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THE ART OF MAGIC
Reading this you will quickly realize it is not so much what the magician does that makes him great, but instead how he does it. To simply know how the magician accomplishes his magic is nothing--it is the manner in which he presents his performance before an audience. All of the great magicians have had something associated with their performances, something special that makes them stand out from the others. For Blackstone, both Senior and Junior it was and are the Vanishing Birdcage, the Dancing Handkerchief and Comedy Rope Tie while picking the pockets of spectators from the audience assisting on stage. For Houdini it was his spectacular escape from a straight jacket, and at various times in his career the escape from a giant milk can filled with water and later his original water torture cell. For Dante it was his presentation of his Backstage Illusion. Everybody in the audience thought they saw how it was done, but in the end he fooled them all with a surprise finish. Dante was also noted for his Lazy Magician where he sat on a chair smoking a cigar while female assistants brought out a cane, rope and silk scarves. In a lazy manner he performed magic. It was his personality that projected. Cardini was known for his suave presentation manipulating playing cards while wearing white gloves and Channing Pollock for producing white fluttering doves out of nowhere. To have a violin and sheet music does not make a person qualified to take a seat with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The same applies to magic. To have a deck of cards and several silk scarves does not make one a magician. All of the people you read about in this book have dedicated their lives to perfecting their art. The presentation of magic in a theatrical form is n art. The study of magic and its application is a science. To a real professional magician, they never call their magic a "trick." It is always an effect which is short for theatrical effect. For it is the overall presentation and end result, the way it appears to the viewing audience that qualifies it as an art. Magic and its presentation is a form of affecting people's emotions through drama. In presenting each effect, the magician is telling a story. As the story unfolds, the emotions of the people in the audience in the form of dreams are told. Things a magician performs fulfills a basic fundamental desire in each person, either on a conscience or subconscious level. Channing Pollock once told me that he felt magic represented power; at least on somewhat of an artificial level. In the best presentation, the Art of magic expresses desire, wishes, dreams and a balance with reality on a symbolic form, and the balance with the natural laws of science. Theatrically a magician must be a good actor, because the magical effect (or play) does not in itself play out the plot. The great magician must project personality, style, timing, voice inflection, and all the other qualities of a great actor. The father of modern magic, Robert-Houdin of France said, "A magician is playing the part of a man who works miracles ." How much can a magician do with the theatrical form of magic? Where can he draw his art? Here are the basic concepts in magic when you approach it as a science.
In magician's terminology the magical appearance of something is known as a production. The size of what a magician can produce out of what appears to be thin air is only limited to his imagination and the conditions where he is performing. It must be said that the appearance of playing cards by a master magician can be just as impressive as the production of an elephant. In the history of magic, the most well known production is that of pulling a rabbit out of a previously shown empty black top hat. In the days of old this was especially effective because the magician would barrow a hat from a member of the audience, when such hats where in style for gentlemen.
To disappear an object or person, which is also known as a vanish, is a fundamental aspect of the magician's art. There are two types of vanishing acts, one with an object or person is covered, such as vanishing from a box. A person steps into a box, the doors are closed and when reopened the person seems to have vanished. The other is to vanish or disappear without any cover whatsoever. A magician can display a handful of playing cards and apparently toss them into the air and they suddenly vanish! This is a classic example of magic at its very best. Harry Blackstone, both father and son, have made a trademark of their ability to vanish a bird cage containing a canary in a split second. There is no covering whatsoever, and this is considered one of the greatest effects in magic. Another example of a vanish or disappearance is where either an object or person fades away. A large container with a paper covering a frame, with a light shown behind the paper the subject can step behind the paper and the shadow can be seen. Slowly the shadows image becomes weaker and disappears completely. When the paper and frame work are removed the object is gone.
This is when the magician changes one object into another. Dante, one of the greatest magicians in history, was once known as Jansen, "The Transformist ." On a smaller level this can be when one playing card, for example the ace of spades changes to the ten of diamonds. On a larger level it can be when a boy suddenly changes into a horse. There are many ways this can be done, a red hat chances to a black hat, or a car can change into a motorcycle. It can be done slowly and mysteriously or instantly.
this is changing the location of an object from one place to another. A girl steps into a box, disappears, and then re-appears in the back of the audience. Another way is that a bird can be placed in a small bag, the magician fires a gun and it disappears only to reappear from his hat. The four effects listed here make up the basis for what a magician does. These are the most common and important elements of the magician's art. There are others too.
