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I think the place is haunted!
Last month's February issue took us to Magi-Fest 2016 in Columbus, to Andrew Mayne's magic & mischief, to Danny Orleans' 3D Sports Paddle, and to a tearful farewell to Jim Patton.
It's that March Madness time of year, and I hope to spend more time on basketball than magic for the next couple of weeks. But first some important words about magic: We enjoy a new book of card magic from Lewis Jones, I post my first YouTube magic video, I share Haunted Mansion secrets, and we say goodbye to two of the most special people to have ever graced this old planet. Aloha, Tom and Irene. We loved you.
The closing shot is of my granddaughter singing in Marlo Thomas's Free to Be ... You and Me. It wasn't magic, but the cast was magical.
PARTY TIME -- As age and arthritis diminish my sleight of hand powers, I gravitate toward simple, surefire moves and toward clever self-working material. Indeed, I have always been a fan of math-based miracles, favoring them over the heavy lifting that some material requires. Fortunately, a consistent and treasured source of new card magic in both moves and math categories is Lewis Jones, Britain's once underground genius and a master at concocting stacks, codes, and procedures that look like magic. Lewis's latest collection is Card Party. As with his recent string of card books (check our back issues for reviews of Persona, The Book of Revelations, and The Magic Gourmet), Card Party is a perfect bound soft-cover compilation, this time featuring eighteen card items and two book tests.
Be the life of the party!
A few highlights:
The Rule of Three-- A simple but deceptive way to force a card from a shuffled deck.
Mind Monte-- One of my two favorites in the book, a takeoff on the Hummer Monte trick. This is a variation of Lewis's The Full Monte that appeared in Ahead of the Pack. An impromptu method is included, a clever way to force (and remember!) three cards from a shuffled deck.
I Am Spartacus-- Remember the movie? Spartacus is concealed when everyone claims to be Spartacus. This is a logic piece in which some lie, some always tell the truth, but framed as a card trick. This should be fun to do among a group of friends. Which of them is Spartacus?
Monolith-- A cool science fiction story disguises the math that makes this card revelation work. Great fun. Is it true that Lewis Jones is 90? This is clearly the creative work of a young man.
But There's More-- Okay, this is my other favorite trick in the book, if that makes any sense. Faux memorized deck routines have been popular lately (see, for example, Patrick G. Redford's Applesauce). Lewis supplies a doozy, one in which six distinct beats prove that you know the location of all the cards in a "rapidly memorized deck." It requires one move, not too difficult, that occurs early in the routine; otherwise this is self working. I love how it plays out. If you wish, you may begin with a completely shuffled deck.
Soft-bound, 110 pages, limited edition of 200, photo illustrated, 25 pounds (the price, not the weight: this isn't Tenyo-ism) including postage anywhere. I obtained mine directly from Lewis Jones. It has also been available at H&R Magic Books.
Readers are invited to also check our reviews of past Lewis Jones hardbacks, including Encyclopedia of Impromptu Card Forces, Seventh Heaven, and Ahead of the Pack (with Jack Avis). There is lots of buried treasure to be had.
HELP ME GO VIRAL -- I know what card you are going to think of! Near the midpoint of the century's first decade, I published a favorite bit of perverse mentalism in these pages, the routine by me, the technology by Dominique Duvivier. I later published a slightly spookier version of the routine in The Little Egypt Book of Ghosts under the title La Prevision Comique de Seance. As of this month, you can see me perform the trick on my first YouTube video as part of a campaign to boost sales of Lucas Mackenzie and the London Midnight Ghost Show. Feel free to check it out, over and over, and tell your friends. Lucas appreciates the interest.
Lucas Mackenzie on YouTube.
