(An imperfect autobiographical recollection)
The tour of duty began on August 13, 1929 in Baltimore, Maryland. My earliest recollection of a magician, was at a birthday party when I was 7 or 8 years old. I don't recall anything about the less than memorable performance I witnessed that day, not even the Magician's name. However, two magicians I do remember were both instrumental in my early development as a magical enthusiast, Phil Thomas and Vin Carey. Both operated magic shops in downtown Baltimore. Phil, the better businessman of the two, survived until he eventually sold the Yogi Magic Mart a few years ago and retired. Unfortunately, Vin Carey, a kind and gentle man didn't fare as well and went out of business within a relatively short period of time. He's gone now. Sitting around that great magic shop in the sky, shooting the breeze with the boys.
I recall spending many happy days in those two shops. Both men were extremely kind to me, which helped to firmly set the "hook," an addiction to things magical that has lasted just short of fifty years. However, the magician who truly ignited my interest in magic was the renowned, Dante. I was around 13 years of age. My Dad, a well known local orchestra leader, was given a pair of tickets to the Dante show, "Sim-Sala-Bim" which was appearing at Ford's Theater, a Baltimore landmark until it was torn down many years later. Accompanied by my brother Gordon, who is four years younger, we were dropped off at the door of the theater and my life was never the same again. Our seats were in the balcony and to this day, almost fifty years later, I can still vividly remember the unbelievable spectacle that my brother and I witnessed that afternoon. In fact, I can even recall admiring the beautiful Moi-Miller and the Mystery Maids. If I remember correctly, my male hormones were beginning to act up about then.
When the show was over, we stumbled into the bright sunlight. I was totally awed by what we had just witnessed. Two hours of being mesmerized in a darkend theater by a master showman. I had never seen anything like it before. How on earth did the pretty young thing float in the air? I remember straining my eyes, desperately searching for the "strings." My brother and I hardly spoke to one another as we boarded a street car for the long ride across town. As I sat beside the window, my eyes riveted to the Baltimore landscape as it rolled by, my mind was still in the balcony of Ford's Theater. How on earth did Dante do it? It's a question that unfortunately, seldom flashes through my mind these days, almost a half-Century, and a lifetime in magic later.
When we arrived home, my brother suddenly asked me, "Can you do magic tricks?" "Sure," I replied, as I bolted up the steps to my second floor bedroom. I wanted to make myself scarce before Gordy asked me to prove it. Shortly, I heard my brother and some of his friends playing in the backyard below. Suddenly, I had an idea. I ran down the steps and rushed to the Enoch Pratt public library, four long blocks away. I was hardly winded as I approached the librarian behind the counter. What a difference forty-nine years makes. I asked if there were any books on magic in the library. She took me to a small section of shelves and pointed to three or four dusty books. They looked positively ancient, even in those days. The book I selected was written by a Professor Hoffmann. I wonder if he ever amounted to anything?
I signed the book out and began the walk home. As I slowly moved through the shady, tree lined streets of Forest Park, a Baltimore suburb, I excitedly began to leaf through the pages. Suddenly, I saw a drawing of a hand holding a playing card. In the next illustration, the card had vanished. I sat on the curb and began to absorb my first experience with the back hand palm. I didn't find out there was a front hand palm until some time later. Within a few minutes, I managed to grasp the working of my first sleight of hand magic trick. I arrived home and as I ran up the stairs, two at a time, I tried to remember where my mother stored the playing cards. After rummaging around, I found them. For several minutes I practiced making the card vanish at my fingertips. It didn't look very mysterious to me as I watched my amateurish efforts in the bedroom mirror. The corners of the card were clearly peeking out between my fingers. How could this ever fool anyone, I wondered?
With card in hand, I wandered onto the porch outside my bedroom. One floor below, my brother and his friends were running around the backyard. "Look," I yelled. The motley crew below, froze in their tracks. I held the playing card in my extended right hand. My fingers were clenched in anticipation of the miracle I was about to perform. The lower two corners of the card were tightly gripped between my fingers. With a deep breath, I straightened my fingers and presto, the card vanished. From my vantage point, the corners of the card were still quite visible between my fingers, but the audience was one full story below and could barely see my hand, much less the corners of the card. There was a brief moment of silence as their eyes widened in amazement. "Where did it go?" they yelled. I quickly stabbed my hand into the air and clenched my fist again. The card snapped into view. "Right here," I proudly exclaimed. With that, I beat a hasty retreat into the bedroom before they could ask me to do it again. I've never forgotten the thrill of that triumphant moment. I was hooked on magic forever.
For several years, my quest for magic took me to every novelty shop I could find. Phil Thomas, who for several years, operated out of his home, opened the Yogi Magic Mart on Charles Street. It was my second home for quite awhile. In the meantime, I was in Junior High School and head over heels in love. I was too shy to introduce myself, but I followed the attractive young lady around school hoping to hear someone call her by name. Frankly, at the time, I thought she resembled Lana Turner. In retrospect, I exaggerated a bit. Eventually I did meet her and she subsequently invited me to a birthday party at her home. One of the young men who attended the party turned out to be an amateur magician. His name was Morty Fink and he performed under the name of "The Great Finton." Following his performance that night, "The Great Finton" asked if I was interested in magic. I said that I was, and in a matter of minutes I was broke. He sold me his entire act for every last cent that I had in the world, $20 dollars. The props included a copper, crackle finish dove pan, U.F. Grant's Appearing Glass of Milk trick, an arm chopper, a milk pitcher and the secret to "Out of This World." Imagine what that assortment would cost today.
During the years that followed, I performed anywhere I could find an audience. No one was safe. I recall one of my earliest shows was in our basement at home. The admission charge was one ten cent defense stamp. It was during World War II and I felt obliged to do my part in the war effort. My cousin Myra was my female assistant and our feature illusion involved vanishing my brother in a portable metal clothes cabinet. We had suspended a dark blue window shade in the top of the cabinet, halfway between the front and back of the unit. When the shade was lowered, if the lighting was just right, anything between the shade and the back of the cabinet was invisible. It was my first use of the Black Art principle. Actually, I didn't have much to worry about. The basement was dark to begin with and the red bulb we had placed in the ceiling light fixture didn't help. You could hardly see the cabinet. We could hardly wait to try it out.
