OH! OH! OH! WHAT A GIRL – Suzy Wandas The Lady with the Fairy Fingers is a remarkable book, a marvel of intensive research, innovative layout, and inspired writing. Here at last is a real page turner, the fascinating life story of a female manipulator I had long heard of but knew practically nothing about. As compelling a story as it is of the ascension of a magician, it is equally compelling as a story of a family that lived through a lot of history.
Suzy was born Jeanne Van Dyk, 1896, to a carnival family in Brussels, Belgium. There would be a younger brother, Louis, plus two more sisters the family couldn’t afford, farmed out to a severe Catholic orphanage. She was performing as early as 10, juggling while on a slack wire, playing violin while dancing. Secretly, she worked on magic, inspired toward coins by T. Nelson Downs and Talma Queen of Coins, later cigarettes by Frakson. (That was circa 1911; I would later enjoy Frakson myself in 1968!)
When her father died at only 44, Suzy (still Jeanne) and her mom began performing as a sister act, brother Louis providing comedy relief. “Van Dyck” morphed to “Vandy” to “Vanda” or “Wanda.” Jeanne” would become “Suzy” when the song “If You Knew Susie” became popular in 1925. Magic had entered the act by 1913. Although Suzy and her mom endured German occupation in both World Wars, Louis had a far more grim life, serving at the front in WW I and in the resistance in WW II. But he did survive and eventually had a family. By 1936, Suzy had perfected her manipulation act and her hame: Suzy Wandas was born. Later, at 47, she would impress a 17-year-old Fred Kaps. Her star began to rise in the universe of magic, thanks first to the IBM coming to Brussels, then to a booking at Hastings, England, in 1952, and an Abbott’s Get-Together in 1953. A long epistolary courtship with card manipulator Dr. Zina Bennett led to a 1959 marriage and life in America.
The authors are the father-son team of Christ and Kobe Van Herwegen, who not only unearthed extraordinary detail in five years of research, but who wrote it up so charmingly. You can see a little of them, and of Suzy, here. (Kobe is an actor-magician as well as an author.) It’s hard to believe that English is not their first language. I adored this passage, regarding Zina Bennett’s visit to Expo 58 after a five-year separation from Suzy:
Two days later Expo 58 closes its doors. The fair attracted more than 41.5 million visitors. Among them were two lovebirds.
To the Van Herwegens’ wonderful manuscript add dozens of full-color posters, photos, personal letters, and ephemera, cleverly laid out by Stina Henslee. Of special note is the blossoming love affair between Suzy and Zina, running letter by letter through the overall narrative of Suzy’s life. The project is handsomely packaged by Squash Publishing. Hardback, 204 pp, $60. I bought mine from Abbott’s, who threw in a Zina Bennett fanning deck.
Postscript: On the Genii forum, and on Nick Lewin’s web site, is the frequent question of whether the young blonde in a movie short Starlit Days at the Lido is Suzy Wandas. (The credits state that she is Marion Stephanie.) After reading this book, I would say she is not Suzy. America was a huge goal for Suzy, and she was a prolific letter writer. She would have mentioned it. And yet, and yet, Suzy’s protégé, Lucy Smalley, asserts that it is Suzy, hence the mystery. Hmm.
CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER – Cried Alice! A nice surprise watching a recent S.A.M. lecture by Jim Steinmeyer was the announcement of his latest book, Curious Impuzzibilities. I just checked back through my Table of Contents regarding previous installments, and it is impressive what an enviable program of magic you can cull from these self-working gems. The latest is a worthy addition to the genre.
A few favs:
One Exceptional Card: A card is lost and then found among five. You can do this over the phone.
Two-Way Switch: From a packet of 20 cards, one spectator selects a card at an even-numbered position, the other at an odd position. Through some clever subtleties you cause the two cards to swap positions.
The “I Forgot of Something”: Jim is ingenious at using patter to justify method. When the spectator spells “I forgot of something,” he fails to find his card. “Turn it over. Is that your card? Of course it isn’t! That would have been a miracle!” But with a slight revision in procedure, also justified, he repeats the spelling to success.
Three Wishes: One of my favorite ruses is doing things that are not in the time order that the spectator thinks is happening. Said ruse nails a three-phase prediction.
