Houdini & Doyle Trailer

Houdini & DoyleWe love Houdini and all things Houdini.  So, when we saw the new trailer for Fox Television’s new series Houdini & Doyle, we got giddy – or giddier.  We understand Fox purchased ten episodes so far and plans to launch this spring.  The trailer looks great even with the obligatory and historically inaccurate axe to the Water Torture Cell scene that has been with us since Tony Curtis.

You can check out the trailer here.

Fox has launched a webpage to promote the series with some great interviews, pretty pictures and a pithy exposition of the series.

Inspired by true events, HOUDINI & DOYLE draws heavily on the rich history of the period. Two great men of the 20th Century – Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – grudgingly join forces with New Scotland Yard to investigate unsolved and inexplicable crimes with a supernatural slant.

Ironically, “Supernatural Slant” was the name of our dance routine that catapulted us to national prominence in 1979-1980.  Some no doubt recall our participation in the syndicated television contest series, “Dance Your Booty.”  It was through that show that we learned the important lessons of show business:

  1. Get your money upfront.
  2. Trust no one, ever.
  3. Follow “Dry Clean Only” recommendations – especially for tuxedos.
  4. Stretch before performing.

You can visit the Fox website or for the definitive, straight dope, check out the number one source for all things Houdini, John Cox’ incredible website, Wild About Harry here.

P.T. Barnum Proven Right Again

Arizona State Fair LogoWe think it was P.T. Barnum that said, “Missing Goats Make Gravy.”  He was likely talking about the type of gravy that one would eat or slurp from a plastic bottle affixed to a fanny pack as one does one’s daily exercise walk through the mall.  But like all great quotes we invent, it applies to more than food or exercise supplements.

Really?  Yes, we have an example.

The Arizona State Fair is a big event and usually a pretty dry experience.  It is, after all, in the Phoenix area and we have it on good authority that it is usually sunny and desert-like.

But for some reason, known only to people who know science and stuff, it rained for six days.  The rain was so heavy, rides had to be shut down.  Things were looking bad.  “Many people deferred their visit because of the rain, which was unusual for Arizona, because we don’t usually get rain this time of year,” said Kristi Walsh, Assistant Executive Director of the Fair.  “Considering the weather, the fact the fair was only down about 5 percent is positive.”

Yes, things were looking bleak for the Fair organizers until GusGus went missing.

GusGus was just three weeks old at the time of his abduction by unknown bad people.  He was taken from the petting zoo on the fairgrounds and was not located for ten days.  The search for this poor little goat brought attention to the moist midway just as P.T. Barnum predicted.

“We made international news, it was one of the biggest stories we’ve ever had the fair,” said Walsh. “We got a lot of extra publicity for the fair that we never had before.

“We had international coverage, reports in France and Canada, we were fielding a lot of calls. There were reports that Gus-Gus misses his mommy,” said Walsh. “The Petting Zoo manager said it was not healthy for the baby goat to be away from his mother and people took it to heart.”

A Good Samaritan walking his or her dog found GusGus about ten miles from the fairgrounds and brought to him PetsMart.  (We did not know that was the protocol for found farm animals but it makes sense to us and will be in the next edition of our Illustrated What to Do Guide).

“It was really great, our media partners covered the story and our Facebook fans were posting about GusGus,” Walsh said. “They really put out the word, and it was refreshing that there were so many people who cared about the goat as opposed to some bad people who would actually steal a goat.”

The publicity not only brought attention to the fair, “but it was promotional too, the social media really got a hold of the story and ran with it. I think it pushed attendance too, people came to the fair to see GusGus,” Walsh said.

The McBrides and Magic and Mystery

Jeff McBride

Last night, the place to be was The Magic Castle at the corner of Franklin and Orange in Hollywood, California.  We squeaked in (we are on the waiting list for a hip replacement or a good oiling) just before they closed the parking lot.   Phew, we said to no one.

We were dressed in our finest and even polished one of our two shoes (the right – and we always walk with it going first) and wore a tie inherited from our late uncle.  Like all families, we had to fight to recover the tie he promised us.  Our aunt said he never intended us to have it.  Our cousins claimed they were entitled to it.  The funeral director said we couldn’t open the casket without a court order.  But we have it – most of it – and we were wearing it with the pride of a person who knows how to wear a snap on tie.

Steve Valentine is more than a great magician, he is also a world-famous actor and great guy.  When his name is on the bill, there are going to be crowds.  Well, last night, his name was on the bill and there were crowds.  QED.

Mr. Valentine was hosting a special Castle Perk for members on Street Magic in the beautifully appointed Peller Theatre.  Unfortunately, the Peller Theatre seats around 40 guests and there were far more than that looking to learn the ins and outs of performing on boulevards and byways.

We stood solemnly by the door, gazing in with hope and expectation but to no avail.  We couldn’t hear a thing.  We saw mouths moving and props being displayed but without the language track, the visual was insufficient for us.  Dejectedly, we gathered our street performing props and funny hat, and walked away.

After a wonderful meal in the dining room, we were able to see Jeff McBride and Abigail Spinner-McBride in the Palace of Mystery.  What a treat.  Because of our late arrival and dubious hygiene, we were given a choice seat with lots of room near the front.  We have seen Mr. McBride several times and were once again delighted by his creativity and skill.  He is a man of many talents and masks.  He uses both resources to make for a fantastic show.

We have never seen Ms. Spinner-McBride perform and were equally delighted to see her work.  She has a wonderful sense of poise and grace on stage.  Her performance of Max Maven’s Brainwave was beautifully done.