Gordy, wearing his corduroy knickers, a towel turban and an old bathrobe stepped into the cabinet. I closed the door. "Abracadabra," I shouted. I could hear my brother pulling down the crinkly window shade. "Presto!" I shouted, and threw open the door. Gordy had vanished or so it seemed. Suddenly, as my brother began to shift his weight, the metal floor of the cabinet made a horrendous crackling metallic noise. My cousin fell on the floor, laughing hysterically. I didn't think it was very funny, the show was scheduled to go on in 30 minutes. Desperately I sought a solution to our dilemma. In a corner I spotted a large Chinese gong my father always used as a noisemaker on New Years Eve. The sound of the gong being struck covered the noise emanating from the cabinet. The show went on as scheduled and I had exhibited my first bit of creativity in magic.
In addition to being one of Maryland's most popular and sought after society orchestra leaders, my Dad gave me an insight into the world of show business. He had so many friends, including several magicians. He often took me to see them when they came to town, From Dante to Cardini. On several occasions he even took me backstage to meet my idols. I remember meeting Cardini. In his aristocratic British accent, he asked if I could perform the classic pass? Before I could answer, he handed me a deck of cards. My hands were trembling so bad, I felt like I was holding fifty-two watermelon seeds. I managed to execute, and I mean EXECUTE a pass. In fact, it was probably the worst pass ever attempted. I stood there hoping that the next thing that would be executed, was me. I was terribly embarrassed. But, Cardini smiled and said, "No son, this is a classic pass." He removed a card. It was the Ace of Hearts. Slowly he inserted it in the middle of the deck. I waited. Cardini just stood there holding the deck in his hand. I was wondering when he was going to do the move. He looked down at me and said, "That, is a classic pass." My eyes began to widen into saucers. Cardini slowly turned over the top card of the deck. It was the Ace Of Hearts. He had done the pass right under my nose and I didn't see a thing. Not a flutter. Not a sound. No movement. No nothing! My Dad thanked Cardini and ushered me out. I began to wonder if perhaps I should take up another hobby.
In the late thirties, Dad and his orchestra were appearing at roof garden of the Southern Hotel in Baltimore. They played there every Summer. Dad told me a story about how he met and became friendly with Doc Marcus, a professional magician of that era. Doc was a serious student of magic and he and his lovely assistant performed nightly to the accompaniment of Dad's orchestra. My father told me that the act wasn't very good and the band was bored stiff watching the deadly performance several times every night. Finally, to break the monotony, Dad decided to play a practical joke on the unsuspecting magician. One of the tricks in Doc's repertoire was the production of doves from midair. While Doc ran around the dance floor waving a butterfly net, the band would play "Tiptoe through The Tulips." With a broad sweep of his arm, Doc would swing the net in a wide arc. Then, as he pushed a stud in the handle of the net, a flurry of white feathers could be seen protruding from the other end, supposedly a dove. When the net struck the top of the cage held by his assistant, the feathers were retracted into the handle as Doc's assistant simultaneously released a white dove from a trap in the bottom of the cage. Night after night, the band suffered through the act. So did a large percentage of the audience, who were "regulars." Finally, Dad couldn't stand it any longer. He bribed Doc's assistant with a five dollar bill NOT to open the trap and release the bird.
The next night, when it came time for the appearing dove trick, Doc began to run around the stage, waving his net. "There's one," the band and the regulars shouted. Doc swung the net. The white feathers appeared and Doc emptied his "catch" in the top of the cage, but nothing happened. The dove wasn't there. Doc's eyes widened. He glared at his assistant and began to run around the stage again. The band, and this time, the entire audience screamed, "There's one Doc!" The ever-panicking magician swung the net again. The feathers flashed into view. Again, he brought the net down on top of the cage, but, the bird wasn't there. The audience was in hysterics. They were rolling in the aisles. The band was laughing so hard, no one was playing. The girl quickly vanished and so did Doc. Later, my Dad went into the dressing room to get Doc's assistant off the hook. The despondent magician was bent over the dressing table, crying. He was furious. The nasty prank had ruined his performance. Dad tried to console him and began to apologize. When Doc finally composed himself, my father pointed out that he had never heard such a fantastic audience response to anything Doc had previously done. The audience loved it. Dad suggested that he continue doing the trick that way. The bottom line? Doc
Marcus went on to become a popular comedy magician. Years later, my father took me to see him perform at a popular Baltimore nightclub. Nothing in the act worked the way it was supposed to. Comedy was King and Doc never did another serious trick in his life. I don't know what ever became of him, but I seem to remember hearing that he was badly burned in the disastrous "Coconut Grove" fire. Incidentally, I met another famous comedian that night, Bud Abbott. He was there to catch Doc's act. Abbott and Costello had split and Bud was looking for a new partner. Doc was short, on the portly side and clearly a good replacement as far as appearance was concerned. Unfortunately for Doc, they never got together.
That little story brings to mind the first time I met Jimmy Grippo, the legendary hypnotist and magician. After years of entertaining high rollers at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, Jimmy recently passed away. He was in his nineties. I saw Jimmy many years ago at a Miami nightclub. He was doing hypnosis and cards and was very entertaining. He fooled the living daylights out of me. I sent the waiter to his dressing room after the show and invited him to have a drink. Jimmy later came over and sat down. He asked me if I was interested in magic? I told them that I was, but I never expected his next remark. "Then prove it," he said. He handed me a pack of cards and asked me to show him something. He later told me that he often did this to determine at what level the conversation should take place. In other words, if I was a heavyweight, that would dictate an "in" conversation. If not, than he would be sociable, but stay away from the "real work." I took the deck and began to show Jimmy a trick. I was so intent on establishing myself I forgot what the effect was and proceeded to do every sleight I could think of. Jimmy was very sociable that night.
