Tricks Of Trade

Ma«ic acts pret:y much in the discard several years ago, seem to some extent, to be in for a revival, particularly in niteries. When well presented the black art always ranks as good entertainment, and la popular with audience«, but there are a number of obstacles to widespread popularity at present. Not the least , of these is the scarcity ol good performers, but this has always been "m casein this field. »

Magicians are usually their own , worst enemies. They don't seem to i realise that what people want is entertainment, not tricks which are all. right to fool magicians with. In • most cases the old standbys are good r «nough and it's not what tricks are ' done but how they are presented. Other factors contributing to the, scarcity of good magicians are agents I; ¡and dealers in magical supply i houses, who are responsible fur the \ copy acts, and finally the public it- " •elf. From the standpoint of showmanship there are very few magic acts which .come up to modern standards.' £

Magical acts fall into, a, tew cate- t gories, the full evening length show. ■ which is practically extinct, 4he full, Mage illusion act, also nearly dead, the large number of talkative tricksters, pantomime workers, close up : acta, and finally those who play only \ club dates. The only ones which | count for much today are the' floor show workers and the intimate . workers as there are so few places j full stage magic acts can play. Also it would be hard to name 10 magic | acts which play on a full stage in the i United States today. j

Magicians are a peculiar species. As a group they are highly clannish. Usually the .practising, .of .effects re- | suits in their becoming enraptured: with their own proficiency and they drift off into a dream world in which 'the trick'* the thing' rather than the ' cash audience. Many pf ihem spend their time creating effects which will fool the other magics and which is known as magician's magic. From show business point of view this ■it sheer waste of time. Like the proverbial absent-minded professor they are lost to the world in the depths of their own researches. Chief research man in the business is probably Dai Vernon, who practically refuses any work but private engagements as it might interfere with his practise. His wife even calls him the 'professor.' it is generally conceded however by those in yie know that Vernon's technique, useless as much of it may be commercially, is tops in the field. Presently Vernon is working on an act which has befn bdbked unseen on his reputation, and while there is no use predicting whether it will be good or bad, it may be confidently stated that if he ever produces it it will be the best magic around and entirely original in its presentation.

This dream world which the rabbit snatchers live in explains in part why there are so few good ones. There are a lot of people with acts but the really good ones can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

The next point to be made is that few agents or managers can tell a good act from a bad one and they usually don't care. A magic act is a magic act and that's all there is to it It Alls a spot on the bill, pays 10% so why worry. The agents instead of being interpreters of public taste offer anything they can sell. The public being obliged to take what it gets, winds up willynilly by liking what they get. Not only don't the agents know, but the public doesn't know either. Anybody who pleases can get- by. although a good act will stand out People usually talk more about the magician on a program than any other act, even though they seldom can remember his name.

Even the magicians don't seem to be able to tell a good act from a bad One, or at least that's the impression given by their trade papers. The pages of any magical society's house organ carries reviews of the shows put .on by the various magicat societies at -their meetings throughout the country. According to these descriptions every act is a fine act. "Hiere is never a word of criticism expressed and these papers have the most hypocritical reviewers in print. It's not that the reviewers don't know better: they just don't dare express anything that smacks of criticism. Anyone who tried to write an honest piece about the average magic show wouldn't have a friend left the day after publication. It's just not done. Every act is 'a fine act:

The two outstanding performers pf rcccnt years in the magic field have undoubtedly been Fred Keating and Cardini. The former made the old bird trick famous arid it, in turn, made him famous as he became associated with it Keating j was primarily liked for his pres-! entation and amusing patter. Cardini. a brilliant pantomimist, made hi* ■ reputation with cards, cigarets ami I billiard balls and his unique style of showmanship.

