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Mike Caveney hacks classic communications.
Last month's December issue celebrated David Linsell's The Spirit of Magic as the book of the year, reviewed The Aretalogy of Vanni Bossi, discussed the best books of 2016, and championed the books that make Magic, Inc. one of the most influential magic publishers.
Welcome to 2017, and fasten your seat belts. This month we discuss letters from such unlikely correspondents as Howard Thurston to Al Capone and a teenage Fidel Castro to FDR. Add to that an online look at Curtis Kam and his magic and a big thank you to the family for Christmas gift books, both magic and otherwise.
I still cling to some of the wishes I made last year, a few of which are repeated below in the context of Happy New Year greetings. I wish the best to you all and hope to see many of you soon at Magi-fest or at other congregations down the road. Cheers!
P.S. Thanks to Joe Hanosek for the photo below of Bill Neff, one of my favorite magicians and ghost show workers. Neff well knew the value of sex appeal in his publicity photos.
MAGICAL MISSIVES -- I must admit to some decades of confusion as to just what constituted the Egyptian Hall Museum. I first became aware of this sometimes museum-sometimes performance hall(s) via an April 1962 article in Genii, "Egyptian Hall Museum Revisited" by David Price. Genii subscribers (and that includes all you Magic Castle members) are encouraged to trace the history of the entities yclept "Egyptian Hall" from an 1812 London museum through its morphing to two London theatrical halls (1845 saw the first mystery performance) to Maskelyne's involvement in 1873 to W.W. Durbin's unrelated Kenton, Ohio, backyard theater called American Egyptian Hall in 1895 to David Price's purchase of the contents in 1953, by which time the theater had become more of a museum again, and Price then expanded the holdings significantly. As faithful MAGIC magazine readers know, Mike Caveney and George Daily purchased Price's Egyptian Hall Museum collection in 2000, giving Mike access to five tons of handbills, posters, photographs, letters, brochures, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, and related memorabilia, along with the fabled name. (Perhaps I should some day muddy the waters by calling my own meager collection Little Egyptian Hall.)
Of importance to us readers are the letters. Beginning in 2006, Mike began publishing selected epistles in his MAGIC magazine column, "Classic Correspondence from Egyptian Hall Museum." Mike placed each letter in its historical context and supplemented it with graphical material (the letter itself, photos, posters, etc.). The popular series continues today in Genii, but magazine space is limiting. By 2010, Mike began publishing collections of the letters as beautiful hardback books, 24 letters per volume, and he was no longer limited as to how many footnotes and graphics he was allowed. If it couldn't fit in the magazine, it could still fit in the book. One of my favorite pieces, in Volume III, is 44 pages. As Mike adds, "And no longer do I sim[ply explain who the various people are. My goal now is to set the stage, then introduce the main characters as well as the minor players, and then wrap up the story with, if not a moral, at least an ending that poses a question, delivers a nice surprise or perhaps leaves the reader contemplating a bigger issue." Wow.
I entered the Classic Correspondence picture this December when my wife asked if I wanted anything "magic" for Christmas. I quickly explained what the books were, she thought they were a great idea, and so they became the first trilogy she bought me since the Vernon Inner Secrets series back in 1968, at Lin Searles' suggestion.
Letters used to be written on stationery.
The physical books are sumptuous, on heavy matt art paper with a leather spine, with endpapers that display a scattering of the letters in each book, and with added photos, lithographs, and so on that constitute a visual feast. (Volume III alone contains 333 photos and posters, most newly published.) The expanded histories of the letters are a marvel. Each contains a bibliography, the most common entry being Bill Kalush's AskAlexander. Has there ever been a more perfect marriage of scholarly interest and scholarly resources? The books are also the perfect blend of substance and style: Mike is a keen researcher who extracts meaning from his digging, and he tells the tales with graceful, well-crafted sentences. He's a master story teller, and the footnotes alone would make an exciting book. Don't even think about skipping over them.
Most of you have had access to the original write-ups in the magazine, and, while there are no uninteresting entries, I'll mention a few that stood out for me:
* No. 8. Howard Thurston to Al Capone. Capone's son was in a Thurston audience and called to the stage to assist. There is a photo of the boy sitting next to the infamous Frank Nitti.