Excessive Force: A scrambled run of 13 cards plus a joker is first mixed, seemingly fairly, by the magi to force the joker. Spectator then seemingly mixes the pile, also fairly, not only forcing the joker but putting the other 13 cards into numerical order.
A Pretend Magic Show: A bit of verbal witchcraft, to borrow a Chuck Smith accolade. You simply tell a story, and the magic happens in each spectator’s head. This and others were part of Jim’s S.A.M. lecture.
Five others complete this latest chapter in the usual format, softbound with foil cover, 34 pp, $23 plus postage at jimsteinmeyer.com. Since the first book, the titles have been distinguished by a parade of adjectives: Further, Subsequent, Ensuing, Treacherous, Devilish, Unexpected, and now Curious. My vote for the next volume? Scandalous!
Extra! Congratulations to Jim for winning the 2020 Allan Slaight award for Lifetime Achievement.
Magicians stuck at home are continuing to make the most of dead time, producing more online content than I can keep up with. My favorite spots are the Sunday evening Magic Collectors Corner Online hosted by David Sandy with tech assistance by Lance Rich, and the Thursday/Sunday evening Behind the Bookcase perks from the Magic Castle’s AMA. Most of the Castle broadcasts have been cohosted byJonathan Levit, who has been sensational in that post. Both sources evidence considerable planning and preparation, both are seriously educational as well as entertaining, and both feature overlapping personnel. (Mike Caveney is a frequent authority.) Raves flow in from all the viewers.
RETURN TO BEHIND THE BOOKCASE -- Picking up where I left off last month, John Carney pulled off the nifty trick June 14 of appearing live on Collectors Corner at 8:00 Eastern and live as host of Magic Castle video performances at 10:00 Eastern. Impressive. For the Castle event, John’s star-studded “Dream Show” included performances by Billy McComb, Mike Skinner, George Carl, and Fred Kaps. John dropped the tidbit that the Kaps appearance on Sullivan was taped earlier in the day, before the Beatles appeared, so as not to keep the fans waiting.
The next Castle event, June 18, was The Quiet Masters Experience, with Kenrick Ice McDonald talking about his documentary on the history of black magicians. To my surprise, he was “introduced” by Eugene Burger. Nice to see him! Eugene was part of the documentary, and the sensational news is that the full documentary, The Quiet Masters, is available on Amazon Prime.
The June 25 Castle visit featured a return to John Gaughan's shop, with Mike Caveney along. So much to see! I particularly enjoyed the life-sized Houdini automaton that writes Houdini's autograph (or, at least, a Jy Marshall approximation of Houdini's autograph) and Charlie Bones, a life-sized walking, talking skeleton.
Sunday, June 28, took us to a tour of Brookledge, hosted of course by Erika Larsen with additional history provided by Max Maven. A fabulous magical home. Although I have been unable to attend the Brookledge Follies that Erika produces, I used to attend lectures there in the sixties, so the tour for me was a trip back into time. Nice to be back.
You might call it the Kids in the Candy Shop episode of Behind the Bookcase July 2, when Jonathan Levit and Mike Caveney spent the day filming and the evening discussing Owen Magic Supreme. Owen’s is arguably the world’s greatest magic shop, especially for high-end illusions, and the guys clearly enjoyed their tour by Alan Zagorsky and their secret spying on all the materials in the Owen’s loft. Although the building is being sold, the business is clearly booming, with lots in stock about to be shipped out and lots in progress, from ten sets of linking rings a month to a calliope for the Rose parade. A fabulous tour, and no one knows the Owen’s history like Mike. I spent the next day drooling over the Owen's 1997 catalog.
The year 1968 was tough for much of the country, but great for me: my first year visiting the Magic Castle. No one has captured that era better than Michael Perovich, whose memories were subject of the Bookcase’s July 5 program, hosted by John Carney. Mike touched on memories of Frakson, Jack Oakie, Carazini, Francis Carlyle, Tenkai, Slydini, Senator Crandall, lectures at the Masquers Club, and Blackstone Sr. punking a waitress with a doughnut, decades before Michael Carbonaro was born. And of course: Dai Vernon, particularly some of his adventures with automobiles. I urge you to turn back to the Vernon Companion issue of Little Egypt Magic for a complete review of Michael’s must-have book. I noted back then:
It is hard to express how utterly gifted Mike is at evoking what it was like to be there, both the emotions and the factual details. When he describes the winding path to the original library, where you were in considerable danger of colliding with a waiter, I am there again. It was always a breathtaking journey.
