SIMPLICITY AUDACITY AND BLUFF Or
The Art of the Confidence-(Magic)-Trickster By
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INTRODUCTION Effects which do not depend upon either sleight-of-hand or mechanics have a far better chance of fooling the public, but they may take "nerve" to perform. So the magician who specialises in this type of work must be an "actor" as well as a conjurer. Of course one can combine such tactics with the general principles of magic to good effect. The late Al Koran was one of the greatest followers of the art of "bluffmanship". Of course Al was skilled in sleight-of-hand, and indeed had almost everything else "going for him". Indeed, I think his success as a bluff-artist was in the fact that even had they suspected such methods, no audience either magical or "lay" would believe him capable of such audacious deceit! Johnny Ramsay used to cause the disappearance of his watch by sheer "acting-ability". He was one of the greatest sleight-of- hand magicians that I ever had the pleasure to know or watch, using sleights that he had evolved or adapted to suit his own rather small hands. But even the very skilled and altogether charming little Scott with the twinkling-eyes was not above using a "wee bit of sheer audacity"! The title of my book was inspired by a chance remark by Murray, the veteran Australian illusionist and the man who coined the title "escapologist". (Although unfortunately the title is often quite wrongly used in reference to Houdini, who never billed himself as such.) During one of the long conversations that we had when I was writing his biography, Murray described much of his work as being "Based on audacity, simplicity and bluff!" The same can be said for another famous illusionist "Chefalo" who also got a great deal out of very little at times, especially with his presentation of "The Hot Seat". But I think I must give the last word on the subject to the late, ill-fated but altogether wonderful Theo Annemann who said: "Time was when I used a sponge of alcohol to read sealed messages. Now I cut out the back of the envelope, and consume the alcohol internally!" VAL ANDREWS, July 1979.
TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE SITUATION It is known that the "Master of Bluff", the late Max Malini, would carry a brick in his hat as a fairly regular procedure. When the hat was on his head, so was the brick but when the hat was removed, the brick went with it, and it was carefully placed so that it could be lifted to reveal the brick should a psychologically correct moment occur. Often it did not, but Malini considered the whole thing worth while for the amazement that the production of a real brick from his hat occasionally caused. He would also sometimes sit for many hours with an object "palmed", ready to produce at the right moment. He didn't mind how long he had to wait, and as he once remarked to Dai Vernon: "Sometimes I vait a veek!" I am not suggesting that anyone should imitate Malini and carry a brick around. Obviously such a thing is a way of life that one has to learn to "live with", like a deformity. But there are lesser encumbrances that are easier to live with. For example, "salting" ones person with certain "key" cards. A King of Hearts always carried in the wallet, an Ace of Clubs always in the breast pocket, and a four of Diamonds ever tucked in the right sock. Thus equipped, one is ever ready to take advantage should the situation arise. Should one of the cards be selected in an obviously "no force" situation, you will be ready to create a sensation with its inexplicable revelation...in your wallet, in your sock or in your pocket. Abandon if necessary the effect intended when the card was selected...because the surprise revelation will be hard to better. I remember once creating a sensation through simply being observant. In Britain, the slot machine-companies started to put change, in the shape of a sixpence and a halfpenny, sealed inside packets of a certain brand of cigarettes. All one had to do was to borrow a sixpence and a halfpenny..."vanish" them, then put a coin in the machine and tell the lender to take out the packet and open it. Result...a sensation...until it became widely known that there was change in the packets! I mention this subject simply to show you how observation can be as big an ally as can audacity and bluff
THE USE OF A "MAGICIAN" AS AN ASSISTANT When I first saw Kalanag, the famous German illusionist, vanish a lamp from beneath a drape, and go straight into his next effect quite obviously unencumbered by pulls or other restraint, I was somewhat surprised. I had to see Kalanag perform the effect several times to spot his audacious deception. One of his assistants was wearing the pull! They lifted the lamp under the drape together but naturally all suspicion fell upon the magician at the moment of vanish and after. His casual movements before and after the effect worried magicians and astounded lay-people. I am told that the late Harry Blackstone used a similar ruse when vanishing a bird-cage under "test-conditions". (But I'd have to have that confirmed before sticking my neck out and making a statement.) Certainly, where one expects afterwards to be "frisked" by a nosey journalist, this would seem like a good idea! Dante, in one of his opening-effects, produced silks, and laid them over the arm of the beautiful "Mikki" Miller. A little later in the sequence he took the silks from her and effortlessly produced large feather-bouquets from beneath them. But the flowers had been taken from Miss Millers sleeve, rather than his own. Apart from being less suspect, her sleeve was more suitably tailored to hold them safely until required. Another clever use of the assistant as a magician! That the magician gets the credit, and applause, and most of the money may bother some of these talented "magician-assistants"! But then surely if they had really wanted to be they could have been great magicians themselves. Maybe in some cases they had the ability but not the personality, and were therefore happy to let someone else "sell" the performance. This dependence on a clever assistant to enhance the reputation of his master is not entirely confined to magic. Britain's greatest ventriloquist, for a period of thirty-five years or more, was the late Arthur Prince. Arthur had a magnificent act in Variety with a battleship scene. The dummy, "Jim" was seated on a binnacle whilst Arthur in full naval-officers uniform chatted to him. On Jims left stood Arthurs assistant-dresser, "Mack”, dressed as a Petty-Officer. At the conclusion of his brilliant act, Arthur would drink a glass of beer, brought to him upon a tray by the ever faithful "Mack". As he drank the beer, Jim would continue his barrage of quips and interpolations. As Arthur drained the glass he would say... "Going .... going.... GONE!" The devotees of the ventriloquial-art never ceased to be amazed at the clarity of this last phrase, supposedly near-impossible to produce whilst drinking. But the secret was that "Mack" was also a ventriloquist and it was he who supplied "the last word"! When I learned of this device it did not make me respect Arthur Prince one fraction less! After all, he was a superb ventriloquist and a brilliant showman: quite capable of supplying that "last word" himself if required to do so. But he had taken a wise
showman’s step, and knew that no one could achieve such clarity for that all important "curtain-line" whilst drinking! To my knowledge this fact about Arthur Prince has never appeared in print before, and until now has been known only to a handful of theatre-buffs. But as it does not detract from Prince’s reputation, except to enhance it. By showing his great shrewdity, I see no reason to suppress it. The same device is illustrated by the circus presentation of an "educated-pony". The Clown places two coloured handkerchieves into a box. The pony is told: "Take out the red handkerchief, and leave the blue!" When the pony opens the lid, he finds that the clown has operated a flap, so that only a duplicate red-silk is there. The pony must take out the handkerchief to reach the tit-bit which he knows from experience lies beneath it! The Pony gets all the credit, but it is "he who gets slapped" who does all the work.