* No. 23. Harry Willard to his dad. Harry's spelling and grammar are so atrocious, his optimism and dedication so sincere, that I found this letter quite endearing.
* No. 18. Michael Dockweiler to W. D. Leroy. Mostly, this letter is from a disgruntled customer complaining to a magic dealer. There are several such letters in the books. (You may have written one yourself over the years.) Buried in this piece are two footnotes that reveal the workings of two versions of a Harry Kellar mind-reading act. These are screwball methods such as you might find in the Dunninger encyclopedia, but they apparently worked!
* No. 11. P.C. Sorcar to Dante. The famous Indian magician asks Dante to proclaim him as his successor. (Dante didn't.)
* No. 55. The famous Lloyd Jones letter to a young Dave Fiscus dissuading him from becoming a professional magician, using the financial situations of well-known magicians as his arguments. Mike Caveney provides new photos of and profiles the likes of (deep breath here) Eugene Gloye, Chop Chop, Cas Boxley and Marie, Carlyle, Jimmy Muir, Clarence Slyter, Neil Foster, Albert Ching (arguably the most heartwarming story in the books), Channing Pollock, Benny Chavez, Paul Le Paul, Bert Allerton, Jack Kodell, Russell Swann, Carl Ballantine, Del Ray, Dai Vernon, Cardini, Jose Frakson, Bert Wheeler, Senor Maldo, Marvyn Roy, Richiardi, Clarke Crandall, and Johnny Platt. These are the magicians I "grew up on," and this is my favorite chapter in all three books.
Crandall consoles Mendoza.
* No. 57. Senator Crandall to Harry Mendoza. I was around when this played out in Genii. Crandall comforts Mendoza after the latter had been taken to task by Howard Adams for exposing the Water Bowl Vanish on an episode of "The Beverly Hillbillies." Only in America.
As mentioned above, these are beautiful books in matching bindings, and they are fully indexed. Volume I is 288 pp ($65), Volume II is 378 pp ($75), and Volume III is 411 pp ($75). My wife is a sweetie! All books available from Mike Caveney's Magic Words.
ISLAND LEGERDEMAIN -- I love free stuff, and that's how I felt when Kozmo's Reel Magic Magazine posted the online lecture Curtis Kam Live last month. OK, you need to subscribe to the online zine (current issue features Steve Spill!), but that's almost free at only five dollars a month. Curtis's lecture and much more are available in Kozmo's On Demand Plus! section.
The lecture itself featured small apparatus magic, no cards and coins except a bonus coin effect (that fooled me badly, both its technique and structure). The standout routine among the half-dozen featured items was a Ring on Wand routine that had me fooling myself in the mirror with my high school class ring and plain wooden wand. No duplicate rings are used.
Curtis does wand magic.
The touch that I am most likely to use was Curtis's work with the block letter name souvenir that Bert Allerton and later Eugene Burger popularized. Rather than merely treating the name as a personalized gift, Curtis treats the block lettering as a slowly evolving revelation. It's quite mysterious and was fooling me even though I knew what was coming. (Here it was a name learned from a peek wallet.) Check out the lecture for deceptive details.
I have been meaning to mention Curtis lately, ever since Kainoa Harbttle's March 2016 Genii column which, in turn, sent me back to Curtis's trick Inferential C/S Transposition from the March 1983 Apocalypse. You don't often encounter such a subtle method in a coin trick. To add to my appreciation of the trick, Bill Goodwin performs it for T.C. Tahoe in (the current) Episode 11 of his From the Library series in the Magic Castle newsletter. Bill does four great coin tricks on the episode. Check it out if you are an AMA member.
Bill does coin magic.
