Magic and Magicians Still Going Strong

Inside Magic Image of The Grim Game PosterMagic and Magicians endure.

Time and Life magazines paid homage to our noble profession’s gathering in Indianapolis this weekend by looking back at the 1947 Society of American Magicians held in Chicago in 1947.

If you follow the link to the Google books page of that original Life Magazine article you can see wonderful images of some of the greats performing for the Life cameras.  It could be that Dr. Harlan Tarbell did perform the Balancing an Egg on a Fan While Blindfolded trick as part of his nightclub act.  Maybe magicians did do Multiplying Golf Balls in a strip club and drew all eyes from the dancers gyrating on stage to their strained and stretched fingers. But is also just as likely that the convention attendees were doing what magicians do best at convention time – getting good press.

Time and Life’s website gives a link to the SAM 2016 registration page, a 2014 blurb on the ill-fated efforts to exhume Houdini’s remains to test for poisoning and a 1994 essay by Penn Jillette explaining why Vegas was the most logical place for magic to reside.  He has some snarky things to say about Siegfried & Roy and Melinda but that was the old, “bad-boys of magic” Penn.

From the post-war era, to the 1970s with Doug Henning’s The Magic Show raking in $60,000.00 each week on Broadway ($307,175.32 in today’s dollars), to David Copperfield’s globe-trotting success, and later David Blaine taking it to the streets with camera in tow, Magic has endured.

In that 1974 Time article reporting on that decade’s fascination in magic and magicians, James Randi  said the upsurge in interest is “a sign that our society is still healthy. When people stop being enthralled by a magician who can make a lady vanish, it will mean that the world has lost its most precious possession: its sense of wonder.”

Like the Dude, Magic endures.

UPDATE: 2014 IBM-SAM Combined Convention Hotel Reservation Fixed

Some of our registrants recently had problems reserving rooms at the Renaissance St. Louis Grand Hotel – the host hotel for the I.B.M./S.AM. Combined Convention.

The problem has been resolved. If you were not able to make your reservations, please feel free to contact the hotel and make your reservations now.    

The problem was reserving hotel rooms on the “shoulder dates”.  

These are the days immediately before and after the convention dates.  Our hotel representative has increased the number of rooms in our hotel block for those dates, relieving the problem.    

If you haven’t made your reservations yet, you can get to the hotel reservation site through our website: and clicking link for the hotel; or by calling 1-888-236-2427 (be sure to tell they you are with the I.BM./S.A.M. Combined Convention to get the special rate).  

The convention room rates are applicable 3 days prior and 3 days following the convention dates (subject to availability). Room rates are guaranteed until the cutoff date – June 9, 2014.

Society of American Magicians Announces Innovation Sessions

Inside Magic Image of Innovative BunnyFor the first time at any national convention The Society of American Magicians will feature nightly after-hours workshops and mini lectures to introduce a new generation of underground magic performers.

Each evening ,six talented performers will be available in the lobby of the Marriott Hotel Crystal Gateway in Arlington with late night sessions working hands on with ‘stay up late’ registrants of the July 3-6 convention.

The performers scheduled are Tony Chang, Dan Hauss, Eric Jones, Chris Mayhew, Ben Train and Dan White. For a complete list of all the convention performers and a schedule, go to