Both of these acts were extensively copied, causing much intra-trade bitterness. Neither of these performers invented or originated the tricks with which they became associated, but what they did create was a style of performance. Keating used to say about one act which pretty much i duplicated his that the performer j might just as well use h;s pictuir in front of the house, as he used ' everything else, including the patter. It was said that he sent the performer his picture as a gesture of how he felt about it. Cardini h;.« been approached by amateurs after his performance say, 'I know > all about your act except this one } move. Will you teach me this?' [ Alike*

Among those who work In the ' Cardini style are Paul Duke, Fin- [ neran (Carlyle) Miaco (who, inci- , dentally, is a mute) and Tommy! Martin. The latter is not strictly in this classification, but does do cigaret ■ tricks. Martin, in turn, has suffered ! from copying in the following way: j

A feature of Martin's act was the j production of a real egg which ap- ' peared after a piece of paper wasf bounced on a fan and was transformed into the shape of an egg. This effect while not original with Martin and quite old, was nevertheless revived by him and he became associated with it. Immediately the dealers in magical supply houses began receiving orders for the egg tricfc, and many of the acts which work in this style have copied it.

The amateurs and semi-professionals catch every act as it comes along, see a trick they like and then go to the dealers for it. If the dealer can't supply it, he makes up something that will give the same effect and the result is the trick can't be protected and everybody does it, usually not nearly as well. Who is to blame is hard to say. The agent-hear about an act, think that cigaret >• er bouncing eggs is all there is tu magic, and refuse to book a performer who doesn't have those effects. When Keating was hot, the. same thing happened. Everybody hati to do the bird trick. So naturally, the boys go around to the dealers, bu> the effect and incorporate the material into their own acts.

One reason for the many imitations of magic acts is that the agents instead of promoting a fine act, often try to induce the act to take less money, to make it easier to sell, and if they fail in this, will book a similar act. As for selling effects, the dealers who are in the merchandising business, not the business of protecting acts, can't be blamed for selling the tricks. They simply satisfy whatever demand there is, or e\ e create the demand.

Copy acts will probably always go on in magic, and though it is a subject seldom touchcd on. outside the mystics' circles, it cause- a great deal of rancor. Perhaps it's because many magicians have little else 1«» talk about, but these are the facts. Before Keating left magic to turn actor and go in pictures, he was extremely bitter about his fellow artists, since there was hardly a magician in the country who wasn't performing the bird cage trick. Their answer was: 'Well, why not? He didn't invent it'

Supply Houses

The magical supply houses : r principally in New York, Bos1< i . Philadelphia, Chicago and on s'-i Coast. There are about a half do. it-in New York, but in recent ye.i> the most important one has bun Max Holden's. The Hornmiinn M;v shop, which is owned by Frank !)•>• crot and combines 40 other sh--:-including Martinka's. is the oliV: > in tradition and in length of y«.- !> established. Holden, however, had the most progressive business and conducts it with his wife's hi'.p.

Part of running such a supply house is to provide a clubhouse t«.j magicians where they gather on Saturday afternoons. Every Saturday, in any city where there is such a firm, the local magis gather to discuss shop and swap ideas and tricks. They seldom buy anything, but provide atmosphere by just hanging around. Mngis love to hang around In. Philadelphia they gaOier ^at ' 13th street cafeteria and stay there from one o'clock until dawn every night in the year. In New York i; -about twice a month until 2 or 3 a.ii>. in a w.k. 34th street restaurant, over a cup of coffee.

A new magic store wis opened this month in New York by U. F, (General) Grant, from Pittsfield. Mass. He has taken quarters on 42d street, on« block from Holden's. and now magis have two places to hang around. Store has lots of display space and magis have been discussing the question whether it would cut into Holden's business.

The old retailirtg axiom about the customer being always right is something new to the Holdens, who do a large mail order business and this will probably not be affected. But the local club spirit of Saturday afternoons may, especially since Grant has davenports and sofas for the magis to sit on and a friendlier atmosphere. Holden was the first store that ever installed chairs. Prior to that the customers always stood up for the entire afternoon. He once had i feud of several years' standing with A1 Baker, who conducted a shop for a time, but this was mended when the latter closed up several years back. Latter is one of the most popular club performers in the business today.