ON THE USE OF "STOOGES" It is not considered strictly "ethical" to use "stooges" or to use an older term, "confederates", by many magicians. On the other hand some very startling effects can be gained by their use. There is one very strong argument in favour of their employment: the fact that recruiting genuine "volunteers" from the audience is often difficult, tedious and holds up a show. The great illusionists of the past were divided on this issue. Dante, Kalanag and Carmo relied almost entirely on them when inviting spectators upon the stage. On the other hand they made little attempt to conceal the fact that stooges were employed, considering the audience would forgive this harmless deception, in return for the entertainment value involved. At the other end of the scale, Murray, Chefalo and John Calvert made much use of genuine volunteer spectators, doubtless considering the obvious realism of their reactions worth all the hazards involved. When you use real "volunteers" you risk the involvement of drunks, hooligans, lunatics and exhibitionists. In the old days of British "Variety" (A form of vaudeville.) with its two shows a night policy, it was always particularly difficult to recruit "volunteers" at the early performance, which was often sparsely attended. For this reason alone, many magicians were forced to use stooges. With a "no play no pay" contract, one cannot dare to risk all on the whims of the audience. Some acts relied entirely on having one or two spectators on the stage throughout. Murray needed a minimum of four people to form the committee that he used throughout his show. To his eternal credit, he never used stooges, but I have seen him stand and cajole for quite a few minutes on some occasions to tempt a few grudging volunteers. Fortunately he had a bluff, hearty manner, and people trusted him. Some illusionists were very suave and would have found it impractical to take this chance. Joe Stuthard, the "Canadian-Funatic", had a wonderful "pickpocket" act. He used three people from the audience, two "stooges" and one genuine volunteer. But if the latter did not materialise, Joe could still work his entire act with the two stooges. One of these was his wife, Kay, who really did manage to look like a middle-aged housewife who had strayed upon the stage. Joe got a lot of fun from returning embarrassing items which he had seemingly taken from her handbag. This sort of thing was taken a stage further by "Artemus" and Benson DuLay. The former, in scholastic-gown, attempted to control a rabble of unruly boys, (all stooges) who were given pieces of ice to hold and the act finished with the inevitable "roughhouse"! Benson DuLay had a guillotine-routine (indeed a "Billy Dooley" he was renowned as a builder of such props before the days of his performing-fame.) which involved several stooges, including his son, Peter, (Now a famous TV producer) and a coloured-boy "stooge" who was truly a "gift from the Gods"! That boy’s reactions to his
seemingly inevitable execution had to be seen to be believed! He rolled his eyes wildly, he ran for his life, and was brought back only to lose his trousers as the blade descended. With a children’s show, or where children are used as helpers, quite often one gets a heaven-sent opportunity for comedy. One recruits by lucky accident the type of boy who has a small museum in his pockets (the contents of which must be displayed to empty them in preparation for an effect.) How much better to be able to rely upon such a situation, the "stooge-child" having his pockets well primed with amusing articles, including perhaps a realistic imitation mouse or frog. With the adult male-stooge, many amusing situations are possible. For example the old comedians-gag of having the shirt arranged on the chest, under the jacket, rather as it would be displayed in its commercial-package. Thus arranged, the shirt can appear to be quite as it should be, to the casual observer, but can be "instantly" whisked off the wearer by the performer, to amusing effect! The stooge can "milk" the laugh for the performer by snatching the shirt from him, clasping it to his bosom and frantically retreating, through the audience! One might argue: "This will make it obvious to the audience that the man was a "stooge"!" But don't be too sure: after all, if the magician can read minds and snatch doves out of mid-air, divesting someone of his shirt should be a simple operation!
GIVING THE CUE... Some audacious magicians use devices which are obvious to a handful of a large audience in order to mystify the remaining ninety-nine per-cent. For example, when Murray forced cards he would simply cut the pack and offer cards from the top of the cut. No one ever refused to take them, and the majority thought that a greater selection was offered. "Simplicity, Audacity and Bluff!" says Murray, who always believed in the easiest and most direct method. Once an amateur magician wrote to him, suggesting that he had been party to the most blatant and clumsy force ever! Murray replied with a question: "Did You take the card I wanted You to take?" But sometimes the very reverse of this is useful; one person fooled and one thousand in on the secret! Examples: the Slydini-classic "Flight of the paper-balls" Ken Brooke used to perform a routine with a playing card stuck to the bottom of a tray. This was a duplicate of a card forced upon one spectator, who could not understand why any other member of the audience was able to tell him the card he had chosen. Ken had "cued" the audience by casually holding the tray so that all could see the duplicate. So worked in either direction, "cues" can be useful. Here are a few ways of cuing an individual, unbeknown to an audience, or an audience unbeknown to an individual. (Confusing, but if you were intelligent enough to buy this book you will understand!)
1. "READING THE BACKS" The effect is that a card is selected and returned to the pack, and the cards are spread, faces down, on the table. One spectator is allowed to study the backs of the cards with a magnifying-glass and soon announces the card, which is turned to show that he was right! Method? A forcing-pack is used, and the magnifying glass has a very tiny duplicate of the force-card stuck to the glass. The thumb covers this when handling.
