Mandrake the Magician

Magic Apple’s Day of Lectures Review

Paul VigilYesterday, we attended the 7th Annual Magic Apple Day of Lectures at the beautiful Sportsman’s Lodge in Studio City, California.  This is our second year and came away – as we did last year – magically enriched and tired but a good kind of tired.

Mike Caveney took the first spot and presented his lecture on how he develops new effects.  He took the 50 magicians in attendance through the development of his Gypsy Thread using toilet paper.  We do not know if this is the proper name for the effect but you get the point.  Like the Gypsy Thread, the magician separates a length of toilet paper into convenient squares, hands them to members of the audience to prove they are both truly separate and ordinary.  They are gathered and then in a straightforward manner, Mr. Caveney restores the length to their former glorious ribbon of two-ply unity.

He took us from the moment inspiration hit – more than 30 years ago and not in a restroom – through the five versions he developed to perform this wonderful piece of theater.  It was a great chance to view the working of a magic genius.

Mr. Caveney showed his incredible impromptu linking coat hangers effect and explained the thinking behind his presentation and its development from years or demonstrating it for magicians at conventions around the world.  We loved the simplicity of the solution.

We could watch Mr. Caveney all day.   But it was time for lunch – part of the Day of Lectures package – and a fine lunch it was.  We dined on fresh turkey sandwiches, fresh fruit and a fresh Diet Coke overlooking the sun-drenched pool just outside the lecture hall.  We remembered to remove the decorative toothpick before eating the sandwich this year – demonstrating that pain can be an excellent teacher.

Next up was a magician we had never seen perform.  That does not make him bad – we haven’t seen many magicians but sometimes, especially after we have eaten and relaxed poolside in a glamorous Los Angeles area, we want comfort.  We want to see familiar things.  In that way, we are very much like Winnie the Pooh.  Different isn’t always bad but when we are dopey from good food and the sun, it can be annoying.

Paul Vigil caught us off guard.  His presentation is so direct and so unique that we got suckered into believing him.  We do that too often for our own taste.  It turns out he lacks any real magical power, cannot predict the future, read minds or rob innocent victims of their ability to exercise free will.  It turned out, we learned, he was performing tricks.  Using subterfuges and, perhaps ordinary fuges, he was making his miracles look like real magic.

We have not been this fooled since we saw Derek Hughes perform at the Peller Theater at The Magic Castle.  Our mind was reeling as we wrote feverishly on the convenient note pad using the free Sportsman’s Lodge pen.  We felt our forehead to see if we had a real fever and then we felt the foreheads of those around us – not to compare our body temperature but just to affirm their personhood through prayerful touching (or something like that).

As we looked up from our slobbering, stooped-over position halfway through Mr. Vigil’s lecture, whom did we notice was sitting right in front of us?

Yes, Mr. Hughes.

It was like a David Lynch version of our life.  We began to think the mayonnaise we used on our turkey sandwich (graciously provided by the Magic Apple) had turned and was now causing us to lose touch with reality.  However, it turned out the mayonnaise was fine, reality remained intact and we were just on the verge of learning effects we had never before considered.  Change, usually bad, was actually becoming good – which was a change in itself.

Mr. Vigil’s Sympathetic Cards was outstanding and even though he explained it with patience and professionalism, we did not believe him.

He told us things that could not be true.  How could someone mix up the order of a deck of cards and have them spontaneously return to a preset order?   We were relieved to see that even Mr. Hughes appeared to disbelieve the claims.

We tried the effect during a later break and it turns out Mr. Vigil was not lying.  Even though it looks impossible, the effect can be done using his method.  Amazing.  Absolutely Amazing.  The impact on our little cranium was as dramatic as when we first learned Paul Curry’s Out of this World, The Hofzinser’s Cull or that (spoiler alert!) Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus are the same person.

We will bring a lobster bib the next time we watch Mr. Vigil perform or lecture.  Because we were chewing blueberry gum, our slobber ruined one of our favorite dress shirts and there is likely no chance we will again happen upon the exclusive men’s store/fireworks stand from whom we purchased it, some Slim Jims and a pack of Black Cat M-80s.

Last up was Helder Guimaraes‘ lecture.  It was not a lecture about tricks per se but more about the theory of magic and presentation.  Along the way, Mr. Guimaraes demonstrated a couple of killer effects but only to explain his approach to our art.  He has incredible skills and is an accomplished performer – including a FISM win – and yet a very approachable and effective teacher.

