After Charlie Chaplin’s American passport was revoked during the McCarthy era, he made a movie in his exile called A King in New York, about a monarch who visits the US and is subjected to a HUAC-like Congressional panel. In one particularly pointed scene, the King visits a progressive school and gets an earful from an anarchist-minded young lad, serendipitously played by Chaplin’s own 10-year old son, Michael. Both a spoof and delineation of anarchist ideas and those who promulgate them, it’s some of the most radical talk you’ll hear in a studio motion picture.
Thanks to YouTuber Onder Koffer V
The past few months I’ve been enjoying a number of magic books, old and new, which I’d like to share with you.
First is St. George’s Hall: Behind the Scenes at England’s House of Mystery by Anne Davenport and John Salisse. This is a fairly specialized book, but it’s very well done. It’s a history of the London theater venue run by several generations of Maskelynes, starting with the patriarch, J.N. Maskelyne, in partnership with the magician David Devant from 1905 – 1935. Devant of course, along with Nevil Maskyelene, wrote one of the seminal books about the theory of conjuring called Our Magic. That book was unique in that it understood that conjuring was part of the theatrical arts, but at the same time also had its own particular requirements. Devant and Maskelyne, perhaps more than anybody before or since, delineated just how the magician should best walk that fine line between theatrical narrative and conjuring necessity. St. George’s Hall makes clear with its extensive details and photos of thirty years of St. George’s entertainments, that the theory of Our Magic was borne out of hard struggle and daily practical knowledge of what worked and didn’t work. Many of the entertainments were short plays centered around an illusion that Maskelyne or Devant had created and worked into some fantastical plot. The most surprising thing in the book for me were the photos of Devant in the various costumes for his plays; it is clear from the variety of characters and make-ups that he used that he was as interested in the techniques of acting as he was of those of conjuring, and saw them both as allied arts.
I like the idea of having little magic pamphlets to read on a subway ride, and recently I came across an old pamphlet called Bunny Bill. The booklet by Robert Neale is an easy to follow origami project that teaches you how to fold a dollar bill into the shape of a top hat. When you squeeze the sides of the hat, out pops a little paper rabbit. It’s all done with one bill without any cuts, tears or tape. Cuteness factor is high, and children enjoy it.
Magician Dai Vernon was the greatest influence on close-up magic in the twentieth century, and for over 25 years, Vernon contributed a column to Genii Magazine called The Vernon Touch. His columns have all been collected in a compilation also called The Vernon Touch, brought out by Rickard Kaufman. The Vernon Touch had an extraordinary run considering that Vernon was in his seventies when he began the column, and he was over ninety when he contributed his last one. Much of the column was devoted to his reports on the scene at The Magic Castle, where he was in residence. Lots of history and anecdotes, along with many insights into the Vernon conception of magic, but I liked the photos the best, many not published before, of Vernon with his fellow magicians, and Vernon’s Harlequin and Chinese acts. If you subscribe to Genii you can purchase the book at a bargain price.
A few years ago I had the good fortune to be involved with the proofreading of a wonderful book of card magic called The Devil’s Staircase by Greg Chapman. Fans of that book will be very happy to learn that Mr. Chapman is about to release a new book of card magic, kind of a companion piece to TDS, called Details of Deception. It’s an excellent title, because in this book Chapman focuses on the fine details of what makes a sleight, and a performance of card magic, deceptive. As in the last book, most of the material is gambling-themed, but a careful reading of the book will be highly instructive for any intermediate-to-advanced card worker. There are some excellent memorized deck effects, poker demonstrations, an extensive section on estimation with information which to my knowledge has never seen print before, and a large chapter on the second deal which gives detailed instructions of how to do several kinds of push-off seconds, along with some killer tricks that utilize the sleight. While most of the effects are difficult—the ability to do three perfect faros in some routines is taken as a given—there are a few effects for the mere mortals among us, including a very clever ACAAN routine. I highly recommend this book if you’re looking to improve your card magic, if you’re a memdeck guy or gal, or if you just want to see how deeply a guy like Chapman can think about card magic.
Last week I saw the wonderful New Vaudevillean Bill Irwin perform as an opening act for the showing of a charming Buster Keaton film, The Cameraman, at Town Hall. It was really heartwarming to see the children in the audience respond with such delight to both Irwin and Keaton.
By happy coincidence, while watching an old Johnny Carson episode last night, I came across George Carl, a truly funny clown who was a great influence on Irwin. Carl, who was born in Ohio, and seventy years old in this 1986 performance, is a joy to watch.
Thanks to YouTuber Funnystuffcollector
Here’s some unusual footage of magician Ricky Jay when he was young, which I hadn’t seen before. He’s on the British variety television show, The Michael Parkinson Show, and Parkinson’s other guests included the well-known Dutch magician Fred Kaps.
The video is of poor broadcast quality but I thought aficionados might enjoy watching Jay perform some of his evergreen effects as Kaps and Parkinson react.
I extracted this video from an hour long video posted by YouTuber World Greatest Magicians
While Buster Keaton was called The Great Stoneface, he actually was able to portray a wide range of nuanced emotion in his movies. Here is a love scene from The Cameraman (1928). Buster has just messed up his job interview for a movie newsreel company, but Marceline Day, one of the company’s employees, sees something special in him.
Thanks to YouTuber Andrea Lombardo
Jacques Brel works himself up into a lather singing about the Port of Amsterdam.
Sometime in the late 1960s, Mort Shuman and Elly Stone got together a quartet of performers and created a show comprised completely of Brel’s songs, translated into English by Shuman and Eric Blau. Titled Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, it played at a little cabaret in Greenwich Village and became an unlikely hit, winning awards and playing for four years and thousands of performances in revivals.
Shuman sang this song in the original show, and was very impressive, but it was nice to run across this video of Brel himself singing it. As I remember it, the show had a cast album consisting of two LPs, which as far as I know was a first for the time.
In this scene from Ishtar, songwriters Rogers and Clarke (Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman) try their hands at being a cover band. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out too well.
One of the things I really like about the film Ishtar is how director Elaine May deliberately cast against type. Warren Beatty, who had a reputation as a real Hollywood stud, was cast as the shy awkward one, and the nebbishy Dustin Hoffman was cast as the ladykiller of the two.
Thanks to YouTuber j peoplemover
A few weeks ago, I got notice that a wonderful woman, with whom I had been in an amateur theatre company decades ago, had passed away at the age of 95.
I had not seen her in over thirty years, but I had many fond memories of her comedic and dramatic talents. I had directed her in a production of The Diary of Anne Frank, and she played her part of the spoiled Mrs Van Daan to perfection.
I wrote her daughter a condolence note with some of my memories of her mother. Last week the daughter sent back the following lovely document written by her mother, which was found bundled with her mother’s cemetery deed. I thought you might like to read it.
To Fellow Thespians!
If all the world’s a stage then this a part to die for—
No auditions necessary
Starring role guaranteed
Car service to and from
Only a friendly audience
You’re not criticized for lying down on the job
I hear the cast party is out of this world!!