see him on this most recent tour, consider yourself fortunate. If you haven’t seen him lately, we dare say you haven’t really seen him. Check out his website, get his DVDs (particularly 24 Years of Living Next Door to Ellis – if you have a DVD player) and seek him out.
Mr. Ellis is a dangerous talent and one we are proud to consider a friend.
Not “Young for the Castle” kind of young but younger. Young as in “you cannot buy liquor or rent a car or legally join on-line dating services” kind of young.
He claims to be 18 and that is possible but what is unlikely is that he is that good with so little in the way of real life performing experience. He has won several of the Magic Circle’s young magician awards, performed on UK television and has been seen by royalty. That is a lot to accomplish in a decade. That is a lot to accomplish in a lifetime. The closest we have come to being viewed by royalty involved a webcam with someone who said they were a royal or something like that.
How can someone just 18 years-of-age know how to handle a sophisticated magic audience in a foreign country with such skill?
Presumably he has never been booed off the stage by seven year-olds whilst (that’s UK talk for “while”) performing a show for free in a public library during a heat wave in coastal Florida all the while wondering if his borrowed dove is going to survive waiting its production in the big finale. He has never tried to squeeze in one last performance of a home-made Zig-Zag before his once svelte female assistant goes into labor. We doubt he has ever herniated himself trying to blow-up balloon animals for a mall’s worth of demanding kids.
There is only one explanation for this phenomenon. He must be talented beyond his years.
He began his routine with an extraordinary routine wherein any audience member called the name of a card and he caused it to rise from, shoot out of, escape or otherwise mysteriously appear from a freely-handled deck of cards. It was something to see. We were in the back row of the Parlor and were blown away by his presence and audience management abilities.
We were in the back row because this young man has followers who cued (UK talk for “got in line”) to get the prime. Some of the fans were from his home country and were very polite and proper in their refusal to allow us to sit on their laps or lay across two of them.
But even from the cheap seats, we marveled at how he owned the room and he held them in his unblemished (by liver spots and excessive wrinkles seen on performers of our ancient demographic) palm with a charming confidence.
We were honored that he came downstairs to the Museum and caught part of act. We wanted to stop our ramblings and messy sleights to introduce him to the room ala Ed Sullivan (a reference Mr. Walton will need to do the Google to learn) but were so self-conscious that we thought it best to remain focused on the task at hand (wrinkled and bespotted though that hand was).
He performed incredible demonstration of card dexterity for a cheering throng, we tried to remember which side of the TV Magic Cards we were supposed to have face-up. At least that was what we felt at the time.
Mr. Walton will be appearing at The Castle this weekend and should not be missed. He is a genuine star – not a genuine “future” star or promising young performer — the real deal.
Check out his impressive credentials and promotional materials on his website here.
Richard Turner is an incredible performer with exceptional talents and amazing skills.
He is, in our very humble opinion, one of the best cardsharps we have ever seen – ever. His lecture at The Magic Castle on Sunday was more of an exhibition of amazing card technique that even if we were taught with hours of patient instruction, we would still be unable to perform without his “fifty years of dedicated practice.”
The Second Deal is a personal point of pride for us. We have only been practicing it for about 30 years and of that 30 years, we slept, ate, had a life and worked in our non-magic world so it was not entirely dedicated to perfecting our work.
We saw Mr. Turner’s incredible dealing prowess and later performed our routine in which we rely on Seconds and felt shame. We wanted to stop our presentation and admit to the innocent lay audience that we were showing them the clutching, tightly gripped mechanics of muscle memory when they deserved so much better.
We did not actually stop our performance mid-deal but we felt it would have been warranted. We watched our hands deal Seconds that seemed so apparent that they looked (to us) more like a Glide from the top. We try to be humble (maybe not the most humble but of course if we were the most humble we would not claim to be) but seeing Mr. Turner’s lecture brought us down several rungs on the humble ladder towards humility.
Did we mention that Mr. Turner is blind? He is blind. Not “legally blind” or “partially blind” but really blind. He is demonstrating cardsharping with absolutely no ability to see what he is doing.
He has perfected the perfect Second deal without a visual reference. His Seconds are slowly done as if he were dealing directly from the top of the pack. There are no moves, no tells, no flashing or signs that a Second is in the offing, is occurring or has just happened.
Seeing Mr. Turner perform is like sitting in Plato’s Cave with a periscope for just a few minutes. We saw, briefly, what the real Second Deal looks like rather than the shadows on the wall we have been watching in our own hands or the hands of other performers.