THE HAUNTED MANSION -- When someone asks what kind of magic I enjoy, my answer is always "cards and ghosts." I like card tricks, but also spooky magic, and sometimes the two overlap. My complete statement on the issue is my 2008 book The Little Egypt Book of Ghosts. In the real world, possibly the best pairing of magic and ghosts is Disney's Haunted Mansion. The mansion has thrilled me ever since I first saw the Ken Anderson conceptual drawing back in 1958 or so, in a Sunday newspaper supplement. Over the years, I've read and acquired everything I came across in the literature, through such sources as The E Ticket, Famous Monsters, Haunted Attraction, and such books as Jason Surrell's The Haunted Mansion/From the Magic kingdom to the Movies.
The ghost book of dark secrets.
A favorite Christmas gift this year, from my daughter, was the 2014 book The Unauthorized Story of Disney's Haunted Mansion, by Jeff Baham. (Jeff is of course the curator of the popular Doombuggies.com web site.) Although the Surrell book is authorized and therefore includes copious illustrations, the Bahan book is meticulously detailed and footnoted and contains more forthcoming information than Disney might endorse.
Jeff divides the book into two blocks of chapters, The History and The Experience, and both make delightful reading. Here are 13 things I found of interest, some of which I didn't know.
1. Like the Magic Castle, the Haunted Mansion is much bigger on the inside than on the outside, extending "beyond the berm of Disneyland" and taking place in a nondescript warehouse.
2. Like the Magic Castle, there had been plans for a phone booth gag. The Disney gag, devised by Wally Boag, was to have passersby during the development of the mansion receive a call from a painter trapped inside.
3. The earliest drawing of the Disney spook house was by Harper Goff, back in 1951.
4. Yale Gracey and his cousins claimed to have seen a ghost when they were children on holiday, a little lady who came out of a closet and read to them.
5. Gracey claimed that some illusions not used would "send chills through anyone I know."
6. Robert Wise's The Haunting influenced the mansion's corridor of doors.
7. Imagineer Marc Davis worked in a pool hall, collected money in a brothel, helped fighters in the ring, and assisted his vaudeville magician father with his stage magic.
There's room for one more.
8. Sets and scenes in the Haunted Mansion were built by Grosh and Sons, a movie set design company.
9. A week after the mansion opened, Disneyland set an attendance record of 82,516 that would stand for nearly two decades. The wait into the ride took three to four hours.
10. Doom Buggies move at 1.36 mph, and their ride takes just under six minutes. Occasional stoppages are to let off folks who need assistance.
11. There are tales of folks spreading human ashes on the ride, one tied to the ghost of a young boy seen crying at the ride's exit.
12. For the face in the crystal ball, Imagineers went back and forth several times between external projection and internal until arriving at today's method.
13. Madame Leota's face is that of Leota Toombs, her voice that of Eleanor Audley. For Little Leota, at the exit, both the face and the voice are of Leota Toombs.
Which of these is not related to the Haunted Mansion?
In December 2012, in an essay titled "Milt in context," I touched on the great startups in our lives, men who saw "the things we all would want, things that hadn’t existed before, things that made the 20th century (and now the 21st) the best times ever in which to live." The men in question included Harold Ross, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Hugh Hefner, and Milt Larsen. (Note: the piece includes another great shot of Irene Larsen, receiving a Hollywood star for Bill.) Although the Haunted Mansion is a subset of the overall Disney "startup," it has its own mythology and its own heroes beside Walt, including Ken Anderson, Rolly Crump, Yale Gracey, X Atencio, Marc Davis, and Claude Coats. Jeff Baham makes clear what each contributed, also that they were more competitors than a team, with conflicting visions of the Haunted Mansion. Their story makes for compelling reading.
Softbound, 142 pages, $17.95, less at Amazon. Highly recommended to Disney and magic fans.
It was with heavy heart that we said goodbye last month to Jim Patton, a longtime favorite magician and human being. Moving tributes from R. Paul Wilson and Michael Perovich appeared in MAGIC and Genii, and their words helped. Few of us expected other losses to follow so immediately, but they have. In addition to the departures of J.C. Doty, Tihany, and Jerry Mentzer, we have lost two true giants in our field, Tom Mullica and Irene Larsen. Enough already.