The McBrides will be at The Magic Castle through Sunday as part of the Magic and Mystery School Week.  If you haven’t seen their show or haven’t seen it in a while, make plans to get there.

Teller Takes on The Tempest in the Toddlin Town

Teller's The TempestTeller and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater have a hit on their hands with The Tempest.   Labeled  “Shakespeare’s most magical play,” the Windy City critics have fallen hard for Teller’s take on the play.

Chicago television station WTTW interviewed Teller and the creative folks with whom he has worked to stage The Tempest at the Navy Pier.  The production is set in a traveling tent-show during the Dust Bowl and the unique stage allows the audience to be on three sides while the illusions are performed.

Teller is not adding tricks to a show but bringing the classic story to life through magic.

He explained, “One of the challenges of Shakespeare for a contemporary audience is to make clear all of these ideas that are sometimes realized only in the language, and since the language is hundreds of years old it helps to assist that language with strong visual things. For this show, which is about magic, supporting that with magic that is visual really helps to clarify what’s going on.”

Through the integrated illusions, Teller allows the audience to see the effects the exiled Duke of Milan character performs to befuddle and battle his foes.

Magic, says Teller, gets its edge because “it’s not a comfortable form to watch. You don’t just sit back and let magic wash over you because it’s seriously contradicting all your experience, so what you see is coming into collision with what you know and there’s a sort of explosion that’s very exciting, but it also jars you out of your seat. You don’t watch a magic event like this [strikes a relaxed pose] you watch it on the edge because you’re watching both as a complicit participant and as somebody who’s trying to catch it out, and the excitement of that tension gives it a whole different way to watch a show.”

We pride ourselves on being very uncomfortable to watch – even when not performing magic.  Just eating spaghetti can be unnerving to witness.

Our beloved Cubs are in the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and Teller’s The Tempest is at the Navy Pier – magic is in the air.

Check out the full article on Teller and The Tempest here.

Joshua Jay Fools Penn & Teller & Us

Inside Magic Image of Penn & Teller's Fool UsWe readily admit we are the lowest of the low.  We are a hypocrite of the first order.  That’s generally true but most painfully evident in our behavior last week.

It started out innocently.  We were catching up on our TiVo of Penn & Teller’s Fool Us.  We enjoy that show and are happy to hear they have been signed for a second season with the CW here in the US.  The show makes us smile and as our little reward back to the producers, writers, directors and stars of the show, we do not fast forward through the advertisements.  We are gracious in that way.

Like most viewers of the show, we take delight not only in seeing great magic but the interesting way Penn attempts to describe what he and Teller believe was the secret at work.  They use vague code words and make reference to great magicians from history to convey the message that they know the know-how.  There is no exposure but for those of us in on the craft, we know whether a magician has been foiled in his or her attempt to fool Penn & Teller.

Joshua Jay is a great magician.  We feel like we have watched him grow over the years; likely because we have.  He began performing in utero and has ascended the lofty limbs of the magic forest with aplomb.  (Sorry for the last sentence.  We farm out parts of our articles to off-shore content creator mills and they a great at maximizing word count – that’s how they’re paid – but struggle with metaphors in our language).

Mr. Jay performed an effect that blew us – and Penn & Teller – away.  We could describe the effect in great detail but won’t because that is evidence of our hypocrisy.  Our father always said, “there’s no sin in beating yourself up, but always know your safe word.”  We’re not sure he intended that sage advice for revealing one’s foibles on the internet but it fits and thus we happily appropriate it for our writing herein.  (Another off-shore sentence beginning at the word “that”).

You can check out a YouTube clip of his performance here.

Penn & Teller were fooled by the trick.  After all, how could anyone have a spectator think of a card and then produce the card as the only printed one in an otherwise blank deck.  Penn & Teller offered their solution but Mr. Jay denied what we assumed had to be the secret.  Granted, we did not see him perform the sleight but figured there could be no other explanation.  We, and Penn & Teller, took him at his word.  If he said he did not use the sleight, he did not.

That left us to engage in behavior that we find contemptible and boorish.

We replayed the video of his routine more than two or three times.

We live alone here in West Hollywood while we await our family’s move to California.  We have fully paid-up subscriptions to the prominent magic magazines, surf the web for news and tricks, sometimes go for walks along Santa Monica Boulevard and visit The Magic Castle.  Those activities can be accomplished in a few hours each and so that leaves us with roughly 14 hours times 7 days a week times 30 or 31 days each month to sit, stand or lie down while eating or sleeping.

We watched the video incessantly for a solid 24 hour period.  We used the slow motion button to analyze every move, every nuance of Mr. Jay’s performance.  We were frustrated by some of the camera angles and cuts but those were not Mr. Jay’s doing.

The proof of a bad motive is often the corrupt results, said the inventor of the modern day Capri Pants.  Once again, lessons from the world of fashion instructs the world of professional magic.  (Other examples include the cape, pockets and the classic pop-up tie).

Precisely one day after beginning our analysis of the Jay Tape, we came to the conclusion that Mr. Jay did not perform the accused sleight.  We also concluded he must have accomplished the miracle by some other method.  We have no idea how he performed the effect.  We love that feeling.

Yes, we are embarrassed to say we used our access to modern technology to discern the secret but we failed.  It was a wonderful lesson learned.  The feeling of being truly amazed was the reason we got into magic.  The attempt to figure out the trick only diminished that sense of wonder.  Congratulations to Mr. Jay for fooling Penn & Teller and us so completely.  It was fantastic.