Columbine, the dark-haired moppet who runs the show around here, arrived first, in a teal tank top and khaki hiking shorts, a book bag slung over one slender shoulder. Golem scurried in moments later, wearing sunglasses, even though the sun itself was setting like a big orange sore behind the distant skyscrapers.
The loft was already a miasma of litter from the Issue-In-Progress. A map of England hung on the wall, and the executive-length table was strewn with ancient magic books, photographs of English and Scottish magicians, a handsome copy of Simon Says, Norrie Epstein's The Friendly Shakespeare, a Magic Castle drink menu from the sixties, copies of Effortless Card Magic and Show-Time at the Tom-Foolery and The Card Magic of Nick Trost, T.A.'s encyclopedia, Genii's British Performers Issue from September 1991 (great cover art!), H&R's List 17, ads from Kaufman and Falanga and Lee, The People's Almanac, Elspeth Huxley's The Mottled Lizard, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, a 1983-84 Revised Edition of TV Movies by Leonard Maltin (really need to get a newer copy!), a copy of Fowler plus Karen Elizabeth Gordon's The New Well-Tempered Sentence and The Transitive Vampire, Simon Lovell's lecture notes, the gaffed cards from "Ghost Flight," Donald Barthelme's The King, a recent photo of Tom Mullica smoking 16 cigarettes at once, Jim Magus's new seance book, Garrison's Who's Who in Wodehouse, T.H. White's The Book of Merlyn (big fucking hint!), Duffie's Card Compulsions, Gertner's Steel and Silver, a Cape Girardeau newspaper with an ad for Brett Daniels' new show, a dictionary, dozens of sheets of paper, napkins, and so on bearing frantically written ideas and URLs, David Siegel's new Secrets of Successful Web Sites, the August 25 issue of People, the September 15 issue of The New Yorker, and a deck of cards floating in a glass of beer. (I'm not a writer, I'm a synthesizer.)
"Before we get down to work," I offered, "does everyone want to play What I Did on My Summer Vacation?" We had all just returned from a month off, even longer in the kid's case, and I thought I'd let them settle before cracking the whip for the British issue. I was prepared to tell them of my summer affair on the beach with a young fashion model whose father doesn't understand her. It's the annual desperate lie, but it amuses them.
Columbine ventured first.
"I took a class at the college," she said. "Introduction to English Lit, 101. It was way more interesting than high school. Chaucer, Malory, Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Dryden, Swift, Pope, Boswell and Johnson, the lot of them. Early stuff, that is. It was one of those Total Immersion classes. Want to hear me recite something?"
I was impressed. Stunned, actually. I had not previously considered the child in an intellectual context.
"I'm, ah, thinking of enrolling full time," she said. "One of my professors, Bob, needs someone to help him with his research on Piers Plowman. He thinks he can get me a grant or something to help with the tuition and incidentals. And anyway my boyfriend, J.R., thinks it's a good idea. He says brains are sexy."
"Always my motto," I concurred. "You call your English professor Bob?" Why did I feel like a character in a Woody Allen movie? Why do things have to change?
"Who's this?" she said, adroitly changing the subject by turning to a photo of Simon Lovell. "He's cute. Married?"
"Quate!" I said, now sounding more like a pretentious secretary in a Wodehouse novel. "That's Simon Lovell. And he has a charming wife."
"So be it," she sighed. "And this one?"
"That's Peter Duffie. Do you recall the card trick I did where some cards were torn, sealed in an envelope, and folded?"
"That was one of the best ones you've done in decades! That was his?"
I turned to Golem for some help here. He was still wearing the sunglasses.
"I picked up a little work on the coast," he said. "I did some computer graphics stuff for Roger Corman."
"The Roger Corman? King of the B-movies?"
"He's quoted as saying he never made a B-movie in his life. Now he does made-for-tv movies. We just wrapped Sorority Bloodbath II, Horror Honeymoon, and Night of the Sewer Babes.
As heady an experience as it must have been for Golem, I knew that Corman probably didn't pay him much. I recalled a story of a young Jack Nicholson having to climb over a locked fence to get in to shoot the original Little Shop of Horrors.