Dunninger'i Routine

One performer dissassociates himself from the rest of the. inagical^

1 tribe and practically has a clan of . his own. This is Joseph Dunninger. ' mentalist, whom Frances Rockefeller King books into many club engagements at fees reported to be very high. Some years ago he took out a full evening's length show which I is believed to have been backed par-j tially by Miss King and which ' dropped a pile of dough. It is Reported that he is voluntarily working off his indebtedness to her at present.

Dunninger, whose work is not much different from that of any other magi, sells himself with a noisy medicine show technique, and i gets across. He explains to his audi- * ences that he is proud of the fact | that he is not associated with any j * magicians' organizations, particu- i ' larly the Society of American Magi, cians, which he thinks is a rap.

To all practical purposes the So' ciety of American Magicians is in reality little more thar a lodge. It is well off financially. Outside of its meetings and its occasional shows, however, it doesn't accomplish much for the professional performer. Its rhief value is as a social and fraternal order and it has branches all over the country.

The ineptitude of the society for practical purposes was demonsti nted several years ago when it was unable to stop the exposure of tricks by Camel cigarettes, though it made! strenuous efforts to do so. It has i been mor* su :ees>ful w ith pictures and tries to fight every film containing exposures. Its members pledge themselves not to reveal any of the secrets, yet one of the most prominent went along on the Camel series and was mildly reprimanded but never expelled. Suit brought against Camels by Horace Goldin regarding exposure of his 'Sawing a Woman in Two' is still pending in the courts.

Peculiarly enough, amateurs headed the society for some time. Principal reason is that few professional magicians have the time or -the administrative ability to handle the job, and that the tendency would be to exploit the position for personal benefit. Present head of New York membership is Julien J. Proskauer, who conducts a big printing business. For many years it was under the presidency of Bernard M. L. Ernst an amateur, who became interested through handling Houdini's legal work and was a most successful administrator. The original founders were two New York physicians.

The Academy of the Art of Magic, formed last year, is the abracadabra world's so-called legion of Honor. It's an attempt on the part of a few magicians, mostly close-up workers, who wanted to go exclusive, as they resented to some extent being classed with all the amateurs in the S. A. M„

S. A. M. provides a lot of social fun, however, and every member certainly gets his money's worth for the dues paid.

Well, here they are. The most discussed, denounced, and damned articles regarding magic and magicians to make an appearance in many a moon.

All three of the reproduced articles were put together by the same writer, and made their bows in Variety, a weekly trade paper for theatrics and proffessional thespians» After the review of the Heckscher Theatre show came out, hell started to pop around the magical emporiums and the resultant language would have shucked a green cocoanut at forty paces.

Rumors flew like humming bird wings in a hurry and for a time it looked as though a lynching party was the only solution. So, as The Jinx is often wont to do, we are laying the whole thing out to air, and for all who care to read and make commenta Regardless of what you may have heard, these are the facts in the case, and my sible as to whether they are good or bad for magic and magicians, and your own definite reasons for the opinion.

The articles and reviews were written by a member of the s.a.ik, with a paid up card. He paid to see the shows reviewed as Variety does not have a oass. He is on the staff of Variety to review shows and write articles for the trade publication, when I talked to him about his views on what he v/rote, he defended them as unbiased and honest reviews from the practical and box office outlook. He cited the other vaude and theatre reviews contained in Variety and The Billboard by country scattered critics to show his criticisms were written with the same unbiased attitude. He stood on a critic1s right to review any show or performance where an admission fee is charged and anyone with the price may enter. He said that although the Heckscher show was a benefit performance, every performer reason for republish a concensus of opini Searchable & Indexed by Houdini Magic, Inc. © 2002 xt i ftfto J.W

Society of American Magicians Stages Its Annual Hocus-Pocns

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