2. AQUATIC CARD REVELATION One Spectator selects a card, hopefully remembers it, and hands that card to the performer behind his back. With that card still held behind him in his right hand, the performer picks up a glass of water with his left-hand, requesting a second Spectator to gaze steadily into it. To everyone's amazement (with two notable exceptions.) the second Spectator announces the number and suit of the chosen card, which is then brought forth from behind the performers back for verification. REQUIRED: Any pack of cards, any glass of water, plus audacity! METHOD: With the chosen card in his hands, behind his back, the performer tears off one of the indexes. (If the card is placed face down onto the palm of one of your hands, according to your instructions, there is no difficulty in locating and tearing the correct corner, but if in doubt use a "four-index" pack.) He palms the index in the left hand, with which he picks up the glass. The water will magnify the index so that the second Spectator will easily see it. When that worthy has announced the card, the performer brings it forth "for verification", taking care to cover the torn corner with his fingers.
A BLUFF-PASS A Spectator is asked to select a card from the pack, and there is no "force" as he can take it from anywhere. He is asked to remember it, and the Magician first squares the pack, then "cuts" it, to allow for replacement by the Spectator. Thus, as the Magician replaces the cut half onto the selected card, that pasteboard is obviously right in the middle of the pack. Yet immediately, without any kind of suspicious move, the Magician can turn the top card and show it to be the selected one! He can leave well alone, or repeat to give an "ambitious-card" routine. Remember: The cards are unfaked, in fact the deck can be borrowed, and however hard they watch the audience will not detect any sort of sleight or suspicious "passlike" movements! No skill is required, and if you have any sort of acting-ability you can perform it within two minutes of reading this page. Even I can do it, and I once wrote a book called "The Idiot at the Card-Table"! HOW? Assuming that the Spectator has taken and looked at his card and is holding it ready for replacement: Hold the deck on the palm of the left hand. With the thumb and fingers of the right-hand, riffle the edges, and cover the deck with that hand for an instant. Now withdraw that hand as if it contained the top half of the pack. Allow the Spectator to replace his card...actually on top of the pack. Repeat the ruse, seemingly replacing the top half of the pack.
This might read a little "far-fetched" in cold print. But when you have tried it you will enthuse! Remember how hard it is to palm a card from the pack without drawing the Spectator’s eye, and causing his belief in a card being in the hand. There you have the psychology of it. Eric Haylock, who is a brilliant magician, as well as a superb illustrator showed it to me.
TWO "BLUFF” CARD RISES Magicians have experimented for more than a hundred years with lengths of thread, metal springs, musical-box movements, and even electronics to make a card rise up out of the pack. When viewed from out front, the effect is the same, no matter how simple or sophisticated it's method. Here are two little card-rising, or should I say "jumping" (in one case) stunts, which need only a pack of cards, two hands, and a certain amount of "bluffmanship".
A: "JUMPING-CARD" EFFECT: A card jumps into the air from a pack held by the magician. REQUIRED: Just a pack of cards. PREPARATION: None. PERFORMANCE: Hold the pack with the backs toward you, in the left hand. Extend the right-hand forefinger and with it engage the bottom edge of the top card. With that forefinger bend the card upward, until it is almost doubled.
Now transfer the grip on the pack to the thumb and remaining fingers of the right hand. Thus, the pack is held, facing the audience, with the forefinger still bowing the top card. A movement of the forefinger towards the pack will cause the bowed card (due to its tension) to "fly" clear into the air! New cards with elasticity and spring are best for this effect.
B: "MAGNETIC-FINGER" EFFECT: Holding the cards in his left hand the magician extends his right forefinger so that it touches the top edge of the pack. In raising that finger a card is seen to follow it, up and out of the pack, as if magnetised. REQUIRED: A normal pack of cards...confidence and "bluff". PREPARATION: None. PERFORMANCE: The illustration tells all. Hold the pack between thumb and fingers of the left hand and drop the right index-finger onto the top.
In raising the index-finger, touch the back of the top card with the second-finger of the same hand. Simply raise the hand and the card will appear to follow the index-finger as if magnetised. Actually it is the second finger that does the work. You must watch your "angles" on this one. Used either in conjunction with "selected cards" or simply as "asides", these two
card-rises will cause much amazement from lay-people, who will examine your hands for traces of glue!
WITH A MAGIC WAND: AN AUDACIOUS ADDITION TO THE RISING-CARDS. I have often thought that a great addition to "The Rising-Cards" would be (After the two or three selected cards have duly risen) for a Spectator to name "any card" which would then obediently elevate itself from the pack! Impossible? Not if you have the nerve! I warn you, this effect, like this book, is definitely NOT for the timid magician! METHOD: Whatever method you use for the rising-cards, be it a length of thread, a mechanical deck or "whatever", make sure to set it so that you know what the card is which will rise in turn following the three selected ones. Write the number and suit of this card onto a magic-wand. A "chinagraph" pencil is best to use on an ebonite or lucite wand... the faint white lettering will show just enough for your purpose. After the three selected cards have risen, hand the wand to an "on stage" or "on floor" helper, telling him... "Wave the wand gently in the direction of the pack, and announce the card that you would like to rise!" When you hand him the wand you will know from his expression if he will be cooperative. You will of course have chosen him carefully using all your powers of intuition and audience-psychology, based on your experience with such helpers. This applies to all effects where you use a "cue".
