[It is the policy of Inside Magic to offer its readers new and different views on the art of magic -- even if they are offered by those who have no reputation for honesty or integrity. Today's submission is an essay on a new and different approach to magic for kids. Inside Magic does not approve of Tony Spain's thoughts or approach to kids' magic. In fact, we find them horrible.]
It is a given – and so I’ll write it at the beginning and get it over with – that people are reluctant to accept the new and cling so tightly to the old. The old is comfortable, fits well with their beliefs (in part because the beliefs have been formed by the comfortable fit with the old pattern) and to leave the comfortable is to risk the unknown.
I think it was John Wilkes Booth that yelled Sic Semper Tyranus as he hit the stage floor after assassinating President Lincoln. His words are reportedly from some foreign language, maybe Latin – even though people didn’t speak Latin then – and some scholars have translated them to mean, “So Always Goes (or With) Tyrants.”
Phillipe Anjou, the cartoonist and creative mind behind the 1870′s most famous one frame comic, “Li’l Trachea: The Funny Passage Way,” reworked the assassin’s declaration with humor.
The cartoon showed Li’l Trachea jumping from the Presidential Box at Ford’s Theater with a pistol in his ligaments and the ever-present hand-rolled cigarette balancing ever so gently on the top of his tube like head. Li’l Trachea shouts “Let’s Try Something Different!”
Li’l Trachea’s little friend, Liver Boy is about to jump from the box as well and it looks like he will land right on the proud little trachea. Li’l Trachea wants to try something different but only we, the audience, can anticipate the fun that will follow shortly.
I traveled down that side road of cartoon history, to make a point. Even within 10 years of the death of a great public leader, the method of his assassination is lampooned as trite.
So what does this have to do with my innovation in Kid’s Magic?
Only this: I believe I have hit upon a formula that works and works independent of the traditional trappings we associate with the Kid Show or Kid Magic. I believe it takes a certain kind of personality to perform this method but then again, so does any kid magic. You have to feel comfortable with the children and make them feel that you are safe and you are there to entertain them for exactly 55 minutes pursuant to your written agreement with their mother, father or legal custodian.
Rather than go into the nuts and bolts right now, I thought I would relate to you my experience this weekend as I tried out my new, novel, approach to Kid’s Magic.
At the age of seven, psychologists tell us, children become aware of mortality generally and their own mortality specifically. Perhaps a relative has passed away or maybe a family pet or close friend. Regardless of the trigger, the age of seven, is the time to understand that few will make it out of this life alive.
Most Kid Shows ignore this ground-shaking revelation and allow the Birthday Boy or Girl to reflect silently that their birthday also means they are moving irreversibly along the river of life towards their final day.
The kids are terrified but they cannot verbalize their fear. By pretending all is sugar and donuts, the entertainer is really just reinforcing their fear. Every breath used to inflate a balloon is one less breath available to the child. Blowing out the candles on their cake provides only a harsh reminder that, as Buddha said, they too will vanish from life like the flame from the candle — even a birthday candle.
I say, don’t fight these fears. Exploit them. Use them to make this the best birthday ever.
That’s where I came up with my concept for Kiddy Séance. I will get to the marketing opportunities in a second, but imagine this scene.
Continue reading Guest Article: The Kids’ Show Done New
It is tough working as an editor at Inside Magic.
Yes, the pay is incredible and the offices in downtown Mystic Hollow, Michigan are without compare.
We enjoy the club memberships, the morning coffee break, full gourmet luncheon with exciting guest speakers, the newly instituted policies discouraging most instances of corporal punishment and verbal humiliation, not to mention the free weekly magic shows and clog dancing contests.
But it is difficult to write inaccurate, misleading and fully invented stories about magicians and the art of magic on a daily basis.
Outlandish ideas besmirching innocent public targets don’t grow on trees. Scandal and gossip is easily created when based on at least a shred of truth. We do not always have that luxury.
That’s why we are turning to you, the Inside Magic reader for help.
Our high-priced demographic surveys show that our readers almost universally:
1) Leave their house more than twice a week;
2) Know people to whom they are not directly or indirectly related;
3) Read or know someone who will read to them;
4) Like to watch, do, learn about and/or buy magic; and,
5) Have access to a computer with an internet connection.
