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Boo and welcome back. As is our practice, in honor of the cheesy black and white horror flicks we grew up on, we are reverting to a black and white version of Little Egypt Magic.
Addressed this month are such Hauntings as a plastic haunted house, a spooky deck of cards, and a digital spider; such Wicked Arrivals as a Ricky Jay movie, a Steve Valentine lecture, and a work of art from David Ben; such Ghost Show instances as a dark new musical, reminiscences of Francisco's midnight spookers, and a theater enjoying a second life.
For the record, the title photos are simply views of items that show themselves once a year around this time. What they say to me is what I say to you: Happy Halloween.
It's October, the spooky time of year, when nights are longer and colder, the perfect time to assemble Lego's scariest plastic brick kit, to check out the latest deck of cards from Dan and Dave, to drop in on Andy Dallas's freakshow magic shop, to tame the most frightening version of The Web yet, and to mark the passing of time, Haunted Mansion style.
HAUNTED HOUSE -- For some years now my grandchildren have mastered building detailed Lego projects, sophisticated construction sets that are a far cry from the red and white brick sets my own children tinkered with in a different era. Early this year I received a 2064-piece Haunted House kit as a gift, and since I qualify as the requisite "14 and up," I decided to assemble it in time for Halloween. I must say it is a pleasurable experience that, piece by piece, drives home the genius of whoever designed these things in Denmark. I admit to getting only one piece (irrevocably) out of place, not bad for a first-timer. The spooky results speak for themselves. $179.99 at your nearest Lego outlet.
Glow-in-the-dark ghosts float at the rooftop.
Chef, what's for dinner? Or should I say who's for dinner?
A plastic Dracula checks out his sleeping quarters.
DEVILISH DECKS FROM DAN AND DAVE -- As Dan and Dave Buck put it themselves in their ad, "October 1st, as the Harvest Moon Rise, pranks are pulled by those in guise. Fulton returns back from the dead, new ideas spring from his head. He brings life to our favorite time of year, with 52 spirits for you to fear." The new deck of cards designed by Brad Fulton and illustrated by Steven Noble (I am not certain just how the two differ) is delightfully creepy, beginning with the box itself. It is thoroughly illustrated, inside and out. You would have to turn it inside out to appreciate the complete artwork, and i won't be doing that. There is sufficient pleasure in the deck itself, with custom-scary court cards, jokers, and the ace of spades. Only $7.95, and of course the cards are a dream to handle. Order soon from dananddave.com.
Exterior box design.
Dan and Dave deal a royal flush.
Interior box design.
BRICK AND MORTAR -- Of the many reasons we should support brick and mortar magic shops, my favorite is that you can inspect a prop or book before making what is usually a sizable purchase. Early this year, I lost my favorite Himber wallet. (I think it went away on a tray in a government cafeteria, but that's another story.) How to replace it? The internet is very little help. Himber wallets come in different sizes, different leathers, with different combinations of interior flaps and flap sizes, some of which magically transpose depending on how you open the wallet. Fortunately, I recently visited Dallas and Company in Champaign, Illinois, and Andy Dallas was nice enough to come in and let me inspect his entire range of wallets. I found the perfect replacement and went away a happy boy. I could have spent a fortune on the internet trying to find just that item.
Magic, monsters, and more.
On a Halloween note, Dallas and Company may be the scariest magic shop in the country, with a huge year-round selection of Halloween paraphernalia. This year Andy is also featuring a haunted room, a sort of one-room haunted house with plenty of scary stuff animated by pneumatics. It's only open on the weekends but worth your visit if you are anywhere near Champaign.
CREEPY CRAWLY -- Jim Pace's The Web is one of my favorite card tricks, one that leads the spectator down an uncomfortable path until a spider is discovered clinging to the back of his or her hand, a surprising moment indeed. Check Web Notes in The Little Egypt Book of Ghosts for my favorite handling.
A spider takes a stroll.
