Magic, Mystery and Mentalism – a Moral Lesson

Inside MagicImage of Concerned WomanMentalism, Magic and Mystery are three very different things – at least in our tattered book.  We have never gotten into trouble with Magic and Mystery but on a couple of occasions have experienced harsh but understandable reactions from Mentalism.

First of all, we are out of the Mentalism biz.  It used to be the cool thing around the time of people bending things and using specially patterned cards to read minds.  There was a time in our business when everyone claimed they could read minds.  Why they did that was always a mystery (little “m” mystery) to us.  It gained them some notoriety but it would seem to invite constant challenges.

Slowly the world of Mentalism evolved to not claiming to be capable of reading minds.  There were some who continued to make the claims but they were now considered psychics and not Mentalists.  We were always in the Mentalism camp – back during our Mentalism days.  We would, contrary to psychics, affirmatively tell audiences we cannot read minds.  We could influence choices and perhaps pick up tells given by volunteers but never, ever could we read minds.

Except one time.

The following story is an amalgam of two events to protect the innocent and make our point.

We performed what Magicians would call a one-in-a-million shot.  Our hole card is the Four of Hearts.  We don’t know why but it seems like a good even number and has pretty hearts that can be read from the back of the audience.  We were performing for some Boy Scouts and held an over-sized card before us and asked a woman in the far back to name a card.  Our intention was to fail to have predicted the card and then go about our act explaining why we do not claim Mentalism power.

She called out in a loud and clear voice, “The Four of Hearts!”

We were far less mature then.

We should have joked it off, not shown the card, and said that was why we did not claim to have special powers.  But we couldn’t resist.  We milked the moment and when we finally turned the card to face the audience, there was true amazement.  Unfortunately, there was also deep concern in the heart of the woman – the mother of one of a young scout.

She asked us almost immediately after finishing our routine, how we could possibly know the card.  She had told no one and didn’t even know she was going to be a volunteer.  Again, we were immature and in need of validation; even at the cost of someone else’s emotional toil.

“I don’t know for sure, we have a talent to read minds sometimes,” we said proudly.

It wasn’t true and still isn’t.  We can’t read minds.  We can’t even read fortune cookies without bifocals.  We do have a very special talent in reading The Racing Form but our mounting losses over the years have proven that talent does not lead to accurate predictions of horse races.

The scout mom became upset.  She asked if we could read her mind at that very moment.  We paused as if trying to gather psychic messages and had to admit that we could not.  But now she did not believe us.  We were lying and reading minds.  A very bad combination at a scout meeting.

“The Bible is against false prophets,” she told us as she took her boy behind her back and walked away from us.

We felt terrible.  Horrible.  We had offended – unnecessarily but for our own self-aggrandizement – a seemingly innocent, concerned mother and likely her son.

That is where the Mystery comes into the equation.  Magic, to us, is clean.  Things vanish, appear, and change shape or quality.  Birds come from places you would least expect and disappear into places far too small for them.  Magic is the kind of thing you would do (or we would do) for children, teens, adults and even people our age.  Mentalism requires some advanced thinking on the part of the audience and if introduced as a real power can cause real concern.

We don’t want to concern anyone with our act.  We do our double-lifts, false shuffles, second deals and what passes for a bottom deal and no one is emotionally concerned.  We do a short card divination but never describe it as Mentalism.  It is merely a demonstration of influence and picking up “tells.”

There are performers with more experience and ability than us.  They would handle the troop mother incident in a far better manner.  Perhaps they could even devise a method of proclaiming psychic powers that would cause no concern.  We lack those abilities.  But we can drink whole milk without having stomach or intestinal upset so we are all blessed in different ways.  (We are not saying and would never say all self-proclaimed psychics are lactose intolerant; only that most are and we are not).

The Mystery is why we would do such a thing?  Why would we concern a troop mom by persisting in the “gag” and asserting an ability we do not have and have never possessed?  We learned our lesson years ago but pass it along for those starting out in our wonderful Art.  There are very real consequences to what we do and how we choose to entertain.

Max Maven Live: A Review

Inside Magic Image of Max MavenMax Maven has probably performed the routine presented last night at the Peller Theatre hundreds, if not thousands, of times.  Yet, to watch his interaction with the capacity crowd, he gave the impression he was sharing with them new experiences and unexpected — but amazing — results.

Let’s not kid ourselves, Max Maven is an incredible presence on stage.  From his opening to finale, he is firmly in control of all things at all times.  He has the look, the voice and the words to cause us to trust him even though our instincts tell us otherwise.  He is precisely the type of person we should avoid.

His work with audience volunteers is flawless.  He allows them space to identify with their seated brethren and, while never rude, keeps them in line with a well-timed aside or one of his penetrating stares.

But being an imposing and impressive figure is not enough.  Can Mr. Maven, author, inventor, historian and larger-than-life figure deliver on the implicit promise of his stage persona?