Unlike virtually every lecture we have attended ever since we started magic in the late 1920s, there were very few things offered for sale.  No over-priced lecture notes, gimmicked cards, one-trick DVDs, CD-ROMs of PDFs of magazine articles or gaffed coins.  Only Mr. Caveney had anything to sell after his lecture and that was hardly a collection of typical lecture fare.  He had his outstanding  Wonders book set and other volumes featuring some of the best magic writing available today.

It was disorienting to not have the last 20 minutes of each lecture consist of a recap of what can be bought and at what discount.  Perhaps that was why we walked away feeling magically enriched and wonderfully tired.

Where Have We Been? Vague but Deliberately So

Inside Magic Image of Innovative BunnyWe have been out of the loop for a little while and apologize to our loyal reader(s) for the dearth of topical writing the last few weeks.

It has been a wonderful time of exploration and development, filled with the opportunities of many lifetimes strewn across our path.  Could we be more vague? Likely not.

We traveled (voluntarily) to special places on behalf of concerned parties to engage other parties in constructive dialogue to bring to fruition mutually desired goals and, thereby, ultimately satisfaction for all concerned.

Now, we are not saying this was a special mission for which we were dispatched by a friendly government but then again, we’re not not saying that either.

Along our travels we had a chance to check out some great magic.  Unfortunately, because the locations of our meetings is considered secret, we cannot tell you too much about what we saw.  But we can try.

This article has been reviewed by our client/agency and they have redacted what they consider to be sensitive information.

Our first stop was the beautiful city of XXXXXX in the XXXXXX regions of XXXXXX. If you ever get a chance to visit XXXXXXX, you must do it.  We went to the XXXXXX theatre, just west of the old XXXXXX and XXXXXX where the bus stop used to be.  It was incredible.  We had the fried XXXX and XXXXXX with a big glass of XXXXXXX.    The magic was great as well.  We saw GXXXXX LXXXXX and his XXXXX perform their classic XXXXXX in a Bottle.  You may be familiar with his previous method for XXXXXXX in a Bottle but you need to see his new approach.  The XXXXX does not only look live – it is LIVE!  Incredible.  Plus all of the problems we used to associate with the old method are gone.  No more lice or ring worm – at least that we could see.

If there is one thing XXXXXXX does better than any European city, it is XXXXXX and Milk Duds. It is a special taste treat that is worthy of your consideration and you need to get them fresh.  You can only do that in XXXXXXXX.  Believe us, we have been to the XXXXXXX stores in the airports and they do not compare.  Perhaps you cannot get fresh XXXXXXX anywhere but XXXXXX?  While we were there we ran into our old friend Jerry XXXXX and his new girlfriend Inga XXXXXXson.  She didn’t look a day over XXX but it could be the fresh XXXXXX air or maybe she lied about her age.  Inga has some sick moves with cards.  How sick?  We wanted to wear a hazmat suit while she was performing.  She can multiple cut and shuffle with either hand.  Jerry was up to his old tricks and performed a “work in progress” where he XXXXXXX a XXXXX barehanded.  We wouldn’t have believed it if we had not seen it for ourselves.    And he called it a “work in progress.”

There is nothing like a nice warm cup of XXXX after a long day of traveling through the XXXXX region of XXXXX looking for XXXXX or a dog with a bow tie — if you know what we mean, and we think you do. We enjoyed our mug full of XXXX and maybe one or two XXXXXs as we met with our new found friend Mr. XXXXXX.  This guy is only XX years old but already has the respect of everyone in the local magic community.  We asked him to show us his best trick and he did.  It was incredible.  Imagine a combination of Rising Cards and the Hydrostatic Glass done with raw XXXX and KELP!    Did we say that already?  It was incredible.  We are still picking the kelp out of our teeth but happy to do so – it was worth it being that close when he did the grand finale.

Back home in West Hollywood, California. We had a great time on our trip and while it was for business, we had a chance to enjoy ourselves as well.  The bakery for dog food that we live near brought us a basket of goodies – they’re for dogs but they taste good for us humans – and a big bowl full of their Doggie Dom Perignon to welcome us back.  We lapped it up with delight.  We fully intend to buy furniture and stop eating off the floor as soon as our travel schedule slows down.

Magicians of a “Certain Age” and Dry Hands

Inside Magic Image of Magic ShowAs we type, Los Angeles is going through a humid spell. Some accounts have it as high as 70 percent or as low as 50 percent – but either of those extremes is extreme for the region.

Yes, it will mess with our fancy hair-do but it will also let us deal seconds without the need for moistening agents.

