Note ye ed's email address:

Finally unearthed: The Little Egypt Book of Ghosts from H&R Magic Books.
It's to die for!
Check out Jamy Ian Swiss' review in our Bookstore.

The biggest book of the year! Or any year!

November 2009

Ah, November, and much to be thankful for this month.

Of the big-ticket items I mentioned in August, two more have arrived: Magic 1400s-1950s and Bruce Cervon Castle Notebooks Volume 5. Details below, along with an appreciation of a great little poker book. We bid farewell this month to three extraordinary magicians -- The Amazing Ballantine, John Booth, and Neil Lester, and we are so thankful to have shared their presence. Each dominated his niche in magic. Finally, our fingers are crossed that Cirque du Soleil has injected some magic into a hot new show of comedy, dance, and variety, now open in Chicago and on its way to the Big Apple.

I am gratified to learn that many of you performed material from The Little Egypt Book of Ghosts this Halloween season. If the rest of you haven't purchased a copy yet, there is still time to acquire one from H&R Magic Books and conjure up your own ghosts of Christmas Present. Happy Holidays.

16 TONS AND WHAT DO YOU GET -- The new Steinmeyer/Caveney/Jay book, Magic 1400s-1950s, has weighed in at last. It's not sixteen tons, but it feels like it at over sixteen pounds, a massive accumulation of posters, photos, and history from six centuries of magic. As was its companion volume, The Circus: 1870-1950, this is a handsomely produced offering from Taschen in Germany.

Size matters.

The book is mammoth at 17 3/4 inches tall, 12 inches wide, and 650 pages thick. Inside the stunning dust cover, the boards of the book are jet black, artfully embossed with a card pip design. The rest is a visual feast. Editor Noel Daniel (a fetching young female Princeton grad, not the French male I inaccurately assumed she was last year) is to be awed for her staggering achievement of first acquiring and then winnowing 20,000 pieces of magical art from sixty collections down to just over 1000 superb images.

"Most of the images on these pages come from private collections, and many hang on the walls of living rooms and studies, passed down from collector to collector. They are part of a dynamic tradition that reveres and protects centuries of knowledge. This book combines dazzling puzzle pieces of magic's visual culture with original texts by leading magic historians to create a portal through which we can glimpse this living history."
-- Noel Daniel, Los Angeles, 2009

To mention a few that leapt off the page for me, I loved the photo of a strikingly handsome and clean-shaven Harry Jansen prior to his goateed Dante years (p. 389), a Houdini high dive that certainly must have been higher than most bridge suicide plunges (p. 527), a goofy Newmann the Great stage hypnotism act (p. 607), an intriguing 1939 shot of Dai Vernon (p. 622), and a heartbreaking view of Jay Marshall and Lefty (p. 630-631). I had seen the rare Jay Marshall photo before, but never in its 17 by 24-inch full glory.

The supporting text, aimed at a lay audience, was supplied by Mike Caveney and Jim Steinmeyer, who rose to the challenge of reducing nearly 600 years of magic history into eight chapters. Rather than divide the material into purely temporal chunks, Mike and Jim found distinctions by epochs, genres, scale, plot, and venue. As editor Noel Daniel more eloquently put it, "they collaborated with me to create the skeleton of a historical trajectory on which to hang the flesh and bones of the images." To these thousand plus images, Mike and Jim also supplied one thousand plus captions, complete paragraphs in most cases that constitute fascinating nuggets of magical history.

To all this Ricky Jay supplied an entertaining and erudite Introduction along with various images from his own collection.

The man who knows.

As it was with the circus book, all primary text and captions are presented in three languages -- English, French, and German. These books are world class productions that should grace any home, and I salute Ms. Daniel and the folks at Taschen for their lavish production values. The best magic trick of all is that the book is a steal at its suggested retail price of $200 and a grand larceny deal at its Amazon price. If you are looking for the perfect gift to find wrapped under your tree this Christmas, this is it.

TIME MACHINE -- Volume 5 of Bruce Cervon's Castle Notebooks is on its way to 500 homes, completing a five-volume handwritten and hand illustrated encyclopedia of the nightly goings on at the Magic Castle, detailed with hundreds of entries from December 1964 through February 1972 (along with six entries from 1981 and three from 1987). It was the Castle's golden age, defined by Dai Vernon and his disciples, and the set offers an inside view at methods created by and varied by the likes of Dai Vernon, Bruce Cervon, Larry Jennings, Charlie Miller, Ron Wilson, Persi Diaconis, Tony Giorgio, Alex Elmsley, Ray Grismer, Paul Fox, Jay Ose, and many others. The final volume contains 14 pages of frontal matter (table of contents, etc.); 53 pages of forewords, introductions, and photos; 246 pages that comprise Notebooks 12 and 13; 26 pages of appendices; and 61 pages of an index compiled by Dominic Twose. The index is broken down into various handy categories: alphabetical (by trick title), card effects (ace assemblies, ambitious card, card box, etc.), card techniques (changes, controls, crimps, cuts, etc.), non-card effects (bills, coins, cups & balls, etc.), creators (Andrus, Anverdi, Beebe, Behnke, etc.), and miscellaneous. It would be nice to be young enough to work through every item in these books!

The complete history.

Thumbing through Volume 5, a few things caught my interest, such as the entry explaining that Bruce created the Haunted Deck routine that Maury Leaf used to do (and which was terrific) and an entry detailing Dai Vernon's Close-up Gallery show (which I used to enjoy watching). There is, as with all the volumes, a wealth of great magic, and I appreciate it that Bruce took the time to record this all so diligently. Are they worth $1000? Hard to put a value on the lot, though I know eBay folks are hoping it is worth a lot more. (A potential eBay score is a great tale to tell the wife.) My only complaint is that spelling and punctuation errors marred the frontal material. These books deserved better treatment from the publisher. This aside, the books are nicely bound, the facsimile copies are clear, and this marvelous history is there for the perusing. Readers should enjoy their trip back to Hollywood in the sixties, to this house on a hill where magic transpired nightly. Priceless!

