A long time ago, in a Hollywood, California which no longer exists, there was a restaurant called Sharpe's Cafeteria. Above this cafeteria was a faded plaque displaying some words from Omar Khayyam. The Worldly Hope men set their hearts upon/Turns Ashes - or it prospers; and anon,/Like Snow upon the Desert's dusty Face/Lighting a little Hour or two - is gone. For a while, Arthur Brandon and Roger Coker lived above Sharpe's Cafeteria in a two bedroom apartment whose living room was filled with illusions in various stages of completion, paint, tools, reams of fabric, an old sewing machine, and an amiable duck. How Brandon and Coker arrived in Hollywood, and how they traveled from there to perform in the major cities around the world, is the subject of Milo & Roger, an autobiography by Arthur Brandon. It is a story of love, laughter, tears, frustration, perseverance, and most of all, hope.
Arthur Brandon was born July 19, 1916 in Alliance, Ohio, a small town about 25 miles southeast of Akron. His father, Harry, was a chauffeur and a truck driver. His mother Katie brought in some extra money by cooking in restaurants. Katie gave birth to ten children. Only Arthur and his sister Evelyn survived past infancy. Arthur's parents were hard working, earthy, funny people. Most importantly, they were supportive of their son's dream to be a professional magician.
For Arthur Brandon, the magic bug had bit early. Vaudeville was still in its heyday, allowing Arthur a chance to see such great magicians as Howard Thurston and Harry Blackstone, Sr. A Johnson Smith catalog introduced Arthur to the world of mail-order miracles, and this information was soon supplemented by a library copy of Modern Magic and lessons from the Tarbell Course, donated by a sympathetic barber. In the summer of 1929 Arthur performed a charity show for the Ladies Aid Society. Billed as "Brandon! The Boy-Wonder Magician!!," his handbills contained a quote from the New York Times: "Brandon is a genius of magic...See him!" The quote, of course, was pure fabrication, but Arthur continued to use it through the early part of his adult performing career. (In fact, years later, a Hollywood agent named Eddie Cochran hired Arthur and Roger on the strength of this quote. As Cochran told his secretary, "I gave that guy a television contract even though I've never seen his act. I figured that anyone with enough guts to fake a quotation from the New York Times must be good.")
Having achieved some success and popularity in Alliance, Arthur Brandon eventually hit the road, touring with the Doc Whorrel Medicine Show and the Dan Fitch Minstrel Show. These excursions gave Arthur his first taste of the realities of life as a touring performer: cheap hotels, lousy food in claptrap diners, and hours of drudgery as the shows traveled from city to city. During these travels Arthur encountered a number of charming eccentrics, including Dr. George Brinkler (who was a "Naturopath") and Abie's Irish Rose, a Broadway actress long past her prime.
Eventually, Arthur ended up in Akron, Ohio. There, in a small magic and novelty shop located across the street from his hotel, he met Roger Coker, an aspiring young magician 16 years his junior. By this time, Arthur had adopted the stage name "Milo," and he and Roger became partners. At their initial performance at Chin's Victory Room in Cleveland, Roger inadvertently established the framework for their future act. Dressed in an Aladdin costume, Roger (functioning as Milo's assistant) walked out on stage, caught a sandal on the makeshift stage stairs, and sent himself and a tray full of props sprawling on the floor. The audience was hysterical. When the second show went without mishap, Mr. Chin asked, "Why don't you do funny spill-milk-and-water in act?" The seeds were planted.
The duo moved west, and in their apartment above Sharpe's Cafeteria they designed, built, and rehearsed illusions. The act began to take shape, and there followed a long period of paying dues: gigs at state fairs, a stint with Meeker's Greater Shows (a touring carnival), and endless one-night-stands throughout the United States. When times were lean, Roger would supplement their income by working as a waiter and Milo would give psychic readings. In fact, astrology, numerology, and mysticism were important subjects to Milo, and are mentioned frequently throughout Milo & Roger. Very often an important decision was preceded by a consultation of the Tarot. (Arthur also envisions two Gods of India, who benevolently watch over the two magicians.)
