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Check out last month's Lucas Mackenzie and The London Midnight Ghost Show publication announcement issue. A tale of love, death, and magic.
Greetings. It's too late in the month to spring an April Fool joke, so perhaps next year. I'll just join Louisville fan Mac King in congratulating Kentucky on another NCAA championship.
Meanwhile, getting back to magic, it was fun passing my eyes over two fine books this month, Steve Spill's I Lie for Money and Robert Farmer's The Bammo Ten Card Deal Dossier. Each is highly recommended. As good things come in threes, I'd suggest throwing in a copy of Lucas Mackenzie and The London Midnight Ghost Show to round out your reading pleasure.
Zowie. It's almost convention season. See you there.
OH, WHAT A TANGLED WEB WE WEAVE -- I have stated before that six of the most enjoyable full evenings of magic that I have experienced were experienced at the Brook Farm Inn of Magic. The scheduling was ideal. All dinner seatings were at the same hour, and a close-up magician (my fav was John Kennedy) would greet you at your table with a quick miracle (John killed me with his Quarters to Glass). Following an excellent meal you stayed in your seat and settled in for the big show, a full evening of outrageous audience interactive tag team magic from Steve Spill and Bob Sheets. You might have seen a slapstick sub trunk routine complicated by flatulence, you might have seen a lady from the audience rising in the air despite her being convulsed with laughter as the magi swooned from whiffing her footware. Post show you could linger in the bar for still more close-up magic.
Let's see Copperfield do it this close.
In his new collection of reminiscences, I Lie for Money, Steve Spill recounts the venue's storied past, logs its 1450 performances over five years, and reveals that the classic sub trunk and levitation gags were organic, evolved during performance. (Glad I wasn't helping with the trunk!) But that's only five of Steve's sixty years and counting, and the book also encompasses Steve's childhood performance days, his Highdini rock and roll openings, his Jolly Jester days with Sheets (loved the Matt Schulien-like practical jokes), his Magic Castle days, his comedy club days, his Carter's Magic Cellar days, his travels galore, and his nearly two decades as major domo of his own venue, Magicopolis in Santa Monica.
I was an instant fan, because Steve performed the screwball, somewhat gross, always hilarious pieces that also characterize the best of Amazing Johnathan and Harry Anderson. How could you not love seeing "a skeletal, smoldering, blown apart bunny" produced from a hat, the Rice Bowls performed with two halves of Timothy Leary's brain, or the stylings of an incontinent mindreading goose? (The book also includes a selection of ideas that did not work, my favorite being the Vomiting Milk Trick. What goes down must come up! There are times you simply do not want audience participation.)
That Steve should have grown up to become a magician should have surprised no one, given that he spent his teen years hanging at the Magic Castle in the company of its Golden Age superstars. Steve's dad, Sandy Spillman, was an early Castle host and seance medium, and this gave Steve access to legends. A favorite chapter in the book is his memories of Dai Vernon, Kuda Bux, Carazini, Slydini, Charlie Miller, Senator Crandall, Francis Carlyle, and Albert Goshman.
A personal note. Two other gents of that era were Joe and Ronnie Berg. Joe would refuse to sell stuff such as a cigarette dropper to the young Spillman kid, while Ronnie jumped at the chance and claimed Cardini gave the thing to Joe on his death bed. I used to do a Card to Envelope trick producing the card from "a letter from Haiti," complete with stamp. As a gag I would offer the stamped envelope to anyone wanting to start a hobby. Only one person ever took my offer -- Ronnie Berg.
Nearly two decades of Steve's six-decade story are devoted to his dreaming up, designing, building, operating, and starring in his own performance space, Magicopolis. A delightful bonus was that he met his life partner Bozena along this path, and she is a major part of the show (and much cuter than Bob Sheets). I regret not having experienced it yet person, but nevertheless enjoyed its descriptions including large-scale illusions along with Steve's classic parlor routines.
Bozena and Steve.
A life of performing is a life populated with interesting characters, not all of them human. There are riveting accounts of a tiger cub latching onto the pilot's head in a four-seater airplane, of poultry cruelty re Doolittle Wilder and His Dancing Chickens, and of one of Brett Daniels' macaws spontaneously joining Steve's act. Unforgettable patrons ranged from a disturbing fellow who took the Magician's Insurance Policy way too seriously to a Baptist "not allowed to watch magic" (reminds me of the Baptist edict against people having sex standing up, because it might lead to dancing) to a tribe of jungle natives straight out of a Tarzan movie. And then there are the celebs, dozens of comics, magicians, singers, and actors, with anecdotes on Stephen King, Cary Grant, Mort Sahl, Sara Gilbert, Joan Rivers, and Bob Dylan. Nice company!