The most recent addition to this genre, and it's a doozie, is My Pet Boris, an app you can find on iTunes. In this version you use your iPhone (or Android) to photograph the spec's hand, then lay the phone on his hand. A black widow spider then craws across his hand until it leaves the scene. If you wave your hand over the phone, it returns. If the spec waves his hand over the phone ... screams. Only $4.99 for the app and easy to do. You need to supply the climax spider, but then you should already have one. I first saw this reviewed by David Regal on the most recent reel magic magazine and was performing it within minutes.
TIME FLIES -- I recently retired from a day job, and Maleficent honored the occasion by purchasing me an hourglass in a Disney Haunted Mansion design. It was her way of telling me "time is running out." The sentiment aside, I love the timepiece, and it's a perfect complement to my Hatbox Ghost shown at the top of this page. The Haunted Mansion is the coolest.
A Haunted Mansion product.
It's October still, and amazing to me how much stuff continues to arrive here at Little Egypt Central, some in the mailbox, still more these days down the internet pipeline. Arrivals to date include the new Ricky Jay documentary, half of a Steve Valentine lecture, a stellar issue of Magicol from David Ben, a closing issue of Prolix from Karl Fulves, the latest reel magic magazine from Kozmo, and an e-book version of Corinda from the Conjuring Arts Research Center.
MIDNIGHT MOVIE -- One of the ways to make your mark in history as a sleight-of-hand artist is to perform once-in-a-lifetime tricks that others rave about, especially important "others." "Secrets of the Magus," the 1993 New Yorker Profile* on Ricky Jay, by Mark Singer, opens with two such card tricks.
Of course, the real secret is to be the subject of such notice in the first place, to rate being the subject of a New Yorker Profile. As Steve Martin has written, you have to be so good they can't ignore you, and Ricky Jay has earned his notice both as a performer and as a historian and writer of magic.
The Ricky Jay movie.
The latest evidence of Ricky Jay's place in magic is the recently released film documentary, Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay. The movie is listed as inspired by the New Yorker piece, and Mark Singer is listed as one of the co-executive producers. The film itself is a wonderful pastiche of Ken Burns-effect images from Ricky's historical files and more contemporary photos, video footage of such magi as Dai Vernon, Charlie Miller, Slydini, and Al Flosso, on-camera commentary from Persi Diaconis and Michael Weber, and of course footage of Ricky Jay himself performing and just practicing before mirrors, all deftly intertwined with the story of how Ricky Jay became Ricky Jay. Favorites of mine among the footage are Ricky as a boy magician, Ricky performing Three-Card Monte with Steve Martin bending the corner of a card, and Michael Weber performing his Matrix with nails in a board for Japanese television. (That last trick fools me so badly!)
Ricky Jay weaves his tale.
Unlike his mentors such as Dai Vernon, Charlie Miller, and Slydini, who never became wealthy through magic, Ricky Jay seems to have transcended the limited earnings of most close-up magicians and established himself as a member of upper echelon show business. Celebs involved with this film as either friends of Ricky or contributors to the project include Johnny Carson, Dinah Shore, David Mamet, Al Hirschfield, Dick Cavett, Steve Martin, Shel Silverstein (the film closes with a specially-written poem), Terry Gross, and Bob Dylan. A celeb not mentioned was Linda Ronstadt. At one point in my life I became fascinated by her and read everything I could about her. One piece had her riding around London in a limo with Ricky, the two betting on which of them might first appear on the cover of Time magazine. I remember thinking, "Screw Time magazine. If you are riding around London in a limo with Linda Ronstadt in her youth, life is already as good as it gets." (For the record, Linda hit the cover on February 28, 1977; Ricky rated a great three-page spread on February 14, 1994.)
Ricky Jay in Time, 1994.
