I Dream of Genii…



I was happy last week to spend four days in Orlando, Florida, attending the 2019 Genii Convention. For a comprehensive, contemporaneous, blow-by-blow audio account, click on the triangles below.


Day One: Intro, Tom Gagnon, Paul Vigil, Sara Crasson, Jonathan Neal


Day Two: Michael Chaitlin, Hector Mancha, Jim Steinmeyer, Paul Vigil, Nick Diffate, Lucy Darling, Hector Mancha, Raymond Crowe, Eric Jones


Day Three: Gaeten Bloom, Bill Cheung, Michael Vincent, Hector Mancha, Alexandra Duvivier, Terry Ward, Hannibal, Penn & Teller, Pat Hazell, Jonathan Neal, Gaeten Bloom, Read Chang, Piff the Magic Dragon


Day Four: 49 Boxes, Eric Jones, Gaeten Bloom, Dominique and Alexandra Duvivier, Nick Diffate, Lucy Darling, Romany, David Kovac, Jay Johnson, John Archer, Summing up



Gerald Deutsch’s Perverse Magic: The First Sixteen Years

deutsch_cover 1-2-19


I’ve written here about Gerald Deutsch before, and I’ve even posted video here of me performing some of his magic, so I’m happy to report the publication this week of a beautiful hardcover 470+ page book chock full of Jerry Deutsch’s unique brand of magic called Gerald Deutsch’s Perverse Magic: The First Sixteen Years. Later in this post I’ll talk about the genesis of the book and my role in producing it, but first I’d like to explain a little more about what “Perverse Magic” is.

Magic is a wonderful entertainment and sometimes art, but there is an aspect of it that can potentially turn audiences off. A performer says to an audience, in effect, “See how wonderful I am,” but a performer claiming such magical power risks getting into a power struggle with a certain kind of spectator.

But Jerry’s style of magic, “Perverse Magic,” (the term is taken from an early magician, Charles Waller, who first mentioned this style of magic) eliminates this potential friction point between performer and audience. The magic happening is attributed not to the performer’s will, but to causes outside it. In other words, the magician appears to be just as baffled (Acting!) as the audience member is; in that way, the performer is on the same side of the spectator, rather than an antagonist.

Jerry has described six possible entertaining categories of Perverse Magic:

1. Something just happens without the performer’s knowledge, and without the performer wanting it to happen. You can see this in the magic of Cardini, where cards and cigarettes appear in his hands out of his control.

2. The performer expects one kind of outcome, but something else happens instead. For example, the magician says he will make a selected card penetrate a handkerchief; instead, when the hankie is opened, the card face is blank and the hankie has a large size copy of the chosen card printed on the handkerchief.

3. The magician says he’s going to do something; but instead, that something happens by itself. For example, a rope suddenly unties itself.

4. The magician does something and is caught; but when he confesses, it’s not what the audience thought–nor what the magician thought either. For example, in an egg bag routine, the magician admits that he has been hiding a spare egg in his armpit. But when he lifts his arm to retrieve the egg, to the surprise of both the performer and audience, the egg has vanished.

5. The magician and the audience are on different planes as to what each sees. This is a whimsical approach: for example, a magician pays for some candy with a half-dollar that s/he offhandedly pulls from a pen cap.

6. The performer doesn’t understand why what happens, happens. For example,  the performer fails to find the spectator’s card, even after several tries. In disgust, s/he throws the cards upwards–and to the performer’s, and the rest of the audience’s amazement, the spectator’s card sticks to the ceiling.

It’s a great way to solve the ego problem in magic.

Let me explain a bit on how this book came to be. For the past sixteen years, every single month Jerry Deutsch has been posting Perverse Magic effects to the Genii magic forum. Finally, a few months ago, Jerry brought an end to the wonderful series.

Jerry’s posts instantly resonated with me–I had tinkered around with something I called “Accidental Magic” for a while, when I discovered that Jerry had been doing this for decades before. When I discovered Jerry’s Genii thread, I was enchanted. I looked forward every month to Jerry’s latest perverse entry on the Genii forum.

I thought it would be nice to gather up all of Jerry’s posts and put them into book form so that I could study Perverse Magic more closely for my own personal use. I’m a book guy, that’s how I learn. So I began putting the book together, and as I progressed I thought, wouldn’t it be a great tribute to Jerry to release this to the general magic public?

