Time Machine

I have never been one to cart a camera with me to magic conventions. I often find myself posing with people for snapshots, but I don't take many pictures for myself. However, as I was sorting through my collection of "stuff' in preparation for my move to Las Vegas, I came across some photos I took years ago at various conventions. There were pictures of Vernon, Faucett Ross, Slydini, Larry Jennings, Roger Crabtree, and other friends and acquaintances. I was surprised at how much these pictures delighted me, and how glad I was that I had taken them.

Now, suppose I told you that some old home movies existed. Movies of some legendary people in magic, people you've heard of, but probably never met, and certainly never saw perform. I saw one of these "movies" when I was a kid. I saw it one time, and I never saw any others, but that one viewing had quite an impact on me. Thirteen of these home movies exist, and you can own them, and, like a time machine, they will take you back into the past to visit with old friends and watch the performances of a man who had a profound influence on the evolution of close-up magic.

The "home movies" I'm referring to are the 13 episodes of the 1961 television series Magic Ranch, and the host of the show is the legendary Don Alan. William McIlhany is selling the 13 episodes on four VHS cassettes. Three of the shows are in color, and on the fourth cassette Mr. McIlhany includes outtakes from the shows. The proceeds from the sales of these tapes go the family of Don Alan.

The format of each show is the same: Don performs an opening bit (usually gag related) in front of a group of people assembled on couches and chairs in the main room of a dude ranch set. After the opening credits (accompanied by organ music designed to make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end), Don moves over to the reception desk and invites some spectators over to watch some "sneaky stuff." And what marvelous stuff he does. It is in this setting that Don performs the classics of his repertoire: the Chop Cup routine, the Chinatown half/Fez/Lump of Coal routine, his version of the Benson Bowl routine, his routine for the Nudist Deck, the puppet routine, and the paper bag card stab. It is not only stunning to watch Don performing these routines, but to also hear lines which have become part of the patter of every close-up magician in the country delivered by the originator.

On each episode, following the close-up set, Don introduces a young magician who performs a (mercifully) brief stand-up set. I was hoping that one of these magicians would be someone whose name is now familiar to the world of magic, but unfortunately, that is not so. After the young magicians comes one of the true highlights of these shows, the performance of a well-known professional magician. The line-up includes Jack Gwynne, Al Flosso, Jay Marshall, Richard Himber, Neil Foster, Karrell Fox, Senator

Clarke Crandall, George and Betty Johnstone, and Johnny Platt. Watching these performances was a revelation to me. Some (like Flosso, Himber, and Crandall) I had never seen perform. Others, like Jay and Karrell, I know well, and it was a joy to hear the familiar voices coming out of much younger bodies. For me, watching Marshall, Fox, Flosso, and Crandall is worth the price of admission. (I think you'll especially enjoy how Fox and Alan tag-team the audience during the performance of the egg on the fan.)

Don Alan briefly interviews each guest magician, and then performs a final close-up trick to bring each episode to an end.

The outtakes included on the four videos are marvelous, and they include some still photos shot during the production of the Neil Foster episode. You'll also see Don being surprised with birthday cakes on two occasions, and Jay Marshall doing a commercial for Slo-Poke suckers, which put me on the floor.

I can't tell you how delighted I am that these videos are available. When I was nine years old I accidentally tuned in to a Magic Ranch episode, and it blew me away. Unfortunately, I was never able to find it again. (Maybe the local TV station had dropped it, I don't know.) Anyway, now I have them all, and I have been spending a lot of time traveling into the past and visiting with some of the greats of magic. As far as I'm concerned, these tapes are a must-buy. They are my pick of the month and I give them my highest recommendation.

Dan Harlan's Ultimate Impromptu Magic By Dan Harlan

Dan Harlan is a fan of impromptu magic. His (much lamented) magazine Minotaur featured a high percentage of non-card items, and much of that material required little in terms of prior preparation. This, of course, is the definition of impromptu magic - the ability to do miracles on the spur of the moment with whatever props are available. Dan Harlan's Ultimate Impromptu Magic is a three video set which contains a wealth of fine magic using everyday objects.