Magicians Seek New Home for Old Tricks

Inside Magic Image of Visitor to Magic MuseumMagicians and magic historians have thousands of magic props, costumes and tools of the trade but no place to show them.
The Los Angeles Times covered the Society of American Magicians’ on-going effort to select a home for the more than 5,000 piece collection years after an explosion in a nearby building coated the items in soot and carcinogenic PCBs.
The collection in exile is currently housed in de classe digs in Pico Rivera, California – not quite its former home at the corner of Hollywood and Vine in Hollywood. 
"We'd love to reopen the museum. The problem is money," said John Engman, president of the society's local assembly.
The magicians sued and settled with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for $57,000.00 after more than three years of battling over the cost of decontamination.  Chase purchased the bank building in which the museum was housed and restricted access to bankers’ hours thereby prohibiting any evening events.
"We're looking for around 3,000 square feet, preferably in Hollywood. We'd have a little theater, a display area and storage space," said Engman, a retired California attorney and magician.   Space is dear in California and if the society cannot find a benefactor to donate a suitable venue, the museum may be moved to Parker, Colorado where its national office is to be opened.
Members of the local assembly can still see the items by visiting the storage facility but that arrangement is not practical or befitting such an important trove. 
The Inside Magic Museum of Magic endured a similar episode when local Mystic Hollow, Michigan zoning ordinances were updated to prohibit the public display of “old things” or images of “old people” that may “scare vulnerable members of society” or “contribute to respiratory distress due to mold or accumulated dust.” 
Unlike the society’s collection, the IMMM was easily moved to its new location by towing the single-wide unit to the south side of Dante Avenue and thus out of the official village limits.  The sudden starts and stops during the trip did result in indelible snow-cone juice stains on the museum’s collection of used mouth coils. 
Curator Darla White estimated the damage to some of the more popular bunched up mouth coils could be “significant.”  The prize of the collection, The Thurston Wad – nearly 47 feet of multicolored crepe paper spewed by the great magician whilst suffering a severe cold in Chicago – remained pristine and still glistening within its protective glass case.
A thumb-tip attributed to 1950s Vegas magician Alopecia Jones was also found still permanently affixed to its wooden base along with a plaque explaining how Jones utilized the gimmick in unique and not all magic-related ways.
Continue reading Magicians Seek New Home for Old Tricks

Magic’s Demise Predicted — Again

We have been reading The Last Greatest Magician in the World: Howard Thurston versus Houdini & the Battles of the American Wizards and enjoying every page. Jim Steinmeyer could have made his living writing books and wouldn't have needed to be the prodigious inventor of so many game changing illusions. We are fortunate as a community that he lost his way and fell victim to Magic's seductive call.

After Kellar's passing, there was a heated contest between Houdini and Thurston to assume the position of Dean in the Society of American Magicians. The debate was ugly and filled with attacks founded and otherwise to prove or disprove worthiness to the throne. One of the knocks on Thurston was his alleged violation of Magic's sacred rule against exposure.

Audiences could purchase candy in specially printed containers that taught basic magic tricks. Some of Magic's elite branded this activity evil and worthy of disqualification. Others saw no problem with the general principle of teaching very basic tricks to young people. The case apparently turned on a bizarre technicality: because the candy was being sold, there was no offense. If the same candy had been given away in the boxes, the case would have gone against Thurston.

In the midst of the debate, the magician and historian Henry Ridgely Evans penned his essay "Is Magic Decadent?"

Ah, for the good old days, when magic was a genuine mystery, and one had to learn it from a professor of sleight-of-hand; when books and boxes of magic did not exist, and stage secrets were as closely guarded as the formula of certain patent medicines.

Magic has been on the cusp of ruin for centuries and apparently the advent of mass production of magic kits and publication of magic books indicated the last days in 1923.

In an article published this weekend in the online journal, Salon, writer Santiago Willis voices concerns almost identical to those of Evans. His article, The Internet Makes Magic Disappear runs parallel to Evans' concerns and is familiar.

Magic depends on secrecy, magic shops controlled access to secrets, brick and mortar magic shops are shuttered by the internet outlets, exposes all to everyone with a computer; and therefore, magic will die out from over-exposure.

The writer notes New York City had 16 magic shops in 1960, three in 2003 and now only two. Willis quotes Jamy Ian Swiss for the proposition that the decline in brick-and-mortar shops portends the erosion of one of our art's essential support structures.

We cannot disagree that youtube has permitted really bad magicians to expose what could be really great tricks. But magic has been with us for a very long time and it has never been just about figuring out the secret. Magic in its truest form focuses on the performance, the give-and-take with an audience of one or a thousand, and the experience shared.

Continue reading Magic’s Demise Predicted — Again