I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes, so I asked Richard Kaufman, editor of Genii, what he thought, and he gave the project his approval. I asked Jerry, and he was happy to be getting a copy, but he preferred not to release it to the general magic public.

I prevailed upon Jerry, telling him that there were three good reasons for having the book released:
1) He deserves financial remuneration for his efforts.
2) For many people, book form is more convenient to learn from than a website.
3) Most importantly, Jerry’s landmark contributions to the art of magic in developing this unique form of magic should be documented, appreciated, and preserved in a more permanent way than the internet cloud.

Jerry still demurred, even after I assured him that I wanted no remuneration for myself. I was disappointed, but I continued working on the book. When it was finally finished, having designed the book layout and cover, and copy-edited it, I sent Jerry a copy.

A few days later I got a call from Jerry, who I had never spoken to on the phone before. He was really happy about the book, and wanted to release it to the general magic public with one important condition: that all proceeds would go to charity.

I was so happy when he said this. It was the perfect solution! Jerry mentioned that he had done work volunteering in hospitals, doing magic for young patients, and that he would like to find a charity that would support that kind of work.

We did some research and we came up with a perfect fit: Open Heart Magic. They are a non-profit charity whose main mission specifically is to train volunteers to do magic in hospitals for young patients. We spoke to the folks at OHM, and they were happy to help set things up so that all the proceeds of Jerry’s book would go to their foundation. You can take a look at the great work these people do at http://www.openheartmagic.org

So if you’d like to treat yourself to the book, I think you’re making a great decision: Jerry’s effects are terrific and well-explained, the price is right, and the cause is a great cause to support. It also makes a great gift. You can order it here:






WBAI radio

Audacity Open Source Software


Iced Green Tea

Genii Magazine

Buster Keaton

The Commons Cafe

Sony PCM Recorder

The New Yorker cartoons

Summer Fruits

Spring, Summer, and Fall

An open window

Holly, Gordon, Parker, Avery, Amy, and the rest of my fictional family


Laundry pick-up

Canon Elph cameras

The Catskills


Snail Mail

International High School

Fresh decks of Phoenix Playing Cards


Ella Fitzgerald


Amazon Prime

The Magic Cafe: Not Very Magical, Still forum

A good poem


Charlie Parker

Low-stakes acting

Talking crap




Putting The CIA in MagiCIAn


In 1953, Frank Olson, who without his knowledge had been slipped a dose of LSD some days earlier, flew through a plate glass window of New York City’s Statler Hilton Hotel, ending up dead on the sidewalk, ten floors below. His son, Eric, says he was pushed; The CIA, Olson’s employer, said it was suicide. The CIA said they should know, since the only other person in the hotel room at the time of the death was another CIA agent. When Olson’s body was later exhumed by the family, an autopsy showed blunt instrument trauma to the middle of his forehead.

Olson was a victim of the CIA’s MK-ULTRA program, a program meant to investigate and utilize all manner of covert weapons that could be useful in the interrogation and manipulation of the minds of enemy agents. LSD, a relatively new drug at the time, was seen as a leading candidate for such duty. There was one major problem, however: the covert administration of the drug, and chemicals like it, required a certain measure of sleight-of-hand, artifice, ruse, and subterfuge. An expert in the highly specialized technology of deception was put onto the CIA payroll, his charge to write a manual of trickery to be used by The Company’s field agents. The expert’s name was John Mulholland; he was, at the time, perhaps the most well-known and knowledgeable magician in the world.

Writer Michael Edwards got wind of this story, meeting with Eric Olson, Frank’s son, and through Edwards’s major investigative reporting utilizing the Freedom Of Information Act, and the records from The Rockefeller Commission’s 1970s investigation into the CIA’s illegal domestic spying, Edwards was able to piece together many of the details in this story of conjuring and CIA history. His report was published by Richard Kaufman in the April 2001 issue of Genii Magazine, the world’s best-selling monthly magic magazine. Two years later, in the August 2003 issue of Genii, Kaufman published the text of Some Operational Applications of the Art of Deception, the title of Mulholland’s CIA manual.