Volume One begins with a high tech tour de force as Dan interacts with three different incarnations of himself. You see this kind of digital wizardry on TV all them, but I think that this is the first time I've seen it done on a magic video. There follows five completely routined "sets." Each set uses a common prop. The first set uses nothing but the magician's hands. The other sets include tricks with matches (both paper and wooden), crayons (a highlight here is Dan's "Crayon Eating Monster" which could save your life sometime if you have to amuse a little kid), chewing gum (two fine tricks by Aaron Fisher), and safety pins. The other two videos contain tricks with money (including a really "cool" idea by Mark Sicher), napkins (including Dan's "Starcle" which is much easier to understand on video), cigarettes, and pens. There are also segments with tricks to do when you're standing around at a party, tricks to do at restaurants, and some silly stunts to do when your medication wears off.

I appreciated the fact that Dan has grouped these tricks into prop related sets. Doing so makes it easier for the viewer to learn and remember the material. In addition, once you have practiced the material (remember, impromptu does not mean unrehearsed) and interjected your own personality, you'll have some good magic to perform should the occasion arise. Dan does a fine job performing and explaining, and the production values don't get much higher. If you're looking for spur of the moment magic, Dan Harlan's Ultimate Impromptu Magic is an excellent resource. Highly recommended.

The Art of Dice Stacking By Jim Zachary

Dice stacking is one of those things that's sort of a cross between magic and juggling. That someone can pick up six dice off the tabletop, one at a time, and keep them contained within an oscillating dice cup is juggling. That the dice are perfectly stacked at the end of this process seems completely magical. Jim Zachary is one of the most technically proficient dice stackers that I've seen. After stacking six dice he "unstacks" them, by picking off the top die into the moving cup, and then continuing down the stack until all six dice are again swinging within the cup. He then stacks and unstacks 10 dice (using a taller cup), and, for a finale, stacks 15 dice. This looks unbelievable. And, just to rub it in, he picks off the top die with the cup.

If you have a desire to learn to stack dice, this tape will certainly head you in the right direction. Mr. Zachary's performance style is very low-key, but his explanations are very clear and easy to follow. His technique for loading objects into the cup (big dice, a large elasticized stack of dice) appears less impressive than his stacking technique, but because of the nature of the video shoot he does not have the benefit of any misdirection. Consequently, the loads appear (at least to me) very obvious. However, in the real world, the surprise of the stack itself provides mountains of misdirection.

This is the best basic dice stacking video that I have seen. Be aware, however, that dice stacking is a skill, and will require concerted practice to acquire performance level ability. But if you're willing to devote the necessary time, this tape will give you the information you need to learn to stack. (And, if you're interested, L&L Publishing provides dice cups made by Mr. Zachary. Contact them for details.)

David Roth Live in Sacramento 1998 Classic Showpieces! By David Roth

David Roth was part of a stellar line-up at this year's Convention at the Capitol. David's lecture contained material which had not been previously "tipped". This lecture was videotaped and has been released as David Roth Live in Sacramento: 1988. The material is top-notch, and I'm sure it will be anxiously received by all the coin guys out there who have wondered what Mr. Roth has been up to lately.

Four routines are explained, and in the course of the explanation many variations and alternative moves are discussed. "The Coins & Silk Routine" concerns the production, envanishment, and reproduction of four half dollars using a silk handkerchief. David uses a now standard technique in an offbeat way here. "The Champagne Glass Concealment" is a technique which is used in the course of a coins across routine. "Purse Frame Wild Coins" is a rather convoluted in which a brass slug is produced from a purse frame. It is transformed into a half dollar. Another slug is produced. It is changed into a copper coin. A third slug is produced, and it is changed into a gold coin. The spectator indicates any of the coins, for example the copper coin (this is a free choice). The copper coin is placed in his hand. A fourth slug is produced from the purse. This changes into the copper coin, and the spectator finds that he is holding the slug. During the explanation of this routine, David reveals the working of "The Drop Switch" which is a very fine utility move. The final routine is "The Rubber Coin," in which a rubber ball and a coin transpose from hand to hand. Finally, the ball vanishes and the coin becomes a big rubber coin. Unlike the previous three routines, you must be seated to perform "The Rubber Coin," and you're also going to have to track down the necessary prop.

