Note ye ed's email address:

Finally unearthed: The Little Egypt Book of Ghosts from H&R Magic Books.
It's to die for!
Check out Jamy Ian Swiss' review in our Bookstore.

A man converses with his hand.

January 2010

Every magician of a certain age has personal memories of Jay Marshall. One of mine was at a little magic convention at an amusement park called Kaintuck Territory, in Western Kentucky, where the big show was in a barn heated by a wood-burning stove. It amused me to watch Jay take in every event the park offered, completely unjaded like a kid on vacation. A second followed a Bill Malone lecture in Las Vegas. During the lecture, Jay persuaded Bill to do Sam the Bellhop, which is partly Bill's signature trick because of Jay's insistance. After the lecture, I happened to be walking alongside Jay as we mosied to the next event. "It really looked as if he was shuffling the cards," he said, amazed afresh even though it must have been the umpteenth time he had seen Bill perform it.

There was a time on Joe Stevens' Gemini web site that Joe would sponsor little contests, and the prize would be one of his Greater Magic videos. I once won one of those, solving a puzzle created by Simon Lovell, and I didn't hesitate to nominate my prize -- a copy of Jay Marshall's Table Crap, one of the best videos in the Stevens catalog. If you own it, just be careful with that vanishing lit match trick. That little flame is hot. All of this rambling is leading up to a review of the new Jay Marshall biography, Beating a Dead Horse. It's one of the best biographies I've ever read, thoroughly enjoyable.

Awesome magic tricks are so rare that it's an event if one comes along per year. This year starts off with a lulu: John Kennedy has brewed up one of the coolest things you could possibly do with a hot cup of coffee. Take a look.

Finally, for family reasons (skeptics might say it was simply to insure that I would be on hand to receive Beating a Dead Horse for Christmas), I spent a delightful ten days in the Chicago area for Christmas. We'll close with some images of Chicago during the season, with views of the Chicago Botanic Garden and of Macy's (formerly Marshall Field's). Not really magic, but magical at this time of year.

ONE OF THE BETTER CHEAPER BIOGRAPHIES -- In 1996, in Erika Larsen's Genii, Max Maven published an extraordinary 16-page tribute to Jay Marshall, with 13 pages of biography and a 3-page interview. Even those of us whose lives flowed parallel to Jay's for 50 years or so were made considerably wiser by Max's detailed research and friendship with Jay. But that was '96, and Jay Marshall passed away in 2005: there are new magicians on the block who need to know about Jay Marshall, and all of us who thought we knew all about him were about to find out, mostly to our delight, that we didn't. Enter Beating a Dead Horse, the hefty, 526-page biography of Jay by his son, Sandy Marshall, and just about the nicest Christmas gift I've received this century.

The kid tells all.

Surely no reader of this rag needs introducing to Jay himself, who proved to be an amazing magician, ventriloquist, comedian, collector, raconteur, Punch & Judy operator, emcee, Broadway actor, magic shop owner, magazine publisher, book author, player of the ukulele and the bagpipes, world traveler, master teller of dirty jokes, and friend to thousands. If you ever saw "The Ed Sullivan Show" or "Don Alan's Magic Ranch" or attended many conventions in the last half of the twentieth century, you are familiar with Jay's Linking Rings, Serpentine Silk, Troublewit, Juan Escadero, Golf Routine, and his wonderful talking glove, Lefty. You can't have swapped many tales with other magicians without touching on Jay Marshall stories that have achieved mythic status, such as when he saw no reason to book a hotel room because it was "only a three-day convention."

What is new in this dense opus, along with the detailed history that plays out in an appropriately enumerated 69 chapters, is the human side of Jay Marshall. This is the book Sandy Marshall was born to write, and it's as much an autobiography of Sandy as it is a biography of Jay, which frankly makes it doubly wonderful. Sandy is a fascinating character in his own right--I enjoyed his comedy magic in person at the Magic Castle, back in the golden years--an Emmy-winning writer, director, producer, and actor, and a guy who comes across as pretty proud to be the son of Jay Marshall and the grandson of Al Baker. Sandy is just about my age, and you don't get this old without significant losses, without uncomfortable family memories, and Sandy treats these aspects of a life with maturity and good will. There are lows, but, oh, some really nice highs.

Although I expected a wealth of detail from the page count, I was unprepared for how bountifully the book is illustrated and how exquisitely it's laid out, not only with rare photos of Jay but with all sorts of posters, letters, and personal memorabilia. Sandy Marshall is an excellent writer, and both his skill and his subject matter make this book a page-turner. I laughed out loud frequently during the reading of this book, wept when I reached Jay's passing, then laughed harder than ever over something that transpired at Jay's funeral. What more can I say? This book is a treasure, a must read. $69.95 from Magic, Inc.

Son of a gun! He is left-handed.

JAVA JIVE -- Just under the wire for consideration this month is John Kennedy's Mojoe, his new vanishing coffee trick. Mojoe sports a brilliant method and a shocker of an effect. Picture yourself at Starbuck's holding a grande-size cup of your favorite beverage (mine is a skinny sugar-free cinnamon dolce latte). There is no doubt that the cup is nearly full. You place your hand over the top, count one beat, and suddenly invert the cup. No liquid gushes out! You remove your hand, and still no liquid! You crush the cup and pocket it, toss it away, whatever. Your latte is GONE. Check out John's web site for a video. It's just as clean as what you see. I haven't had time to play with this a lot, but can attest that it works, and it works great. I don't know which came first, the method or the effect, but this magic trick is pure genius. I'd love to hear how John dreamed this up. $59.95 at John Kennedy Magic.

IT'S CHRISTMAS TIME IN THE CITY -- This section has nothing to do with magic, other than the fact that I never walk the streets of Chicago without thinking of Jay Marshall, Jim Ryan, Senator Crandall, Johnny Platt, Don Alan, Tony Andruzzi, Eugene Burger, Matt Schulien, Frank Everhart, Ed Marlo, and so on. You know the drill. At Christmas, Chicago is my idea of what a city should look like, a place where model trains bring out the child in all of us and where the windows are decorated with dreams. This season, it was a pleasure to share the following sights with my children and grandchildren.

Giant ornaments festoon Macy's interior; outside, the windows display how a letter gets to Santa Claus.

Composing ...

Mailing ...

Attaching wings ...

Final rails ...

Reading ...

The Chicago Botanic Garden was a great discovery for me this year. Its model railroads hurtle through 1600 feet of track "high and low through tunnels, across bridges, and around buildings -- all intricately handcrafted with natural materials, including twigs, bark, leaves, acorns, and pebbles." The scale model miniatures of Chicago and other American landmarks set this exhibit apart from most other train layouts.

Audrey surveys a scale model of Soldier Field.

Stuff at Navy Pier.

A miniature and its counterpart.

Happy New Year.

Sarah and Simon (Vixen and Spike to old Gazette readers) were married on April 1, 2006. You may access their wedding photos at wedding photos.

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.

Past issues of this web site: Index to Past Issues

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