I frequently return to The Vernon Companion (it's by my bed, and I re-read it in full every year or so), but it was fun to hear the stories directly from Mike.
The past few months have granted us access to numerous collections, but I don't think any collector has been as enthusiastic about his treasures as Chip Romero. A Thursday, July 9, Bookcase perk sent Mike Caveney (virtually) to Chip's Doug Henning collection in Lake Charles, LA. Chip repeatedly made the case that December 26, 1975, changed the world of magic, when Doug's live TV special morphed us all from nerdy to cool. I remember it well, like remembering where you were when President Kennedy died.
Max Maven (July 12) closed out this edition's collection of AMA perks with "Sunday Night at the Movies," his look at a hodgepodge of footage, with magicians as actors, actors as magicians, magicians as consultants, magicians as hand inserts, and magicians acting as magicians in films. Actors passing as magicians included Veronica Lake (This Gun for Hire), Joseph Cotten, Chris Pratt (The Magnificent Seven), Tom Cruise (Mission Impossible) and of course Orson Welles. Veronica Lake in particular acquired magic chops for her role. Alan Shaxon and Marian Chavez (probably) consulted. It was John Scarne's hands, not Paul Newman's, that you saw manipulating cards in The Sting. Channing Pollock of course acquits himself well as a straight actor, but he also fits the magician acting as magician category, as did David Copperfield (Terror Train) and Robert Harbin (The Limping Man). But my favorite in this category, as a night club magician entertaining Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh in Houdini, was none other than Bill Larsen Jr. Amazing!
RETURN TO THE MAGIC COLLECTORS CORNER -- Getting back to Sunday June 14, the Collectors theme was Dai Vernon, and David Ben supplied most of the info. (It makes me salivate for the next volume of the Vernon bio.) Most interesting was that David made the case that Vernon performed professionally for many years, including on cruise ships. Also new to me was that Mark Ledy at one time assisted Vernon’s agent Frances Rockefeller King.
I missed most of the Sunday, June 21, Castle event (interview with the authors of The Show Won’t Go On) because the Collectors event was so fascinating that I couldn't pull away. First a visit with Lupe Nielsen and a tour of her vast workshop, where she toils away filling orders. I noticed some Dean’s Boxes among her stock, and she explained that the original boxes were made from the wrong wood and assembled improperly, so that natural expansion and contraction would cause the boxes to fail. My own failed a couple of years ago; now I know why!
Then over to Mike Caveney’s place, where he displayed his collection of wands belonging to famous magicians. His closer was a wand whose tips cast a shadow of Keller on one end, Thurston on the other. A weekly feature is “Ask Adele,” a chat with Adele Friel Rhindress, who used to work in the show of Harry Blackstone Sr. Shown a photo of the Levitation of the Princess Karnak, she easily identified each participant. One of the male assistants was Del Ray!
Collectors Corner # 11 began with Mark Horowitz’s extensive and eclectic collection in Ft. Lauderdale (way more than comic books), intriguing me with 550 magic sets, among so much else. And the week’s theme, Houdini, included a visit to the Houdini Museum of New York with Roger Dryer and to the home of Barry Spector, who makes wands, illusion replicas, and props from wood removed from Houdini’s house!
Sunday, July 5, the Magic Collectors guys visited Terry Evanswood’s Hall of Magic in Pigeon Forge. Quite the collection. And it's for sale! Terry is moving to a larger theater, bu t with no room for the museum. (A secret revealed? There is poster of Randi featuring the milk can escape. Supposedly, the rivets on the milk can spell out HARRY HOUDINI in Morse code. Check it out.) Casual visits to various collectors showed off some unique magic sets, but my favorite visit was to Ray Ricard's library. Take a look! Those are 19-foot ceilings, and all the shelves are double. There is another row of books behind each row. Sunday nights are packed!
The theme of the July 12 episode (#13) of Collectors Corner was Johnny Carson, and this may have provided the most heart-warming hours of magic I have witnessed lately. David Sandy interviewed five magicians who have appeared with Johnny, namely Walter Blaney, Michael Ammar, Joseph Gabriel, Paul Gertner, and Lance Burton. Lance holds the record with ten appearances with Johnny and ten more with Jay Leno. Each told the amazing story of how he first got on the show and how he was treated before, during, and after. The "after" part included Johnny's nephew disbursing, among the magicians who had appeared with Johnny, all of Johnny's magic props. The stories gave me chills, and I am sure there was a smile on my face throughout. If you missed this, you can find it online on the Magic Collectors Corner Facebook page.