BLUFF WAND-VANISHES Perhaps one of the most effective tricks in magic as far as the uninitiated are concerned is the vanish of a seemingly solid wand, rod or stick from the paper in which it has been wrapped. The earliest versions usually involved a solid stick and a matching paper "shell" into which the stick could be slid easily. (And slid out just as easily.) Fred Culpitt, a loquacious Englishman, popular during the first forty years of the present century, presented a vanishing stick which for method took a lot of beating as far as sheer "audacity" was concerned. Fred would bang the stick, in its encompassing shell, firmly on the table. He would then "thump" it by its end on the floor. (A very convincing way of showing that it was solid.) He would then wrap it in tissue, vanish it, and reproduce it from inside his jacket. His daring "method" makes one breathless with admiration. He actually allowed the solid stick to drop from its shell, through a hole in the stage in the act of "thumping" it! In those days one was expected to make good any "alterations" to the theatre at the conclusion of an engagement. Thurston and Dante had their team of carpenters to make good where traps had been cut. But Fred simply inserted a cork into the hole in the floor, hoping to be able to simply "pull the cork" when he next played the theatre! It was Lewis Davenport who invented the most popular method of all, the use of a black flint-paper "shell" with a white wand-tip inserted at each end. This meant that the wand not only looked right despite the emptiness of the shells interior, but also it could be quite convincingly banged upon the table prior to wrapping and "vanish". I experimented a great deal to enhance this effect when I first entered show-business. I used to drop the shell-wand flat on the stage, finding that it made a convincing noise. But it was necessary to glue the wand-tips in place to avoid them flying out. One night I accidently broke the tip of the duplicate solid wand prior to loading it in my coat. This gave me an inspiration, so I glued only one tip of the shell, allowing the other to fly off during performance. Following the vanish, I produced the duplicate, drawing attention to its missing end, then picking up and "fitting." the wand-tip to it! Ingenius, but hardly worth the trouble involved.
COPE CECIL'S VANISHING WAND ADDITION But one of the best additions, improvements, or call it what you will for this particular trick is something I saw perpetrated by an elderly, unsmiling American, Cope Cecil, at a British Convention some years ago. It was two in the morning, of the third day, and the Convention was just starting to "wilt". I was sitting in the lobby of the headquarters hotel with Bobby Bernard, Frank Boynett and "Mystic Craig". (Everyone else was in bed.) We all sensed that the best was over. Then suddenly out of the gloom, near the entrance lobby loomed a new (if late) arrival. Craig leapt to his feet, peering through the gloom, exclaiming... Well, whadda you know...it's my old friend Cope Cecil from Atlantic City! I tell you fella's, this Guy is gonna be the life of the party! Well, I watched Mister Cecil anxiously all of the next day as he strode from event to event. He never smiled and spoke but little. That night however he appeared on the "Visitors show". As a performer he had a rather morose-style. Then he presented "The vanishing-wand" and put in a little touch that made me forgive him for everything else! He inserted the wand into a folded newspaper, allowed the paper to unfurl. As he had inserted the wand in the centre and allowed only some of the pages to unfurl the wand did not drop out, and he announced in morbid tones that it had "vanished"! He then refolded the paper, pulled forth the wand and, just as unconvincingly showed that it had "returned". Well, it didn't take long for the applause to die away, and then Cope gained everyone's admiration by saying: "You don't seem too convinced... so I'll do it this way!" So saying he wrapped the wand in a sheet from the newspaper... crushed it, and vanished it! What a splendid addition to the standard procedure! It didn't fool anyone, but it enhanced the effect when he finally DID vanish it. (Rather like when an acrobat or juggler "stalls" a trick deliberately, in order to gain more applause when he DOES bring it off!) Whilst still on the subject of vanishing-wand variations, it is interesting to note that the late Jack Le Dair, one of the unsung "greats" of this business, had perhaps the most convincing "different" version of all. Jack used a violin-bow, instead of a wand. He "planted" the shell-bow with a musician in the theatre orchestra-pit. He would ask for its loan, and would then wrap and vanish it, taking a duplicate from his coat to "return" to the violinist.
A great effect, and a "natural" for a magician playing vaudeville. But most interesting is the fact that Jack made the shells, in his dressing-room, from "wood-grain-paper", fitting them with the ends and horse-hair, and tightening the whole thing like a real bow. Magicians used to marvel at the "curve" which he managed to gain in the shells he made, looking just as a real bow does. The secret? He used to varnish the shells before fitting them up, and would prop them against the dressing-bench to dry. He soon discovered by accident that the varnished shells took on this "arc" naturally as they dried! Bert Douglas (another unsung "hero" of magic) published a "Golf-club" vanish in one of his booklets, in which the head and handle of a club were inserted into a paper-shell. Excellent as the idea is, I only ever saw one performer use it: the most surprising candidate: The late Al Koran! (This was during Al's pre-mentalist period.) Al presented it by actually driving a practice-ball into the "wings" with the shell club. His assistant dropped a set of those joke-shop "crash-plates" and then entered to angrily accuse Al of breaking her window! By this point Al had wrapped the club in newspaper, and vanished it, destroying the evidence "before her very eyes"! Think about all the things that I have mentioned under this heading. No one ever performs them now... they are old enough to be new!
THE LAST WORD ON THE RADIO-DIE OR "COLOUR-BLOCK" A few years ago when working as a demonstrator in a magic-store, (as has many a better man than I!) I developed a particular fondness for a little effect known in America as "The Radio-Die-Box" and in Britain as "The Colour-block" or "Colour-vision". (These differences of title are mainly due to the fact that the trick is usually sold with a die or dice in the United-States, and a dice-like block with a different colour on each of its sides in Britain. In both versions there is a square box into which the block or die fits, and a shallow lid to close it. I would imagine that every reader of a book of this kind is familiar with the effect, but in case not I will clarify: Whilst the performers back is turned, the block is placed into the box with chosen colour or number of spots uppermost. The lid is replaced, and the box handed to the performer behind his back. The performer then brings forth the box and without opening the lid divines the colour or number of spots chosen. He then opens the box to verify that he is right. The method is a very simple one...with the box held behind his back the performer moves the lid from the top to the side of the box. Thus, when he brings it forth, into view, it looks just the same as it did, but the side facing the performer is open to his view. He then tells the number or colour, and in the action of removing the lid to verify this he manages to turn the box to its right position. (He is aided in this by tilting the box to drop out the block. A lovely little trick, based not on sleights or mechanics, but on "Simplicity, audacity and bluff"! But not original enough to include in this book! True, but I arrived at several improvements and additions which have been known to fool magicians. I will elucidate. (Not only that, but I will tell you all about them.)