For entertainment purposes only.

JACKPOT -- Ever walk into one of those outlet mall bookstores promising thousands of titles for under five bucks and hoping to find anything on magic, or for that matter anything of interest? I rarely pass one by and rarely find anything to purchase, but a recent happy exception sent me home with a copy of 52 Ways to Cheat at Poker, by Allan Zola Kronzek. I somehow missed it when first printed in 2008, but it's a marvelous course in cheating at poker told by a magician familiar with all the usual suspects (Steve Forte, Richard Turner, Darwin Ortiz, Frank Garcia, George Joseph, Jason England, etc.) and illustrated by Tony Dunn. Although Mr. Kronzek supplies the basics of false dealing, shuffling, cuts, and other sleights useful at the card table, the thrilling gist of this book is the strategies, the uses to which those sleights and techniques can be used to your advantage. Some are so clever and frankly so simple that they almost beg to be tried out in your next friendly game. I learned a lot from this book and enjoyed learning it. Mr. Kronzek is a fine writer as well as a keen gambling authority, and he has written a page turner. How could you not continue reading after this opening paragraph:

"This is another ingenious set of moves from cowboy and riverboat days. The payoff is three of a kind, delivered like a gift from the gods of cheating to the dealer and his partner. The scam is complex, requires two cheats, and takes two complete games to play out, meaning that the gift doesn't arrive until the final cards of the draw round. The method also includes an unusual variable: Neither of the cheats knows which one will get the set until the very end."

Thirteen dollars retail, paperback, 192 pages. I copped mine for a measly $3.99.

EVERY MOVE A PICTURE -- November brought the sad news of the passing of Carl Ballantine. Ballantine was one of the first magicians and comics that I saw on "The Ed Sullivan Show," and his parody of the classic magician forever instilled in me what a magician should look like and what was funny. His lines are as hilarious and as much a defining part of American humor as are the cartoon captions of James Thurber or Charles Addams. "Ah, this kid's dynamite." "I'm coming down, boy!" "The nice thing about this act, when it dies I'm dressed for it."

Billy, Carl, and Jay sign autographs.

Years ago my journey into "real" magic began with a subscription to Genii magazine. The first issue to arrive (July 1959) featured Ballantine on the cover, with a tiger. Ballantine was featured that summer at the combined IBM-SAM Convention in Chicago, and Bill Larsen's write-up was my first inkling of what a magic convention was. Performing that year along with Ballantine were Charlie Miller, Don Alan, Jim Ryan, Al Leech, Johnny Paul, Bro. John Hamman, Peter Pit, Alan Alan, Al Koran, Fred Kaps, Senator Crandall, Harlan Tarbell, Okito, Neil Foster, Jack Gwynne, Ade Duval, Danny Dew, George Jason, Percy Abbott, Cardini and Swan, Mark Wilson, and many others. Nice line-up! For me, Ballantine on the cover represented what all this meant.

A well-read issue of Genii.

Of course I enjoyed seeing him many times over the five decades since, with his act, on "McHale's Navy," and on occasional encounters at conventions or at the Magic Castle. He would autograph posters and photos for a fee, and if a customer wandered past his booth later, he would happily snarl, "No refunds!"

Carl was 92. Magic Castle members can access a recent video interview with him on the Castle web site, and everyone can find Ballantine's classic act on Youtube.

JOHN AND NEIL -- I hate the Rule of Three. Two more giants of magic passed away this month, the Reverend John Booth and Neil Lester, aka Cards by Martin. John Booth was of course a prolific writer, and his Marvels of Mystery, published in 1941 by Kanter's Magic Shop with an introduction by Mrs. Harry Houdini, was one of my earliest acquisitions. I often fantasized about taking command of a night club floor and opening with Mr. Booth's "A Cannon Ball Opening!" His 1700-page Memoirs of a Magician's Ghost is available on CD from Todd Karr's Miracle Factory. John Booth was 97.

John Booth.

Neil Martin Lester.

Neil Martin Lester was a genius at fabricating gaffed playing cards. Although I bought several gaffed decks from him over the years, my real thrill regarding Neil was to bump into him on my infrequent trips to the Magic Castle, usually at the end of the bar in the Grand Salon. Neil typically had a case with a sample of his wares, and he was always working on something new that he could show me. Dedicated characters such as Neil Lester are part of the charm of the Magic Castle, and of magic itself. Neil was 80.

COMEDY TONIGHT -- A new Cirque is coming to town, to Chicago that is, from November 19 - January 3, and then on to an opening in New York on February 4. Banana Shpeel, billed as "A New Twist on Vaudeville," is Cirque du Soleil's latest entertainment vehicle, with a web site video that shows plenty of dancing, comedy, and illusion props.

Nouveau Slapstick.

There is a story line involving an innocent actor named Emmett, a love interest named Katie, a cruel producer named Schmelky, and the mysterious Banana Man. My kind of show. Magician Mark Mitton is a magic consultant but isn't telling any secrets. Who knows? Perhaps it will be more magical than Believe.

Taschen -- superior books for discerning readers and collectors.

Be thankful.

Sarah and Simon (Vixen and Spike to old Gazette readers) were married on April 1, 2006. You may access their wedding photos at wedding photos.

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 frequently journeys to and performs magic in Little Egypt, the local name for extreme southern Illinois, where the towns bear such names as Cairo, Thebes, and Karnak.

Past issues of this web site: Index to Past Issues

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Copyright© 2009 by Steve Bryant