Eventually, the gigs got better, and the venues became more prestigious. A week at the Wilshire Ebell Theater in Los Angeles (booked by Bill Larsen) led to a tour with Mexican actress and singer Amalia Mendoza. The act was also a huge hit in the Orient, and this tour marked Milo and Roger's first visit to Thailand, the country which would eventually be their home. They spent a year as Mitzi Gaynor's opening act, followed by headlining in the Lido show in both Paris and Las Vegas. Finally, Milo and Roger spent eight years starring at The Crazy Horse, the exclusive nightclub in Paris.
Roger Coker died of cancer in March, 1997. Arthur Brandon died in November, 1998. Somewhere, the Gods of India have been joined by two men who never really grew up, and all four are laughing.
The manuscript of Milo & Roger was written some years ago, its original title was Born Backwards. (Arthur was born feet first, and he attributes his intuitiveness and psychic ability to this fact.) The book is inspiring, touching, gentle, vulgar, laugh-out-loud funny, and completely entertaining. Milo and Roger were one of the great comedy magic acts of all time. Although their partnership lasted 49 years, it feels as though their time here was too fleeting, much like Omar Khayyam's snow on the desert. Milo & Roger is a wonderful remembrance of their struggles and triumphs. I highly recommend it. It is my pick of the month.
(Excerpts from Milo & Roger appeared in the January, 1999 issue of MAGIC.)
The Comedy Magic of Rich Marotta, Volumes 1-3
Rich Marotta is a professional comedy club magician, with extensive performing credentials. On these three new tapes from A-1 MultiMedia, Rich discusses and performs material designed for three different venue situations: stand-up, walk-around, and close-up. The ad for these tapes states, "At long last the secrets of creating Comedy and Magic are revealed!.. .Rich imparts all of his professional tips and information to assist you in adding comedy to your magic." Unfortunately, this is not quite true. Let's first talk about the material which Rich performs, and then I'll discuss why I feel these tapes fall short of the mark.
Volume One (Stand-up Comedy & Magic) was taped on location at a comedy club in Sacramento. I should advise you that the language Rich uses is typical of most comedy club performers. (The tape box bears the warning: Contains Adult Language.) If such words bother you, you should avoid this tape. The tape box lists 10 tricks. Twelve tricks are actually performed during the set. (A production of a fish bowl and a color changing necktie are not listed on the box.) Only six of these tricks are actually explained. Not explained: The fish bowl production, the color changing tie, a repeat cigarette production, a cut and restored rope trick, a version of the McCombical Prediction, and Business Cards to Pocket (actually a version of Vernon's Travelers performed with a blank-faced deck). Of the remaining items, I was most impressed with Paper Strip (which provides a meaningful patter hook for the Red Ashes trick), Mugged (a commercial version of Oswald Williams's Hold-up trick, which Rich marketed a few years ago), and Card in Orange (which offers the spectator a free choice of an orange). Even in the items which are not explained, you will probably garner some useful information. For example, note how Rich takes the heat off an unwanted laugh during the McCombical Prediction.
Following the performance, Rich explains the six effects, and gives some useful advice on comedy clubs. He discusses the need to establish yourself as a comedian, and as a magician, and emphasizes that all "dead time" must be eliminated. Also, the comedy club magician must provide meaning for the props used, and in many cases props are introduced with a gag. Rich often refers to specific moments in his performance, and these segments are intercut, to refresh the viewer's memory. This is useful.
Volume Two concerns itself with Walk-around Magic. This is a difficult venue, because very often there will be no table available, consequently all the tricks must be designed to be done in the hands. Ten tricks are performed and explained. Rich begins with the old Quarter on Forehead gag. (This uses a coin with a large nail soldered to it.) Rich uses this trick as an ice-breaker and as a barometer of the mood of the crowd. I find this to be way too goofy for my taste, but it may work for you. Also of interest is a Double Card to Pocket routine, two card effects which use a handkerchief, a sponge bunny routine with an off-color kicker, and a six-phase ring on rope routine. This latter routine is marred by a very poor execution of Clifton's Ring Move, but does have a fine gag where the borrowed ring appears in a small box. (And here's a question: Why wasn't this ring routine re-shot? The handling mishap occurs right at the beginning. Nothing would have been lost by filming another take.)