In a word, yes.  In two words, yes siree!

His effects are baffling and so well-presented that one is never sure if we are watching his ability to work with the unexpected turn of events or unanticipated selection by an audience member.  One is left to assume that he has either anticipated every contingency or he possesses real magical powers.  Because we are famously lazy, we presume no one would ever work as many hours in front of real people to gain the experience necessary to handle every contingency and so we conclude he has special skills that defy explanation.

Mr. Maven will be performing at the Magic Castle’s Peller Theatre tonight (Friday) and tomorrow.  If you have a chance to see him perform, take it.  We have no doubt he has already anticipated your attendance and will have something special to show you.

Inside Magic Rating: Five Out of Five

Inside Magic Review: Spy Skills for the Professional Magician and Mentalist

Inside Magic Image of Work Like a Spy CoverWe are not a spy but of course, even if we were, we wouldn’t tell you for your own safety.  But we are a magician and that is somewhat like a spy.  Our specialty is Mentalism and that is very  much like a spy.  62.7 percent of our act is based on intuition, pre-show work and informed guessing.  Perhaps that is why we found so much of the information contained in former CIA operative J.C. Carleson’s new book Work Like a Spy: Business Tips from a Former CIA Officer.

Ms.  Carleson worked in the business world and then decided to join the CIA to serve her country and find adventure.  Along the way, she learned to collect, analyze and use information without detection or suspicion.  Those skills translated well when she returned to the corporate world and so her book is addressed to her new peer group – corporate executives.

Of course the ability to collect information from those who do not wish to give information – a doing so in a way that does not tip off your target – is what we as magicians do for a living.  Even if you are not into mentalism and work solely with automatic tricks requiring no “read” of your audience or volunteer, this book will help you tune your routine to the crowd.

On the other hand, if you are a mentalist or street magician, you need to get this book.  We pride ourselves in being very in-touch with our audience and able to easily pick up on their unspoken communication.  Ms. Carleson says we are precisely the type of person who could be a lousy spy.  Once you are convinced you can read people or discern truths from their behavior or background, you blind yourself to the reality of the encounter.  She provides a step-by-step method to acquire the skills you need to be successful building rapport as a business person, a spy or a magician.

We enjoyed the exercises she prescribes such as picking a stranger at random and learning the make and model of their car in a way that this perfect stranger has no idea you obtained the information.  You can do it – we know because we did it.  (But not on the first through fourth attempts).

Magicians need to pick the right volunteer to do their secret work and Ms. Carleson teaches us how to target the right person to obtain the information you seek.  How to then talk with that person to get the information without asking a single question and ingratiate yourself with your new found friend.
Continue reading Inside Magic Review: Spy Skills for the Professional Magician and Mentalist

Sad News: Ted Lesley Passes

Ted Lesley was an innovator in so many aspects of our magicial arts.  He was an inventor and visionary.  His obituary will be written and re-written on other sites and each will no doubt give a different perspective on this great mind and incredible performer.

Several message boards carried posts notifying the magic public of Mr. Lesley’s passing yesterday around noon in an extended care home in Berlin, Germany.

Mr.  Lesley was born in Dueren, Germany August 1, 1937.

He fell in love with (or at least was smitten by) magic when a school teacher showed the young man an effect.  He considered magic as a profession but his parents suggested he look a “real profession.”

Accounting was apparently real enough for his parents.   He used his incredible mind to assist clients in their financial affairs and later as a tax accountant.
Continue reading Sad News: Ted Lesley Passes

Mentalist’s Death Ruled Accidental

Jason Scott's Death Ruled Accidental

He was one of the original ten contestants on NBC’s Phenomenon “reality” show last year.

He performed for A-List Clients such as Steven Spielberg and Sting.  In July, Jason Scott Ogilvie better known as Jason Scott died in his Summerlin, Nevada home.

The young man’s cause of death was a mystery for months until Clark County Coroner’s Office ruled it was an accident caused by the mixing of OxyContin and alcohol.

Mr. Scott’s mother, Peggy Santana of Redding, Calif., spoke with Norm Clarke of The Las Vegas Review-Journal about the Coroner’s report and the events leading up to her son’s passing.

He had been ill after returning from a gig in Boston and joined his girlfriend for drinks the night he died.

He had about 10 beers and two pain pills, which were prescribed, his mother said. The coroner’s report found Scott had very low sodium in his system, a sign of dehydration.

“You just can’t mix alcohol and prescribed medication, especially if you are sick,” said Santana, a registered nurse. “This is just about the saddest thing I’ve ever dealt with. It’s so senseless.

“I bought him a magic kit for a Christmas present when he was 6. I don’t think he’s had another job (other than magic). He would never give in. It’s what he wanted to do.”

Mr. Scott’s success seemed almost guaranteed.  The Review-Journal notes the young performer left “a regular gig with the House of Blues to perform at the Playboy Club.”

His last performance was at a private party for Sting.