As usual, David's performances and explanations are first rate. As I mentioned, this was a live performance, but the A-1 crew did a good job, and you will be able to learn from the video.

The Classic Showpieces! video was shot in a studio, and it features four routines which David has used as closers in his close-up act. In "The Funnel" is the classic coin in bottle effect with a serious twist: the bottle is a miniature liquor bottle. David places a small funnel in the bottle. Four half dollars are dropped in the funnel. He pushes on the coins with a pen, and a miniature half dollar drops into the bottle. This is repeated for the other three halves. As a kicker, the four miniature halves are dropped into the funnel and the four real half dollars emerge.

"The Planet" is an involved routine in which three half dollars are changed into three foreign coins. A fourth half dollar is signed by a spectator. All four coins vanish and are found inside a small plastic globe (the kind used on a pencil sharpener) which has been on the table since the beginning of the routine. In "The Sleeve," David brings out a sleeve which has been cut off from a jacket. Coins vanish and appear in the sleeve, a mirror is produced, coins multiply via the mirror, and finally, a big coin is produced from the sleeve. The final routine is "The Rainbow" in which coins change color when they are touched to a plastic rainbow. The kicker is the production of a small pot of gold.

Of these two videos, I believe that the Live in Sacramento video will be the most use to the average coin magician. The Classic Showpieces! routines are fun to watch, but require serious performance restrictions. You must be seated, the audience must only be in front of you, and you have to have enough room to lay out your own close-up mat which has a double servant attached to it. I don't know of many venues in which this material will work. In addition, each routine requires a number of specialized props. They are not commercially available, so if you want to perform these routines, you're going to have to find someone to make them for you. I seriously doubt that many magicians will be performing these routines.

On the other hand, the Live in Sacramento video does contain material which can be done under the conditions in which most of us find ourselves performing. And, because there are no specialized props (with the exception of the "Rubber Coin," which is my least favorite routine on the tape) you'll be able to work with these routines right away. Roth fans will want both videos, but those looking for material they may actually do should consider the Live in Sacramento 1998 tape.

The Phil Cass Video By Phil Cass

Australian Phil Cass was also one of the featured performers at the Convention at the Capitol, and his stand-up show generated an enormous amount of conversation, both at the convention and later on the Internet. There was also a lot of buzz about his close-up set which, unfortunately, I did not see because I was working at the same time. The centerpiece of Phil's set was his handling of the Three Shell Game. The Phil Cass Video from A-1 MultiMedia focuses on Phil's performance and explanation of the shell game, and also includes "Fisherman's Wharf Special," an effect in which water (or beer) travels magically from hand to hand.

As he states at beginning of his explanation, Phil has brought little to the technical side of the shell routine; the routine he uses is Gary Ouellet's Super Shell routine. Phil's main contribution is to the psychological aspect of the routine. At the very beginning he tells the spectators that they are really going to be playing for money; if a spectator bets and loses, the spectator will owe the magician whatever money was bet and lost. The game then becomes one of almost pure psychology, as time and again Phil talks the spectator out of the correct choice. The final phase is a very fine sequence using two shells, a wine glass, and a small plastic dish (the kind that airlines use to serve salads). The spectator himself covers the pea, and yet loses one more time. By the end of the routine the spectator has run up a substantial debt, and Phil cancels that debt, and thanks the spectator for playing.

I think that the idea of making the game real is a fascinating one, because it turns the routine into a cat and mouse game between the magician and the spectator. With money on the line each shell-picking decision becomes an important one, consequently there is a great deal of emotional involvement. However, let me offer a couple of warnings to those of you who may want to learn Phil's routine. First, gambling routines tend to be divisive in nature, especially routines such as Three Card Monte, the Shell Game, the Endless Chain, and the Ten Card Poker Deal, in which the assisting spectator can never win. The situation becomes one of magician versus spectators, and it takes a talented performer to avoid coming off looking like a jerk. If you make the game real, you increase the antagonism factor, and it will require a master showman not to alienate his audience. To be honest, this is not the kind of relationship I try to build with my audience, but you may feel differently. Second, if you are going to play this game for real (where the spectator actually loses his money if he's wrong and he wins your money if he's right), then your technique had better be flawless, because every move you make is going to be burned by the people watching you (especially the guy with money on the line). And if they catch you doing something sneaky they are going to be very vocal in letting you know. In other words, you must be good enough at the game that you could go out on the street and hustle it, because that is exactly what you are doing. And you'd better have the cash on hand to pay up in case you do get caught, because if you don't you'll probably get lynched.