LITERARY LOOT AND HAVE A MAGICAL YEAR -- As mentioned over the past two issues, magical gifts beneath the Christmas tree this year included the Vanni Bossi book and all three Mike Caveney Correspondence books. Delightful! My generous family (Malefecent, Urchin, and Vixen to old Gazette readers) did not limit gift books to the magic world, surprising me with these additions: The Haunted Mansion (graphical novel about Disney's mansion by Joshua Williamson et al), The 60s (The New Yorker's continuing anthology series), Footnotes from the World's Greatest Bookstores,The Best American Comics 2016 (edited by Roz Chast), The Best Bear in All the World (more Winnie the Pooh from Paul Bright, magician Brian Sibley, Jeanne Willis, and Kate Sunders), and (from a previous Christmas) Letters of Note (compiled by Shaun Usher.).
Letters of the rich and famous.
A couple of these merit special mention, a la a Jon Racherbaumer's "On the Slant" column. The Letters of Note book is like Mike Caveney's Classic Correspondence trilogy (the original letter, notes to set each in context, photographs, art, etc.), but featuring correspondents from the "real" world, a whopping 125 of them. To mention a very few, I enjoyed letters from Queen Elizabeth II to Dwight Eisenhower (her recipe for drop scones), Eudora Welty to The New Yorker (a young girl seeks a job), a fourteen-year-old Fidel Castro to FDR (requesting ten dollars), Ray Bradbury to Brian Sibley (calming Brian's fears that Disneyland's robots would turn on us), Katherine Hepburn to Spencer Tracy (after his passing), Virginia O'Hanlan to the Editor of The Sun (so there is a Santa Claus), three Elvis fans to President Eisenhower (don't cut his hair!), Flannery O'Conner to a Professor of English (explaining one of her short stories), John F. Kennedy to Allied Forces (message carved in a coconut shell requesting aid after PY-109 went down), Mario Puzo to Marlon Brando (requesting that he become The Godfather), F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter (things to worry about), Ernest Hemingway to F. Scott Fitzgerald (reviewing Tender Is the Night), and Raymond Chandler to Edward Weeks (defending a split infinitive with an amazing poem), etc. I've cited modern letter writers, but there are historical ones as well -- Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, and so on. This is one of the most amazing books in my house. (Exciting note: I just checked Amazon to make sure it is still available, and I see there is a Volume 2. Hmm. What is coming up? Valentine's Day?)
But none carries books by Ed Marlo!
The second book, this year's Christmas gift from my daughter, is the utterly charming Footnotes from the World's Greatest Bookstores. If you love books as I do, you have likely been to a few of the 75 bookstores from around the world that are celebrated in this book. The writer and illustrator--he provides evocative paintings of each bookshop--is Bob Eckstein. From Harvard Book Store in Cambridge to City Lights in San Francisco and around the world to Shakespeare and Company in Paris or to others in China, Japan, Argentina, Germany, Wales, England, and so on, the author/illustrator provides descriptive text, the charming painting, and at least one anecdote or quote from the owner, employee, or literary celebrity who frequents the shop. The stories are heartwarming. The subtitle is "True Tales and Lost Moments from Book Buyers, Booksellers, and Book Lovers," and the foreword is by Garrison Keillor (who owns one of the stores, across the street from where Mac King went to college). Weirdly, the hardback cover opens 90 degrees from the body of the book.
And Happy New Year wishes to all, especially:
Happy New Year to Jamy Ian Swiss and Johnny Thompson, and best wishes for your book.
Happy New Year to Angelo Carbone, and best wishes for your book.
Happy New Year to H&R Magic Books, and best wishes for Nick Trost's Subtle Card Creations Volume 6.
Happy New Year to Milt Larsen and best wishes for the Magic Castle Cabaret. And hey, I'm happy to see you've booked Charlie Frye and Company for your spring It's Magic!.
Happy New Year to Joshua Jay and Andi Gladwin and Tim Moore and Stan Allen and Richard Kaufman and the IBM/SAM and anyone else ambitious enough to host a convention.
Happy New Year to Jon Racherbaumer and Matt Field, and why not?
And Happy New Year to you and you and you. We are all so lucky to be involved in magic.
Neff knew how to draw a crowd.
And there's a hand, my trusty fiere!
And gie's a hand o' thine!
And we'll tak' a right gud-wellie waught,
For auld lang syne.
Start off your year with my companion adventures: McGrave's Hotel and Lucas Mackenzie and The London Midnight Ghost Show.
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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