If you haven't guessed by now, I really like this book, another in the recent string that included Mike Perovich's A Vernon Companion and Ron Wilson's Tales from the Uncanny Scot. These are more fun than books of card tricks. It isn't an entire biography: by design Steve included only the fun, interesting stuff. He cleverly weaves the patter from his signature tricks, such as his Bill to Lemon or Mindreading Goose, into the narrative, and this gives the reader a sense of "being there." I Lie for Money is a hardback from Skyhorse Publishing, aimed at the general public. Available from Amazon. $24.99 but discounted to $18.62. (I look forward to a sequel. I was told that they had a matinee at Brook Farm, a pizza meal for kids only--no parents allowed. I'd love to hear more about that show.)
EARN BIG MONEY IN YOUR SPARE TIME-- The Bammo Ten Card Deal Dossier is Bob Farmer's long, long, long awaited study of the Ten Card Poker Deal, or, as I first heard it called, Mexican Poker. This oversized book of 400 pages is a monster compendium of methods, presentations, and variations on the title demo, the fascinating poker deal that most guys my age first encountered either in Vernon's Inner Secrets of Card Magic or Harry Lorayne's Deck-Sterity. I'll be honest: when ordering this book, I figured to merely skim it and keep it on the shelf as a reference. Alas, Bob Farmer's is one of the most compelling voices on the Genii forum, and I found myself reading deeper and deeper, mostly in Bob's voice, occasionally in that of others such as Harry Lorayne's. What could have been dry reading instead makes fascinating reading.
Organizing so much material must have been a staggering challenge. Bob chose (1) The Ten Card Deal (272 pages) with such topics as stratagems; one-, two-, eight-, and eighteen-Jonah methods; and the complete Phoenix and MAGIC magazine issues on the subject; (2) Deals with Ten Cards (52 pages) with deals leading up to and beyond the Solomon-Bannon-Blomberg deal (my favorite; more on that later); (3) Blackjack Deals (35 pages); (4) Switches (15 pages) with over half a dozen clever small packet switches; and (5) References (19 pages) with a fascinating book-in-itself bibliography of every Ten Card Deal known to well-posted man. Or woman. Some of the finest minds in magic made the list, the most prolific and creative being Nick Trost.
Rather than attempt to weigh the value of individual routines, I'll stick with only those that have impressed me along the way, that I hope to include, or that I have included in my own work.
I first saw the Solomon et al version on television in the hands of Alain Nu. Ever since, I have used Alain's idea of distributing the cards between two spectators rather than being the winner myself. More recently, most have seen Ricky Jay perform Jon Racherbaumer's (Losing) End Poker on "The Tonight Show." And I was among a lecture crowd of magicians who were fried by Patrick Redford's 30 Card Poker Deal (one of the few tricks described but not taught in the book).
I can picture but have not seen the Harry Anderson version described in the book but have no doubt the Trost gaffed version, as suggested, would do the trick. I was similarly impressed by a Twisting the Aces routine that Jon Racherbaumer performed, having no clue that Jon would be so underhanded as to ring in Trost gaffs.
Despite my years of reading Ten Card Poker routines, there was plenty that was new to me, and I look forward to trying out Lewis Jones's Give Me Five, Nicholas Johnson's Meet and Greet, and, especially, David Britland's Last Game.
Of versions I've learned, I fondly recall kneeling in a hotel corridor in Columbus as Josh Jay taught me his 242 2.0, a blackjack and poker routine.
But my longtime favorite remains The Blomberg Variation. These days, I prefer to get stuck with the nine. I turn up the spectator's cards to reveal his full house, aces over. Then I turn up four of the my cards to reveal a building straight flush. "I must confess, I tried to stack the cards so that I would get the ace of spades. Bastard! Unfortunately, only one card in the deck could possibly help me now. Fortunately, I have it." And turn over the nine.
As mentioned, I prefer to do the demonstration for two speks, one of them ("the lucky one") being the winner. Alas, I recently performed it one on one for a six-year-old granddaughter. Her elation was so great when her choices resulted in a strong full house that it crushed her heart when I revealed my straight flush. It was a moment that I could not undo and so vowed to never do it that way again. Be forewarned.
But to the book: you don't need my recommendation; you know it's great. This is a fine book, a masterpiece of scholarship, all told with considerable class and wit, handsomely produced. Available from Magicana. $65.
Buy something nice for your mom for watching all those card tricks.
Little Egypt Magic is the erratically updated web site of Steve Bryant, spawned (the site, not Steve) by a former internet magazine known as The Little Egypt Gazette/for magicians only.
Steve Bryant is an obscure magician and writer who generates this site from an iMac in Bloomington, Indiana. He used to frequently journey to and perform magic in Little Egypt, the local name for extreme southern Illinois, where the towns bear such names as Cairo, Thebes, and Karnak.
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