"The Fisherman's Wharf Special" uses a standard prop in a clever way to produce the effect of water traveling from one hand to the other. It looks quite good, and in the right situation (bars, cocktail parties) would be very effective.

The bottom line? I don't know. I fear that an inexperienced performer will take this information and end up reinforcing the stereotype of magician as jerk. If you like gambling routines, The Phil Cass Video is worth your consideration, but handle with care.

Doug Edwards Packs a Wallop! Written by Harry Lorayne

Mr. Edwards is a long time contributor to Harry Lorayne's Apocalypse. In fact, more of Mr. Edwards' material appears in that magazine than any other contributor. Doug Edwards Packs a Wallop! is a collection which focuses on card routines, with a few interesting non-card items thrown into the mix. Several of the routines have previously appeared in print, all have been rewritten and revised for this book.

For the most part, the card routine plots are familiar ones: ace revelations, poker deals, and chosen card revelations. Mr. Edwards finds interesting twists, however, and none of the routines are particularly difficult. My favorite card routine is an offbeat and ingenious use of an Invisible Deck called "See Through Three." If you were to ring in the gaff at an appropriate time, this effect would establish your otherworldly dexterity with a deck of cards. And best of all, it's self-working.

Also included among the card routines are some very useful false cuts, and Mr. Edwards' work on various shuffles, including the Zarrow shuffle, the strip-out shuffle, and the one-handed tabled faro. In particular, the handling of the Zarrow shuffle is very useful, and may give you the boost you need if you've been having trouble with that move.

The non-card material includes a handling of the $100 Bill Switch (no thumbtip used), an effect in which a pair of scissors is tossed onto the center of a piece of rope, and my favorite of the bunch, "Half Empty-Half Full," which uses a Richard Himber gaff (the method of making the gaff is explained) in an offbeat and extremely visual way. This one would have fooled me if I had seen it performed.

If you're a card guy looking for clever material which is not particularly difficult, take a look at Doug Edwards Packs a Wallop! Recommended.

Come a Little Closer Edited by John Derris

Back in the early 1950's, an enthusiastic group of magic hobbyists would meet on Saturdays in London. They would frequent the magic shops and hang out in nearby cafes, talking magic, swapping moves, and demonstrating their latest creations. This little group published a small booklet in 1953, each member contributing a routine to the publication. This booklet sold quite well, and the members of the group became fairly well known in magic circles. You may recognize a few of the names. The group consisted of Alex Elmsley, Jack Avis, Bobby Bernard, Ted Danson, Roy Walton, Al Koran, John Derris, Arthur Holland, and Tommy Vanderschmidt. L&L Publishing has released an expanded version of the original Come a Little Closer booklet which contains new contributions from those in the group who are still involved in magic (which is almost the entire group).

With a list of contributors which includes some of the cleverest minds in magic, you can well imagine that Come a Little Closer contains some fine magic. The emphasis is on close-up magic with cards and coins. I will mention a few of my favorites. Jack Avis offers "The Siva Fold," a method for folding a playing card into quarters under the guise of natural actions. He then describes a card to wallet effect using the fold. Ted Danson's "Give Me a Ring," is a great method for doing the Bank Night effect. Also explained is "It's a Date," the trick which started the Birthday Book/Diary craze. I was glad to finally read this effect. The method is a bit cumbersome, but it's a real fooler.