IMPROVEMENT NUMBER ONE Ignoring the usual handling, I used to bring forth the box, seemingly still sealed with its lid, but with the colour or spots in MY full view, and shake or "rattle" it. I explained to my spell-bound admirers that I always did so when presenting the trick, as once a smartie had given me the box behind my back without the block inside! Thus the shake was the excuse to bring the box from behind my back and glimpse the selection. I then returned the box behind my back, and continued to "concentrate". Whilst seemingly preoccupied with the thought-waves. I was in fact busily returning the lid to its right position! Thus I could announce the selection, and then actually hand the box to someone to open and verify.
IMPROVEMENT NUMBER TWO I soon discovered that I could perform the trick, just as described, but with the effective addition of having the box sealed with two rubber bands. The elasticity makes the removal and restoration of the lid a simple matter. Try it!
IMPROVEMENT NUMBER THREE The colour at the bottom of the block (or number if a die) could be divined instead of that on top. Just as easy, if you think about it, especially with a die!
IMPROVEMENT NUMBER FOUR Well, this is not so much a mere improvement as a whole new conception for the "climax"! You see, the trick is more effective if repeated, but of course not too often. I decided to take the block out of the box, behind my back, and tuck it into the waistband of my trousers. Thus on the final occasion of bringing forth the box I could hand it to anyone, have him peel off the bands to verify if I was right, only to find that I was "wrong”.... as there were "No spots...or no colours"! This little trick, either in its crude original form, or with my additions, is a wonderful example of what can be done with "bluff". Incidentally, I got in trouble with my employers at the trick-shop for giving "too good" a demonstration! I not only spent far too long over a very inexpensive item, but I made it look like a miracle which the public could not believe they could learn! But then I am a magician, and miracles are my business. I appreciate that "old money" must be earned, but I do think that an overly commercial attitude has ruined many a good business. Today’s "Dime-punter" is tomorrows buyer of a cane-to-silks or mechanical card-rise.
BILLY McCOMB AND THE SILK-CHANGE Many years ago I was talking to that "One-Man Magic-Convention": Billy McComb, immediately prior to his performance in variety at London’s famous "Metropolitan" Theatre. (Long since demolished I'm sad to say.) At that time Billy was featuring the "Sucker-Silk-change", utilising the little pink-painted brass tube-gimmick. As he loaded this, ready for the show the spirit of devilry took him over and he said: "I'll not only do the trick, but I'll show them the gimmick!" Knowing that Billy was normally as much against the exposure of magical-secrets as I was myself I was frankly amazed at this statement, not to say aghast! But my fears were allayed when I watched from out front. Billy performed the trick in the usual way, then, instead of "sleeving" or otherwise disposing of the gimmick, he displayed it, saying: "It's all done with this little tube of dye!" He pocketed the tube quite openly before showing that the silk had again changed colour. It was quite obvious to me that the audience did not in any way connect the change of the silk with the little tube!
KORAN’S MOST OUTRAGEOUS TRICK! I knew Al Koran very well indeed, particularly during the period or decade prior to his "fame". At the time when I knew him best he was a hairdresser in Bond-Street, and an enthusiastic member of the London Society of Magicians. Eventually he walked out of that club in "pique" at the Members seeming lack of great enthusiasm for some of his finest ideas. Every week he would have some new miracle to show, and I think it was just a case of "familiarity breeds contempt". But there were those, myself included, who certainly appreciated his efforts and believed in his great potential. He was a high strung man, with a nervous stammer, with an almost ruthless ambition to "make it big". He tried and discarded idea after idea, act after act. The "lost and discarded routines of Al Koran" would make a splendid book in fact. He had one clever act called "Song and Sorcery" in which he sang, quite pleasantly, and accompanied the lyrics with appropriate effects. But to return to our theme of "Audacity, Simplicity, Bluff": Al used one effect coming into these categories: possibly the most blatant and outrageous of all! The effect was that two spectators were invited onto the floor or stage, placed on opposite sides, and each given a pack of cards in its case. The cards could have been examined and shuffled by the way. They were told to hold the card-cases and gaze at them, thinking of any card but not disclosing what it was. They were then instructed to remove the thought of card, but not to show its face, holding it with its back to the audience. Al then re-capped, talked of coincidence and the overwhelming odds against both men thinking of the same card. They were then asked to turn their cards, both were identical! The method was simple, blatant outrageous... there was a pencilled message on an appropriate white border at the top of the back of each case: "Think of the nine of clubs... Thanks Pal!" Al was careful to stand the two spectators in such a way, with their hands extended to hold the cases, that ensured their seeing and reading the "messages". Later he further complicated the effect by using red and blue packs, having the fellows insert their thought-of-cards in each other’s packs. But I thought the original conception hard to beat. When I first saw Al perform it, I suspected what the method was. (Because, as a magician I could find no other explanation! A layman would be unlikely to think in that direction. I said to Al afterwards: "I don't know how you had the nerve!" Said Al: "T-the only reason I can g-get away with it is because nobody would think I would d-ddare to do that!"
IMPROMPTU-AUDACITY Here is an effect of the "impromptu" type, which requires no skill, no special apparatus, just the "know-how" of a certain article found in any bar or restaurant. If you are in such an establishment, and I should say that for a certain reason it will need to be of the better type: (the sort of place that serves its drinks in the correct glasses), then you are all set for a "miracle" that requires not even five minutes practice! EFFECT: The Performer (That's YOU!) shows two Drambui-glasses, one of them halffull of liquid, and the other full to within about a quarter of an inch of its brim. Casually, the Performer remarks that it is entirely possible for him to pour the liquid from the full-glass into the identically sized and shaped half-full glass, without spilling as much as a drop! A glass and a half in one glass....impossible? Just watch! When enough interest has been aroused, the performer does exactly what he has claimed to be able to do. To prepare the trick you need to pour from a full glass into an empty one until the liquid levels are correct. (SEE ILLUSTRATION.) You are now "set" to perform a miracle. And as an "encore" you can offer to make the liquid in both glasses disappear. You do this by drinking it, before anyone has a chance to "experiment"! Your only concern for the correct presentation of this trick, which "just happens" is to be sure that the glasses are the correct ones. (In some places sherry is served in them.)
