Today the telephone rang. It was Ken Brooke with the sad news that Fred Kaps had passed away the previous day, 22nd July. Although I was aware that Fred would not be with us much longer, it did little, if anything, to diminish the sense of loss, both personal and to the magical fraternity as a whole. Never again will Ken ring, as he did many times in the past, to say 'Fred is here — are you coming over', and never again shall we have the priviledge of seeing the superlative magic of this master of his craft.
We who have had the good fortune to witness the skill and artistry of Fred Kaps will have our memories and it is we who will be asked by those less fortunate the unanswerable question, and one posed by many times by ambitious youngsters when listening to their elders praising other legendary figures in the world of magic. The words may differ, but the intention of the questioner is always the same. They are anxious to know what qualities these men possessed which placed them above their contemporaries. The answers they are given are also pretty much the same — some vague reference to their success being due to their 'personality'. Not a particularly illuminating or satisfactory answer to an enthusiastic youngster, and furthermore, not only is it misleading, it is denigrating to an artist who has spent years in perfecting his art.
To say that Fred Kaps had more than a fair Share of good looks — a fine physique — a charm which spilled over the footlights to the audience — elegance of movement — style — presence — authority etc would be true, but to give the impression that these attributes, which were a part of his whole personality, were the only reasons for his success, would be to discount other factors of importance. I will endeavour to explain some of these with the hope that it will be of some assistance to beginners who are seeking enlightenment on the real secrets underlying the magic of Fred Kaps.
The general idea is to outline Fred's approach and attitude to magic insofar as I have been able to understand it. In no way will it help anyone to become a Fred Kaps any more than growing ones hair and beard long can one become a Ricky Jay. However, if I am able to convey a little of what went into making Fred Kaps the superb magician he was by sharing my own thoughts and experiences with others less privileged than myself, I shall feel that it is the best tribute I can pay to the man whose performances and company throughout the years have been a pleasure and inspiration far exceeding all other magical experiences.
One of Fred's featured effects was the Homing Card and only a few days ago Howard Lyons told how Fred used the effect during a lecture in the U.S. First performing it in the manner of the average magician and then with his own presentation. The method used was standard and the technique required well within the scope of the average card worker. Those present during this lecture were indeed fortunate to have had a practical demonstration of the importance of how an effect can be enhanced by acting out the plot.
This particular effect provides ample opportunities for the performer to register various emotions as the unwanted black picture card persists in returning to the packet of red spot cards he is holding. He can. appear angry, annoyed, disconcerted, frustrated, adopt an air of disbelief or one of sheer helplessness. All these and possibly other emotions can be displayed by the performer during the course of this one trick. Take the opportunity of seeing Fred performing it on video-tape — dozens of magicians have recorded it — and note the manner in which he acts out the plot. Only a little imagination will be required to realise that without the acting element the effect would be just another card trick.
It is only by appreciating that the acting in Fred's presentation of the above effect is the predominating factor, will we understand his approach to magic. We also become aware that he was an actor of considerable skill.
It should hardly be necessary to point out the futility of attempting his style and mannerisms which were a part of his personality. The important lesson to be learnt is that without acting there is no communication with the audience, the entertainment content of the effect is reduced, and there is little left for the spectators to enjoy unless they like solving puzzles. Most important of all, the audience will have no sensation of having experienced something akin to real magic.
If there is one element in the performance of magic — particularly the intimate kind — which distinguishes the top flight performers from the rest of us, is in the extent to which misdirection plays an integral part in making their magic so deceptive. Such was the mastery of Fred Kaps in the art of misdirection that few magicians were even aware that they were the victims of anything other than the manipulative skill employed.
It was during impromptu sessions that Fred would occasionally reveal his expertise by fooling his friends using misdirection alone to achieve an effect. He revelled in catching one 'off guard' and immediately repeating an effect. Ken Brooke takes particular delight in reminding me of the occasion when both David Carre and myself were victims of this particular ploy. Three times in quick succession the complete pack vanished and each time Fred stood up to reveal that he was sitting on it.
Another occasion, this time at Ken's flat. Fred, who was on my left, spread out the pack face up and inquired if I could see the card I had chosen and returned to the pack. It was missing. He called my attention to a face down card resting on the table near my elbow — it was the missing card. Ricky Jay, also present remarked 'That's O.K. once' implying that it could not be repeated successfully. Fred replied with some emphasis 'I can do it when I like, to whom I like, as often as I like.' A few moment later as Arthur Day, another guest, was looking through the pack for a card he had chosen I felt my arm being nudged. You have guessed — he had done it again.
The above are just a couple of examples of magic for fun amongst magicians and all were aware that they had been victims of his uncanny skill using misdirection alone, but how many magicians are aware of the misdirection employed in his presentation of the Homing Card.
From the very commencement of the effect when the unwanted black picture card first appears amongst the red spot cards, it was the acting which created the entertainment which in turn so absorbed the attention of the audience as they followed the plot, that they were so completely unconcerned as to how they were being deceived. Even magicians lost their critical faculties and neglected to watch for the 'moves'. They had been misdirected by the entertaining presentation.
In all the tricks I have seen him perform it would be difficult to name one in which misdirection in one form or another was not used. Misdirection is a very complex subject, but it can be broadly defined as anything a performer does which is designed to prevent exposing the method used to achieve the effect. The 'anything', with few exceptions, demands of the performer some acting ability if the misdirection is to be effective. It is only when one realises that it was because Fred Kaps was an actor of considerable skill that it becomes apparent why he was able to make a trick both entertaining, and by the employment of calculated misdirection, to cover any secret actions and produce an effect approaching real magic.