John Derris contributes some excellent coin and finger ring routines, and a remarkable ring and shoelace routine based on a Bob McAllister idea. You'll find Alex Elmsley's famous routine "Point of Departure" here, as well as a diabolical Si Stebbins trick and a funny card counting rhyme. Roy Walton is represented with a color changing knife routine, and a few of his ingenious card routines.

The final chapter of the book is an essay titled "What is Wrong with Magic?" The title says it all. You will read this essay and say to yourself, "The author is absolutely right, these are the things that are wrong with magic." Then you'll get really depressed, because the author of the essay is Oswald Williams, and the essay was written in 1923. In 75 years almost nothing has changed, and this fact really bums me out.

I enjoyed Come a Little Closer very much. If for some reason you're unfamiliar with the work of the contributors, this is an excellent introduction. And I think you'll find material here that you can use. Recommended.

Laughter Legacy By David Ginn

Gene Gordon was a performer, author, magic dealer, and one of the founders of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. For 40 years he collected notebooks of gags, jokes, one-liners, stories, and patter bits. When he died in 1994, his wife Ruth passed these notebooks on to well-known children's entertainer David Ginn. Mr. Ginn has transcribed these jokes, organized them into categories, and added material from himself and his friends. The collection is titled Laughter Legacy and it includes jokes on such subjects as animals, education, food, clothing, magic tricks, kid helpers, cannibals, money, television, music, work, weather, old age, and why the chicken crossed the road.

I am wary about books of gags simply because so many magicians feel that owning such a book and reciting some of the jokes contained therein will make them a funny person. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. (Long time readers of this magazine will remember a discussion that Mac King and I had concerning the nature of comedy.) What happens most often is that magicians all go to the same pool of jokes, and consequently we all sound alike. My feeling is that using these stock lines is okay as long as they are the seasoning of your patter and not the main ingredient.

Having said that, are the jokes in Laughter Legacy funny? Well, that depends on your sense of humor. There were some lines that I thought were pretty funny, and which I have placed into my mental "Jokes to Use if the Situation Arises" file. There are other lines which I didn't find particularly funny or which simply do not fit my style at all. I'm sure you will find that the situation is the same for you. There are a lot of jokes here, and for $25 the price is fair.

The Art of Magic

By Joe Layden and Carl Waldman with Jamy Ian Swiss

If you enjoyed the recent PBS special The Art of Magic, you'll want to pick up this companion volume. This is a beautifully produced "coffee table" type book, full of pictures and posters of historical and contemporary magicians. The book traces a familiar history: early shamanism to Egyptian priests and Hindu Fakirs, through the wandering conjurors of the Middle Ages and the reformation of Robert-Houdin, to the contemporary stage performers of the Twentieth Century. Accompanying the text are commentaries by such notables as Lance Burton, Jeff McBride, Max Maven, Eugene Burger, Robert Neale, Jim Steinmeyer, Peter Samelson, and Jamy Ian Swiss.

If you have a layman friend who is interested in magic, The Art of Magic would make a great gift. Or just treat yourself to a very handsome book. Recommended.

Kiss Off

By Gregory Wilson

The Magic Smith comes through again with this nicely produced set of props which will enable you to do Chop-cup type routine using a small can of Hershey's chocolate syrup and a small Hershey's candy kiss. Here's what happens: The plastic lid is removed from the can and a small candy kiss falls from the cup. The kiss is placed into the pocket and it reappears under the cup. The kiss vanishes when struck by a spoon and reappears under the cup. Suddenly, two large candy kisses appear under the cup. As a kicker, it is revealed that the can is completely sealed. And, as a second kicker, a bunch of kisses are produced.

This routine is based on a classic routine of Paul Harris, and is very commercial. You get all the necessary props (including a spoon!) plus an 18-minute video of Greg Wilson (yes, that Greg Wilson) performing and explaining the routine. To use the word manic to describe the performance segment would be an understatement, and I kept hoping that Jim Fowler would show up to tranquilize the assisting spectators. Greg's explanation is clear and concise, and there are some very funny gags on the tape. The tape concludes with a young magician performing the routine in a close-up contest, proving that if he can do it, you can do it.

This is a top-notch production all the way around. If the effect appeals to you, you will not be disappointed. Recommended.

