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Johnny Thompson's new books are pure gold.
Return to our March issue for a look at two great Vanishing, Inc. downloads -- a surprise Ed Marlo lecture and a Ben Earl lecture on deck switches, along with a Rue Morgue interview on Andy Nyman's Ghost Stories and a Little Egypt seance in Bloomington.
Ah, an April Fool's prank for you. My son-in-law sat down at his computer recently to find that his computer mouse didn't work. After some time, he turned it over to find that my granddaughter had taped a piece of paper to it that read, "Ha! April Fool!"
"I made it so it would still click," she later told me proudly.
You may notice that this is the first ad-free issue in quite some time. My agent is pushing my novels in another direction, and my books will soon if not already be out of print. Thanks to all who purchased copies. It was certainly a bucket list checkoff to have published novels about a traveling midnight ghost show and a haunted NYC hotel.
This month highlights the humongous new Johnny Thompson books, from Magicana, and a fabulous Harry Lorayne lecture download for a scant five dollars. No, neither is an April Fool's joke.
We are all devastated by the death of Harry Anderson. If I could grow up to "become" any magician I can think of, it would be Harry. Condolences to his family and to his friends in magic everywhere. See further thoughts below.
I'll be marking off some important anniversaries this year. One that astounds me, even though I rarely have the opportunity to visit, is that I have been a member of The Magic Castle for half a century. I'll close with the welcoming form letter that Bill Larsen sent me. Note that Friday and Saturday were members only nights and that the cover charge on the other nights was one dollar!
TOMSONI - THE BOXED SET -- How do you even begin to review The Magic of Johnny Thompson volumes I and II? First, I suppose, you drive down to the word store and load up on superlatives. Every aspect of these books is first rate, and their contents constitute a graduate course in close-up and platform magic. At over 600 pages written by Jamy Ian Swiss and Johnny Thompson and illustrated with over 1000 photos by Julie Eng, with David Ben and Karl Johnson on hand to edit, this is a staggering work.
Latest resident in the library.
I'll give a quick overview and then concentrate on some bits I found special. Volume I contains the chapters The Gambler's Ballad, Harry Riser (8 items), Ed Marlo (5 items), Balls in the Net, Mixed Macs, More Cards (7 items), The Benson Bowl, Miller & Malini (11 items), and The Egg Bag. Volume II contains The Cups and Balls, More Coin Magic (3 items), Dai Vernon (4 items), Color Changing Knives, Even More Cards (9 items), Mentalism (3 items), Illusions (4 items), The Great Tomsoni & Co., and The Trade Show Act.
While others will consider the classic routines, such as the Balls in Net or The Egg Bag, to be the highlights, for me it was the many small refinements, or surprising card tricks I knew nothing of before. A few examples follow.
The Riser-Thompson routine The Ambilipstrous Card is an easy and effective Ambitious Card routine. I've recently been intrigued (example: Thirteen in Harry Lorayne's Jawdroppers!) by the ruse of counting or spelling to the fourth card as dictated by any card the spek draws from the deck. Johnny's routine significantly expands your options.
There are at least three items from T. Page Wright. Five Senses is a multiple selection routine in which each card is revealed via a different sense. I predict that many will employ the finale, a Charlie Miller idea.
The chapter Mixed Macs contains a complete act of card tricks with aces, a most accessible routine. Consider Shuffling to the Aces, Cutting the Aces, Spectator Cuts to the Aces (nice versions),Triumph, The Assembly (McDonald Aces, with new touches including from Persi Diaconis), and The Travelers (all signed, last card in envelope).
The oldest trick in the world?
The Cups and Balls is Johnny's extended routine that he performs assuming the identities of Max Malini, Pop Krieger, and Dai Vernon. While most won't attempt the complete drama, there are plenty of individual sequences from which to form a sensational routine. I particularly enjoyed the Jamy Ian Swiss final load (the loads enter the cups a step ahead of the Vernon sequence, the false explanation is eliminated, and the three balls really are under the cup), the Jacob Daley sequence (the fruit passes through a cup), and the Danny Dew vanish (the wand spin causes three balls to vanish).
The Classic Force is a great lesson on how to get into the force.