His lecture is a delight to attend. It is not a study in basic sleights or fundamentals. In fact, there were very few sleights actually taught. It is more of an opportunity to watch a true master perform impossible effects using imperceptible skills. He discussed his involvement with the United States Playing Card Company and playing card production methods. We could have listened to that type of inside information for another ten hours. He told us about his interaction with Dai Vernon and Charlie Miller and their collaborative work on cardsharping skills. We would have gladly paid to listen to more of those stories.
The lecture went for about two hours but we had a feeling he was just getting started. We departed humbled but hopeful. It is satisfying to know that there is a perfect Second Deal. While we will likely never achieve it, we at least know our quest is not Quixotic.
The Magic Castle had a great presentation last night tracing the late Johnny Carson’s life-long appreciation of magic.
Dick Carson is an Emmy Award winning television director and the younger brother of the performer known as The Great Carsoni and proved be a great historian on the topic.
Dean Dill, Brian Gillis and the incomparable Mark Wilson came on after Dick Carson’s segment to share their experiences as performers on the iconic late night mainstay. Mr. Gillis and Mr. Dill were also called to provide the star personal tutorials in his Malibu home.
It was a great night to again enjoy the very unique talent Mr. Carson shared with the nation for so many decades.
Although Mr. Carson was very modest about his magic abilities, his talents were anything but modest. He performed difficult sleights with polish and skill. So many great magicians got their big break on Mr. Carson’s show and his support of the local (Los Angeles) magic community in general (and The Magic Castle specifically) was constant through the years.
One of the commentators observed he has never been replaced. We agree.
Whit “Pop” Haydn is to Magic what Marconi was to communication. He is a legendary performer with the skills of a ninja and the charm of a religious idol. In a word, we think Mr. Haydn is pretty impressive.
We recently saw his performance for Magnetized Water at The Junkyard in Simi Valley, California (“Simi” is pronounced “see – mee” and not “seh meh” or “Sigh My” as we learned from about five people along the way).
He was in full character as Pop Haydn extolling the virtues of his latest discovery. With illustrated charts and graphs, he explained how Magnetized Water matches up with the body’s own natural polarity. It was a fantastic routine filled with genuine magic and a convincing sales pitch.
Even more exciting, for us, was the well-developed character of Pop himself. He is a treasure from an earlier century who readily admit his inner hustler tendencies but promises to lie only once per show. Once that one lie quota is met, he will shade the truth and perhaps be less than candid but promises to never lie outright. You have to respect an honest con-man.
We met Mr. Haydn aboard a ship decades ago. He was performing for the huddle masses on the luxurious over-sized yacht and even called upon our bride to be his assistant in his famous Four Ring Routine.
We were more excited than she at his choice and her performance. Our beloved eschews the spotlight and despite her elegance on stage, was happy to return to the relative anonymity of our stage-side booth.
“You were on stage with Whit Haydn,” we exclaimed with a mouthful of caviar.
“Who is Whit Haydn? Is he famous?” She asked, dabbing away the delicious roe from our lips, chin and tie.
“He is the man,” we offered proudly.
“Oh, the magician?” She asked.
“Yes. Yes, that is Whit Haydn and you were on stage performing his Four Ring Routine.”
“He seems very nice. Why can’t you do magic like that?”
We admit that she was very young at the time and it was likely the champagne and fluster talking. Nonetheless, she continued to sing his praises throughout the rest of voyage. Despite our natural jealous nature, we could not begrudge her crush-like admiration for Mr. Haydn.
To see Mr. Haydn perform is to forget about magic entirely. We tend to have a critical eye when watching other performers. We are not critical but we do see flaws in sleights that can distract from the overall experience. Mr. Haydn reminded us then – and now – of Dai Vernon or Slydini. Natural without forcing the impression of being natural.
Looking back over the last year, we have much for which to be thankful. But we are never sure when we are supposed to be thankful. We may have been thankful at the wrong time, at Thanksgiving and so technically our thankfulness will either be redundant or just for the blessings received since the day before Black Friday.
But there have been many things since the official start to the shopping season that we consider thank-worthy. For instance, our eyebrows are growing back following what could have been a horrific flash paper ignition accident when we looked down the business end of our flash wand to see if the glow plug was working. It was but we couldn’t see it because of the over-stuffing of the muzzle with what we thought was too old flash paper.