Card in Mousetrap By Jarle Leirpoll

This card effect from Norway's Jarle Leirpoll is guaranteed to get a reaction from your audience. Here's the effect: A card is selected (free choice). The spectator signs the card and also draws a picture of a mouse on the card. The card is shuffled back into the pack. The magician brings out a small mousetrap. The trap is set and is placed on an assisting spectator's outstretched palm. Now the magician takes a card from the top of the deck and passes it (face down) over the business end of the mousetrap. Nothing happens and the card is placed aside. This is repeated for several cards. Eventually, one card is passed over the trap and it goes off, catching the card. The card is revealed, it is the signed card.

I'm ambivalent about this trick for several reasons. The first has to do with the amount of discomfort I'm willing to put my spectators through. Having the mousetrap on your outstretched palm is a pretty unnerving thing, and when that sucker goes off it scares the crap out of you. Will this trick get screams? You bet. So does Jim Pace's "The Web." But it's not the way I like to treat my audience. You may feel differently.

Secondly, you should know that everything in this trick is ungaffed. There are no gimmicks, you are only paying for the card control secret and the method of setting off the trap. In the instructions Jarle mentions that sometimes it's hard to find a trap that works well, so he includes one.

I wouldn't do this trick in a million years, but that's just me. If you do decide to perform it, be careful who your helper is, and make sure your liability insurance covers heart attacks.

Details

The Complete Magic Ranch. Four VHS cassettes, sold as a set only. $99.95 plus $3.05 p&h. From William H. McIlhany, P.O. Box 7486, Beverly Hills, CA 90212

Dan Harlan's Ultimate Impromptu Magic by Dan Harlan. Three volumes, each video $29.95 (any format). All three for $84.95. (Postpaid in US and Canada.) From L&L Publishing, P.O. Box 100, Tahoma, CA 96142

The Art of Dice Stacking by Jim Zachary. $29.95 (any format). (Postpaid in US and Canada.) From L&L Publishing, P.O. Box 100, Tahoma, CA 96142

David Roth Live in Sacramento 1998 by David Roth. $29.95 (any format). Postpaid in US, Canada and overseas surface. From A-1 MultiMedia, 3337 Sunrise Blvd., #8, Rancho Cordova, CA 95742

Classic Showpieces by David Roth. $29.95 (any format). Postpaid in US, Canada and overseas surface. From A-1 MultiMedia, 3337 Sunrise Blvd., #8, Rancho Cordova, CA 95742

The Phil Cass Video by Phil Cass. $14.95 (any format). Postpaid in US, Canada and overseas surface. From A-1 MultiMedia, 3337 Sunrise Blvd., #8, Rancho Cordova, CA 95742

Doug Edwards Packs a Wallop! by Harry Lorayne. 6 x 9, hardbound with glossy dustjacket. 197 pages. $35 (Postpaid in US and Canada.) From L&L Publishing, P.O. Box 100, Tahoma, CA 96142

Come a Little Closer edited by John Derris. 8.5 x 11, hardbound with glossy dustjacket. 93 pages. $29.95 (Postpaid in US and Canada.) From L&L Publishing, P.O. Box 100, Tahoma, CA 96142

Laughter Legacy by David Ginn. 5.25 x 8.5, hardbound with glossy dustjacket. 224 pages. $25 plus $2 p&h. From David Ginn, 4387 St. Michaels Drive, Lilburn, GA 30047

The Art of Magic by Joe Layden and Carl Waldman with Jamy Ian Swiss. 8.5 x 11, hardbound with glossy dustjacket. 256 pages. $30. From General Publishing Group. Available at most bookstores. (IBSN 1-57544-036-9).

Kiss Off by Gregory Wilson. $40 plus $3 p&h. (Overseas add $10. Foreign orders should indicate video format.) From The Magic Smith, 64 Seafare, Laguna Niguel, CA 92677

Card in Mousetrap by Jarle Leirpoll. NOK 100.00 (About $13.40 US). Airmail postage to US: $3. (Airmail to Europe: $2). From Jarle Leirpoll, Dagfinn Gronosetsv, 34, N-2400 Elverum, Norway

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