Quadruple Coincidence is a red deck/blue deck coincidence trick that contains a baffling false cut. Super easy, one of my favorite take aways from the books.
Grippo's Card to Envelope gets the signed card into the envelope before it vanishes from the deck. I've always favored envelopes over wallets, and this is one of the best versions I've encountered.
The Scoot is the deck switch many of you will find the easiest and most effective to do.
Parrish the Thought is a double card stab of cards spread beneath a newspaper. The first "professional" magic trick I learned was a similar item from Dunninger's 100 Houdini Tricks You Can Do. I've a soft spot for this plot, and this is a great instance.
I had recently seen a video clip of Johnny performing Triumph, and I was struck by a new-to-me bit for reversing half the deck prior to the climax. I wondered if that would be in the book. It is! Page 288 of Volume II, near Photo 26.
The Great Tomsoni & Co. details Johnny's and Pam's iconic stage act. I love card tricks and am happy that there is a wealth of them in the book, and I have no personal interest in dove magic. But wow, reading this chapter gave me a vastly more appreciative perspective on this classic comedy act.
The Trade Show Act is the gem of the book, a completely routined close-up act that will likely be compared to Ron Wilson's, partly because of its clever construction and partly because one of its best numbers is Micro Macro. (Most astonishing factoid in the book: Bro. John Hamman was Johnny Thompson's high school teacher! Johnny gave Bro. John all his magic stuff when he went off to make a living with a harmonica.) The climax of the act is Johnny's $100 Prediction, an "easy" trick involving multiple outs, a Koran 101 deck, and some tricked out wallets. But it's going to take keen audience management and fast-thinking plus expert sleight of hand for you to not lose $200 in the event of problems. (If you ever see me attempt this, it will be Steve's crisp $1 Prediction.)
This boxed set of books is massive (think the Caveney books, or Tenyoism), and the presentation more than lives up to the quality of the information. Jamy's prose is inspired, and he is meticulous about squeezing every scintilla of critical advice from Johnny's vast repertoire. HIs instruction is clear and oozes respect for its source.
Every trick opens with a full-page shot.
I could go into raptures over the physical appearance of the books, thanks to Julie Eng's layout and her hundreds of brilliant photos. Virtually every trick opens with a gigantic, breath-taking full-page shot of Johnny's hands performing the routine, and the dozens of smaller photos that follow clearly lay bare its secrets. At Magicol Julie is exposed to the work of Michael Albright, and you can see that influence. She's that good.
The forewords and introductions, spread over the two volumes, are from Jamy Ian Swiss, Teller, Lance Burton, and Levent. Johnny should be very, very happy: these are brilliant, heartfelt pieces.
And The Final Word is from Johnny Thompson himself, whom we all thank for living this life, for learning so much, and for sharing the whole shebang. Johnny even autographed every set, as did The Great Tomsoni. Well done.
Hardback, 340 pp (Volume I), 324 pp (Volume II), 12.5 by 9.25 in, $295 plus $25 postage from Magicana and select dealers. I purchased mine directly from the publisher.
WHAT THIS COUNTRY NEEDS IS A GOOD FIVE-DOLLAR MAGIC LECTURE -- And thanks to Rudy Tinoco from The Magician's Forum, it has one! Amazingly, you can acquire Harry Lorayne's Jawdroppers lecture, once $50, for a mere five spot. Check this link for the details, including both the two and one-half-hour lecture and a one-hour interview. All for, I kid you not, five dollars.
Harry educates Paul and the gang.
I've frequently sung Harry Lorayne's praises here, most recently for his two Jawdroppers books, and I am happy to add warm feelings re this lecture. Performing for Paul Gertner and a room full of magicians, Harry teaches 15 items: Fantastic Aces Assembly, Numero Uno, Halo Aces, Double Take, Startler, Greatest Card Handler, Powerful Powers, Magician Versus Gambler, Pleasing Combination (a great math stunt), Really, Slide Finder, Blown Further Away, Monte Plus, 8451 Plus, and That's the Truth.