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE ...
Some magicians have been sharing online material long before the pandemic, and one of these is card whiz David Solomon. If you are on David’s email list, don’t overlook Solomon’s Bulletin #135. This is a dandy self-working card trick. If you are not on his list, go to davidsolomon.net and you will easily see how to join.
Alas, more is going on than a virus, hence a serious need in this country for the Black Lives Matter movement. Thirty-five magicians recently contributed 39 items (tricks, moves, essays) to a pdf, Magic for BLM, to raise funds for that cause, and it’s swell. I am still reading it, starting with friends and/or idols (there are many new names to me as well), and my favorite so far is 192020, by Ben Train. It’s a nifty way of getting into one of my favorite revelations. Put together by Nathan Colwell, 282 pages, 110 illustrations. Supposedly unavailable after July 3. Check it out here anyway.
MAGIC OR SCIENCE-FICTION? -- Many nights of my youth were spent parked on the Mississippi River levee, scanning the star-filled sky for UFOs. It was dark enough to observe the sweep of the Milky Way, and thrilling to think that we might not be alone. Given that nostalgic background, it is no wonder that I adore the debut movie from Andrew Patterson, The Vast of Night. A small-town DJ at radio station WOTW and a teenage phone operator hear strange sounds while the rest of the town is at a basketball game. I’ve not been as excited about a movie in years, but this one definitely rocks. It’s free on Amazon Prime, and you can see its trailer here. Enjoy!
The last reported UFO sighting in Little Egypt was in 1967, when school bus driver Orville Thomas testified “it seemed very low and looked as big as the water tower in Cairo.” Others claimed it was apparently made of a “burnished aluminum substance” and sported the familiar red-and-white lights. That set of sightings reminded The Cairo Evening Citizen staff of an earlier incident, when a UFO was not only sighted but landed in Cairo, in 1950. I’ll close with that entire report. Alas, racism played a role, as did a magician. Read on. Photo is at the bottom of the page.
Landing of Flying Saucer in Cairo Recalled
By Jim Flanary
Citizen Staff Writer.
Cairo and the entire Tri-States area is agog these days over the mysterious UFO that has been haunting our skies. Nightly, hordes of people congregate on the Mississippi River levee to engage in “UFO watching.”
If you’re old enough to remember a summer day in July, 1950, then you really shouldn’t see anything to get excited about. Flying saucers … UFOs … men from Mars … we doubt that anything will ever top what happened in Cairo on July 26, 1950 … for even then, rumors and reported sightings of UFOs were spinning about the country.
Early morning of Wednesday, July 26, 1950, was a good morning for a quick snooze just before getting up and going to work. The sunrise popped over Cairo well before 5 a.m., but it was still cool.
Cairo didn’t sleep that morning … not even the loafers. Just before 6 a.m., word began flashing around town: A FLYING SAUCER HAS LANDED ON THE LAWN OF THE OLD POST OFFICE BUILDING!
If you remember the date, and if you lived here you’ll never forget it, you remember what hundreds of Cairoites did. They leaped out of bed and dashed down to the middle of town to see if it was true. Sure enough, it was!
Lying in a roped-off area of the Old Post Office lawn and guarded by uniformed men, was a flying saucer.
It was a hexagonal shaped monstrosity, apparently made of aluminum, about three feet high and six feet in diameter. The saucer had twin jet exhaust pipes, a radio antenna and four small windows of dark red glass.
A murmuring group of half-scared early risers stood well away from the flying saucer, which occasionally vibrated as if it was about to take off.
As the word spread, hundreds of persons turned out to look at the UFO which had been reported all over the country and had finally landed in Cairo. Soon those “in the know” vowed that the saucer had landed in Cairo about 4:30 a.m., and the National Guard had been called out to guard it. Presence of uniformed soldiers seemed to authenticate the story. Maj. Gen. Harry L. Bolen, himself a Cairoite, and commanding general of the Illinois National Guard but … [indecipherable] his formal statement until much later in the day.