As I sit here in my office at home, writing this account of my early years in magic, the date is March 9, l992. I can't believe how indelibly etched into my memory these events are. I can see the rooms. The people. I hear the noises, the laughter and the sound of that window shade and the crackling metallic noise emanating from the storage cabinet in the basement. What makes it all the more remarkable is the fact that I can't remember what I did yesterday.
In 1950, I was drafted into the United States Army. The Korean War was heating up and my parents were quite concerned. My father's nephew had been killed during World War II and the memory still haunted my mother and father. I can still remember the night they told my aunt. My father's brother and his family lived in Crew, Virginia. A small rural farming town about an 8-hour drive from Baltimore. My brother and I were upstairs sleeping. Suddenly, I heard the door bell ring. My father must have answered it, because I heard a woman scream. It was my aunt Minnie. I later found out that my Uncle had received the telegram from the War Department informing him that their son, Warren had been killed in action during the Italian campaign. Afraid to tell his wife, he had secretly phoned my Dad and concocted a story to lure her to Baltimore where she would be surrounded by caring relatives. Uncle Harry had told her that my Dad was gravely ill. When my father answered the door, my aunt immediately knew something was wrong. I'll never forget that night.
I'll also never forget the day I arrived at the Army Reception Center at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. During my first few days in the Army, we were subjected to a battery of tests to determine what aptitudes we possessed. I listed my skills as public relations and magic, hoping to be assigned to Special Services or recruiting. It was the dead of Winter and snow covered the ground. Everywhere you'd look, new recruits were drilling. Hupt...two...three...four! America's best were marching through the mud and slush, shivering down to their boots as they began the arduous task of becoming disciplined fighting machines. Fortunately, I was not with them.
The non-coms (Corporals and Sergeants) had discovered my magical talents. I was warm as toast, sitting in front of a heater showing my new-found admirers every card trick I could remember. The next morning the First Sergeant called me in and told me that my presence was requested at Second Army Headquarters. I put on my Class A uniform and stood outside the barracks waiting for a staff car to pick me up. I was sweating bullets. One week in the Army and I was in trouble already. What did they want to see me about? The car pulled up to the Second Army Headquarters building and I went inside.
Within minutes, I was ushered into the office of a full bird. That's army lingo for Colonel. He glanced at me as I snapped to attention and told me to shut the door. "Private Becker," he hissed. The sweat began to roll down my forehead. "Private Becker, I understand you're pretty good with a deck of cards," he said. I blinked and mumbled something about knowing a few tricks. He impatiently responded, "Well, you'd better damn sight be good, I'm a busy man!" I couldn't believe my ears. He opened a drawer and removed a deck of cards which he then tossed across the desk to me. To make a long story short, when my hands stopped shaking, I did one hour of card tricks. The Colonel thanked me, said I was pretty good and dismissed me. I returned to the Barracks to find a rumor running rampant that we were all slated to be shipped to the Tank Corps at Fort Knox, Kentucky. I didn't sleep too well that night. All I could think of was a tin can full of sardines.
Sure enough, within a matter of days the orders were posted. As my eyes searched the list, I couldn't find my name. I checked with the Sergeant and he informed me that I was a very lucky young man. I'd been assigned to the 168th Military Police Battalion at Fort Meade, just one hour from home. Who said there's no such thing as magic! Obviously, all those hours I had spent learning card tricks had paid off.
During basic training I was requested to perform at the Officers Club. We were restricted to the camp and I had given away every trick I ever owned. For some reason, prior to being drafted I had a premonition that I wouldn't make it. Deciding that I wouldn't need a trunk load of magic tricks where I was going, I gave it all to "Fess" Marks, the nickname for Professor Ernie Marks, a physical education instructor at Baltimore City College, my alma mater. Fess Marks was the guiding force behind The Pyramid Club, an organization for aspiring young magicians. I knew he would put my cherished possessions to good use. Unfortunately, I had been a little premature. Where would I get the props to perform at the Officers' Club?
I spotted the cord on the venetian blinds in the Officers' Club. One snip and I was set to perform the cut and restored rope trick. A deck of cards, two G.I. ties, two handkerchiefs, a couple of paper bags and the act was set. I spent the rest of my tour at Fort Meade and the maneuvers at Southern Pines, North Carolina split between performing with Special Services and my duties as a Military Policeman. A year later I was transferred to the 2301-4 Military Police Company in Baltimore, Maryland. I truly enjoyed working with the apprehension and investigation division. It opened a world I had never seen before and gave me a healthy respect for law enforcement. Our desk was located in Central Police Station in downtown Baltimore.
By the time my two year hitch was coming to an end, I had just about made the decision to make law enforcement a career. The Army wanted me to attend the Criminal Investigation Division school at Camp Gordon, Georgia. I also had expressions of interest from the Naval Training Center in Bainbridge, Maryland and the Baltimore City Police Department. All this resulted from the contacts I made while assisting Major Wolford, the Provost Marshal, in connection with his participation on the Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board. In the end, I decided to return to civilian life, bowing to the pressures of well-meaning relatives and the new-found responsibilities of my first of three marriages.