TOM MULLICA -- I was fortunate to visit the Tom-Foolery in Atlanta on three occasions, once even with my parents. We laughed every time, nonstop, until, as Tom would have said it, "tears ran down our legs." One of Tom's bits was to choke on something until he spit out a rubber amphibian. "I had a frog in my throat" was the gag. The day after I visited with my parents, my dad presented me with a rubber frog he had purchased from a fishing supply store, so that I could "do" Tom's gag. "But, Dad," I said, looking it over. "It has a hook in it!" (I never "did" Tom's material. Who could?)
Got a light?
Tom was the best bar magician ever. He later did a Red Skelton act and was working, unsuccessfully in my opinion, on a pickpocket act. I never understood why he chose to be the second-best (or even first, actually) Red Skelton when he could be the first-best Tom Mullica. Fortunately we have his detailed book by Richard Kaufman, Show-Time at the Tom-Foolery, and we have a complete video of his bar act, An Evening at the Tom-Foolery. Meir Yedid sells it for only $19.95, and he offered it for only $10, with all proceeds going to the Tom Mullica estate, for a brief time after Tom's passing. I can think of nothing in magic you could better spend your money on. (By the way, Johnny Thompson's foreword to the Richard Kaufman book is wonderful, the best I have read for evoking what it was like to attend a show in Atlanta.)
I last saw Tom at the Genii convention in 2015, where he destroyed a young lady with a knock knock joke, convulsing us all with laughter for several minutes. It was the high point of the gathering.
In a perfect world, Tom Mullica would have taken up residence at the W.C. Fields bar at the Magic Castle, and the other showrooms would have been jealous. As it is, extra tears will be shed this summer on the cemetery walk at Abbott's. Aloha.
IRENE LARSEN -- When my "Season's Greetings" poems began to appear here in 1995, it was Irene Larsen who first gave them a wider audience. She could stick them into her column in Genii, at the last minute. (I didn't write the things months in advance, as one would for magazine publication.) It was sweet of her, but then so was everything she did. What can you say about someone who was member number one of the Academy of Magical Arts? She was already a big deal then (former bride of John Daniel and featured performer in his show, soon to be bride of Bill Larsen, Jr. and girl Friday at the Genii offices), and her fame and impact only grew over the next fifty-odd years. (She also found time to be a wonderful mom and step-mom to some special kids.) I have seen Irene Larsen squashed by a gorilla, and I have seen her read minds on the old Haunted Wine Cellar stage. Well, sort of, in her comedy two-person mental act with Bill. (Bill promised to publish that routine one day; I still hope Erika makes good on his promise!) I have heard first-hand her harrowing escape from bombing in WWII. One of the downsides of my moving away from California was moving away from Irene and all things Magic Castle, but she always made me feel welcome whenever I returned.
"Name three people who never got rich off Genii."
Tributes of course have been pouring in. A formal memorial is yet to be held, but family and friends posted an immediate video from the Magic Castle on the Monday evening following her death. This included great anecdotes from Dale and Max along with words from Erika and her family, including the details of what happened. It was brief but very nicely done and a comfort to those in mourning, as most of the magic world is.
Magic Castle royalty.
Irene was also a great beauty, and I was pleased that she appreciated my nod to her assets in my most recent "A Millennium Night's Dream" poem. The poem is available here and first ran in the millennium issue of Genii. The text describes an imaginary party at the Magic Castle, at the turn of the 21st century. The relevant lines:
I'll punctuate these words with some photos from the first Genii bash, for the first time in color. Aloha, Irene. It is so nice to have known a real-life princess.
Performing in Free to Be You and Me.
Congratulations, Lucas Mackenzie. You're one year old.
Love is in the air! Experience love, death, and magic in Lucas Mackenzie and The London Midnight Ghost Show.
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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 frequently 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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