DANTE ON AUDACITY Dante once offered a substantial reward to anyone who could prove that two Ladies were employed in his presentation of the Goldin classic "Sawing-Through". (The method in which, in fact, two Ladies ARE normally employed...one representing head and hands, the other the feet.) He was quite safe in throwing out this "dare", because at the time he was using a BOY to represent the FEET! When Horace Goldin had bills printed, proclaiming that his hands were insured for Fifty-Thousand Dollars, Dante replied with bills announcing that his hands were "Too valuable for any Insurance Company to dare to issue a policy"! Sometimes when things do not work out as planned one has to "stall" for time: yet must not seem to do so deliberately. A really good "stall" comes within the scope of our subject. A good example: Dante, presenting the trunk-escape, and about to pull back the curtain. (Having counted to five, and told the audience that the Lady would take but five seconds to escape.) On this particular occasion on quick glance told him that all was not as it should have been, and that the escape would take longer. So he continued: "That's one to five in English, but the trunk was made in Japan...... so I will count from one to five in Japanese!" No one thought that anything was wrong, considering it a smart "quip". The "endproduct" (which is all that matters) The audience had the impression that the Girl had escaped within the prescribed time! Dante always had a couple of items up his sleeve for emergencies. Cards in his pocket always, to present "manipulations" and one or two stories concerning the "Indian-RopeTrick" and other legends to use if all else failed. Thus always he could cover any pause or failure on the part of his usually well-drilled staff, and by sheer bluff cover any obvious delay. In his show, Dante had an illusion which worked on the convex-mirror-principle. At the conclusion of the effect he would say: "That last one was done by mirrors!" Turning his magnetic and slightly mocking smile upon his audience... telling them the method, but knowing that they would not believe him!
BLACKSTONE'S MISDIRECTION SUPERB! The idea of a very attractive Lady-assistant wriggling her hips to divert the audience at some psychological moment is basically sound enough. But this device has worn a little thin through the years so that it is now obvious enough to form the backbone of many a comedy-magical "burlesque". The principle can still of course be used, but the "diversion" needs to be of a rather more unexpected nature. An excellent example: The late (and great) Harry Blackstone and his "Dancing-Bear". There was a point in the great magician’s wonderful show where he needed the attention of the audience diverted from his own presence. (Difficult, when you consider his great charm and magnetic "showmanship".) So how did he do it... a spot-light, a hip-wriggling chorinne? Not a bit of it, Blackstone had a real-live "Dancing-Bear" led onto the stage by its Trainer! During the fifteen seconds that the bear occupied the side of the stage, Blackstone could have switched eight decks of cards, a flock of geese, or changed his jacket without anyone being the wiser. You just cannot ignore a "Dancing-Bear"!
BOB HARBIN BLUFFS THE EXPOSING-JOURNALIST Robert Harbin was not only a wonderful magician with an inventive genius, he was also as "absent-minded" as the proverbial "Professor". This characteristic might make the casual observer surprised at his great shrewdity. In his early days as a performer, when serving an "apprenticeship" at the famous "Maskelynnes Theatre", Bob was presenting the classic "Linking-Rings". (Then billed as "Ned Williams, the Boy-Magician from Sunny South Africa"!) Unfortunately a Journalist in the popular-press decided to expose this particular trick, even including diagrams of the "key", the "pair" and the other rings. One would have expected Bob to withdraw the effect, at least temporarily from his programme! Not a bit of it: He reminded the audience of the article, and showed them the various faked rings referred to in it! Then, discarding them, he picked up another set, and superbly performed the classic, "Just to prove that the expose was rubbish"! Audacity that paid off, because anyone who can remember buying his first set of rings will recall the "disbelief" at the method!
RABBIT-PRODUCTION--NO APPARATUS This effect was featured by many of the old-time magicians, but most notably by MURRAY and "CHEFALO". The effect is the production of a live rabbit from the person of a spectator. The rabbit is not a "body-load", no apparatus is employed, and the spectator is not a stooge! Sounds impossible doesn't it? Well I must confess that the first time I saw this effect performed I could hardly believe my eyes. REQUIRED: A rabbit, not too large, an assistant, and a spectator. METHOD: STAGE-VERSION The "front-cloth" is closed, as would be normal in an illusion act when the next big effect is being set. The assistant stands behind the front cloth, just where the "split" between the curtains occurs. (Centre) The Spectator is backed against the front-cloth, and his jacket unbuttoned. The magician holds out the sides of the jacket to show the audience that the man has nothing concealed about his person. The assistant passes the rabbit through the "split" and up under the back of the man’s coat. Showing his hand empty, the magician passes it into the front of the jacket, around the man’s waist, until he can grasp the rabbit firmly. (Scruff of the neck, not the ears) He has then only to bring the rabbit round to the front of the man’s waist and produce it through the front of the jacket. CABARET-VERSION: Admittedly this effect is ideal for stage: but it can be presented for cabaret or floor-show with a little ingenuity. Your assistant can stand openly behind the spectator for example, with the rabbit in a loading-pocket. The rabbit can then be produced easily enough, as he has plenty of "cover" from the spectator himself plus misdirection from the actions of the magician, to leisurely take out the rabbit and place it up under the coat. The excuse for him standing there? Well, you could tell the audience that you may hypnotise the spectator, and you don't want him to fall over backwards. Another method is to have the rabbit in a chair servante and seat the spectator. The rest is obvious, but it is not quite as clean and does not quite live up to the "no apparatus" claim of the other two ways.
