I read the news today, oh boy.
Simon Aronson died this past week.
He was one of the most brilliant and clever creator of card magic effects of the past 50 years. His methods were… shall we say?…memorable. The house of magic is large, as Eugene Burger was fond of saying, and Simon’s creations fit a particular room. His magic was brainy, intellectual, and absolutely fooling. There are magicians who are great at fooling laypeople; there are magicians who are devious enough to fool other magicians; but the amazing thing about Simon’s card magic is that if you were doing it, it would fool even yourself. To this day, there are probably legions of magicians who perform his “Shuffle-Bored” or “Prior Commitment” who still have absolutely no idea why they work. What they know is that they do work, and they blow the minds of people who see them. If the performers themselves can’t figure them out, you can imagine, then, that the spectators have got zero chance. (If you like, we can discuss in the comments about your personal favorite effects of his.)
But make no mistake, Simon’s tricks impressed non-magicians as well. There’s a funny story that magician John Bannon tells in his introduction to one of Aronson’s books. He shows the secretary of Simon’s law firm a card trick, hoping to impress her, and she only smiles pleasantly. Then she says with wide open eyes, “But have you seen Simon’s card magic?”
Speaking of Aronson’s books, I doubt there has ever been a more meticulous, detailed magic writer than he was. His books—Bound To Please, The Aronson Approach, Simply Simon, Try The Impossible, and Art Decko—are masterpieces of explanation of intricate methods. While Simon was not above using sleights and gaffs in his magic (and he delighted in upsetting fellow magicians’ expectations of what his bag of methods might include) his claim to fame really rests on thinking very hard about a few tools which required mostly sleight of mind. As he would say, just as you have to plan things so that your sleight of hand doesn’t show, you also have to plan effects so that your sleight of mind doesn’t show either. In Simon’s books, he takes you through all his thinking point by point, thoroughly exploring variations and improvements, telling you what versions he threw out as weak or too revealing, giving you his scripting, and moreover, unlocking the reasons why his methods work. Simon’s training as a lawyer shows—his books are not just explanations, but thorough briefs with points and subpoints. In magic circles people like to debate, with near religious ferocity, whether it’s better to learn magic from books or DVDs. Of course both sides have valid views, but for the book-lovers, their strongest argument is two words: Simon Aronson.
No one would call Simon an extraordinary performer, but on occasion he would step away from the card table to do another kind of magic: his mentalism act that he created with his college sweetheart and wife of many years, Ginny. (There’s a great photo of college-aged Simon and Ginny on the Jerx website that speaks volumes about them. And Bill Mullins on the Genii Forum posted a wonderful remembrance from Simon about his father who was very active in the 60s Civil Rights movement). They did a classic two-person mindreading act, and fortunately it was captured on video as an extra on one of his videos. It’s something that neither he nor Ginny have ever revealed, and while clearly there must be some code going on, I have resigned myself to the fact that if Simon created it, I’m never going to be able to figure it out. You can see their act for yourself in the L&L video I posted above.
At the first run of mentalist Derren Brown’s Secret here in NYC, Derren pointed to a man in the audience to volunteer for the next effect. It was dark in the theater so I couldn’t see that well, but I thought the man looked familiar; when he said his name was Simon and the woman sitting next to him was Ginny…
I made sure to “accidentally” bump into him as the theater was emptying, and nervously introduced myself to him. He was so nice—he said he knew my name from this blog, and then proceeded to describe the photo I have on the title page of it! I got to talk with him a little longer as we walked together in the rainy weather, and found them a cab back to their hotel. Really couldn’t be nicer people. I treasured that comment from him, as one of the very first essays I wrote on this blog was inspired by an essay of his.
Simon Aronson was a full-out, full-deck memorable mensch, and I’m sorry to hear about his passing. From the Jack of Spades to the Nine of Diamonds, he will not be forgotten.
very nice tribute. The blindfold wasn’t really a blindfold…in my opinion.
Hi Pearl, I don’t know how it’s done, and a fake blindfold would be a reasonable guess—but the main reason I don’t think that’s the primary method is because I don’t think such a method would bring Simon any pleasure. He was too ingenious a guy to be happy with such a straightforward solution.
I saw this act live more than once. At the larger show, Ginny faced away from the audience with a microphone.
Here’s a link to an article and a quote from the article:
“Genii: Can you give me an example of how that might work? Without breaching any secrets …
Ginny: Sure, and this was one of my favorites. In one show, Simon sent me a cue, so I announced, “I’m getting the impression of something to do with music.” But then Simon asks me to be more specific, to say something more about it, and in doing so, he’s secretly sent me the cue for an entirely different object, a fork! Now, keep in mind that in this act, I am quite literally in the dark—I can’t see anything and don’t have a clue as to what the object is, except for the cues Simon sends, but I know he’s combining things, creating as he goes along. So, I’m thinking “Music, Fork” but I can’t imagine what it is. Who knows, maybe somebody can play a fork, the way people can play the spoons? So, I throw out what I have, and say, hesitantly, “Yes, it’s clearer, I’m also getting the impression of a fork, some kind of a musical fork?” And immediately Simon cries out triumphantly, “Yes, that’s exactly what it is, it’s a tuning fork!”
I was the guy who had the tuning fork. This act has always astounded audiences.
Thanks for that, Rob. What a great reminiscence—and I have to admit, I wondered whether Ginny could turn her back to the audience. And that’s a marvelous article, too. That last photo in it, is the funniest and best mentalism out ever. Thanks so much.
I love your last line, wonderful. I was lucky to see him lecture and perform at SOMA, Chicago 2019. His books are so thoughtful and analytical. Also at SOMA, he and Ginny did their mind reading act. I didn’t believe in psychics before I saw them, I do now! RIP Simon and thank you Ginny.