Before I left my military career behind, the Commanding Officer of the Maryland Military District announced his retirement. His staff whipped together a Bon Voyage party. The entertainment was yours truly. It was 1953 and I had just turned the corner from magic into mentalism. On the day of the party, armed with my trusty Nelson Clipboard, I visited several officers including our retiring Commanding Officer. There were four sections on the sheet of paper clipped to the board. Each section was separated by perforations. I saved the Colonel for last. When I explained what I wanted him to do, Colonel Shreve asked me to step outside while he wrote his question. After a minute or two, the Colonel called me in and handed me the clipboard. There was a funny glint in his steely eyes and a slight, twisted smile forming at the corners of his mouth. I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
After opening the clipboard and removing the carbon impression sheet, my worst fears were confirmed. The top three impressions were perfect, however, there was nothing in the space reserved for Colonel Shreve's question. I tried everything I could think of including sending the sheet of paper to the crime lab at the Baltimore City Police Department. I asked them to check the blank space for a latent writing, just in case the Colonel wrote his question without sufficient pressure to create a carbon impression. The lab reported that there was nothing in the blank space. I
went ahead with the performance, which was very well received. When it was over, Colonel Shreve was making his way through the crowd. He was heading straight for me. I didn't know what to say. The Colonel smiled and thrust his hand forward. "Congratulations Becker, that was a marvelous performance." He was smiling broadly. "How come you didn't answer my question?" the Colonel asked. I mumbled something about time constraints and too many conflicting thoughts. The Colonel laughingly responded, "Good, I'm glad it wasn't because I took the paper off that funny looking clipboard before I wrote my question." With that, he turned and strode back into the crowd. Even then I was beginning to realize that mentalism wasn't an exact science.
I first began publishing my magic and mental effects in the late fifties. Most efforts appeared in Genii magazine as a series entitled, "Annemental." I had just obtained a complete file of Annemann's "Jinx," and was well on my way to becoming a lifelong admirer of Ted's philosophy and clever thinking. It wasn't until 1977 that I finally decided to take the plunge and publish some of my best creative efforts. The book was called, "Larry Becker's World of Super Mentalism." To be perfectly honest, it didn't exactly set the world on fire. Sales were agonizingly slow and I was beginning to wonder how I was going to get rid of the several hundred copies sitting in my closet. One day, I got a call from Scotty York, the well known close-up magician. Apparently, Scotty had obtained a copy of the book from my good friend, Al Cohen, of Al's Magic Shop in Washington, D.C. Scotty said the book was terrific. He suggested that I send copies to some of the big guns in magic with a letter asking them to spread the word if they liked the material. I don't know if that's what turned the tide, but something did! Suddenly the book began to sell. Within a short time, my supply was gone. I later sold the publishing rights to Tannen's, which in turn, sold it to D. Robbins and Company.
In 1979, using left over material, I published a second book entitled, "Larry Becker's World of Super Mentalism, Volume Two." This was followed by "Mentalism for Magicians," a compilation of effects selected from several of my lecture notes and published by Jeff Busby. The books sold extremely well, and quickly. Ten years later, in 1989, I gave permission to Sam Gringras, in New York, to republished Volume Two. You are now reading my fourth and final literary effort.
For the past fifteen years I have concentrated primarily on performing and lecturing to magicians the world over. In May and June 1989, I embarked on a six week tour of England and Europe. Dr. Jean Yves Prost of Lyon, France arranged the tour and subsequently scheduled twenty-five lectures in six countries. Harry Lorayne, was kind enough to make the initial contact for me with Dr.Prost. When I returned to the States after completing the tour, I wrote to Harry and described several of the incidents that occurred during the trip. Here's an excerpt from my letter, which Harry subsequently printed in his marvelous publication, "Apocalypse."
"I had an upsetting experience in Nice, France. I had just arrived after spending a sleepless night on the train from Rome. I had to change trains to get to Grenoble after completing six lectures in Italy. When I got off the train, I was weighed down with six suitcases. Unfortunately I didn't have a 10-franc coin, so I couldn't use a trolly to transport the bags from the train to the concourse, four tracks and a tunnel away. I felt like I was in the first stages of coronary arrest. Suddenly, I felt the small metal luggage cart that I had picked up in Rome, slip from grasp and careen down a steep flight of steps, sending my luggage flying through the air and the cart crashing into a brick wall. I piled the remains of the cart respectfully in a corner and made my way to the steps leading up to the main concourse. I struggled up the steps and gasping for breath, dropped the six cases in a heap.
After catching my breath, I glanced around, looking for a currency exchange. There was none in sight. Suddenly, I spotted the baggage room at the other end of the station. I couldn't carry the six cases one more step, so I left two of the heaviest ones sitting next to a woman with several small children, figuring that the bags would pass for hers. I carried the remaining four suitcases to the baggage room. I yelled to the attendants, "Please watch my luggage, I've got to go back and get two more!" When I returned moments later, I found one case was missing. It was a metal camera case containing all of the apparatus used during the lecture. It was irreplaceable. I screamed at the attendants, why didn't they watch my luggage? You guessed it! They didn't speak a word of English. The case was GONE, and I wanted to die on the spot.
It appeared that the tour was over after just six lectures. The only thing I could do was cancel the remaining nineteen engagements and head back to the States. Tears were streaming down my cheeks. I sat despondently on a suitcase in the middle of the concourse, my head buried between my hands. I prayed. Suddenly, several plainclothes detectives appeared. I tried to explain what had happened, but they didn't seem to understand English any better than the baggage room attendants. They finally indicated they wanted me to wait. Just as quickly as they appeared, they vanished into the crowd. Thirty minutes later they returned to tell me they needed someone who spoke English to enable them to better question me. They motioned for me to follow them to the Travel Bureau located next door to the train station. I asked them to first check my remaining luggage.
As we stood in the Travel Bureau, waiting for the young lady behind the counter to get off the phone, out of the corner of my eye I noticed one of the detectives peering intently out of the window. Suddenly he shouted something to the other two officers and all three drew their revolvers and ran out the door. I followed them. They had a man pinned to the wall. One held a pistol to the fellow's head as his companions snapped handcuffs on their quarry. We all marched back into the building. To make a long story short, after interrogating the man for several minutes, one of the detectives informed me in fractured English, that the felon had confessed. My missing case was in his hotel room across the street. Within thirty minutes it was returned with almost everything intact. I did discover approximately $300 in cash missing, but further interrogation revealed the money to be hidden under an ashtray in the thief's hotel room. Miracle of miracles, my prayers had been answered. The tour was on again.