I am skeptical about several of the other routines which appear on this video. Gypsy Tie is a version of the Gypsy Thread trick, but in this case the thread is apparently pulled from the spectator's tie. The lighting in this segment is horrendous, and looks like amateur video. In addition, this routine uses a gaff which is loaded under the spectator's tie. This gaff has thread spooled on it. It would easily take several minutes to reset this gaff. I have found in hospitality suite and cocktail party situations that your reset time must be almost zero. When you're hired to perform for 150 or 200 people in a couple of hours, your tricks must be reset as you put them back in your pockets. Another trick on this video, Card in Lemon, also suffers from this reset problem. To do this trick in real life you're going to have to prepare a whole bunch of lemons in advance, and then you're going to have to run back to your brief case to reload after each performance. To me, this is not practical walk-around magic. In addition, this trick is also performed under miserable lighting conditions. Plus, just as the trick starts, one of the spectators knocks over a table lamp. Why, why, why, wasn't this re-shot?! Rich makes no funny comments, the trick hasn't started (so no genuine audience reaction is lost), so why not start over? Leaving this accident in just looks dumb.
Finally, Volume Three focuses on Close-up Magic. There are some good tricks here, including Repeat Escape (which makes effective use of the Biddle move), Swindle ( the handling here is more akin to Herb Zarrow's Swindle Mates, rather than Paul Curry's original A Swindle of Sorts), Matchic Trick (a marketed item of Rich's, in which a signed napkin transposes with a bunch of matches), Visible Card to Wallet (the vanish of the card is a fooler), Nest of Boxes (a clever handling of the Tenyo Nest of Boxes which requires some serious surgery on your suit), and Queen's Soiree (a method by Dai Vernon which suffers from a less than beautiful half-pass). Rich gets an excellent reaction from the crowd during this close-up set. There is nothing terribly original here, but you'll find some nice touches. A couple of points I should mention: Rich never explains exactly how to construct the gaff for Matchic Trick; some of the card tricks require palming (and the even more dreaded Diagonal Palm Shift); and I think there are better ways to do the "open switch" in Swindle. Even though the move is fair, what Rich does makes it look like something sneaky is going on.
Now, having given you an overview of what's on these tapes, let me tell you what the big problem is: They don't have very much to do with comedy. The funniest of the three is the Stand-up tape, and there is very little discussion on how to add comedy to your act. There is no discussion on establishing character, call-backs, or how to create your own material. And on the other two videos there is very little that is funny at all. So if you think that these tapes are going to teach you the secrets of comedy, you're going to be disappointed.
Bottom line: The only tape that lives up to the advanced billing is Volume One, the stand-up magic video. The other two contain some useful and practical tricks, but they don't have anything to do with comedy magic.
And here's a warning to all video producers: Magic video production has reached a point where an amateurish product is unacceptable. Any video which contains footage that looks like it was recorded by someone who has never used a camcorder before is going to get unceremoniously panned. Period.
I don't know where you read your copy of MAGIC, perhaps in your living room, or in your magic den, or at the kitchen table. You're probably in comfortable, safe, surroundings right now, but what I'm about to tell you may cause the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up. Kenton Knepper sent me a box containing the third volume of his Wonder Words tapes. I opened the box, removed some newspaper which had been used to cushion the tapes, and lifted out the plastic carrying case. Just as I did this, a very large, very agitated spider crawled out of the box, over my hand, up my shoulder, and down my back. He leapt to the floor and scurried away before I could trap him. I'm sure that he's still hiding in my kitchen.
Weird, huh? And a complete lie. The above paragraph contains one of the word constructions explained in Wonder Words 3, and I'm curious if it worked on you. Did the hairs on the back of your neck stand up? Email me ([email protected]) and let me know if it had any effect on you at all.
Wonder Words 3 is the final volume in the Wonder Words series, and it follows the format of the previous two volumes. You receive four audio cassettes (each cassette is about an hour in length) and a 97-page booklet which contains several routines and a helpful index for both Wonder Words 2 and 3. The cassettes cover a variety of linguistic topics, including the "But" Cause and Effect Formula (which is what I used in the opening paragraph), Open Ended Questions, Truisms, Pattern Interrupts, Stacking, Presuppositions, Subtext, Double Binds, Shifting References, and many others. While I found much of interest, some of these linguistic formulas seem to be based on Neural Linguistic Programming, and I am skeptical about whether they actually work. (Which is why I'd like to know how you reacted to the opening paragraph.)
