Magic In America

By Henry Ridgely Evans.

Author of " Honrs zvith the Ghosts,'" &c., &c.

What is the status of magic in America ?

Good and bad ! Good for artistes of originality, bad for indifferent performers.

The wide dissemination of magical literature and exposés innumerable in magazines and newspapers have put sleight-of-hand performers on their mettle to invent new tricks or improve old ones. The result is that second-rate magicians have to go to the wall, while the artistes forge to the front and make money. It is a case of the survival of the fittest. At the present, writing, there are but two performers in the States who present an exclusively magical entertainment of the hours duration order, all other wielders of the mystic wand flourish in vaudeville, doing 15 and 30 minute " turns." Kellar and Carl Herrmann (nephew of the lateAlexander) are the two magicians alluded to above. Harry Kellar began life as an assistant to the Brothers Davenport, spirit mediums, and from them learned the mysteries of rope-tying and untying. Kellar is not strictly speaking a sleight-of-hand performer, but rather an exhibitor of stage illusions, pseudo-mental phenomena, clairvoyance, etc. He is, however, undeniably clever at handkerchief tricks. Such is his apparent contempt for sleight-of-hand that he exposes the mysteries of coin palmistry 011 the stage for the delectation of his audiences, thereby killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. He is not alone in this pernicious practice of revealing the secrets of magic to people unacquainted with them. The vaudeville performers are doing their best to discredit the art of legerdemain by exposés, designed to create a momentary laugh, but which do incalculable damage.

America is flooded with amateur magicians. Whenever a professional performer comes to a city he is immediately besieged by a horde of these amateurs who want to learn his secrets, or to exhibit their own dexterity (?) and ask for advice as to the best method of obtaining ail engagement on the stage. The younger Herrmann once remarked to me : ' ' The American amateur is a queer person. He reads a magic book, cultivates a moustache and goatee, and thinks himself a magician." There is a large measure of truth in this statement, ridiculous ns it may seem. The moustache and goatee a la Mephisto were once thé sine qua non of a magician's " make-up " in this country. This was in imitation of Alexander Herrmann,who for many years was our prestidigitateur par excellence, and set the pace for the rest of the world. Alexander's mantle has not fallen on his nephew or upon the shoulders of any other magician. The younger Herrmann's great forte is thé billiard ball trick, which he performs with the greatest skill and delicacy of execution. Absurd to .state he has robbed the trick of all its mystery by having large photographs made of his hands in the act of palming and manipulating the billiard balls, the aforesaid pictures being displayed in the lobbies of the theatres, where spectators may examine them and receive their initiation into the gentle art of 1 ' palming. ' ' Of course when they witness the performance of the magician the billiard ball trick falls flat.

" Why do you make this exposé ?" I asked Herrmann. The young man. shrugged his Herrmannique shoulders, and replied : " Oh, I want people to see how muscular my hands are, and how difficult it is to palm the balls."

"They don't care anything about the muscularly of your hands," I exclaimed, " What they desire most is to be mystified. You are very foolish to explain your work in this manner. After a while you will have to confine yourself to mechanical tricks, and then good-bye prestige. You will denominate into a professor of physics. You will no longer be a magician."

Alas, he could not see the matter in this light, and still exhibits his famous illustrations. Shade of Alexander the Great ! not the warrior, ""But the prestidigitateur loôk down upon us and protect us ! ! I have always held with the editor of this magazine that treatises 011 sleight.of-hand do no harm to the art. No one but students of legerdemain read them. The perusal of the technicalities of magic tricks is too dry for the average reader. Exposés in popular magazines of the day, however, are bad.

The tendency of magic in America is in the direction of the Vaudeville Theatre, and consequently towards specialization in the art of legerdemain. The day of the all-round magician is fast passing away. To succeed now, it is necessary to do some one thing well, be it what it may, card, coin, handkerchief, or hat work. Many prominent performers in Vaudeville call themselves '1 manipulators ' ' in preference to magicians. On their letter-heads they frequently print as follows, "Mr. Blank, Manipulator of Coins (or cards) ; not a magic act." The county is flooded with would-be*magicians who can do no sleight-of-hand worthy of the name. Hence the use of the term " Manipulator," which is a guarantee that the performer is a sleight-of-hand artiste, pure and simple. No one would have the audacity to advertise himself as a " Manipulator of Mechanical Illusions. ' ' Mechanism works itself.

There is a great deal of inventive genius among American magicians. Houdini, Elliott, Crane, and Thurston are past, masters in the. art of back and front palming cards. This back palm, by-the-way, was originated by a Spanish gambler, who showed it to the late Otto Maurer, of New York. Maurer passed it on to others who vastly improved the trick and made it almost new. Adrian Plate, of New York, a lyceum and drawing-room entertainer, is a very original man, and the inventor of some clever sleights. Still well, the handkerchief manipulator, has produced a number of new effects which are very puzzling even to the professional performer. Magic is by no means on the wane in America, but it is a question of the survival of the fittest.

I have always been a sincere advocate of sleight-of-hand but it seems to me that it is going to the other extreme to do away with apparatus altogether. The ' ' manipulator " has a limited field to work in. I am glad to know that Prof. Hoffmann agrees with me, judging from an article of his which recently came under my notice. I lament the good old days of Heller and Herrmann, when the stage with its brilliant settings of tables, etc., impressed one with a sense of mystery. You felt yourself to be in the laboratory of a magician, where wonders were to be performed. Nowadays you look at the work of the manipu-tor with no more curiosity that the feats of a juggler;who balances plates on* the tip of his nose, and keeps a number of ball in the air. >Imro Fox and Goldin, vaudevillists work largely in the old magical field and are very popular in this country. Goldin (perhaps because he cannot manipulate cards very well) " gives away " the back-hand palm. Is he killing the goose that lays the Goldin eggs. Verily, it looks like it !