The trip was absolutely exhausting. It was something I should have done when I was twenty-five years old, not sixty. Some of the jumps between lectures were beyond human endurance. Many were made by train or boat and to make some of the deadlines, I even had to fly, at my own expense. There just wasn't enough time allowed to use the trains, a relatively inexpensive mode of travel. Often, I would arrive at my destination after a six or seven hour train ride to find that I only had a couple of hours to rest and prepare for my lecture. The accommodations also ran the gamut from adequate to horrendous. In London, my hotel room overlooked a war zone of screaming drunks, bar fights, punks and all-night bedlam. It also overlooked having a bathroom or anything else resembling suitable living conditions. Of course, there many wonderful moments too. The Italian portion of the tour was unforgettable. In Rome, Tony Binarelli was a magnificent host. In fact, April met me in Nice following the tour and after a stopover in Monaco, we returned to Rome for a two week vacation. Believe me, by then I sorely needed it. The tour had taken me to Spain, France, Belgium, England, Scotland, Italy and Germany. I won't bore you with any more stories about the trip. I'll simply state that notwithstanding the wear and tear, I'd do it again in a minute. It was the experience of a lifetime.
In 1990, accompanied by my wife, we journeyed to the far East. I lectured in Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo. In Tokyo, Ton Onasaka was kind enough to arrange an appearance on Japanese television. Marvin and Carol Roy were the only other Americans on the show. After many years I finally had the opportunity to get to know these two marvelous performers a little better. Without a doubt, they are the personification of professionalism. Later, I had occasion to spend some time with Marvin while we were both appearing at the International Brotherhood of Magicians convention in my old hometown of Baltimore, in June 1991. Marvin and I were seated in the balcony at one of the stage shows. I had just been told several weeks earlier that I had Prostate Cancer and the operation was scheduled to take place upon my return to Arizona, following the convention. Marvin knew of my concern. His words of encouragement were much needed reinforcement to my decision to go under the knife. The first phone call I received after they wheeled me into my hospital room after the surgery was from Marvin. There are no nicer people in the world than magicians.
I have enjoyed my years as a mentalist, no end. Someone once said to me that mentalism is the highest, most sophisticated and subtle form of magic. I wholeheartedly agree. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than creating and performing a mental effect. The audience reaction to mentalism well done, is very strong. Fortunately since I first became interested in this branch of the magical arts, I've been very prolific. All of my favorites are between the covers of this book, including the one effect that is most commonly associated with me, Russian Roulette.
I sincerely hope that you enjoy this collection of effects. It represents my best work and I am proud of every effect in this book. For the benefit of those of you who are not members of the Psychic Entertainers Association, interspersed throughout the book are some excerpts from an interview I did with Bob Bluemle for publication in "Vibrations," the P.E.A's monthly newsletter. They may reveal some of my philosophy and opinions concerning mentalism.
In closing, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a former assistant. My beautiful wife, April has been by my side for the past seventeen years. Even though she detests being on stage, she buried her stagefright and worked in the act for many years. These days she sits in the audience, but her spirit is in my heart. Her quiet words of encouragement. Her patience and understanding. Her honesty. She's the sunshine of my life, the real star of the family and every magician in the world who knows her is madly in love with her. Eat your hearts out guys. She's my lady.
As I begin the final chapter of my life, I'm the happiest man in the world. I've had close to fifty years of wonderful memories of my life in the world of magic and mentalism. I have a legion of friends around the world. A loving family including three beautiful daughters and two grandchildren who make me so proud, it's difficult to keep my eyes dry. There are so many untold stories, but I know how anxious you are to delve into the mysteries of my mind.
So, thank you dear reader for giving me a few pages of your attention and for sharing some of my recollections of a fifty year love affair that'll last for eternity.
In "Mentalism For Magicians," I published an effect entitled, "Monte Inferno." Over the years, I have honed and refined the presentation even further. When you compare the two, you'll see just how much more mystifying and entertaining "Monte Crispo" can be.
The performer explains that to save time, just before showtime, a member of the audience agreed to loan him a $20 bill after marking it for identification. The mentalist invites the gentleman to come forward and bring his marked $20 bill with him. The spectator removes the bill from his wallet and confirms that the initials are his. The performer notes that the spectator appears to be a little nervous. He asks whether or not the spectator has ever heard of Lloyds of London. The performer explains that he couldn't afford Lloyd's premiums, so he took out a policy with "BOYDS (pause) OF BANGKOK." The audience laughs as the performer produces an insurance policy in a clear acetate envelope. "There's nothing to worry about as long as you're covered by Boyds," the performer states, as he places the policy under the spectator's arm.
The performer displays three envelopes explaining that two contain folded slips of paper and one is empty and unsealed. The $20 bill is folded in thirds by the mentalist and placed in the unsealed envelope. When the envelope has been sealed, all three envelopes are handed to the spectator with instructions to thoroughly mix them and then number them with a marking pen, "1" thru "3."
The performer now invites someone in the audience to call out any one of the three numbers, for example, "2." The envelope bearing that number is then handed to the mentalist. The flame from a lighter is applied to the remaining two envelopes by the spectator. As the envelopes burn, the performer patters, "Keep the faith. If things don't work out, don't blame me, blame that person over there who called out the number 2!"
"I've attempted this demonstration over 250 times and never once have I suffered a mishap!" the performer states, as he opens the remaining envelope and peers inside. "Till tonight," the performer continues, as a look of shock and dismay crosses his face. "I'm terribly sorry," he states. Slowly he removes a folded slip of paper from the envelope. Naturally, the audience is laughing at the discomfort of the spectator whose twenty dollar bill has become a burnt offering. "Wait a minute," the performer exclaims, "there's something written on the paper, it's probably an I.O.U." The folded slip of paper is handed to the spectator to read aloud. The message printed on the slip is as follows: "Read the small print."
The performer looks puzzled and exclaims, "Wait a minute, there's a lot of small print in an insurance policy. You'd better check out the policy from Boyds." The spectator removes the insurance policy from under his arm and slides it from the plastic sleeve. Opening the policy, the spectator finds a pocket containing a folded twenty dollar bill! The performer asks the spectator to remove and unfold the bill. "Are those your initials on Andrew Jackson's forehead?" the performer asks. "Absolutely," replies the spectator. The performer acknowledges the audience's applause.
