It is a familiar story to magicians, the incessant physical training and weight maintenance to achieve the perfect body for magic. For actor Jim Carrey, however, the rigors of our art were daunting.
He told People (the magazine, not just a collection of individuals standing near him) his strict diet gave him a great body but “it’s not a happy place to be.”
“It’s not a natural place to live in that kind of shape,” he said. “It looks great. It’s fantastic and gets a lot of attention, but you have to eat, like, antimatter to stay in that kind of shape.”
Indeed, many magicians have found the diet and exercise required to maintain the perfect “magician’s body” just too demanding and have left the profession. Michael Jordan once commented that he had hoped to be a magician but found the constant physical conditioning “just impossible.” “It was like trying to hit a curve ball in triple-A; I just couldn’t do it.”
Magic historians credit Harry Houdini with setting the standard for the “magician’s body.”
“Before Houdini,” said one magic scholar, “magicians looked like the average audience member. Some were in great shape, some were in terrible shape and some looked like they were in great shape but were really in terrible shape. There were none who looked like they were in great shape but were really in terrible shape.”
Houdini’s emphasis on physical conditioning forced him to run several miles a day and perform calisthenics. He ate right and did not smoke. In his youth, he was a competitive runner and circus performer. Those two avocations sculpted his body to near Adonis perfection and set his own personal standard for a lifetime of physically demanding discipline.
It was not commonly known that Harry Kellar could bench press in excess of 200 lbs or that Adelaide Herrmann could perform one-handed push-ups with either arm.
“In those days, most magicians kept their superb bodies under wraps, so to speak. Audiences were not attracted to performers because of their physiques,” one commentator noted. “Only freak show performers removed enough clothing to show anything.”
Today, most magic conventions look like a gathering of Olympic competitors. “Compared with the other performing arts, amateur and professional magicians have far and away the best bodies and physical conditioning.”
One Hollywood stuntman said he gave up on his dream of performing magic after attending a national magic conclave. “I was 25, just out of the Marines and thought I was in pretty good shape. But there were 55 year-old guys in the dealers’ room who intimidated me. I knew I did not have what it took to be able to work at a dealer’s booth all day, drink all night and then give two lectures and a show. If I couldn’t handle the convention lifestyle, I thought there was no chance I could handle the rigors of the day-to-day world.”
One of the more difficult aspects of maintaining the perfect “magician’s body” is finding the proper balance between achieving the sculpted, well-defined muscle groups whilst maintaining one’s dexterity and speed.
A prominent magician / medical doctor wrote “it is not surprising that I have never been approached by a magician seeking steroids or human-growth hormones. Magicians know there is no easy way to the perfect body and ‘roids only steal your ability to perform complex sleight-of-hand.”
In fact, legendary manipulator Dai Vernon never tested positive for steroid or “performance-enhancing drugs” in his nearly 100 years of life. Critics have suggested the technology for blood testing was nascent during Mr. Vernon’s career and that mandatory drug testing did not exist for magicians based in California or Nevada.
“Anyone who saw Dai Vernon without a shirt, knows he had to be using something to keep that perfect v-cut body,” magician Tony Spain said. “I don’t know if they didn’t test him regularly or because of his esteemed status they just doctored the results but there is no way he wasn’t juicing. I saw him crush a pineapple with his neck muscles once. He was like Bruce Lee, but taller. All muscle with a little head.”
Mr. Spain is alone in his baseless accusation against Mr. Vernon.
Art students from as far away as Paris have flocked to magic seminars and conventions to practice their anatomy studies on what they consider “perfect physical specimens.”
Virginie Lorraine Toussaint, a third-year student at École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris told reporters, “the magician is perfect for an anatomy study. He or she is in perfect shape, of course, and is always willing to pose for the student – often for free.”
“It’s not a happy place to be,” Mr. Carrey said. “I’m back now. I’ve got Mr. Cuddly back and we’re happy,” he added while rubbing his stomach.