The companion booklet contains routines from Dan Harlan, Barry Schor, Docc Hilford, David J. Greene, Allen M. Zingg (an fine trick involving a borrowed wrist watch), Kenton Knepper, and Jeff McBride (Jeff gives a detailed analysis of the script for Kundalini Rising). The routines are quite good, especially as examples of how tricks can be strengthened through linguistic deception. I should mention, however, that if you intend to perform any of these routines you'll have to spend some time adapting the patter so it sounds natural to you.
Now, here's a couple of criticisms. I fear that Kenton is beginning to take himself way too seriously. There is a goofiness to his presentation of the material which I found slightly off-putting. I really don't need somebody to tell me that they're going to crawl into my head and implant material subconsciously. The second side of tape 4 is heavily padded. Kenton bids us farewell, and makes that parting a very slow process. Saying goodbye is like ripping off a Band-Aid, do it quick and get it over with.
These tapes (and the entire series for that matter) are of most use to working performers. In order for this information to be of value, you've got to try it out in front of real people, evaluate their response, and then tweak your patter until it accomplishes your desired goal. I doubt that an armchair magician will get $75 of value from these tapes.
I am a believer in the power of linguistic deception. I don't buy into everything that Kenton presents, but he did inspire me to start thinking about patter in ways I had not previously considered. If you are unfamiliar with his work, you may want to start with Volume One of Wonder Words. Those of you who are fans of his work will certainly want to add Wonder Words Volume 3 to your collection.
Card Magic for Amateurs and Professionals By Bill Simon
Dover Publications has reprinted Bill Simon's Effective Card Magic under the title Card Magic for Amateurs and Professionals. The book was originally published by Louis Tannen, and Jean Hugard is credited as Editor (although I believe that Hugard ghostwrote the book for Simon).
This book was one of my favorites when I was a kid, and contains some excellent magic. Among the highlights are Business Card Prophecy (which uses a utility move that has become a standard card technique), Call to the Colors (one of the best second deal tricks around), and The Magnetic Cards, an excellent self-working trick which was part of my repertoire for many years. In addition, there is a chapter which describes a pedagogically structured method for learning to do a strike second deal. This is one of the very few examples in the literature in which a sleight has been broken down into its component parts so it can be mastered in a logical way. I learned to do the strike second from this book; you can, too.
I don't believe that this book has been available for many years. It's a classic, and should be in your library. You can probably find it at your local magic shop, bookstore, or check out amazon.com. (ISBN 048640188X).
The subtitle of Mathemagics is "How to Look Like a Genius Without Really Trying." Looking like a genius without trying is easy for Dr. Arthur Benjamin (whose name anagrams into "Look, a quixotic bear"), because he is a genius. I've seen Arthur destroy a room full of magicians and laymen with his lightning calculation act. It is beyond impressive; it's otherworldly.
InMathemagics, Dr. Benjamin tips his mitt and gives you all the information you need to be able to do mental addition and subtraction, mental multiplication of three, four and five digit numbers, and mental division. In addition, there are chapters on mnemonics, pencil and paper mathematics, and mathematical magic tricks.
Obviously, this is not the type of thing you're going to learn to do overnight. But if the subject interests you, Drs. Benjamin and Shermer have provided a marvelous text, clearly written and full of humor and enthusiasm. And who knows, someday when you're stuck in line at the supermarket waiting for the manager to help the checkout clerk make change for a dollar without the use of the cash register, you can entertain those around you by doing some cube roots in your head. Recommended.
This nicely produced kit from Victor and Marcelo Contento provides you with five red plastic dominoes. They are 1 x 2 inches, and you get two double-fours, two double-ones, a domino which is blank on both sides, and a double-faced domino with a double-four on one side and a double-one on the other. With these props it is possible to do a variety of routines, four of which are included. In Marcelo Contento's Crazy Dominoes routine, the double-four and the double-one continually transpose. Kirk Charles' offers a routine based on a Monte theme, and our own Bob Farmer describes a swindle which will allow you to fleece your friends and neighbors. (Bob's routine was originally published in the December, 1996 issue of MAGIC)
Years ago, Dutch magician Tommy Van Dommelen marketed a routine called Dizzy Dominoes. Through an arrangement with Supreme Magic, the Contentos have again made these props available. The dominoes look great, and the routines are effective and not difficult to perform. If you're looking for a change-up from your normal card and coin fare, "Crazy Dominoes" could certainly fit the bill.