We are thankful that our neighbor here on Santa Monica Boulevard was evicted and we do not need to lie awake worrying whether he was abusing cats or learning to play a stringed instrument. The new tenant seems nice. She operates a “call service” – we’re guessing that means she acts as a human alarm clock and calls customers at appointed times to make sure they get a fresh start on the day. Apparently some of her customers do not have phones – or maybe they don’t have good phone chargers – because she frequently has to leave her small office to call on them personally. She works around the clock but is very quiet and frequently brings us gifts of personal-sized shampoo and conditioner from some really nice hotels.
We are thankful that our audition at The Magic Castle is coming up. We will be performing before the membership committee in February and we were sponsored by the incomparable Pop Haydn. The extra time before our ten to fifteen minute presentation has given us plenty of time to completely re-work our act at least twelve times. We know the committee wants to see our skill set and so store-bought magic is eschewed. So, we dropped our rather lengthy Hippity Hop Rabbits routine. That could run – with the right crowd – fifteen minutes by itself.
We are thankful for finding Paper Cream to keep our very dry hands more moist and thereby allowing us to perform sleights like dealing seconds and bottoms. We were getting complaints about our constant licking of our fingers before dealing cards or performing card maneuvers. It got so bad we were asked to leave a party for licking one of our volunteers’ fingertips before she dealt the cards in a spelling card trick. It is tough to say if it was the licking or the fact that we did a spelling card trick with someone named Ida. Maybe the hostess didn’t appreciate us using a name that was so short. Maybe she was jealous of our ability to triple lift. Maybe we should have worn pants. Maybe we should have shown up on time and not the next day, at 3:00 am. Life is full of questions, just like the police.
We are very thankful for the invention of The Stripper Deck. We use ours constantly and wonder how magicians survived without it. We read that Dai Vernon once made his own using a shard of glass he found in a bathroom. He was very industrious and wise. We hope he washed his hands after making the deck, though. We do wish they had a different name for the deck. If you go to any of the stores here in West Hollywood and ask for a Stripper Deck, they treat you like you are crazy or they try to sell you something that is not a proper magic trick. Because we take seriously our oath to not reveal magic secrets, we never correct the sales people or explain what we mean by the term “Stripper Deck.” If you ever come to our editorial offices / kitchen / bedroom / guest room / den, you will see piles of odd decks and personal-sized sample bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body cream. If we are ever raided by the authorities, it will be difficult to explain that little corner of our little space.
We are most thankful for the friends we have in Magic. Those who we left behind in Michigan and those we have met since coming to Hollywood. Magicians share a common personality type that transcends the influences of environment and access to sunshine. The magicians here have accepted us despite our pasty complexion and regional differences. We would like to think they have been so ready to include us in their magic circles due to our exceptional skills and winning personality but fear it is really just because magicians are friendly and accepting.
Magic is a wonderful art daily brought to life and changed in exciting ways by people who are in it for all of the right reasons; and for that we are thankful.
The move from sleepy Mystic Hollow, Michigan to Hollywood, California has been an adventure. The final two land-sea containers arrived early this morning and the crew worked through the night to get most of our props and sets delivered to a warehouse just a block from our new digs. It looks like most of the equipment made it without damage although some of the animals were a bit bedraggled and those family members (and crew) that elected to travel the sea route in the containers probably now regret their decision. They had hope of seeing the majestic Mississippi River and the Panama Canal from their makeshift bunks in the nicer of the two 53-foot containers. We learned too late into the trip that the containers have no windows and are locked from the outside.
Hollywood reminds us of Mystic Hollow in so many ways. People are very friendly, there is an appreciation for magic and it is hilly.
Unlike Mystic Hollow, Hollywood is always sunny and bright and people are out-of-doors walking and running and smiling in the sun (with appropriate levels of sunblock we hope). We have taken to eating sushi often and while it was initially expensive, we found a cheaper method of getting our fresh fish fix. We found a store called, “Hollywood Fish and Tackle.” Great deals can be found and while the chefs are not out front and it is more of a take-out place, it offers great deals on great food.
Everyone here in Hollywood drinks water. It is a strange thing to see how much water people drink. They carry water with them at all times. We have become paranoid about our lack of water drinking and while Diet Coke provides water – it is the first ingredient according to our close inspection of the can – it apparently is déclassé in this milieu. We are rebels and will fight the cause of Diet Coke until they pry our shaking, jaundiced and likely dehydrated paws from our last can.
