ALEXANDER, THE MAN WHO KNOWS -- "What could be more absurd than a card trick on the radio?" That was the opening line of Jason Alexander's appearance on the AMC program Remember WENN, in which, as a Max Maven-ish mentalist called the astonishing Ballinger, he performed "a card trick minus the cards, dealt from a deck that rests on a cool marble table in the green velvet study of your imagination." It was a great role (and not a bad card trick!) on a tv show I miss. As of this writing, Jason Alexander is performing for a week in the Parlour at the Magic Castle, as a mentalist. Word is that the show is great and that the Castle is doing so much business that it is turning away guests as it reaches legal capacity. It's nice for the Castle to have good news for a change, especially good news stemming from a magic show.
A DAI VERNON SUMMER -- One of the highlights of reading Genii during the Bill Larsen years was its 1968-1990 column "The Vernon Touch," by the Professor himself. Richard Kaufman is now taking orders for his 608-page compilation of those columns, supplemented by many new photos, and titled, what else, The Vernon Touch. The book is scheduled to ship May 14 and is only $69 pp. With the summer also promising a new Vernon book from David Ben, our beach reading list is starting to fill out nicely.
The Anna Eva Fay biography, on hand for some time now, finally made it to the top of my reading list. For April we discuss that work, the latest issue of MUM, hopes for a Dai Vernon summer, and Jason Alexander at the Magic Castle. Finally, the most magical event of the month was my daughter's wedding on April 1. Check wedding photos for a look. Vixen and Spike, together at last.
MEDIUM SWELL -- Early in The Indescribable Phenomenon/The Life and Mysteries of Anna Eva Fay, some abominable spelling* almost persuaded me to toss the book aside. I'm so glad I didn't. Fortunately, the typist either settled down or sobered up, and the read went smoothly after that. And what a read it is. This book is a remarkably detailed history of not only Anna Eva Fay, but of spiritualism itself during her long reign. I had not previously known that the rope ties, raps, and spirit writings that engaged me as a young magician were once the stuff of rigorous scientific testing, performed by some of the same gents I later studied as a young chemistry and physics student. Ms. Fay (whether she was actually Mrs. Fay is still unclear) entered the world of mediums for sheer survival, and she endured there for over 50 years through moments of awe and adulation balanced by frightening instances of being run out of town for fraud, with exposers at her dainty heels even in the best of times. Even the Pinkertons were after her. It is astonishing that so much scientific focus could be turned on the methods of binding or restricting the medium, when the phenomena included such events as "a hand came through the curtained doorway." All the scientists had to do was turn on the lights or grasp the hand, yet such "indiscretions" rarely occurred. Along with Anna Eva Fay's colorul life and career, the book touches on psychic entertainers Laura Ellis, H. Melville Fay, Florence Cook, Samri Baldwin, Lulu Hurst, Eva Fay (Anna's rogue daughter-in-law), and the short life and incredibly creepy death of Washington Irving Bishop. In addition to her normal light and dark seance effects, Anna later added impression board work, audience plants, and headline hurling as part of a successful stage act, along with a spirit handkerchief effect that inspired a young Harry Blackstone. Despite the incredible detail, author Barry Wiley succeeds in making the book a highly entertaining read. I was never bored and was often amazed. Although $65 is a tad pricey for a biography, this is a wonderful book that should be required reading for anyone in magic who is even vaguely interested in what Robert Nelson liked to call "the allied arts." Hardbound, nicely illustrated with color plates as well as black and white photos and drawings, with a delightful bibliography and fully indexed, 442 pages from Hermetic Press.
WELCOME TO THE CLUB -- I am not a joiner. I love people, but something about magic clubs, churches, fraternal organizations, whatever makes me want to be elsewhere. Perhaps it goes back to Groucho Marx's adage about not wanting to be a member of any club that would accept him as a member. Despite this aversion, I have recently joined the S.A.M. (thereby diminishing its prior esteem), as that is the only way to receive its house organ, MUM, now published by John Moehring. If the first issue I received is any indication, I made the right move. John's article on Marshall Brodien, "It's Easy Once You Know the Secret," is riveting. I look forward to future issues, and please say hi if you run into me at this summer's convention in Louisville. I'll have that new member look.
Free Katie Holmes!
*Pet peeve: Lately, especially on internet forums for magicians but also elsewhere in society, there is a perverse trend towards forming plurals by adding an apostrophe s rather than a simple s. For example, some magicians might boast of reading lot's of book's rather than lots of books. This habit infected some of Mr. Wiley's early pages, where Anna's family was referred to as the Heathman's, for example. Fortunately, this reprehensible practice seemed limited to family names and subsided after a few pages.
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 frequently journeys to and performs 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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