Dan Ford's Rubber Chicken Egg By Dan Ford
Well, talk about one of those situations where the name says it all.. .If you're looking for a rubber egg to use in such tricks as the Egg on the Fan, look no further. Dan Ford has produced a very well made, realistic-looking rubber egg. According to Dan, each egg goes through a five-stage manufacturing process. The egg handles well and appears to be very durable.
So what else can I say? If you need a rubber egg, Dan's your man. Deadlock
This is a utility prop from France's Patrick Reymond. Here's one possible effect (created by David Acer): The magician shows a small padlock. (This is like a luggage lock, in which the combination is set by turning three small dials.) The magician borrows a spectator's finger ring, threads it onto the loop of the lock, and then snaps the lock shut. The lock is placed under a handkerchief and the spectator holds the ring (and the lock) through the hank. The magician removes his own finger ring and closes his hand around it. A magic gesture is made, and his ring has changed into the spectator's ring. The spectator uncovers the lock, and hanging from the loop of the lock is the magician's ring.
What you've got here, is a padlock which will allow you to switch items. The method is clever, but you will have to spend some time practicing with the lock so that your actions look genuine. There are other routines included, but the Acer routine is the most logical. The other routines require that you fold up a business card (or a borrowed bill), punch a hole in it and thread it onto the loop of the lock. This makes no sense to me. If your goal is to switch a small folded paper object, it would be far more logical to use a David Hoy's pen gimmick.
In addition to the lock, you'll also receive a well written instruction booklet and two wedding bands to use with the Acer routine. (These are standard sized men's rings, although for my hands they were way too big.) I'm on the fence as to how useful this prop actually is, but if the effect appeals to you, it's worth checking out.
This is a simple card effect. The spectator selects a card and places his thumbprints on the back. The card is fairly shuffled back into the deck. The magician examines the backs of the cards, apparently looking for the thumbprints. He places one card on the table. It is the selected card. Offering to repeat the effect, the magician brings out a fresh deck (one which has not be contaminated with other fingerprints). The spectator shuffles the deck. The magician slides out a card and shows it around. The card is replaced in the deck and the deck is fairly shuffled. This time it is the spectator who tries to find the card from the back. He looks over the cards and whenever he wishes he places a card face down on the table. It is the card which the magician had selected.
The advertising for this trick is a little deceptive in that it states "No Marked Deck." Technically this is true, but let me just tell you that if I was performing this trick I would have to have my reading glasses on. "All Thumbs" uses a combination of old principles, and should get a good reaction. You'll need to be able to exercise some audience management, but the trick is basically self-working. As in the trick above, if the effect appeals, "All Thumbs" is worth checking out.
The people at Dover Publications have also been reprinting a ton of excellent origami books. Most of these have been out of print for years. If you're an origami fan, here's some that should be in your library:
Secrets of Origami by Robert Harbin (ISBN 0486297071). This huge book has marvelous folds from creators such as Neal Elias, Fred Rohm, George Rhoads, Adolfo Cerceda, Ligia Montoya, and Robert Neale. This edition corrects a number of errors in the previous edition. Included here is Fred Rohm's "It's Magic," a three dimensional model of a rabbit sitting on top of a die. I can't tell you how many of these I have folded and given away as gifts. This is a classic book.
Origami Step-By-Step by Robert Harbin (ISBN 0486401367). Originally titled Origami: A Step-by-Step Guide, this book contains some beautiful (and difficult) three dimensional models by Patricia Crawford. The Unicorn, Scorpion, and Full-Masted Ship are gems.
Origami Omnibus: Paper Folding for Everybody by Kunihiko Kasahara (ISBN 4817090014). A big book with folds for all skill levels. Originally published as a hardcover book, this volume has been very difficult to find. (This book and the next are published by Kodansha.)
