Note ye ed's email address:

Season's Greetings.

--Michael Perovich, The Vernon Companion.



The family tree.

December 2014

Season's Greetings!

If anyone should serve as honorary Santa Claus for this issue, it's Dai Vernon, who continues to influence us long after his passing. He particularly influenced our three main subjects this month: Mike Perovich, Mike Skinner, and Paul Fox. The new book by Mr. Perovich, the Skinner tapes from Richard Kaufman, and the Fox bio from David Ben are exciting gifts to brighten any magician's Christmas morning.

We also take a brief Christmasy listen to Scott Wells and friends, a brief look at Lisa Cousins, and a brief look into the future of ghostly literature.

It has been yet another bountiful year in magic as well as with family, and I'll close again this year with photos of my grandkids, who continue to make life fun all over again. A very Merry Christmas, or whatever holiday suits your fancy, and a Happy New Year to all.

VERNONABILIA-- Back in the early internet days, when the best forum was Bruce Barnett's Electronic Grymoire, something wonderful began to appear in that arena, a sequence of memoirs called "Vernonabilia," by one "Zambolini." Zambolini, who turned out to be Mike Perovich, chronicled the golden days of the Magic Castle, specifically the activity that swirled about Dai Vernon, and he did so in a charming, wise, insightful manner the likes of which we rarely experience in magic. As these years were the same years that I had occasion to visit the Castle, the nostalgia factor for me was intense, and I eagerly awaited each installment. I eventually collected all 43 and have hoarded them ever since, occasionally dipping into them to relive the wonder years, and always hoping, occasionally suggesting to Mike himself, that the collection be reproduced some day in a more permanent format. It finally has been, in a new book from Hermetic Press called The Vernon Companion/Stories and Observations on the Life of Dai Vernon and the Magic Castle*, considerably and thoughtfully enhanced by Mike and packaged beautifully as only Stephen Minch can.

Thanks for the memories.

As to content, Mike has grouped the titled installments (expanded from my original 43 to 78) into Introducing the Professor, The Grandfather Stories, Vernon and Company, Commentary, Observations, The Professor Himself, Stories and Observations by His Friends, The Raconteur, and The Urban Legends. Four appendices have been added to establish the context of the anecdotes: a history of the Magic Castle, a Vernon biography decade by decade (fascinating!), Vernon's world (the magicians, gamblers, and so on who influenced him), and a list of the magicians of the Magic Castle 1970-1980. The 383-page hardback, looking suspiciously like a copy of Erdnase, is illustrated with cartoon drawings by Colin Fleming (the son of one of Mike's architect friends) and with a sampling of photographs, most notably of some of Vernon's relatives. Hermetic Press further classed the book up with beautiful endpapers and a handy ribbon bookmark.

It is hard to express how utterly gifted Mike is at evoking what it was like to be there, both the emotions and the factual details. When he describes the winding path to the original library, where you were in considerable danger of colliding with a waiter, I am there again. It was always a breathtaking journey. As much as this book illuminates Dai Vernon and the last nearly thirty years of his life, it also inadvertently illuminates that of the author, not a bad thing to happen. One of the most touching of those personal anecdotes describes Mike's first night at the Magic Castle. It is frustrating that I cannot now recall my own, but it is a rite of passage for all magicians who live a full life, and Mike's visit contained seeds that would bear fruit for decades. As he says in a slightly different context, "It was nothing short of electrifying to be there."

I am purposely waiting until Christmas to continue to savor both the selections I've enjoyed in the past and the many new ones (at least, waiting is my resolution). There is a good chance this book will become my favorite in magic, and it definitely rates a bedside resting place, just too good to be relegated to the library two floors below. Stephen has printed only 600 of these, and I urge you to acquire one while the opportunity lingers. $65 from Hermetic Press.

GOLDEN BOY -- Just as Mike Perovich's new book is a time machine that drops you back into the golden days of the Magic Castle, so are The Skinner Tapes, from Richard Kaufman. The bulk of this extraordinary package of information is ten audio CDs containing an extensive selection of tricks and tips that Mike Skinner conveyed to Allen Okawa via audio tape. I was at first leery, thinking, Who listens to CDs these days? and Who listens to audio instruction? I shouldn't have been. First, it's easy to pop the CDs into your computer and input them into iTunes. From there, you can download the material as "music" to your favorite iPod or iPad or iPhone or whatever, and you are good to go. Personally this is the sort of thing I listen to walking laps at the gym, and used to listen to on long commutes in the car to work. Thanks to Joe Pecore on the Genii forum, iTunes automatically titles the hundreds of segments for you, and it's easy to navigate to whatever item interests you.

Mike Skinner speaks.

As to the content, this is Mike Skinner in his prime. One of the early gods of the Magic Castle and later a longtime Golden Nugget performer, he was a remarkably pure sleight-of-hand artist who performed for the lay public. As such, his selection of material and his selection of technique are wonderful. Again, it's a nostalgia kick for me, as I witnessed Mike Skinner at the Magic Castle, and later in lectures in Seattle and St. Louis, before Mike's health declined, and it's great to hear and see him again in top form. He is amazingly warm and detailed toward Allen Okawa, and you can sense the affection and the care in his instruction. The instruction itself is not of nostalgic value only: what I have listened to so far is amazingly new. I first clicked onto McDonald's Aces and discovered new sequences. Then, starting over with CD number 1, I heard in the first half hour a really clever addition to the Copper and Silver trick, to the Devano deck, and to Cards Across. Today's walk in the gym added a lovely self-working Poker routine and a Hotel Mystery. The instruction is crystal clear and easy to follow, perhaps even easier because it is audio and you can follow with cards in your hands. I look forward to the hundreds of other items.