Very often of course there will be a curtained band-stage against which to back the spectator and use the stage-method. A wonderful effect, needing only a good deal of rehearsal with the assistant, who after all, does most of the work!
BLUFF ALA DUNNINGER Joseph Dunninger was a larger than life character who dominated the magical-scene as far as the general public were concerned for a great many years. He was a good magician, an outstanding mentalist, and perhaps one of the greatest "Bluff-artistes" of all time. Well certainly he perpetrated one of the biggest bluffs in magical history! Like most sensible magicians, great or small, Dunninger was opposed on principle to the exposure of magical-secrets. He was approached by a publisher to write a series of booklets giving away the secrets of magic.
At first he refused, but the offer was increased to such an extent that he had to seriously consider it! So Dunninger agreed to write the booklets, and in order to keep faith with his fellow magicians, and to stick by his own sense of ethics, he did a most remarkable thing. He wrote "exposures" of hundreds of tricks, which were not only incorrect, but quite, quite impossible! It is true that the methods were ingenious, but who for example could possibly have a special theatre built just to make possible a levitation illusion? Dunninger must have laughed all the way to the Bank; especially when Magicians yelled "Exposure!" More recently all the booklets were reprinted in one large volume, which forms one of the greatest curiosities of all time. Three hundred pages of totally incorrect information! Only a man with Dunningers confidence and dignity could have got away with such a gigantic bluff.
(Recent reprints include some practical material as well, but one can still instantly detect that which is straight from the realms of fantasy!)
"THE HOT SEAT" This is one of those remarkable presentations, beloved by "old Showmen", who were ever alert for long-playing items of great simplicity and using the minimum of apparatus, yet having great entertainment value. Such items were needed to present on the "front-cloth" during scene-changes. Also as a "contrast" to items of a more serious or mysterious nature. The item which follows is just as practical for presentation on a club or cabaret-floor, which makes it very, very useful for today’s "scene" which often demands a long playing-time by an artiste. Two things are absolutely essential for the correct presentation of this item: "Showmanship" and "confidence". It is in fact just about the best example that you can find of getting a great deal of entertainment out of practically nothing! It was used by the famous Italian illusionist "Chefalo" for his full evening-show over a period of almost half a century! Simple as it was, it was the item that the audiences talked about, long after they had forgotten about the floating-lady and the immense livestock productions. Why? Because Chefalo, knowing how little there was to it SOLD this routine to his audience for all he was worth. THE EFFECT: Two spectators are invited onto the stage or nightclub floor to assist. They are seated on chairs, one on each side of the performer. Whilst the performer is talking about the effect that he is about to present, spectator "A" jumps up from his chair as if it were electrified! He is reseated and reassured, yet jumps again after only a few seconds have elapsed. The fact that there is nothing wrong with his chair is pointed out and demonstrated, and the man is given the chance to change places with seated spectator "B". They change places, yet again within a few seconds, "A" leaps from his chair? Tiring of all this, the performer again examines the chair, and even sits in it himself. Spectator "A" gingerly sits down again and for the moment all seems well. Then, spectator "B" suddenly leaps up! He too is reassured and reseated. A metal-rod is now introduced and "A" is invited to hold it. He drops it as if it were redhot. It is handed to "B" with similar result. The final "shock" occurs when the magician touches a steel-plate (On the floor or on his table) with the rod. BOTH spectators leap into the air! Before returning to their places in the audience, they are "handed back" their wallets, braces, comb-cases etc!
NEITHER SPECTATOR IS A "STOOGE" OR CONFEDERATE! THE METHOD: (THE BARE-DETAILS FIRST.) Whilst no "stooges" are employed, it should be emphasised that care should be taken in the selection of the spectators involved. They need to be normal, good-natured and good-humoured: only a bare minimum of cooperation is required of them, but a "heckler" or obvious troublemaker should be carefully avoided. Generally one can detect the right people to use from their reactions, as an audience to other effects. The performer should be alert to find the right people to use, whilst performing his opening routines. Any chairs can be used, and the steel-plate and brass-rod are just what they seem to be. NO ELECTRICITY IS INVOLVED and the routine can be presented ANYWHERE, even entirely surrounded, as for example in a CIRCUS-RING! The secret is hardly such at all, because although the EFFECT is TREMENDOUS, it is all simply a matter of CUEING the people involved. You do in fact TELL them just exactly what you want them to do, but not of course in an obvious manner. Moreover, you need not be a "ventriloquist" in order to do this! (Although a minimum of lipmovement is advisable.) The tone of voice needs to be soft, yet clear and distinct: not exactly a whisper, yet bearing in mind that the words are not intended for the ears of the audience. The first couple of "prompts" will be the hardest, after that the laughs will provide ample cover for cueing. This then is the bare-idea, but success will depend upon the mode of presentation. The routine is a good one, to start off with, but you will add and invent "bits of business" to improve it, and to "personalise" it, as you go along. Soon you will learn what to emphasise and what to minimise: but then this of course applies to almost anything you do in showbusiness or magic. REQUIREMENTS AND "SET-UP": Any two chairs, placed about twelve feet apart. (Although the actual distance may have to depend upon the area in which you must work.) Centre is any table, upon which are the steel-rod, a pack of cards, a pair of rubber-gloves and a small steel-plate. (A metal handbag mirror, soaped to kill the "dazzle" will do.) If you are working in a theatre with balconies, please remember that there may be areas of the front of the stage not visible from all seats, and "set-up" accordingly. The wallets, combs etc. should be cheap plastic-articles (as you will not get them back.) These should be in your pockets and easy to get at. The routine can, if preferred, be used to follow any other which involves to spectators. It forms an ideal "middle" to an act, but is not a good closing-item for several reasons: You
are left with people to return to their seats. The audience will be laughing, and during such activity they do not generally applaud very much. NOTE: The cheap plastic wallets can have a printed card inside to read: "With compliments..." and bear your name and picture. The combs can, if you buy enough of them, be very cheaply engraved with your name and message. This applies to cheapball-pens too! PERFORMANCE: PERFORMER PICKS UP PACK OF CARDS FROM TABLE. ADDRESSES AUDIENCE... "I would like to present at this time one of two mysteries with playing cards and with this in mind I would appreciate the help of two gentlemen from the audience. Seriousminded Gentlemen... Doctors, Lawyers and Plumbers! You Sir, and You, would you like to help me? I promise you will be back in your seats, unharmed within a very short while!" (SEATS THE TWO SPECTATORS, WE WILL REFER TO THEM AS "A" AND "B".) "Please take a chair each, or rather, be seated. I'm going to show you a normal pack of cards....it has to be normal, or I wouldn't be showing it to you!" (STEPS BEHIND THE SEATED SPECTATOR "A". SPREADS THE CARDS IN FRONT OF HIS FACE AND UNDER COVER OF INTIMATE CONVERSATION RELATING TO THE NORMALITY OF THE CARDS, SPEAKS THE CUE; "Jump up after counting ten!) (PERFORMER RETURNS TO CENTRE.) "I am sure you will all take the gentleman’s word for it that...." ("A" JUMPS FROM HIS CHAIR.) "Please, Sir...relax!" (PUSHES "A" FIRMLY BACK INTO HIS CHAIR, CUEING HIM AGAIN: "Count ten, do it again...”) "Perhaps he is not happy with the cards but I can assure everyone that they are as they should be...." ("A" JUMPS AGAIN. ONCE MORE HE IS PUSHED GENTLY BACK INTO HIS CHAIR AND CUED: "Do it again.") "As you seem uneasy I'll let you shuffle the pack yourself and..." ("A" JUMPS AGAIN. PERFORMER PICKS UP CHAIR, EXAMINES IT, SHOWS IT TO "A" AND TO THE AUDIENCE...)
"You know we are not going to get very far if you keep jumping up and down like this! If you feel that there is something wrong with your chair, I'm sure our other friend will be happy to change places with you." (SWITCHES "A" AND "B", CUEING "A" TO JUMP AFTER "Twenty".) "Now that you are both nicely settled perhaps we can continue with our magic? The cards are O.K., and I'm going to have someone freely select a card from the pack...." ("A" JUMPS AGAIN FROM HIS NEW CHAIR.) "PLEASE! I've been very patient with you...there is absolutely nothing wrong with that chair!" (PERFORMER TOUCHES THE CHAIR TO ILLUSTRATE HIS WORDS, BUT HASTILY WITHDRAWS HIS HAND AS IF HE HAS RECEIVED A SLIGHT "SHOCK") "Silly me!" (TAKES RUBBER-GLOVES FROM THE TABLE, PUTS THEM ON. LIFTS CHAIR AGAIN AND GRINS AT AUDIENCE...) "There, you see.... nothing wrong with it at all!" (CROSSES TO "B", SPREADS CARDS IN FRONT OF HIM.) "Sir, I can see that I shall have to deal with you, as the more responsible person! You haven't seen the cards yet, but now you can see that they are exactly as they should be." (CUES "B" TO JUMP AT "TEN".) "Now casting all levity aside, I just want to say that the cards are ready for...." ("B" JUMPS UP FROM HIS CHAIR.) "Oh NO...not YOU too! Folks, I've picked a "right pair" here!" (PUSHES "B" BACK INTO HIS CHAIR, CUEING HIM FOR "TWENTY". CROSSES TO "A", SPREADS CARDS AND CUES HIM ALSO: "Jump when HE does.") "Both Gentlemen are at last seated, satisfied, and have seen that the cards are quite normal...now..." ("A" AND "B" BOTH JUMP. IF "B" JUMPS A FEW SECONDS AHEAD OF "A" IT IS NOT TOO IMPORTANT. PERFORMER, STARTLED, DROPS AND SCATTERS THE CARDS. IF THE LAUGHS WARRANT IT, HE CAN GATHER THE CARDS OR USE A FRESH PACK, AND REPEAT THIS PART OF THE ROUTINE. "AD-LIB".)
"Gentlemen, all is forgiven, and now I'd like you Sir to examine this steel-rod..." (GIVES IT TO "A". CUE'S HIM TO "DROP IT".) "What on earth is the matter with you? First you make out there is something wrong with your chair, then you scatter the cards, and now you've dropped the rod! Anyone would think it was electrified...or something! Now cut it out will you?" (TURNS TO "B", HANDS HIM THE ROD...CUEING HIM ALSO TO "DROP IT"...) "I don't believe it?" (PERFORMER BECKONS AND GATHERS "A" AND "B" TO HIM, GIVING THEM AN END EACH TO HOLD. WHILST THEY ARE DOING THIS HE CUES THEM TO JUMP WHEN STEEL-PLATE IS TOUCHED.) "There, you see, there's nothing wrong with the rod. Please both be seated and we will try to continue!" (SEATS "A" AND "B" SAFELY.) "In order to prove the absence of all electrical connections, I am going to touch this steel plate with the rod. Watch!" (TOUCHES STEEL PLATE WITH ROD. BOTH "A" AND "B" JUMP FROM THEIR CHAIRS.) "Gentlemen, we've had a lot of fun, and I don't want you to feel that I've taken liberties with you! For this reason....Sir...here is your wallet...here Sir is your pen...and you Sir, your comb, and don't forget your braces!" (in U.S.A. "Suspenders".) (HANDS THE "COMPLIMENTARY ITEMS TO "A" AND "B". THIS WILL CREATE ENOUGH DIVERSION AND LAUGHTER TO BE ABLE TO TELL THEM BOTH THAT THE ITEMS ARE "COMPLIMENTARY"!) "How about a nice round of applause for two good sports?" (PERFORMER LEADS THE APPLAUSE AS THE TWO SPECTATORS RESUME THEIR SEATS.)