When we were very young, we found it amusing that the older magicians in our local IBM Ring had to lick their fingers before every difficult card move. Some had to lick their fingers before even dealing cards. We thought – basking in our youthful ignorance – “we’ll never be like that. We will always have moist fingers and palms. And even if we do eventually have dry hands, we’ll hire someone to lick our fingers.”

We had some issues back then – but lack of hand moisture was not one of them.

Once we hit mid-life, our ability to deal seconds fell off horribly. We could still do the mechanical part but we couldn’t control the number of cards in play.

We thought there should be some product available to magicians of “a certain age” to allow them to again perform as they did in their youth. Something so they would be “ready” when the “moment was right.”

We used those terms in our Google search but it resulted in products that had little to do with card manipulation or magic in its strictest sense.

We asked our magic friends – in strictest confidence, because of our shame – and hoped they would either have a solution or sympathy for our frustration. But we found no support amongst our peers. We suspect they were too embarrassed to admit their problem to us.

At an IBM convention, we met up with Mr. Second Deal, Simon Lovell. He wrote the book on the sleight — Second to None. We asked him how we could keep our fingers moist enough to do second deals – either double push-off or strike second deal. He felt our pain. He suggested we keep an iced drink nearby and touch it as needed. We thanked him and went forward to find a different solution.

We spoke with our physician and he expressed surprise. “Why, no one has ever asked me how to make their hands more sweaty.” As we recall the exchange, he sounded like the Wizard of Oz in the final scene when he provides a heart for The Tin Woodsman.

He probably sounded like a normal doctor – it was just our shame tainting the memory.

He had no solutions. He did tell us about a surgery that can be done to decrease palm sweating and we thanked him for this advice in case we should ever need it – which we won’t and that was the problem.

We went to various health food stores asking for products to rub on our skin to bring back the moisture we once had. We bought pounds of products and none of them worked any better than licking our digits. (Ironically, this was the name of our first full-length vinyl album back on the Monarch record label.  We sold more than 157 copies and many to people unrelated to us.  But we digress).

When we were in New Orleans and Florida – the humidity was just right. Both locations were like Los Angeles is today but more so. New Orleans and Florida (yes, we know one is a city and the other is an entire state) have the right kind of constant humidity necessary to keep our sweaty little palms sweaty. The closer we got to the Gulf of Mexico, the better our hands became. That meant we could deal almost perfect seconds as long as we were within 50 miles of the Gulf. Beyond that, we were back to suffering with the problem that affects folks of our “certain age.”

We tried the following with no beneficial results:

  1. Hand Lotions – made our hands smoother and helped a little but quickly wore off. Sadness returned.
  2. Chamberlain Golden Touch Lotion – from a company in Iowa and hard to find. It worked well and lasted longer than saliva but has a pronounced, 1950’s odor. It makes our hands smell like our uncle when he got out of the service and was interviewing for jobs in his 1964 Plymouth.
  3. Preparation H Wipes – actually worked the best but was embarrassing to buy in quantities (had to go to a drug store outside our town) and very embarrassing to have in one’s pocket when one is getting ready to perform a magic trick.  Although its multi-purpose nature made it a good thing to take along even if we did not expect to perform magic.
  4. Sortkwik – used by cashiers everywhere to get their fingers ready to count big stacks of cash. We liked it and used it but found it a little too sticky when used to excess – like most things in life.
  5. Hair Gel – we don’t use hair “product” so it took a lot of experimentation to realize we were barking up the wrong tree – just because something is goopy, doesn’t mean it will be the right kind of sticky. That’s a good life lesson too.
  6. Glycerin / Glycerin & Rose Water – this had great promise. We read something on the internet about it being the best treatment. We tried every possible titrate but none achieved the results we needed. We were sad but our hands smelled so nice it was a joy to hold our face in them whilst we sobbed.

Then we hit upon the solution.

Papercreme is the solution. Yes, Papercreme. Never heard of it? Nor had we but now we swear by it. Challenge us. Walk up to us when we are in any performing venue and grab our pockets and feel away. You will prove to yourself that we have serious issues still and that we always carry a small container of Papercreme.

The substance works like Sortkwik but for some reason works better. It is the perfect consistency, easy to apply and lasts as long as a 20-minute routine. Cards don’t stick together when they shouldn’t and deal as they would if they were being handled by some know-it-all youngster in a magic club 40 years ago. We buy ours from Amazon and have not seen it in stores – and we always look. It is inexpensive and effective.

But today is a special day in West Hollywood. Due to the humidity we can deal seconds with abandon and feel young again. We don’t need to dip into our Papercreme store today. Today we can deal seconds and immediately touch people on their face without leaving any sort of greasy mark and that is a reason to celebrate.