A rope can be cut into two pieces, then with the wave of a magic wand, restored back into a single piece. Another is to saw a live girl in half, separate the top and bottom half, and then restores her back to whole again. Other examples, Most which utilize pretty girls, are burning a young lady on stage and then restoring her back to her original condition, crushing a girl or stretching her arms and legs into various directions, and once again restoring her as before.
This is where an object becomes alive or animated. A good example of this was Howard Thurstons trademark. Various members of the audience would select playing cards, remember them and return them back into the deck. Slowly, one by one, one each card would magically rise up out of the deck. Another example is the famous Hindu Rope Mystery where a coil of rope is displayed on the stage, and without the magician touching it one end would rise up high into the air.
According to the laws of nature, two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time. In a magic show a penetration can be when one solid object passes through another, and at the finish there is no visible clue how this was accomplished. A needle can penetrate a glass mirror without any holes in it. Houdini made a feature of apparently walking through a brick wall, again without holes or tell-tale signs of his method of passing.
Examples of this would be a levitation where a person or object rises up into the air without any visible means of support. The Floating Girl is identified on a universal basis with magicians everywhere. Another would be the great Lee Grabel and his famous trademark FLOATING Piano. For many years he toured coast-to-coast with his mystery Show, performing this in communities large and small. A spectator from the audience would be invited upon the stage and seated at a piano. They would then be strapped into the piano seat, for reasons which would soon become known. As the spectator played the piano, it would slowly rise up off the stage and into the air, and rotate upside down as GRABEL and his assistants would pass a solid hoop over and around the floating piano and player! After making a full 360 rotation it would float back down to the stage, and piano and player where none the worse for the experience. Needless to say this created a sensation, and everywhere Grabel presented it people would flock to the theaters. Thirty years later people are still talking about it. A suspension is different from a levitation. In a suspension the person or object is suspended in the air and does not rise. A girl might remain in a stationary position on the tip of a sword, the upper head of a chair or from the inverted bristle side of a broom without explanation. Various forms of the suspension principle and levitation have become popular with magician's shows and the public often feels disappointed if they don't see it when attending a magic Show. Of course it is not only large objects or people that can be floated in the air. Small items like a metal ball floating around the stage as presented by American magico Aubrey or the floating light Globe (while lit) as presented by Harry Blackstone, Jr. are class examples of smaller items presented in a big way.
This is when the idea of time is either set forward or set backward according to the plot. A magician may show a grown young lady, perhaps in her mid-twenties and have her step into a small cabinet. Then the magician says the magic words, the cabinet is then opened again and the young lady has been changed to a baby. Another is where the magician shows a pot empty, adds soil and seeds and covers it with a cloth or metal tube. Then the cloth or tube are removed there are seen full grown flowers which he presents to members of the audience. The flower growth effect is very popular with Magician Harry Kellar who at the turn of the century and before created a sensation with it. You can imagine the impact of sitting in an audience in Toronto in the winter, and the magician causes roses to apparently Grow despite the cold, snow and winter weather of Canada. This was a big hit everywhere he presented it .
This is when a magician does something to an object , and Gets a sympathetic or the same reaction to another such object. This can be illustrated by a masterpiece of magic in the hands of Cas Boxley, one of the Greatest Magicians in history. He would show six silk scarves. He would tie three together and place them on a chair. about five feet away he would show the other three silk scarves separate. With his magic words the three that were tied would be found untied and the three that had earlier been separate were now tied together! Another example of this is when a magician ask a spectator to select any colored card with a choice of several different colors. The magician turns his back and he too selects a color and it turns out they had both chosen the same color.
MENTALISM AND MIND READING
A closely related allied art is that of mind reading which is sometimes termed as Mentalism. Joseph Dunninger is generally considered the creator of the word Mentalism, and he was a headliner in vaudeville for many years before turning to radio in it's early days, and later to television with equal success. Today Kreskin in the United States and Australian born Peter Reveen are the best known mentalists performing in North America . Members of the audience have their thoughts or minds "read" by the performer, in a baffling and entertaining manner. Another of the great mentalists Ormond McGill who for over sixty years was also among the most creative with his original ideas and approach. McGill has demonstrated his amazing ability to read the very thoughts of people in the audience in India, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Korea, Tahiti and other locations with the same ease as he has done in his own hone country of the USA.