I similarly note that admission to the upper echelons of magic tends to involve a couple of criteria, one being to have learned directly from the masters, which is the central point of this film, and the other being a disassociation with hoi polloi of magic, limiting one's friends to an exclusive few (this movie cites Persi Diaconis, Steve Freeman, David Roth, and Michael Weber). Celebrity associations and magic world reclusiveness also attend such stars as David Copperfield, Penn and Teller, and David Blaine.
Watching Ricky's movie via Apple TV.
There is of course much more to Ricky Jay than is covered in this movie (he has an enviable career as an actor in television and film, for example, along with being an important author and historian), but the movie does a beautiful job at what it sets out to do. This is a delightful film that will make you feel good about magic and good about Ricky Jay. Available on iTunes for only $12.99 HD, and highly recommended.
*"Secrets of the Magus" by Mark Singer is available in full on The World Wide Website of Ricky Jay.
LECTURE NOTES -- I rarely purchase DVDs these days, preferring books and being seemingly inundated by books. (Who says no one is publishing?) I make the exception only in extreme cases, either because the performer is extremely entertaining or because I know the material will be excellent and I can't find it in a book. On his new DVD, The Castle Lecture Part One, Steve Valentine is that exception. I liked it all but will mention only the two that will definitely enter my repertoire. One was a very cool way to allow the specs to shuffle the deck in the middle of your Multiple Selection revelations. The second, a gag in Amazing Johnathan's act, is a really clever way to cause a miniature deck of cards to suddenly and visibly expand to a full-size deck of cards. The case can then be examined. This works beautifully with Mike Powers' Diminishing Returns (a Micro Macro adaptation), and in this context I began using it right away. $30 and well worth it. I got mine from H&R Magic Books. (Part Two not yet available.)
The Steve Valentine lecture.
Oops, I was going to mention only two items, but I'll mention three. There is a super no-get-ready double lift in the lecture that even I will be doing. Indeed, I am doing it as I sit here, between bouts of typing.
THE CASTLE AT 50 -- The surprise delight in the mail this month was a gorgeous issue of Magicol from David Ben. It's a special souvenir issue devoted to the 50th birthday of the Magic Castle, Milt's dreamwork come true. The issue is illustrated with stunning photos throughout, most in full color. By sections, there are "Turning 50" by Dustin Stinett (a 12-page history), "If Walls Could Talk" by Mike Caveney (18 pages on the artwork that decorates the Castle), "The William W. Larsen Memorial Library" by William Goodwyn (10 pages on the library's history and contents), "Castle Collectibles" by Lisa Cousins (12 pages on Castle swag), and "The Professor" (8 pages of silhouettes of the Professor cut by others). This is a fantastic tribute to the Castle, unlike anything I've seen elsewhere. I was going to suggest that you joint the MCA to obtain a copy, but just today I've received word from David Ben that you can purchase this unique issue for only $20 here.
The Magic Castle birthday issue.
By the way, in case you missed it, we posted our own tribute to the Castle's birthday in December, and you can still find it here.
AS THE JOURNAL TURNS -- October saw the arrival of issue 10 of Prolix (plus a bag of props), the huge Karl Fulves publication that weighs in at about 70 pages per, bringing the total to 700. It's the usual interesting mix from John Scarne, J.W. Sarles, Jack Avis, Robert E. Neale, Roy Walton, Ken de Courcey, Walt Rollins, Mel Bennett, Neal Elias, George Mackenzie, and 26 items from Mr. Fulves himself. My favorite item was a silk trick by J.N. Hofzinser. As one project ends, another begins. Karl announces a new publication of about 20 pages each along with ten separate manuscripts on a variety of subjects. The tab is $100 plus $50 postage in the U.S. All this for a magazine so secret we don't even know its title? I'm in! (If you are too, send your check to the usual Karl Fulves, P.O. Box 433, Teaneck, NJ 07666.)
