David Blaine: Hitting the Heights, Plumbing The Depths

Some say magician David Blaine is just regurgitating old material, but he didn’t have to take it so literally. Anyway, come for the announcement of his newest hair-raising stunt, but stay for the cuisses de grenouilles.

More at The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

It’s The Thought That Counts: Simon Aronson, An Appreciation

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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.

 

“But Wait, That’s Not All…There’s More!”

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Magician Shin Lim makes like a Veg-O-Matic pitchman, slices and dices you, uses the julienne blade, piles on effect after effect, then throws in smoke at no extra cost. Just no one like him.

Thanks to YouTuber TheEllenShow

The Sword Of Vengeance

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The world lost a wonderful magician this week. The above video is by no means Ricky Jay’s most baffling trick, but in some sense it is one of his most quintessential. Who else but Ricky Jay  would think of pulling this off this way.

Thanks to YouTuber PrestyGomez

“King of Hearts, Come Down and Dance”

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In what is probably Steve Martin’s greatest magic performance, Steve performs for Johnny Carson the inexplicable unpublished Vernon/Marlo card miracle, “King of Hearts, Come Down and Dance.”

Thanks to YouTuber Jeff Dresback

Magician In Trouble: Steve Martin

 

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In a pre-cursor to his great Flydini routine, Steve Martin performs this humorous sketch, a spoof of a Channing Pollock-like magician, on a Johnny Carson Comedians Special.

Thanks to YouTuber  Jeff Dresback

Torn and Restored Hearts: Kayla Drescher

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A really lovely re-imagining of a classic by magician Kayla Drescher on Penn & Teller’s Fool Us.

More Kayla Drescher  at Kayla Drescher

And don’t forget to enter The Contest. Prizes galore!

Impossibilia

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Card mechanic Richard Turner is not shy about revealing his weapons of choice: second deals, bottom deals, even middle deals. But even accounting for the imperceptible execution of the above, how in the world does one account for what happens in the video after the spectator shuffles several points along the way?

Un-freakin’-believable.

More at RichardTurner52

“If You Don’t See Now, You Never See Any More”: Tony Slydini’s Close-Up Magic

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You don’t often get to see how the mechanics of sleight of hand and misdirection are accomplished by a master. But in this signature routine of magician Tony Slydini, “Paper Balls Over the Head,” the audience is in on the trick from the beginning.

Thanks to YouTuber Michael Lyons

Hidden Figures

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No, not the film (not perfect, but worth seeing for some excellent acting, and a tautly written account of a little known but important event in US history), but magicienne (that’s what she calls herself) Julie Eng.

That’s her dad, Tony, who you see in the video, also in the family magic business, at least that’s his face. But the hands—and the sleight-of that goes with them—belong to daughter Julie.

She’s an excellent close-up and all-around magician herself. In the video she proves it by magishing without looking. The magicians at the convention are well aware of what Julie is doing and just how difficult it is to pull off.

And proud Dad is able to smile and say—Look Ma, no hands!

Here’s a picture of the talented Ms Eng:

images-duckduckgo-com

Click on the video to give her a big hand.

Thanks to YouTuber The King of Magic

French Cocktails with David Stone

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David Stone is a French magician with an irrepressible sense of mischievous humor and a wonderful command of misdirection. Here he is performing in English for a group of English-speaking magicians. Everything he does seems so carefree and improvisational, but it is all choreographed for maximum comic and magical effect.

The Millionaires’ Magician: Steve Cohen . . . and A Contest Update

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Steve Cohen bills himself as the Millionaires’ Magician, and while this spectator and his wife fall more into the category of the 99%, Steve did manage to make us feel like a million bucks.

Steve has very cleverly carved his niche by marketing himself as the heir to such conjurors as Malini, Hofzinser, and David Abbott; they were magicians who entertained in posh salon venues performing for select, intimate-sized audiences. In this case, our posh salon is a suite in the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, a suite that seats about fifty people. The magic happens before our eyes, no more than a few feet away. In Steve’s introductory remarks, he tells us that our suite is just down the hall from the Presidential suite, the suite where US Presidents going back to Herbert Hoover have stayed. He also tells a true story about what happened when the Clintons came to spend the night, a story that gets one of the biggest laughs of the evening.

The show starts off with a few entertaining card effects, then a coin effect with a Malini-esque twist, but the bulk of the show is weighted heavily towards mental effects. Part of the pleasure of the show is the inherent surprise of the effects themselves, so I don’t want to describe too much, but rest assured that you will be very mystified and delighted. These are all classic effects, and Steve’s methods are devious enough that even if you are familiar with these tricks, the odds are that you will be scratching your head over them. Steve has an obvious joy of performing. His skill in anticipating audience reaction and improvising when the needs arises is part of the fun. His audience management skills are superb too—he reminds me of that teacher in high school who you knew could make the noisiest, most chaotic classroom snap to attention with just a look. You never doubt for a moment that he is in complete control of the situation.

One effect that I will mention is the famous Think-a-Drink effect. First popularized by a vaudeville performer called Charles “Think-a Drink” Hoffman, the effect is simply this: people call out drinks, and those drinks are immediately poured out from one magic tea kettle. At the performance I saw this evening, the drinks called out included an Apple Martini, Rum and Pineapple, a Banana-Strawberry Smoothie, a Rob Roy, and Pomegranate VitaminWater. Lo, all those drinks were poured out from the tea kettle on command! All the drinks were then handed out to different audience members who verified each drink’s identity by downing each potion. Really a great effect, and one that Steve has now made his own.

Several other strong mental effects followed, but the one that shook my wife the most was Mr. Cohen’s Q and A, where people wrote down facts about themselves and Steve seemed to know all, apparently reading minds. Again, very well done, Steve does a lot of quick thinking on his feet, and the illusion of real mindreading is very strong.

Ninety minutes of powerful magic, not a moment is wasted. In my opinion, if you’re visiting New York City, and you only have the time and money for one show, skip Broadway and catch Steve Cohen’s show. Thanks, Steve Cohen!

In other news, I was thinking maybe we could expand this idea of the Millionaires’ Magician into other areas. The Millionaires’_____________ —fill in the blank! How about The Millionaires’ Poet, who only reads poems in the salons of the wealthy? Or the Millionaires’ Delicatessen Worker, who only makes pastrami-on-rye sandwiches for a select few in posh venues.

And so on.

Update on The Contest for Magicians: Entries have been coming in, but there’s still time to get your entry in, and to win a great prize. See here for details. I’ll be taking entries until midnight this Tuesday night, October 27th; then I’ll take a few days to read them all, put together the pdf, and award the prizes. I’ll announce the winners formally here on November 1st. So don’t delay, get in your entry today!