Coming to Hollywood means coming to the mecca of our art, The Magic Castle. We are in the process of applying to be a magician member of the august body and whilst we wait, Pop Haydn has been very kind to extend us invitations to visit.
Pop Haydn should be given the Nobel Prize for Magic. We had a chance to see his show at two of his completely packed shows in the W.C. Fields Bar downstairs in the Castle. He does things that cannot be explained or effectively stolen. We should know, we tried to do both. His persona is so engaging and his skills make him the Michael Jordan of Magic – except he has more hair and is nicer to his fans. He performed palming moves that we would not even consider trying on stage in a darkened theater without an audience. Yet, he gracefully handled the deck and did the impossible within 18 inches of a very observant crowd.
Plus, he works the room so well.
So, he is like a Nobel Prize Laureate mixed with an incredible basketball player who has the skills of a brilliant (but sincere) politician.
Speaking of the W.C. Fields Bar, we got to see Doc Eason again. Doc has been a fine supporter of Inside Magic over the last forty years and has continued to make magic seem magic even to magicians. As many loyal readers (and even the few disloyal ones) know, Doc Eason is the Top Magic Bartender on this side of the equator. It could be that he owns that title south of the globe’s midsection but we haven’t gone to any magic bars there yet. His magic is impossible and seems spontaneous. He gives the impression that every crowd is getting a special show – designed just to meet them where they sit. We watched him three times in one evening (in Mystic Hollow we call that stalking) and he consistently worked the same wonderful routine, playing with everything the audience gave and ended strong and humble. A true master. He was kind enough to act as if he remembered us from our prior meetings back in Michigan; that shows he is a good guy.
Speaking of cute and endearing; we eat up cute. If we were in Japan, we would cute overload and likely pop with a satisfied Hello Kitty sigh. But we almost never see cute at The Magic Castle. There is beautiful and amazing and grand, but very little cute. But we saw cute of the best possible kind there the other night when Lindsay Benner took the stage at the Palace of Mystery. While Ms. Benner does not perform magic per se, she is magical in her handling of the audience during her silent juggling routine.
Ms. Benner has combined great juggling skills with an adorable persona and tremendous stage presence to make one of the most enchanting shows we have seen in a while. She introduced her act with an oversized text called “The Book of Love.” She invited a very fortunate male volunteer to join her on stage and performed incredible juggling around and near that man. She worked the room without a word and received a standing ovation from the sometimes jaded magic crowd. If we ever wanted to have someone juggle sharp things by our head, she would be the one to do it. You can read a nice article about her in the New York Times here.
Hollywood is Inside Magic’s new home. Our temporary office – adjacent to a store that sells only specialized food for dogs – is still packed with crates and boxes that need to be handled. While we do that, we will keep you apprised of all the goings-on.
We were sad to read that magician John Calvert passed away last week. Mr. Calvert’s well-deserved acclaim developed the many decades of his illustrious magic and movie career.
He entertained Hollywood movie stars, worked as a stunt man and appeared in several major motion pictures. He was 102 years old.
According to The Los Angeles Times, Mr. Calvert was bit by the magic bug at the age of 8, when his father brought him to see Howard Thurston perform in Cincinnati. He immediately began working to impress his friends with his new-found skills in our wonderful craft.
Mr. Calvert and his lovely wife, Tammy traveled the world many times and were headliners in more countries than we can list. He piloted his own yacht and plane and survived incredible mishaps with both means of transportation.
The Times notes that at the age of 100 he appeared at the London Palladium. We note that we have yet to appear at the Palladium or London or any anagram of the words “Palladium” and “London.”
The Magic Castle heralded him as their oldest regularly performing member.
Mr. Calvert and Tammy were kind to Inside Magic. They were courteous and always responsive. It was clear they loved magic and each other. He will be missed.
Well, we heard of a third for the list. Fr. Jim Blantz, a member of the Order of the Holy Cross, served mass at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills and then went to The Magic Castle to start his week-long lecture series for Magicians only.
The 81-year-old priest and performer will soon celebrate 60 years in the clergy and more than 40 years as a magician.
Fr. Blantz’ first show was a one-trick command performance for a family friend. Their 12-year-old girl asked, “Do you know any magic?” The priest said he knew one trick. he performed for her. “I knew one trick. So I did it, and she was thrilled.”
He performed for kids during a subsequent mission trip to Uganda for a large audience of kids who didn’t speak English.
Fr. Blantz is a cardworker with a relatively stable and successful routine.