In 2008, Ben Robinson, a student of magician Milbourne Christopher, a contemporary and friend of Mulholland, published a book called The MagiCIAn: John Mulholland’s Secret Life.  Robinson’s book, is really three books in one, and it’s hard for me to say which is the most fascinating: the bio of scholar-magician-collector John Mulholland; the story of CIA covert ops in the 50s and onwards; or the intersection of the two, how Mulholland provided service to the CIA through the utilization of his conjuring knowledge.

Much of the material for the last two parts was similar to what Edwards had already written, but independently verified based on Mulholland’s personal files. On Christopher’s death, Maurine, his widow, had given over to Robinson certain personal papers and effects of John Mulholland’s that had been in Christopher’s possession, relevant to the story.

Robinson’s book, which I recently finished reading, is engrossing, and anyone interested in the history of conjuring will be enthralled by it. The meat of the story—Mulholland’s involvement with the CIA—is put into its proper context, situating Mulholland as the perfect person in the perfect places at the perfect time. Robinson also gives a very good overview of the MK-ULTRA program and the subsequent experiments in Psi and ESP that the agency obsessed over.

But a couple of things were more than curious to me as I read Robinson’s book. First off, there is no mention of Edwards at all in the main text of the book. The only mention of him is in an alphabetical listing of acknowledgements that includes around one hundred names, and, later, a reference in the extensive bibliography. This seems to me remarkably ungenerous as Edwards’s lengthy article was the first to approach the story from a magician’s point of view. Edwards’s name does not appear in the index. Stranger still, the first 2008 edition of Robinson’s book makes no mention that the text of the Mulholland manual had already been printed in Genii five years earlier. To read the book, one would think that the text was unavailable to the public.

And again: in the 2010 revised edition of MagiCIAn, no mention is made of Genii‘s printing the text of Mulholland’s manual. But the strangest part is that Robinson describes a lecture he gave about Mulholland to an audience that included former CIA agent Robert Wallace and CIA head (and magician) John McLaughlin. Following that description, Robinson points out that Mulholland’s manual had been recently published in a 2009 HarperCollins edition that was edited by the same Robert Wallace, with a forward by McLaughlin.

Surely this must be a first in CIA history, the printing and authorization of one of its covert manuals for the general public. So the CIA is celebrating the outing of one of its covert programs? How can this make any sense other than to believe that they are hoping to take control of the narrative? Robinson hints that there was a second manual written by Mulholland, but the CIA wouldn’t approve its release. Is there any other information that the CIA is still seeking to keep secret about Mulholland’s participation, the Olson affair, or the MK-ULTRA program? A few days before Olson died, after he had ingested the LSD, he became extremely paranoid and agitated, and told family members he wanted to quit the CIA. Two CIA men took him to see a Dr. Abramson, who was affiliated with The Agency. What was Abramson’s method of “calming Olson down”? He gave Olson a bottle of bourbon and the barbiturate Nembutol, an obviously potentially deadly combination. The next day, Olson was taken to Mulholland “to cheer him up.” Three days later, Olson was dead on the NYC sidewalks.

Those of us who grew up in the Nixon years may recall Tricky Dick’s method of covering up insalubrious activities: “the limited modified hangout.” That is, you give them part of the story—the part they already know, in order to pacify them, and then claim the story has been told, nothing to see here, move along. We’ve seen how the CIA has been doing exactly the same thing recently with its attempt to cover up its involvement with the psychologists of the American Psychological Association who participated in torture at Guantanamo; they persistently did “the limited modified hangout,” as each new piece of damning evidence appeared. Fortunately, the efforts of Arrigo, Reisner, Soldz, and others were able to penetrate the fog and get to the truth.

Now I am not suggesting that Mulholland helped to kill Olson. What I am saying is that I am not happy with a book that lays out as much information as Robinson’s does and yet then makes a blanket statement that “Mulholland was a patriot” and “Conclusively, John Mulholland was incapable of murder” even while saying “He did nothing wrong by teaching covert operatives the world of sleight of hand. While he may have trained people to kill, he did not ever commit murder…” I do not believe these are the words of an objective scholar; Mulholland is certainly entitled to the presumption of innocence in the absence of other evidence; but that should not mean that the book is closed either on Mulholland or MK-ULTRA. The CIA’s covert programs have done much harm to Americans as the Rockefeller Commission detailed. And just as there are real ethical questions about whether psychologists should lend their knowledge to the torture of others, there are real ethical questions about magicians teaching the technology of deception to those who have such a long record of abuse of that information.