GETTING REEL -- I wasn't going to give a plug to Kozmo's reel magic magazine this month but caved in after listening to Simon Lovell's dirty joke. So here's the plug: I now subscribe to reel magic magazine online only. I can access it anywhere and I don't have to find a place to stack up DVDs. This month's feature interview is with Jim Steinmeyer, interviewed by John Lovick. Both gentlemen are always fascinating, and the two-part Steinmeyer interview is worth the monthly expenditure. I've learned more flat-out secrets from Jim's books than from any other author. As mentioned elsewhere, the David Regal review section also persuaded me to part with another $4.99, money well spent. (Go to reelmagicmagazine.com for details.)
How the magazine looks online.
MENTALISM STEP BY STEP -- E-book offers tend to pop up often lately, with prices dipping below a scant ten bucks. This happened this month from the Conjuring Arts Research Center, the prize being a copy of Corinda's 13 Steps to Mentalism. The book of course is often cited as one of the two seminal books you need (the other being Annemann's Practical Mental Effects) to start a career in mentalism, and in my opinion the only books you need. I snapped it up immediately and am becoming very protective of the extensive magic library that I carry on my iPad.
How the book looks on my iPad.
Nothing seems more appropriate in October than ghosts on stage, harkening back to the theater midnight ghost shows that flourished from the thirties to the fifties. This month we look at the world premiere of a ghostly musical, at memories of Francisco's midnight spookers, and at a theater that just might be haunted by the magi who have graced its stage.
HOOSIER HAUNTING -- Here in Bloomington, Indiana, on October 10, in the beautiful 3100-seat Indiana University auditorium for a sellout crowd, we enjoyed the world premiere of Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, an eerie musical collaboration between Stephen King and John Mellencamp. It's a tale of brotherly love (Cain and Abel style), involving two sets of brothers 40 years apart, their relationships stirred by a malevolent Shape (essentially Satan). Most of the characters were on stage throughout, like the characters in Thornton Wilder's Our Town, some dead already, and some who would die before the evening ended. What made the premiere especially fun for my party was that Stephen King, John Mellencamp, and Meg Ryan sat directly behind us throughout. I'm certain the trio enjoyed the standing ovation at night's end. The music is now available on iTunes.
A ghostly new musical.
FRANCISCO'S MIDNIGHT SPOOK FROLIC -- Although I've had a complete file of The Bat on my iPad for some time, I couldn't pass up the fact that Byron Walker was selling hard copies of the Francisco spook show issue for a mere three dollars. Best-selling author Sid Fleischman wrote the copy (there were two n's in Sid's name in the magazine; perhaps that's how he spelled it in 1948) and made it all sound wonderful. Pete Biro later reprinted Sid's copy in his own booklet, Memoirs of a Spook Show Ghost. During the end of Francisco's (aka Arthur Bull's) career, Pete worked for him as a ghost named Count Zamora. Some of Pete's recollections are hilarious and worth a read to anyone interested in what life was really like on the after midnight circuit. $3 for The Bat, $15 for the memories. I bought both from Byron Walker.
The Bat lives again.
Biro wears a sheet.
TIME MACHINE -- This has little to do with Halloween and little to do with magic. It's a visit to a theater that I enjoyed nearly 50 years ago as a movie house, but which was originally built in 1921 as a vaudeville theater. All the great touring acts played there, including the Marx Brothers, and therefore no doubt numerous magicians did as well. Perhaps their ghosts perform there still. Alas, there is no record. My only reason for bringing it up is that I revisited the theater this week -- it's the Virginia Theatre in Champaign, Illinois, where Roger Ebert used to host his annual film festival -- and was amazed at its fundamental beauty and scope. As a college freshman I entered in the dark, watched a movie (I recall seeing a revival of Breakfast at Tiffany's there), and left in the dark. I had no idea what was hidden in the gloom and under coats of paint. Thanks to some serious millions recently invested, it has been restored to better than original and is again host to live performances and special movie presentations. I'll close this issue with a few images from my visit.
The Virginia Theatre, Champaign, Illinois.
Be scary. Be very, very scary.
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 journey 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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