Those are the characteristics of just the type of contributor we need.
Shortly after the Burger Wars of the late 1980′s we were forced to close many of our foreign and domestic news bureaus. As a consequence, we do not have the live information feed from places and people outside of Mystic Hollow we once enjoyed.
That’s where the sharing and caring comes in.
If you know of magic happenings in your locale, we would be excited to hear about it.
You can send a fully-written article, review, essay or press release for publication with full credit to you. We can also send story ideas, links of interest and blurbs for us to follow.
We made a simple form to get started. There cannot pay you for your contribution — at least not in money — but we will like you and say very nice things about you. Please be sure the submissions are your original work or that you have permission to submit the work to us.
Thank you in advance for bringing new blood, truth and news of interest to Inside Magic.
You can find our submission form here.
Mark Panner is not exactly a friend of Inside Magic but he did lend us money to pay the server bill two months ago. In return for his kindness, we said he could write an opinion piece for the web site. This is that piece. He tries to find parallels between the 99 percent movement and magic secrets. We do not agree with his logic, argument or conclusions but a deal is a deal. We note that while we do not edit Mark's writing, we had to change the title from its original, "99 Percent in Magic Untie."
As I was watching the occupy movement do their thing, I thought about inequity and how unfair it is. One of the questions that kept crossing my mind was, how come the Vegas Headliners get the best secrets and technology and we are all stuck with the turn of the century – Last Century! –boxes and mirrors. It's not fair at all.
There is no other word for it other than inequity and unfairness (okay so maybe two words) but it expresses the vas deference between the 99% of magicians who need to use boxes screens or assistants (if you can afford them or are able to even go to where they congregate to ask if they would like to work for you). The elite one percent get to make things vanish, float, change, appear, grow or shrink without anything at all.
I have been looking into this question for a long time. It's been six months so far and I think I have some answers but they are not good ones.
When magic began, there was relative parity among all magicians. Magicians could make things vanish, float, appear, disappear, change or multiply with equal ability. They all used the same skills and tools. In the Iron Age, everyone used Irons and in the Bronze Age they did the same and no one had better tools than their neighbor. One caveman's Iron thing was the same size and shape and substance as the caveman next door and that did not change until the end of the "Ages" part of history ("Iron," "Bronze," "Dinosaur," "Bird," and "Trains") and the start of the Jet Age (around the time of the Wright Brothers).
Until the Jet Age, people entertained people in their villages and huts with essentially the same tricks either bought from a central store or made from common instructions. All magic plans used to be printed in blue ink and sold in rolls to magicians who wanted to build their own tricks from supplies they had around their cave or hut.
It took a while for this to die out. As late as the 1940s, for instance, Harry Blackstone used the same equipment as all magicians to make the standard "magic rabbit" appear or disappear. Magic rabbits were raised to be genetically identical so that all magicians could interchangeably use their props to do the rabbit tricks regardless of their location. A Boston rabbit would fit a Chicago rabbit gimmick and vice-a-versa. But there was a war on and many of the rabbits were actually made in the equivalent of factory farms where they were grown by strict military specifications to fit standard government issue magic props as used by the professionals (such as Blackstone) or the amateur at home or the magicians who entertained the troops during the battles around the world.
With the advent of the space race, the "elite" magicians began to insist on using "different" methods to accomplish the effects performed by so many. "Good enough for government work" was an expression first used to denigrate the magicians who were forced to use surplus magic tricks left over from the war effort. The elite used bigger bunnies (or with different colored ears or faces) and insisted on different methods to make tricks happen.
Continue reading Guest Essay: 99 Percent in Magic Unite!
Inside Magic is honored to bring its readers John Cox’ great review of Christopher Sandford’s book, Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini. Mr. Cox owns one of our two favorite Houdini sites on the world wide webs, Wild About Harry (http://www.wildabouthoudini.com). The other Inside Magic Favorite site is Houdini.org, the incredible work of Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brooks. Both of these sites should be on your bookmark toolbar or made your home pages.
Full confession. In my 35 years of obsessive Houdini research, I’ve always found his anti-spiritualism crusade to be the least interesting aspect of his life and career. In fact, I’ve sometimes felt I’ve had to slog though these sections in biographies. But all this has changed with the new book Houdini and Conan Doyle by Christopher Sandford, which had me riveted, and is one of those rare books that I came away from feeling like I know Houdini better.