Mirror Online Asks Readers to Choose Best TV Magician

Inside Magic Image of Tommy CooperThe Mirror Online (UK), looking to build excitement for the launch of the fourth series of Dynamo: Mission Impossible, is asking readers to vote for their favorite TV magician.

You should head over to the site and make your choice from:
Darcy Oake
David Blaine
Derren Brown
David Copperfield
Paul Daniels
Penn & Teller
Tommy Cooper

There is no space for a write-in vote but they do have clips from the nominees – including our inspiration, Tommy Cooper. (Unfortunately, the sound goes out near the end of the clip but it is still a joy to watch).

Click here to link to the poling site. We don’t know if it will allow you to vote more than once but perhaps that is a concern for us Chicago natives. The rest of the world likely never considers stuffing the ballot box.

Salon Author Decries Houdini Industrial Complex

Harry HoudiniOnline magazine Salon has posted an article marveling at Houdini’s current cache with the public.

We read it a couple of times because we were not sure what the author hoped to express.

Its hook is the recent Potter and Potter auction of Houdini memorabilia and the History Channel’s miniseries, Houdini.

The author interviewed magician, writer and president of Potter and Potter Gabe Fajuri, Houdini historian extraordinaire and author of Wild About Harry, the definitive Houdini blog, John Cox and Lisa Cousins, Houdini-lover and outstanding librarian The Magic Castle’s William J. Larson Memorial Library, among other super-Houdini fans. She seemed to have an agenda and was seeking quotes to support her thesis that magicians are male, hide their secrets for no good reason and that there exists a “Houdini Industrial Complex.”

She writes, “[b]ut there is one irritating thing about Houdiniana today that also dates back to his life: the code of secrecy mystifying his tricks.”

Irritating? Why Irritating? Irritating to whom?

“It’s time to end the reflex of keeping these tricks secret—perpetrated most forcefully among the small group of magicians and magic collectors that in my darker moments I call the Houdini Industrial Complex.”

She admits that she admires – or at least a part of her admires – the commitment to keep magic’s secrets secret. “But part of me believes that it misses the point entirely. In the twenty-first century, it’s not how Houdini did it that matters. It’s who he was.”

We agree that Houdini’s mystique and staying power is due to his personality and star quality.  But he was  also someone who kept secrets. Audiences came to see him perform escapes and magic not provide lectures on how to open a pair of handcuffs or the best way to make elephants vanish.

Presumably, if we agreed with the author and would just expose our secrets, people would like us more. We learned long ago this logic does not work.  “C’mon tell us how you did it.” None of the relationships we thought we could enhance by exposing our magic secrets actually grew stronger.

But, even if we did publish our secrets, the authors says we would still be outsiders.

“Besides outliers like David Blaine, magicians are no longer part of the mainstream cultural conversation. And unlike burlesque, a twentieth century pop culture fad that has reinvented itself by using the language of gender studies, magic, with its largely male population, doesn’t really appeal to women.”

This is the first time we have heard that magic does not appeal to women. Our recent, very unscientific poling of magic audiences has confirmed that those in attendance were just about equally divided between the two main genders.

Perhaps the author is noting there are few female magicians. That is a valid point but we do not believe it can be attributed to a so-called Houdini Industrial Complex, the tendency of magicians to keep secrets or even the eccentric manner in which one magic library catalogs its volumes.

“The library at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles, archivist Lisa Cousins explains, uses its own ‘eccentric cataloging system—not Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress’—and is closed to non-magicians. (She rushed to say that it allowed researchers.)”

We did study the Dewey Decimal system in the 1970s and agree that it is unfit for effectively cataloging an entire library of magic books. All of the books would have the same number, 793.8. In fact, the author could go to just about any public library and use that secret number to find troves of books that told her secrets to many effects.

It was nice to see Ms. Cousins quoted in the article but wonder if the author bothered to ask her questions about women in magic – a field Ms. Cousins knows well.

Could a magician perform tricks that he or she has exposed before performing? Sure. Would anyone go to see that magician?

A ventriloquist could do his or her routine without a figure and not hide the fact that he or she was speaking in a different voice.  We probably wouldn’t pay to see it though.

Part of the essence of magic is mystery. Mystery separates what we do from what one might see on a cooking show or at a craft class.

We are not sure what the author hoped to accomplish by her article. We hope she finds satisfaction in its publication and future success with other articles. And maybe it is us – it probably is – but we did not get her point. We think magic is doing fine and do not see a reason to change what has been working for hundreds of years. Again, that’s just us.