In addition, there is video: a DVD of Michael's Tokyo lecture in 1971 and a DVD of a private session with Roger Klause, Chuck Smith, and Larry Jennings. At the opening sequence of the latter, Mike relates his own rite of passage, his first night at the Magic Castle. Incredible, the stuff of legend.

And finally, there is a bonus disc of written material (Skinner's Notebooks, his Genii issue, lecture notes, and a letter to Allen Okawa). But wow, the audio content is the really cool part. All in all, a magnificent array of material magnificently packaged. $125 from Kaufman and Company.

P.S. The tapes also contain a Mystery: who is The Strangler (a mysterious person to whom Mike refers)?

THE FIRST FOXY ONE --Before Karrell Fox made his mark in magic, another had already established the Fox name as a magician for the ages--Paul Fox. Like most magicians, I knew of Paul Fox primarily as the inventor of the Miracle Gimmick and of his Cups design so intensely guarded by Jeff Busby. Thanks to a new book-length biography by David Ben, cleverly tucked into a lavishly illustrated issue of Magicol, I now know a lot more.

Vernon's favorite inventor.

The entire November 2014 issue of the magazine is devoted to the life of Paul Fox, covering such facets as his cigarette act (he produced lit cigarettes at any time, frustrating Faucett Ross with the secret), his financial difficulties, his life outside magic as a failed inventor (the gadgets worked, just didn't sell), his battles with TB and depression (including barbaric electroshock therapy), such inventions as his Risng Cards and Salt Pour Gimmick ad Improved Floating Light Bulb, his help to Frakson and Ade Duval, his respect from Vernon, and his friendship with Danny Dew. David Ben is a biographer to be reckoned with, and this is a rigorously researched, well written, beautifully designed tribute to a magician we should all have known a little better--and now do.

But not well enough: how did Paul Fox produce those lit cigarettes?

P.S. I know, I know. Paul wasn't the first Fox in magic. There was, at least, Imro Fox (1862-1910).

MR. GRUMPY-- This time last year, we praised Scott Wells' production of "The Night Before Christmas," read by a bunch of mentalists on his Magic Word podcast ( This year, Scott celebrates his 200th podcast with a reading of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, featuring the voices of Boris Wild, Bob Cassidy, Docc Hilford, Tim Ellis, Tim Trono, George Tait, Rocco Silano, Eric DeCamps, Mandy Farrell, Ice McDonald, Steven Bargatze, Marc Salem, Rick Merrill, and Richard Osterlind. I must confess that there were a few voices here that I was unfamiliar with, but there is no mistaking who voices the Grinch: Eugene Burger. Eugene is delightfully evil and out-Grinches Boris Karloff. Check it out for a bit of dark Christmas magic. And ... listen to Scott's regular podcasts. I am currently enjoying his interview with Murray Sawchuck (fascinating story about what Jimmy Buffet makes in Las Vegas).

FROM THE LIBRARY WITH LOVE -- It's been a while since I checked in on Fitzgerald at the Magic Castle (or whatever it is called these days) and his Who's Hoo broadcast. I was delighted to find a December interview with Lisa Cousins who works in the library among other endeavors. Lisa discusses some female magicians I was unaware of and would like to know more about, and she performs a really cool apparatus trick. It's a fun interview. Check. Her. Out.

Lisa and Fitzgerald.

FRIGHTS IN FEBRUARY -- Last month we broke the news that Lucas Mackenzie and The London Midnight Ghost Show, my middle grade novel from Month9Books, with its cast of ghosts, has a new publication date, now specifically tied to February 24 (all this instead of the original November 18). That adjustment aside, a few books rolled off the presses anyway, and at least one pre-ordered digital copy made it out of Amazon's clutches and into my son-in-law's iPhone. I am pleased to report that both the soft cover and the digital edition look great, and I hope readers find much to enjoy come February. Even if you are not a middle grader, if you are a magician you should find plenty to like.

Happiness is a spread of spooky books.

Nothing is published in a vacuum. Mike Perovich's new book adds a significant new chapter to the lore of Dai Vernon and the Magic Castle. Here is a list of some of my previous favorite books on the subject. I love them all.

The Castle Notebooks. Judging from these not inexpensive books, Mike's friend Bruce Cervon never won a spelling bee. Nevertheless, Bruce was nearly letter perfect in his drive to record every detail of the magic that took place nightly during the Castle's golden age. A treasure.

The Vernon Touch. The only major tome in Vernon's own words, based on his 22-year column in Genii. In addition to a wealth of Vernon thinking, this book is a gold mine of Vernon photos. I love paging through it.

Tales from the Uncanny Scot. This book of Ron Wilson anecdotes is the closest in style to The Vernon Companion, lovely heartfelt stories as pleasant as the fellow who wrote them. I have an upstairs copy and a downstairs copy.

Hollywood Illusion: Magic Castle. This is Milt's own story of The House that Milt Built, told as entertainingly as only a gag writer can.

Milt Larsen's Magic Castle Tour. Although there is some text, this is primarily a photo album that captures nearly every nook and cranny of the Castle in its early days.

My Magical Journey. Milt's biography covers his many projects, of which the Castle is arguably his most successful. Another photo rich resource.

At Christmas once again, we indulge in a family visit ...

Max, Audrey, and Charlie.

Peace on earth, good will to men.

Little Egypt Magic is the erratically updated web site of Steve Bryant, spawned (the site, not Steve) by a former internet magazine known as The Little Egypt Gazette/for magicians only.

Steve Bryant is an obscure magician and writer who generates this site from an iMac in Bloomington, Indiana. He used to journey to and perform magic in Little Egypt, the local name for extreme southern Illinois, where the towns bear such names as Cairo, Thebes, and Karnak.

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