This routine is a variation of the well known "Just Chance" or "Bank Night" routines. However, the effect's impact and entertainment value far exceed the simple means used to bring it about. Unlike the original, "Monte Inferno," this effect climaxes with the mysterious appearance of the borrowed bill inside an insurance policy folder, even though the policy is placed under the spectator's arm before the bill is inserted into one of three envelopes.
As in the original, the burning of two of the envelopes enables you to use all the bits of business associated with routines of this type. Two that I can highly recommend are Terry Seabrooke's Bill in Envelope and Joe Riding's Bill in Orange.
You'll need three letter size, self-sealing, opaque white security envelopes. Two are sealed after placing folded 3" x 5" index cards in them upon which you've printed the phrase, "Read The Small Print." The flap of third envelope is marked with a small pencil dot or by using any other marking method that you prefer. You also prepare and insert a folded "small print" message card worded as noted above, in this envelope, but leave it unsealed. In addition, you'll need a metal plate or strainer with a small hole cut out of its center to permit anything placed inside to burn, a felt tipped pen, a cigarette lighter and a "Boyds of Bangkok" insurance policy.
I made mine using the clear acetate envelope from one of my insurance policies. Then, I purchased a 9" x 12" brown leatherette "Duotang" folder from a local office supply store and cut it down to just fit inside the acetate envelope. I cut it from the lower left hand corner of the closed folder retaining the folded edges along the spine and bottom. After opening the folder flat, I glued the outside edges of the two interior pockets. To finish it off, I decorated the front panel with the wording "Insurance Policy," followed by a gold foil notary seal and the name, "Boyds Of Bangkok," applied with rub-down transfer lettering such as Letraset.
Before your show, approach a friendly looking spectator and introduce yourself as the featured entertainer for the evening. Usually, I'll have someone in authority accompany me, so the spectator knows everything is on the up and up. I ask the spectator if he has a $20 bill in his wallet and if he's willing to loan it to me during the show? I explain that it'll help save some time, especially since an initialled banknote is required. As soon as he's removed the bill from his wallet, I take it and ask him what his initials are. When he tells me, I print them on Andrew Jackson's forehead after which I return the bill and thank the spectator, informing him that I'll call upon him during the show.
As soon as you're alone, match the condition of the spectator's bill as closely as possible (worn, medium or practically new) using one of several twenty dollar bills you have previously accumulated in your wallet for this purpose. Duplicate the spectator's initials on this bill, matching the printing on the other bill as closely as possible. Fold it in thirds and place it in the right hand pocket of the insurance policy, leaving half of the bill protruding. Insert the policy back in its acetate sleeve and place it in your inside jacket pocket.
The routine is performed as outlined under the description of the "effect." In other words, when the spectator comes forward, have him remove and identify his $20 bill which has been initialled for identification purposes. Ask him if the initials on the bill are his? It's this bold use of a double entendre that enables you to really baffle your audience. Everyone will assume that the spectator initialled the bill. Fold the bill in thirds and pick up the stack of three envelopes, holding them in the left hand with the unsealed envelope on top. Insert the folded bill into the envelope directly behind the folded message card. Seal the envelope and immediately hand all three envelopes and the pen to the spectator who loaned you the twenty dollar bill.
Have the spectator thoroughly mix the envelopes and number them "1", "2", and
"3" on the address side, printing one number boldly on each envelope.
Have anyone in the audience call out one of the three numbers. We'll suppose, for example, that the number "two" is called. Have the spectator hand you the envelope that he numbered, "2".
Look at the flap side of the envelope as you display the number side to the audience. If there's no secret mark, take out your lighter and have someone hold the plate. Set the envelope on fire and drop it on the plate.
If envelope number "2" is the marked envelope, place it in full view in the outer breast pocket of your jacket, leaving half the envelope exposed. Ask tahe spectator to hold the plate, take the remaining two envelopes and burn them.
Let's assume the envelope that was numbered, "2" wasn't marked and was put to the torch. As the envelope is burning, look at the spectator who loaned you the twenty dollar bill and use Terry Seabrooke's gag about blaming the person who called out the number "2". The spectator will still be holding two envelopes, including the one that's marked. Ask the spectator to give you one of the envelopes that he's holding. (You must stress the word "give.") If the envelope he hands you is NOT the marked envelope, then burn it in the same manner as the first envelope. If it is the marked envelope, ask the spectator, "Did you give me this envelope?" When he replies that he did, you say, "Thank You," and place it in your outer breast pocket, leaving half of it exposed. This will get a chuckle. Now burn the remaining envelope.
This subtle use of the well-known Magician's Choice is perfectly natural in the way it's used in the routine. No matter what situation you're presented with, two of the three envelopes are destroyed and the marked envelope is always left for last.
Once the two envelopes have been burned, you proceed as previously described. Open the remaining envelope and bypass the twenty dollar bill inside while removing the folded card. Crumple up the envelope and pocket it or toss it in your case. Have the spectator read the message and direct him to the insurance policy. When he removes the twenty dollar bill, ask him if those are his initials on Andrew Jackson's forehead? Again, the double entendre comes into play as he replies in the affirmative. Believe me, your audience will be completely baffled as to how the marked bill could have possibly been transported inside an insurance policy that has been in full view under the spectator's arm before the twenty dollar bill was sealed in the envelope. "Monte Crispo" is pure entertainment from start to finish.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: SHRED A FEW TEARS OF JOY & SORROW
Tired of the smoke, mess and inconvenience of destroying bills and/or billets by fire, I sought a viable alternative that would also eliminate the hazard of setting off smoke alarms. While looking through a Hammacher Schlemmer catalog, I spotted an advertisement for an Office Paper Shredder. What a great substitute for torching banknotes, billets and envelopes, I thought. I immediately purchased one and embarked on one of the strangest misadventures I've ever experienced.