Feb. I90I.

Lightning 5ketChes.


Continued from page 10.

Another interesting figure for practise in connection with our former article on this subject is that illustrated in Fig. 3. This figure is also reversible representing a sailor and his lass according to the way in which the finished drawing is held.

These figures will of course have to be enlarged to make them effective for presentation to an audience. The best way of doing this is to draw lines around Fig. 3 enclosing it in an oblong space, and, this done,, to draw horizontal and perpendicular lines over the surface of the figure to form small squares of about ^ in. Next draw a similar oblong space, sayfour times the size,and cover it with a like number of lines to form the same number of squares as in the smaller design, but four times the size. Now note what portion of the lines of the small sketch occupy a certain square and then fill in the same lines in the corresponding square of the larger design, and so on, until the large drawing is completed ; by the time this is done the lines will be pretty well memorized.

Fig. 3.—A Sailor and liis Lass.
Fig. 4.—Courtship and Marriage,

An amusing sketch is depicted in Fig. 4. This may be shown as one, or as two separate sketches according to fancy ; in any case it will prove effective and, not unlikely, will establish the performer as a clever cartoonist as the ' ' double' ' expression drawn at one and the same time will, doubtless, appeal to the audience as a feat worthy of a skilled artist.

(7o be continued).

*Phe 6ditop's Irettep-Qog.

The Editor invites contributions dealing with matters likely to be oj interest to readers of this paper. He will be pleased to receive news relating to special shows: also apparatus, books, .catalogues, <Sfc., for review. The Hditor does not hold himself responsible for the views expressed by his correspondents.

To the Editor,


Dear Sir,—I am pleased to note the very just criticism of your correspondent, Samuel Blake, 011 the excessive pace at which too many of our wizards think it is desirable to produce their illusions. Some of the most accomplished prestidigitators of the day lose half the effect of their tricks by rattling them off as if they were delivering a patter song. As well might a reciter " speak his piece " at such a rate that the audience can barely tell what he is talking about.

Robert Houdin's definition of a conjurer is " an actor playing the part of a magician." Such performers as I have referred to have mistaken their vocation, they should have taken up juggling, not conjuring.

Another fault I note among performers of the present day is a tendency to make a parade of their dexterity—to show how neatly they can palm some fabulous number of coins, or the like. This may be gratifying to the vanity of the exhibitor, but it is extremely bad art. A performer might almost as well call attention to the ingenious arrangement of liis pochettes, or turn round bistable to exhibit the servante. Dexterity in a magician should be one of his secret weapons—a matter to be concealed, rather than paraded. He should aim to.send away his audience reflecting, not—how quickly or how cleverly he did so and so, but, how on earth did he do it at all.

Mere ornamental displays, such as card-throwing or springing the cards from hand to hand, are permissible, inasmuch as they do not tend to give away the secret of any trick, but it is doubtful whether even these do not lessen the magical effect of a performance. Yours faithfully, Louis Hoffmann. To the Editor,

What is more bezvildering than the speed of the South Eastern Railway ? .If you worked egg passes at that pace I am sure the eggs would be incubated before you got very far, and in the case of the billiard balls, we should all be in the sere before we could pocket the red. What a delighttul prospect !

Mr. Blake's letter contains much food for thought and I for one should like to see this subject thoroughly discussed, but I do not think he puts the case sufficiently clear.

In my opinion it is lack of patter that is the great fault with many of our up-to-date performers and this without doubt causes experiments to be worked much more quickly than is desirable for good effect.

I am a great admirer of De Kolta and can appreciate the subtle wit of our friend in comparing that gentleman's methods with such an unknown quantity as the speed of the S.E.R.—Australian.

To Mr. Ellis Stanyon. Washington D.C., Oct. 12th, 1900.

Dear Sir,—Your latest work " New Card Tricks " is very good indeed ;one of the best I have seen.—Sincerely yours, H. R. Evans.

To Ellis Stanyon, Highbury, N., October 3rd, 1900.

Dear Sir.—Many thanks for your prompt dispatch of "New Card Tricks" ; your instructions for performing the Front and Back Card Palm are exceedingly clear and withal, concise.

Yours truly, A. H. WALKBR-CREES.

To Mr. Ellis Stanyon. Syracuse, N.Y., September 25th, 1900.

Dear Sir.—I have received "New Card Tricks" and am exceedingly well pleased with same. Must congratulate you on the work.

Yours faithfully, E. D. Dewey.

Mr. Ellis Stanyon. Bradford, September 25th, 1900.

Dear Sir.—Thanks very much for your prompt dispatch of Coin Trick Books and others. I am very much pleased with your practicalmethods and clear descriptions.

Yours faithfully, W. E. Watson.

Mr. Ellis Stanyon. Cleveland, 0., August 17th, 1900.

Dear Sir.—I have received your " New Coin Tricks " and am delighted with your description of the " Miser's Dream." I now enclose Subscription to Magic which I hope will prove a wonderful success, and find its way into the hands of all lovers of the mystic art.—Yours faithfully, M. J. Brown.

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