By 8 o’clock, the crowd was still growing, but standing still as a mouse. Traffic was blocked for miles around the site. Finally the saucer was approached by a group of six “guards.” They lifted it from the ground, revealing a young man dressed in a red cape, a plastic face shield, tight trousers and boots. The crowd gasped.
The “man from Mars” held up a card and read: “I come from Mars to see the Egyptian Country Club minstrel, sponsored by the Junior Association of Commerce.”
Upon closer examination, the “flying saucer” was found to be made of wood and aluminum-painted cardboard, bound together by staples. A television type car radio antenna was fastened atop the saucer, and the area around the jet tail pipes had been blackened to give the appearance of being burned by explosion of gases from the twin jets.
What began as a publicity stunt boomeranged into a nation-wide news story … one that is still being written about today.
Oh, yes, who were the culprits participating in the stunt? Well, the Man from Mars was James Bradley, then a junior in high school. The six guardsmen were “Red” Frazee, who later became a professional magician and clown, Don Hunter, Max Keith, Billy Joiner, George Summers and John Liddell.
TOO YOUNG -- The world of magic is a little dimmer with the passing of two notables, Louis Falanga and Marvyn Roy. Louis died young at 65, having made his mark as the publisher of some of the best books in my library, including those by and about Dai Vernon, Larry Jennings, Alex Elmsley, J.C. Wagner, Bob Wagner, Michael Ammar, Ed Marlo, Harry Lorayne, Don Alan, John Cornelius, Roger Klause, Mike Skinner, Simon Lovell, Allan Ackerman, Sid Fleischman, Bruce Cervon, and Karl Fulves. As important as the books were, it was his DVDs that I loved best, with those uber fans who became magic celebrities themselves. And the girls were so pretty! I love the titles I own, but it’s the Bill Malone sets I keep handy in the office. Aloha, Louis. You made our lives better.
And then there is Marvyn Roy, who died young at 95. The last time I was at MAGIC Live, looking for some place to dine with John Signa and Dustin Stinett, who should approach us, alone and under his own steam, but Marvyn? He was still just a kid, hanging out at a magic convention in his 90s. The best I can do to pay tribute to Marvyn is to repeat my review of his sensational autobiography, from 2005. It follows. So aloha, Marvyn. You made the Ed Sullivan shows of my childhood so much fun to look forward to.
BRILLIANT -- As I grew up in the 50s and 60s, there was one magic act that literally defined what it meant to be a professional magician, and that was Mr. Electric -- Artistry in Light. Marvyn Roy and Carol toured the world's finest show rooms, opened for the world's finest entertainers, and performed what is arguably the finest magic act ever conceived. Here were 8 to 20 minutes (depending on requirements) of first-rate entertainment with electric lightbulbs performed by a handsome high-energy team, magic that drew applause and raves from smart set audiences and critics alike. In Marvyn's new bio, Mr. Electric Unplugged from Mike Caveney's Magic Words, the entire Mr. Electric story is told for the ages. (Marvyn must have either a crackerjack memory or a stack of diaries and scrapbooks.) You witness the long development of the act, you appreciate that it was far more technically demanding than I had realized, and you learn how hard you have to work to do "eight minutes a day." There are many stories I didn't know (Marvyn was on the beach just after D-Day, for example, where he was wounded) and some you do (Mr. E's performance in the Magic Castle's parking garage is one that Milt loves to tell). There are hilarious celebrity anecdotes (my favorite involves Liberace being warned to not do the light bulb trick while standing in a puddle of water) and hundreds of photos (my favorites are the one with Marvyn holding forth for a bunch of kids such as Caveney and Stan Allen plus the one with the early giants at the Magic Castle). Above all, the book is a love story, of Marvyn's love for magic and his love for Carol. It's a lovely story, told in a distinctive voice:
It was my time. Time to live and be noticed. Then there was Carol. Beautiful, wonderful Carol. Without her there would be no journey. It was Paris, the Lido, opening at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas, Radio City Music Hall, Ed Sullivan, the wondrous Magic Castle and "my boys," always "my boys." So many magical sons.
From the early days hanging around Thayer's as a youngster to the most recent rounds of accolades, it's all here, gorgeously produced. Read it and be inspired. $50 from Mike Caveney or your favorite dealer. [Sorry, currently out of print.]