To begin, I had a special clear Lucite trash container fabricated to hold the compact paper shredding unit which was suspended across the top of the basket. The front three sides of the container were transparent, the rear panel and the bottom were fabricated from opaque, black Lucite. This enabled the audience to clearly see the white shredded envelope paper against the black background, even from a distance. I drilled a few holes in the bottom and fastened a flange to accommodate a folding chrome tripod table base.
To my knowledge, I was the first, and probably the only, mentalist to ever destroy envelopes and other assorted paper items by feeding them through a paper shredder. But that was just the beginning of the story. At the time I came up with this brainstorm, April and I were doing a "Psychic Gambling" act. In a moment of divine inspiration, I decided to have the paper shredder built into a large die. I promptly approached Bill Schmelk of Wellington Enterprises, a well known illusion builder in New York. He said that it would be no problem.
I told Bill that I wanted the cube to look like a black die with white spots. I also wanted two doors on the front of the cabinet that would open outward to reveal the paper shredder, which would slide out on rollers along two tracks. I laid out a pattern for a series of shelves in the back of the unit to house the props from our act. The cube would sit atop a chrome table base complete with castors. Bill asked me what size would I like the die cabinet. I thought for a second and replied, "Two feet square." That didn't sound too unwieldily.
Bill's company was quite busy at that time, building illusions for Doug Henning and Harry Blackstone, and my project took a back seat. But, several months later, I got a call from Bill to come see the finished product. I jumped in my Datsun 280ZX sports car and sped from New Jersey to New York in record time. I was so excited, the trip seemed to take an eternity instead of hours.
Bill ushered me into the shop and there it was in all its glory. A monstrously large black die that could very easily have been used as a prop in the B-movie, "Attack of the 50 foot Woman." I never realized how big a two foot square cube could be. I tried to lift it. Then I realized how heavy a two foot square cube could be. Bill had obviously used the strongest and heaviest wood to ensure the die would stand up against the rigors of travel and the wear and tear of performing. I figured a truss wouldn't add that much to the overall cost, but I did request that two holes be drilled in the sides of the unit to permit someone to pick it up without getting a hernia. In all fairness to Bill, I must say that the dimensions were mine and, after all, the cabinet was beautifully constructed with all the craftsmanship for which Wellington is famous.
Unfortunately, when we tried to put the cube in my hatchback, it wouldn't fit. I told Bill I would return in a few days with another vehicle and a crane. Bill wasn't amused. But, then again, I was the one who said 24 inches square.
I returned to New Jersey and told my wife the good news. April was ready to have me committed after hearing that I had spent $2,500 to build a prop that wouldn't fit in our car and required three longshoreman to lift it. The doghouse was very crowded for a few days, but before long I had the solution, I would purchase a brand new Buick stationwagon for a mere $20,000. I was sure the cube would fit in that. Excitedly, I phoned Bill and told him that I had purchased a larger vehicle. He suggested that I also needed a carrying case for the cube and the base to transport and protect them. I told him to make one up.
Several weeks later, I jumped in my new station wagon and headed for New York. Bill and his men triumphantly carried the new packing case out to my waiting car. It was humongous and wouldn't fit inside the new station wagon. Suicide seemed a very viable and attractive alternative at this point. Using my superior intelligence and ingenuity we unpacked the case and the cube slid smoothly into the back of the station wagon. Eureka! Now all we had to do was lash the carrying case to the roof of the wagon. Off I went, tears streaming silently down my flushed cheeks. I now had a 2000 pound cube (or so it seemed) and a brand new monster laundry cart to carry it in.
The human mind is a marvelous instrument. Its ability to block out horrendous events in our lives is nothing short of miraculous. For years, every opportunity that I had, I asked if anyone was interested in purchasing a beautifully crafted, one of a kind, two foot square black die with a built-in paper shredder. I got a few quizzical glances, but no takers. In time, I even offered to pay people if they would take this monster box off my hands. Danny Tong finally offered to do so provided I brought it to his house. Ignoring Danny's sadistic tongue in cheek humor, I agreed to do so. "What are you going to use it for?" I inquired softly. "I just want the chrome base," Danny replied. "Nothing doing," my wife screamed. "That damn black box is going everywhere we go from now on. I want it to serve as an eternal reminder of my husband's genius."
Well, we eventually moved from Florida to Arizona. If you ever happen to stop in for a visit, don't ask what's in the large laundry cart in the corner of the garage. I've been known to become extremely violent when aroused.
I've even spoken to Father McClain at the Episcopal Church we attend as to whether or not the niches in the Memorial Garden behind the church which house the cremated remains of parishioners could be expanded to 24 inches square. He just shook his head and wandered away muttering something under his breath.
You don't have to be crazy to be a mentalist or magician, but if you ask my wife
April, I'm sure she'll tell you that it definitely helps. When my fellow members of the "also legendary" Arizona mentalists group, the "Six and One Half' read the draft of this particular effect they were amazed that I would publicly admit my participation in such an absurd sequence of events. I guess I just wanted to let everyone know that no one is immune from the insanity that surrounds the addiction we love so fervently. Even the rich (ha!) and famous (ha! ha!) have feet of clay.
Many years ago, I marketed this effect with an attractive leather case and the necessary cards, preprinted with numbered lines, ready for the spectator to fill in as described below. It was the very first mental effect that I showed to April the afternoon that I met her. Now, seventeen years later, I'm including it as a tribute to the greatest wife and partner in this or any other universe. She's the light of my life.
I originally discovered the mathematical principle employed, in a book by Will Dexter. I believe it was presented as a lightning addition effect. I think you'll agree after reading through my version, that the mathematical principle employed has been well hidden. Even though it's quite easy to do, your audience will be completely baffled by this inexplicable mystery. If you don't believe me, just ask April.