Every magician who has seen Fred Kaps perform will be well aware of his great technical skill, and most have mistakenly believed this to be the reason why he received so much acclaim. Undoubtedly its played its part, particularly with magicians, but it was always subservient to the matters of acting, which is the only means by which an effect can be given the appearance of real magic.
Surely it was this point that he was trying to put across in his U.S. lecture — what else? To beginners who take a similar attitude towards magic by following this approach will outstrip their contemporaries who misguidedly believe that the way to success depends upon technical skill or ingenious apparatus which can be 'examined'. Proof that neither are essential was evident to those who saw Fred's presentation of the almost self-working Chinese Wands.
It is by no means suggested that by becoming an actor, even an accomplished one, one can achieve the magical statue of Fred Kaps. There still remains one indefinable attribute which defies analysis. Jay Marshall explains it this way: 'you've either got it or you haven't'. Whatever this elusive element may be Fred certainly had it, but to attribute this success solely to this 'gift' would be untrue and unfair. One cannot discount the time and effort expended in his attempt to reach perfection in all the necessary skills which are essential to becoming an accomplished magical performer.
These skills are far too numerous to list here, but every serious student of magic will gradually become aware that the most important of them lie in the area of presentation. Without a presentation which makes the performance entertaining to his audience there can be no real success. It is only when one views the performances of Fred Kaps from this angle does one begin to appreciate that there is considerably more than a high degree of technical skill to account for his prowess.
Much more could be written regarding Fred's magic and no doubt others will express their thoughts on his work. In the meantime, may I suggest that you refer to Pabular No. 7 Vol.1. On pages 82 and 83 you will find valuable information for those whose ambition
it is to perform magic for the layman. They are the lecture notes of Fred Kaps and appeared with the kind permission of Jay Marshall. Study them, and act on the advice. Whoever does so will automatically adopt the right attitude towards his magic, and escape the many pitfalls which lie in the path of the beginner struggling to find his way to becoming a successful performer. I know of no other single article which deals so completely with the professional attitude towards performing magic for laymen. It spells out clearly and concisely the attitude and approach to be adopted by magicians who, even if they have no intention of becoming full-time professionals, are desirous of raising the standard of their performances above those given by the average magical hobbyist.
These notes, together with the video-tapes of his performances form a valuable legacy for magicians of the future. To those for whom magic, to quote 'Professor' Dai Vernon, is not something 'just for kids' will realise their worth and be able to obtain an insight into Fred's thinking about magic in general from the notes, and the tapes will provide lessons of incalculable value on the art of presentation.
We who had the privilege and pleasure of sharing his company, and see him perform in 'close-up' situations for non-magicians will treasure their memories of these occasions. When asked to perform — he never did until asked — hie was always ready to do something, whatever the situation. One was never conscious that he was prepared for such requests and he most certainly never made any overt preparation. He was always ready to perform whether seated or standing and never moved his position or made any request for the spectators to do so.
I find it impossible to imagine Fred fumbling through his pockets for props or asking a spectator to move. There is nothing particularly entertaining watching a performer searching his various pockets before he eventually finds the required article. In certain circumstances it would be unpardonable to disturb people by asking them to move or even shift their drinks out of the way. When someone asks to be shown a trick they do not expect an exhibition of your personal belongings or to take part in a game of non-musical chairs. Such procedures can only detract from the effect you produce upon the spectators and it would be somewhat presumptious to take it for granted that they would accept with tolerance the 'stage wait' and the request to move. There are of course exceptions, but remember that you are the centre of attraction the moment the request is made and your actions and behaviour from then on are important.
Here is how I have seen Fred react to such a request. He looked at the person with a smile and said 'Sure' and immediately began to perform. That is, he was performing from the very instant he smiled and said 'Sure'. By performing I mean acting — the smile was a part of the act — a professional one. The subsequent remarks kept the attention on himself as he unobtrusively removed the object to be used from his pocket. Such was the approach of Fred Kaps when asked to show a trick, and a procedure anyone can adopt to ensure that at least they start off on the right foot even if they get out of step later on.
All that is required is to choose a trick entertaining to lay people which can be performed in any situation whether seated or standing with the audience on all sides. Keep the trick in the same pocket at all times.
When asked to do a trick you will be able to pass pleasantries with those around you as your hand goes to the pocket containing the trick. This would be impossible if your mind was otherwise occupied wondering what trick to do and which pocket contained the necessary props. It would prevent proper contact with the onlookers being maintained at a time when you should be creating a favourable impression. Even to look away from the spectators to the prop you are about to use results in some loss of contact. Keep your gaze on the audience until you actually bring the prop into use.
It could be argued, quite successfully, that the above has no relevance in four-ale bars or magic clubs, but there are times when one is invited to perform by people who are both sober and sane. On these occasions it is important and desirable in the best interests of magic and magicians in general to make your efforts a pleasureable experience for the onlookers. This is made easier by getting the spectators with you from the very beginning so why not try the Fred Kaps approach which can be used by anyone regardless of their style or personality.
Fred has left us, but his name and influence on magic will live on. Future generations of magicians will be asking the question mentioned earlier. Hopefully they will obtain some idea of what went into making Fred Kaps the finest and most complete magical performer of this generation.
On behalf of Ken Brooke and myself, I wish to express our gratitude and thanks to Mr and Mrs Bob Driebeek for their hospitality and many kindnesses when we attended Fred's funeral which took place on the 29th of July. Bob's thoughtfulness and generosity on this sad occasion will long be remembered by both Ken and myself.
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