Houdini and Conan Doyle (which will be titled Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini when it is released in the U.S. next month) is the third major non-fiction book written about the curious relationship between these two famous men. The other books are Ernst and Carrington’s Houdini and Conan Doyle: The Story of a Strange Friendship (1932) and Massimo Polidoro’s Final Séance: The Strange Friendship Between Houdini and Conan Doyle (2001). While full props must go out to these first two books, especially Polidoro’s scholarly work, I do feel like Sandford has synthesized all previous research with his own new findings and formidable skills as a biographer to create the best book yet written on the subject of Houdini and spiritualism, and maybe the most skillfully written book about Houdini in general since Silverman (Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss).
Houdini haters will be upset to learn that Houdini actually comes off as quite scholarly and rational in this book. For all of Houdini's efforts to portray himself as a man of letters, it really wasn’t until this book that I finally saw that man clearly. Houdini was a man of action (and reaction) to be sure, but Sandford shows he put more thought into these actions then he is generally given credit for. In other words, he really was a smart as he said he was! This is because Sandford has gained access to some key Houdini diaries (as well as some "unpublished writings" of Bernard Ernst, Houdini lawyer and close friend) that offer a counterpoint to what was going on between the two men in their letters and in public. There was what Houdini said to the papers; there was what he said to Doyle in letters; and then there are his own beliefs and private feelings that are sometimes very different.
While there are no Charmian London level bombshells in Houdini and Conan Doyle, there are a several things that I found revelatory (my apologies if these are in Polidoro – I hoped to re-read that book before I wrote this review, but that didn’t happen). My jaw hit the floor as early as page 3 when Sandford says Houdini, at age 11, attended a "series of séances" in a failed attempt to contact his dead half-brother Hermann. Also, at age 18, Houdini sold his watch to pay for a "professional psychic reunion" with his recently deceased father. Forget the death of Mama in 1913, certainly the seeds of Houdini's hostility toward mediums can be at last partially attributed to these early disappointments in his youth.
I was also fascinated to learn that Houdini purchased Doyle's father's art portfolio in auction, and that Bessie returned this treasure to Doyle after Houdini’s death; that J. Gordon Whitehead was born on the same day Houdini performed his first ever public handcuff escape (Nov. 25, 1895); that Houdini prided himself on having a substantial collection of Sherlock Holmes memorabilia, and struggled to prove that Doyle lifted his Holmes material from the writings of Edger Allen Poe. (Houdini seems eager to unleash this evidence on the world, he even teases it in his spiritualist lectures. But despite spending "long hours in his library comparing the two texts", he doesn't seem to be able to prove the theory to himself and never publishes.) And then there's the suggestion from Will Goldstone that Houdini occasionally "partook in a nip of opium"(!).
(Also, on a fun personal note, I had no idea that Dr. Daniel Comstock, inventor and founder of Technicolor – my current employer – was on the Scientific American committee with Houdini.)
The narrative of Houdini and Conan Doyle is pretty evenly split between the two men, relating their respective biographies in equal measures (maybe a little more weighted to Doyle in the first third). Of course, I came for Houdini, but I found the Doyle material just as fascinating, and sometimes downright shocking! I had no idea just how far off the rails Doyle went near the end of his life, firmly believing his prophetic spirit guide, Pheneas, that the end of the world was imminent and preaching preparedness to his followers. One thing Sandford never really addresses is why Lady Doyle, as the voice of Pheneas, perpetuated this fiction for her husband. (At times
Pheneas would implore Doyle to buy new home furnishings or kitchen appliances.) Unless they were both just flat out bonkers. It really is a strange, strange story.
My only complaint might be that the collection of photos included in the book leaves something to be desired. There is not even a single photo of Houdini and Doyle together (at least not in the UK proof edition, which is what I'm writing this review from — maybe the final book will have more photos*). But photos are not what's important to us Houdini nuts and historians. It's the text that matters, and this is where Houdini and Conan Doyle by Christopher Sandford delivers!
UK edition (left) and U.S. edition (right).
*UPDATE: Having now received my copy of the finished book, I'm happy to report that it does indeed contain more photos than what was in the proof, including a photo of Houdini and Doyle together.