The performer opens a leather case and removes a card containing ten lines numbered 1 through 10. The card and a pen are handed to a spectator who is given the following instructions. While the performer is turned away, the spectator is requested to place his name or initials at the top of the card. Then he is told to perform the following actions:
1. Print any single digit number on line number 1.
2. On line number 2, enter any other single digit number.
3. Add the digits on lines 1 and 2 together and enter the total on line number 3.
4. Add lines 2 and 3 together and enter the total on line number 4.
5. Add lines 3 and 4 together and print the total on line number 5.
6. Add lines 4 and 5 together and enter the total on line number 6. 7 Add lines 5 and 6 together and enter the total on line number 7.
8. Add lines 6 and 7 together and print the total on line number 8.
9. Add lines 7 and 8 together and enter the total on line number 9.
10. Add lines 8 and 9 together and print the total on line number 10.
Be sure you repeat the instructions, step-by-step, to the spectator. It's extremely important that he enter his numbers in the correct manner, or you'll be wasting quite a bit of time, including your own. So go out of your way to make everything perfectly clear. Two things can ruin this effect in the blink of an eye: Not entering the numbers correctly and/or a mistake in the final addition.
The performer removes a blank card from the case and slides it beneath same. The case is opened and the spectator's card is now inserted, number side down, in one of the two pockets in the case. The case is closed and turned over, bringing the blank card into view. The performer now writes something on the card and tosses it writing side down on the table. At this point, the case is opened and the spectator's card is removed and handed to the spectator along with a pocket calculator. The spectator is requested to add the 10 numbers on the card together and announce the total aloud, for example, 1056. Now the performer's card is turned over and it is seen that the miracle worker has correctly predicted the sum total of the 10 numbers entered by the spectator.
You'll need an business card case similar to the one depicted on the title page for this effect. These are sold in leather goods and/or office supply stores. They are available in either vinyl or leather. When open, the case should have an opaque pocket on one side and a clear acetate window pocket on the other.
On the back of one of your business cards, write the numbers 1 through 10 in a vertical column and draw a line next to each digit for a spectator entry later.
To gimmick the case, make a tracing paper overlay of the card and draw a rectangle around space #7. Place the tracing paper on the side of the card case that backs up to the opaque pocket. Use a ballpoint pen to trace over the rectangle drawn, bearing down hard enough to leave an impression on the surface. Insert a piece of metal or other hard surface into the pocket to prevent cutting all the way through the case and, using a sharp exacto knife, cut out the rectangle. In short, you cut a window in the side of the case which is the rear panel of opaque pocket.
Insert the numbered card into the opaque pocket, number side down. If the window has been cut properly, line #7 should be showing through the window. By always placing your business cards in the pockets aligned in the same direction, you'll never have a problem with getting the card upside down.
To complete the advance preparation, place one of the unnumbered cards in the same pocket, on top of the numbered card. You'll also need a pen or pencil. To facilitate the final addition by the spectator, it's also advisable to have a small pocket calculator handy. To number more of the cards, just slide a blank business card into the opaque pocket and, using the top and bottom edges of the window as a rule, draw two straight lines on the card. Pull the card out of the pocket and draw more straight lines (5 above and 4 below the first pair) to make the column, then number the lines 1 through 10.
As you are beginning to suspect, the number that appears on line #7 is all the information that you'll need to determine the sum of all ten numbers.
In the above example, simply place a "0" behind the number on line #7 (96) converting it to 960. Naturally, you'll be doing this bit of arithmetic on the blank card, so don't panic. Now, add the original number, 96, to 960 and the total will be 1056, the sum total of all ten numbers. That's all there is to it, but believe me, your audience will be completely baffled at the conclusion of this fine effect.
Follow the effect as previously described. Open the case and remove the printed card from the opaque pocket and hand it to the spectator. Be sure you don't flash the secret window side of the case. The opening is small enough to hide beneath the middle finger of the left hand. As you turn your back and give the spectator his instructions, open the case and remove the blank card, placing it beneath the closed case where it will hide the secret window.
When the spectator has completed filling in the ten lines, have him place the card, number side down on the table. Open the case. Pick up the spectator's card and insert it in the left hand pocket, making sure the card is aligned in the same direction as the other cards in the clear pocket. This will make sure the 7th line appears in the secret window.
Turn over the case so that the blank card is uppermost. Retrieve the pen or pencil and hold the case tilted upward so the spectator can't see what you're writing on the card. Turn the card so that it is in a horizontal position. You can now see line #7
showing through the window in the case. Do your calculations as previously explained, small and toward the upper portion of the card. Then as soon as you have determined the sum of the ten numbers, cross out the calculations as if you made a mistake. This gets rid of the incriminating evidence.
Write the total in large print across the card. Turn the case window side down and open it. Remove the printed card and hand it to the spectator along with a calculator and ask him to total the ten numbers on the card. Finish as previously described.
Lee Earle suggests that you can use a case with two clear pockets if you also use one of those credit-card sized calculators. Place it in the left hand (window) pocket. In performance, slide the face down numbered card beneath the calculator and continue as described above. When you need the calculator, fold the case back upon itself, so the back of the business card side is behind the secret window side. Withdraw both the calculator and the card bearing the spectator's numbers. The window will be invisible due to the case of the same color behind it. To be extra sure, you can raise the front edge of the folded-over case, tipping the window out of view, as you pull the calculator and card out. All attention will be on the calculator and the column of digits anyway.
ant is it to perform only effects that you you've spent the better part of 15 years performing and lecturing for magicians, it's very important to me, it's n
. Excerpt from Vibrations interview with Robert L. Bluemle my stock in trade; the critical point of difference between myself and other performers. However, when you're performing for a lay audience, who cares where you got the material as long as you didn't swipe it from someone else and it works for you.
I've found that using your own material generally makes performing more natural. You created it. You massaged it. You mastered it. It's yours. Your baby. Generally, you'll do it more justice than when you use effects created and possibly identified with other performers. But, of course, not all of us have the ability to create new effects or revamp old ones. Those folks truly have little choice but to avail themselves of whatever material they can lay their hands on, no matter who created it.
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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.