Origami for the Connoisseur by Kunihiko Kasahara and Toshie Takahama (ISBN 4817090022). The skill level here ranges from Intermediate to Very Complex. Included are many geometric folds and models from John Montroll, David Brill, Peter Engel, and Jun Maekawa.
Modern Origami by James Minoru Sakoda (ISBN 0486298434). Stylish and highly stylized folds which emphasize straight lines rather than realism. They look great when folded from foil paper. My favorite is the Owl, which used to sit on my desk when I was a kid.
Finally, if you're new to the world of origami, I would suggest you pick up John Montroll's Teach Yourself Origami (ISBN 0486401413). Montroll is known for his extremely complex folds, but in this case he leads you gently through the learning process, offering simple folds, well explained. These lead into more interesting and advanced models, and the book ends with some complex folds, including Fred Rohm's Water Wheel and Impossible Vase. If you can diligently work your way through this book, you'll be able to handle almost any origami project you encounter.
Your local bookstore should be able to order any of these books, or visit amazon.com. Happy folding.
It's Not Magic, But.
In last month's column I discussed the remarkable dramatic structure of René Lavand's close-up act. (And my sincere apologies to Señor Lavand for consistently misspelling his last name.) If you'd like to learn more about the subject of dramatic structure, pick up a copy of Robert McKee's Story. Dr. McKee has a Ph.D in cinema arts, was a Fulbright scholar, and has taught screenwriting seminars around the world. Story is subtitled "Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting." Dr. McKee discusses structure as it relates to setting, genre, character, and meaning. He delineates the principles of act and scene design, composition, crisis, climax, and exposition. As he states in his Introduction, "Story is about principles, not rules.. .A rule says, 'You must do it this way.' A principle says, 'This works.. .and has through all remembered time.'" Story is a valuable resource for anyone interested in learning about the screenwriter's craft. (And my thanks to Dirk Remacle of Belgium for bringing this book to my attention.)
Milo & Roger by Arthur Brandon. 6 x 9 hardcover with glossy dustjacket. 418 pages. $37 plus $3 p&h (overseas airmail add $12). From Hermetic Press, 1500 SW Trenton St., Seattle, WA 98106-2468
The Comedy Magic of Rich Marotta by Rich Marotta. Three volumes. Each volume $29.95. All three for $84.95. (Postpaid in U.S., Canada, and overseas surface; overseas air add $7.50 per video.) From A-1 MultiMedia, 3337 Sunrise Blvd., #8, Rancho Cordova, CA 95742
Wonder Words Volume 3 by Kenton Knepper. Four audio cassettes plus 97 page booklet. $75 plus $5 p&h. From Kenton Knepper, 3104 E. Camelback Road, Suite #312, Phoenix, AZ 85016
Magic for Amateurs and Professionals by Bill Simon. 5 x 8, paperback. 181 pages. $7.95. From Dover Publications. Available at your local bookstore or magic shop.
Mathemagics by Arthur Benjamin and Michael Bryant Shermer. 6 x 9, paperback. 207 pages. $18. From Lowell House. ISBN 0737300086. Available at your local bookstore.
Crazy Dominoes from Victor and Marcelo Contento. $25 plus $5 p&h in U.S. ($8 for international p&h). From Marcelo Contento Productions, P.O. Box 396, Watertown, MA 02471-0396
Dan Ford's Rubber Chicken Egg by Dan Ford. $25 postpaid. From Dan Ford, Box 204, Essex, IL 60935
Deadlock by Patrick Reymond. $37.50 plus $3 p&h. From Camirand Academy of Magic, Inc., P.O. Box 269, Succ. A, Longueuil, QC, Canada J4H 3X6
All Thumbs. $17.50 postpaid. From Lea P. Magic, 2251 Rampart Blvd., #404, Las Vegas, NV 89128-9998
Story by Robert McKee. 6 x9, hardcover with dustjacket. $32. From ReganBooks. ISBN 0060391685. Available from most bookstores.
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Magick is the art and practice of moving natural energies to effect needed or wanted change. Magick is natural, there is absolutely nothing supernatural about it. What is taught here are various techniques of magick for beginners. Magick is natural and simple and the techniques to develop abilities should be simple and natural as well. What is taught on this site is not only the basics of magick, but the basics of many things.