"So what, it was like an internship or something? He kept you in Big Macs and fries?"
"I made 75 grand in August," Golem said casually. "Of course that's before residuals. There's a big demand for made-for-tv movies."
I reeled at the thought of matching such a salary. What about art? What about magic? I wondered if Roger Corman could use an aging web journalist who knew some pretty good card tricks.
Why did I feel as if the floor could open up beneath me at any moment, a physical as well as metaphorical possibility in our current offices? How could I put out the magazine without them? And that was a great tank top I was looking at.
"OK, let's get started," I said with a sinking heart. "Can anyone get me the phone number of Hayley Mills on tour?"
OR, HOW THIS ISSUE CAME ABOUT --Most of us Yanks, I suspect, are either closet or open Anglophiles. Just where and when we get it into our heads that anything British is better I've no idea, but PBS was pretty well founded on that premise. The language itself exerts a profound influence, of course. We speak it with either the Southern laziness of Gatsby's Daisy or with the clipped Chicago staccato of a Jake and Elwood Blues or with whatever-the-hell that accent was that lady detective had in Fargo, and we know we aren't getting it quite right. When someone from England utters something, whether it's Eliza Doolittle or Winston Churchill or Mick Jagger, it just sounds better than anything that comes out of our mouths.
I've no illusions about when I became an Anglophile or why. It happened in 1961, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. It was a movie called The Parent Trap, starring Hayley Mills, a spunky charismatic kid who spoke, despite her movie role as an American child, with a decidedly English accent. What a cutie! (Were British lads, for whom Hayley Mills had no accent whatsoever, equally as moved?) Thanks to the Disney magic, there were two of Hayley in the film, so I never had a chance. This was probably my first celebrity crush, and it has been a lifelong one. (Ms. Mills is currently touring the U.S. in The King and I, if any of you share that crush.) Later, much would come along to gratify my newfound taste for things British -- the early Peter Sellers films, James Bond, the Beatles and the Stones, Upstairs/Downstairs, the two Peter Wimsey series, the Shakespeare plays, Pope's "Rape of the Lock," the Alan Ayckborn plays, Muriel Spark, the O.E.D., Fawlty Towers, John le Carre, Elizabeth Hurley, AbFab, and, that rarest of geniuses, P.G. Wodehouse. And I've only begun to scratch the surface of all the writers and entertainers and movie and tv productions we've come to love, not to mention the princess who enveloped us all in grief these past few weeks and in awe for many years before.
In the field of magic, much would come along from Great Britain as well, beginning with some of the first magic books I read and continuing up to the most recent two books, Effortless Card Magic and Simon Says. The kids ain't bad either: all of magic is waiting impatiently for the first major book from Guy Hollingworth. It was the surprise offering of the two Peter Duffie tricks, coupled with the planned review of Simon's book, that suggested the idea of this "theme" issue. It seemed the perfect time to say thanks to Great Britain, not just for such wonderful things as Edward Victor's bat trick and the coolest way imaginable to count four cards as four, but for everything else from that isle that has so enriched our lives. In its small way, I hope this edition has succeeded in conveying that appreciation.