This is most often seen in the traveling side shows associated with carnivals or the circus. The performers can impale his flesh with sewing needles without pain or discomfort, or walk on broken Glass in his bare feet without being cut, or snuff out lit cigarettes on his bare flesh or tongue without being burned. This should never be attempted by amateurs or anyone without a knowledgeable instructor .
The last element of the magician's art to be considered here, but by no means the least important is Escapes or what is also known as Escapology. The best known in history in the English speaking countries was Harry Houdini. He did not create or invent the escape act, but he became a headliner in vaudeville with it, the subject of hundreds or perhaps thousands of newspaper and magazine articles and several fictional films have been made about him. Some have said he was just an average magician, but a great escape artist. This can be faulted, because I have had the opportunity to see Houdini in action as both a magician and escape artist in old film clips. There is no question that he was outstanding in both aspects . Perhaps the reason magicians have stated he was only an average magician is because of the manner he presented his shows. To explain further, in Houdini's day the top magicians were Howard Thurston, The Great Raymond, Carter the Great, and Cardini. In the case of the first three when they performed an effect on stage, they were not the principle in the effect. Thurston would saw a girl in half or float a Girl, while Raymond or Carter would make a girl or boy disappear from the stage or do some other equal extraordinary feat. In Houdini's case it was that he was the center of the effect. If somebody disappeared, it was Houdini. The approach to the presentation was different than the others. Cardini was noted as the greatest sleight-of-hand magician of his day. Flawless artistic handling of playing cards, thimbles , balls etc. They appeared and disappeared in rare skill and ability. After viewing a film of Houdini presenting his version of sleight-of-hand with cards, I must say I was impressed as that of Cardini. Houdini was very mysterious and baffling while Cardini was very elegant and suave. How could anyone really compare them? How can you compare any magician to another? It is as foolish as trying to say which is better, apples or oranges. It rests in the personal opinion of the person who is the judge. which is better in music, jazz, rock-n-roll, big bands, classical or what? If everybody liked the same thing there would be only one type of ice cream. Instead there are many flavors to satisfy the taste of many people . Escapes themselves can be very dangerous. The very idea of freeing yourself from a trap or impossible situation is thrilling to any audience. Just about any normal person will in his own imagination place himself in the same situation as the escape artist. Dangling upside in the air high over the pavement in a straightjacket struggling to get out...chained down to a train track while the train approaches closer and closer...handcuffed and shackled and jumping into the waters of a lake, river or ocean and escaping underwater before facing death by drowning. These are just some of the situations an escape artist can find himself. In the early days of Houdini he made a reputation for himself by getting out of the local jails or prison in each town. There he would perform. Think of that. A magician or escape artist comes to your home town and Gets out of the jail, the same place were desperate criminals are placed Escape artists by tradition in their stage performances find themselves bound by ropes, chained and locked up, nailed into boxes, bound in straightjackets, handcuffed and all sorts of situations, yet the escape is made. Another aspect of the modern escape artists act is the "Challenge Escapes" where the public brings their own instruments to confine the performer with the idea he might fail. When I was younger I would offer $1,000 cash to anybody who could confine me so I could not escape. People and organizations would cone up with all sorts of devices; safes, vaults, fetters of every description. When there is a time element involved, that adds to the excitement. In my younger days I would also offer $1,000 if anybody could tie me up with 50 feet of rope, use any kind of knots; if I failed to escape in less time than it took to bind me. Nobody ever collected! Many times I presented a very dangerous demonstration with the time element and the prospects of death if I failed. One time in Tokyo, Japan for a national television special I was strapped into a straightjacket and hung upside down over a burning fire with five sticks of dynamite attached to the cable holding me up, set on a three minute timer. The idea was to make an escape and get into a passing gondola high above the crowd before the exposition. I made it and it create quite a stir in Japan. Today there are only several escape artists working professionally in the entire world. Norman Bigelow in the New England area has been performing one of the most original escape acts ever. Canadian born showman, The Amazing Randi has had a long and varied career, and in Japan the late Hikita Tenko, a close friend of mine before his death was as well known in his native country as Houdini to the English speaking world.