As Harry gets older, he devises simpler methods for performing his earlier tricks, often making them better, and the Jawdroppers series contains many such examples. I particularly enjoy the small refinements, what John Guastaferro lately calls one-degree improvements, that characterize these items. For example, Harry teaches a trick that requires you to hold a break under 17 cards. His solution, to avoid counting off that many? Precede it with a four-ace assembly which uses, conveniently, 16 cards. That kind of thinking ahead runs through this lecture and makes for a delightful way to spend an afternoon. Highly recommended!
WISE GUY -- You would think that, if anyone could out-con Death at his own game, it would be Harry Anderson. Alas.
With the possible exception of Ballantine, Harry Anderson is my all-time favorite magical performer, and I take his loss hard. He is one of the very few (including Ballantine!) whose talent and off the chart likability transcended magic and who made it big in real-world show business. (Carson, Cavett, and Welles also come to mind, but they didn't continue to be performing magicians.) Harry created a character so palpable that he played it on the most popular sitcom of the day, "Cheers." Two more sitcoms followed to feature Harry himself with that same sly edge. But my favorite of Harry's TV spots were his nine appearances on "SNL." The night Harry hosted, what happened to Skippy shocked a nation.
Harry and Jon satisfy the Collectors, 2008.
Despite his real-world success, Harry emerged from and remained tightly connected with the magic world. He was early friends with Paul Harris and Jonathan Pendragon. He cofounded the Left-Handed League with Martin Lewis. (I am secretly proud to be left-handed.) He played gin with Vernon at the Magic Castle. (The Professor mentions him ten times in The Vernon Touch.) He was tight with Milt and Bill Larsen. He dated Erika. He collaborated with Jon Racherbaumer, Mike Close, and others. He created the prized Genii parody Wenii, and he co-produced the Jinx insert to the October 2009 Genii. He launched his own theater, Oswald's Speakeasy, and his script for his show Wise Guy is an underground treasure. He owned an appointment-only magic shop called Spade and Archer. But I am merely reminding myself: you guys know all this, and more.
Best Three-Card Monte routine ever?
Somebody had too much time on his hands.
Most important, among his various publications, is the hardback Harry Anderson Wise Guy, by Mike Caveney. This is among the very best of my library, one of those rare books in which a top-flight magician and virtually everyone's hero reveals his entire act. Previous books of that ilk include Ron Wilson's The Uncanny Scot, Tom Mullica's Show Time at the Tom-Foolery, Don Alan's In a Class by Himself, and Gene Anderson The Book. And as of this month: The Magic of Johnny Thompson. Wise Guy is a master work of biography and performance material. I turn to it often.
Still available from Mike Caveney's Magic Words.
We are all family in magic, and losing a beloved member is difficult. Oh, I wasn't a personal friend, and I recall only three direct interactions with Harry. I wanted a quote from Harry's act for Little Egypt Card Tricks, so wrote him and got a nice letter back. (This was real-letter times.) For the first time (re magic) my young kids were impressed, that I had received a letter from"someone famous." Second, I attended a live Harry Anderson show at a comedy club in Seattle. He killed of course. The opening act wasn't bad either: Martin Lewis. Third, at a Magic Collectors convention in Chicago, Harry attended with his New Orleans pal Jon Racherbaumer. Jon was selling his compendium of 21-Card Tricks, and Harry was riding him all weekend for celebrating such a boring trick. I approached Harry with my own contribution to that book, my risque version from The The Little Egypt Book of Numbers. At the climax Harry laughed and said, "That took my breath away!" A nice moment.
Fortunately these days, video makes old performances more accessible than ever. Here's a link to a Dodd Vickers interview that also includes the complete Hello, Sucker. YouTube searches are similarly rewarding. There is a Penguin Live lecture that I haven't seen and look forward to, and I am sure I will find manymore opportunities to "visit" with Harry.
Meanwhile, here's the best bio that I found in the aftermath of this crushing news.
Aloha, Harry. Your best Hat Trick was to create a character we loved as much as Archie Leach's Cary Grant. And loved you we did.
Welcome to the Magic Castle.
Among the Left-Handed League we used to say that when you're really up against it, and all else fails, tell them the truth. Maybe they'll fall for that.
-- Harry Anderson
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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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