In the early eighties, PBS ran a superb mini-series called The Flame Trees of Thika, chronicling the lives of young Elspeth Huxley and her family, Britains who started a farm in Kenya. Elspeth referred to her parents by their names, Robin and Tilly, and the adult Tilly was played by a fetching adult Hayley Mills. (Bear with me, magic comes into play here.) The series was based on a book of the same name by Mrs. Huxley (her maiden name was Grant). A second book, The Mottled Lizard, continues the biography, picking up with the Grants' returning to Kenya from England following the First World War. In this episode Elspeth is a young teenager, who amuses herself by becoming a correspondent who reports on the polo matches in Kenya (under the pseudonym Bamboo), and who also takes up magic. She was particularly enamored of receiving parcels "from a purveyor of conjuring tricks called Will Goldstone, whose catalogues were packed with fascinating and seemingly impossible feats of magic." One passage has always intrigued me:
At last, however, I did invent a trick that looked as if it might have worked had I been able to make the necessary apparatus, which included an imitation of the little vest-pocket Kodaks then in vogue. I wrote it all out with diagrams and sent it to The Magician Monthly, a magazine I read with fascinated interest every time the mail brought it to Thika. To my great surprise, and even greater gratification, they published the trick in their section devoted to New Magical Suggestions and, in lieu of a fee, gave me credit for two guineas at Will Goldstone's. I spent many delectable hours laying out this sum to the best advantage from the catalogue.If English magic had a pull on African farming, African farming also had a pull on English magic. 1947 was the final year in which Jasper Maskelyne performed at London's Westminster Theatre (the same year and location of the Kuda Bux/Donna Delbert story, elsewhere in this issue). He was, by accounts, an extraordinary children's entertainer. But given the decline in variety theatres, he decided to yield to a lifelong ambition, farming, and so sailed to Kenya to start a new life. I return to Will Dexter's words, from 1956 (Everybody's Book of Magic):
Somewhere in Africa today you'll find Jasper Maskelyne -- Farmer Jasper Maskelyne -- turning the African soil into rich bearing loam. And somewhere in Africa today, not far away from the Maskelyne farm, you'll find a storehouse that contains many of the mysteries that Farmer Maskelyne loves almost as much as the soil. And, if you're especially lucky, Farmer Maskelyne might become Magician Maskelyne once more, and unlock his storehouse of magic.
A final note. One of my stringers, in Chicago, is trying to track down the original Elspeth Grant Huxley submission to The Magician Monthly. I have faith in his prowess in these matters, and will pass the item along in these pages upon a successful conclusion to his research.
The art used in the magazine proper was inspired by various plays, notably A Midsummer Night's Dream and Macbeth. The painting in which Titania is "speaking to Phoebe" is titled "Titania" and is by John Simmons and hangs in the City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, Bristol, England. The next painting of Titania with Bottom is also titled "Titania" and is by Joseph Noel Paton, 1850. The final artwork featuring Titania and Bottom (and discussing dress codes in Las Vegas magic acts) is by Henri Fuseli and is called "Titania, Bottom, and the Fairies," from 1793-4. Henri Fuseli is also the artist who painted "Macbeth, Banquo and the Witches on the Heath," portrayed herein as a fun time at Comdex. All the paintings were cropped for editorial purposes. The final illustration is of Patsy and Edina from Absolutely Fabulous, which I cannot begin to describe to any of you who might be unfamiliar with it.
A lot of the fun went out of working on this issue on Sunday morning, August 31, when I awoke to the impossible headlines that Princess Diana had died. Her only relationship here is that she was British, so very much so. I don't recall her having any direct relationship with magic, although there was a photo run years ago, in Genii I think, of Prince Charles standing before some cups and balls as he passed his entrance exam into the Magic Circle. (Did he ever, I wonder, show her a card trick, or his cups and balls to the boys? Does he attempt to amuse in private?) A lot has been said, in partial explanation of the enormous worldwide outpouring of affection and grief, over her good works, with AIDS patients and land mine victims, and so on. But this had little to do with her real appeal. She was simply a great beauty and one of the greatest romantic figures, a star-crossed lover if there ever was one, "a very British girl," to borrow her brother's words, who possessed that same spunk and accent that made us fall in love with Hayley Mills years ago, and who looked so pretty and chic, just days earlier in a Harvard sweatshirt and short shorts, when she was still just Di to us all, before a horrifying mishap consigned her to history as the more formal Diana. I trust our British colleagues in magic are grieving her loss even more than we, and I wish her from here the most heartfelt of farewells.
Although I have done so in appropriate spots throughout this issue, I want to close by thanking Simon Lovell and Peter Duffie once again for their generosity. This is really their issue. I also thank Richard Kaufman and Louis Falanga and Stephen Minch for their continuing support, for permissions, and most importantly for creating neat stuff for us to read and review.