So get a subscription to Genii and get access to all the back copies and read Edwards’s article and the manual. And get a copy of Robinson’s book for an incredible overview of the life of John Mulholland and his employment by the CIA.

The Professional Amateur


If you are a New Yorker of a certain age, you remember the fabulous Christmas windows of the now defunct carriage-trade department store B. Altman, on tony Fifth Avenue. The memory of that upscale firm need not concern us any further for our purpose except to notice that at one time, the President of B. Altman was a fellow by the name of Lewis Kaufman. And Lewis Kaufman is on our radar screen only because he was the father of arguably the most important and influential non-professional in the history of contemporary magic, Richard Kaufman.

Kaufman’s name is well-known to magic fans, but I think sometimes the really remarkable, irreplaceable extent of his contributions to magic has been overlooked. In a sense, it was Kaufman more than anyone else who dragged magic kicking and screaming into the latter part of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and made it respectable.  Especially with regard to close-up magic, his writing, illustration, and publishing brought a new professionalism to the publication of magic materials. It set a standard to which all magic books and magazines in the future would have to live up to. The announcement of a new publication from Kaufman was, and is, a guarantee that a quality product was being produced.

Kaufman started off as a magic prodigy, illustrating Harry Lorayne’s Afterthoughts for 75 cents a drawing at the age of sixteen. The two continued to have a love/hate relationship over the years (now reconciled) and it was Kaufman who designed and produced the first year of Apocalypse, the monthly magazine he co-edited with Lorayne. After breaking with Lorayne, he put out his own magazine for three years called Richard’s Almanac, which he later published in a hardbound collection called The Collected Almanac.  He then went on to write and illustrate books of his own, introducing and highlighting the work of such important magicians as David Roth, Jay Sankey, Ron Wilson, Gene Maze, Derek Dingle, Dr. Sawa, David Williamson, Brother John Hamman, Gary Kurtz, Steve Draun, Tom Mullica, Larry Jennings, Rene Levand, Criss Angel, and David Berglas. If we add to the list the books that Kaufman was involved in publishing as well, the roll becomes truly breathtaking: Jon Racherbaumer, Tony Andruzzi, Darwin Ortiz, Eugene Burger, Jeff Sheridan, Eugene Burger, Michael Weber, J.K. Hartman, David Kaye, John Bannon, Chris Kenner, and really, at this point it almost becomes easier to say who he hasn’t published than to keep listing names. The names are impressive in themselves, but in a world where many magic secrets had been self-published in awkwardly photocopied manuscripts bound with plastic spiral comb, and illustrated with murky photographs or illustrations with two left hands, the Kaufman books were always superbly turned out.

But perhaps the greatest achievement of Kaufman’s may be his stewardship of Genii magazine since 1998. Genii was a magic magazine with a long history, run by several generations of the Larsen family. Like so many magic magazines, it didn’t always come out on time, and the quality was erratic. The Genii of my youth—for some reason my local library carried it—seemed very clubby to my young eyes. There were only one or two items of interest to me per issue, with seemingly large sections devoted to the likes of reports of Ring 234 in Plano, Texas. Kaufman upgraded the contents of the magazine substantially, gave it an international flavor, and produced years and years of an excellent on-time and timely magazine.

Kaufman was the first magic publisher to produce, along with the print version of his magazine, a digital one which boldly incorporated video content and access to digital archival material.

But my favorite part of the magazine is Kaufman’s introductory column where he not only introduces the issue, but more amusingly shows us the latest magical toys that have crossed his desk. There you see his true enchantment with magic, and you see the boy who at the age of five received a set of magic tricks from his uncle and has taken boyish delight ever since.

Magic is famously an art where the amateur has contributed as much as the professional has. No professional amateur has contributed more to the art of magic than Richard Kaufman. The clarity of his writing, the relevance of his illustrations, the taste and foresight he has brought to his choice of publications has been a standard that no one in the field can ignore. I am going to have a very happy holiday curling up with his Collected Almanac.