Peter Duffie is the author of some 25 books and manuscripts plus numerous separately marketed effects. In the past few years he has published two large hardbacks through Richard Kaufman, Duffie's Card Compulsions and Effortless Card Magic, each of which has widened his highly regarded reputation.
"Peter has created a vast amount of material, always maintaining an extremely high standard, and seems incapable of producing anything mediocre." -- Roy Walton, Introduction, Duffie's Card Compulsions
[Effortless Card Magic is one] "of the best books of the year. ... This is probably Duffie's best effort yet." -- H&R Magic Books, List 17
[Ed. note: A number of vintage line drawings were included in Duffie's Card Compulsions, and Mr. Duffie comments on that decision below. I've taken the liberty of decorating this interview with a few of those drawings, and I've taken the further liberty of writing what are intended as amusing captions for those drawings. Neither Peter Duffie nor Joseph K. Schmidt, or for that matter Richard Kaufman, are to incur any blame for these captions. If your browser has a mouseover capability, that function will indicate which of Mr. Duffie's card tricks were illustrated by the drawing in question.]
Let's get the hard one out of the way first. Those of us who read
The Crimp realize you've suffered a bit of a falling out with your
former partner, Jerry Sadowitz, over Jerry's attacks on Gene Maze and
Richard Kaufman. I'd rather not belabor that, but would rather turn
to your early collaboration with Jerry on Alternative Card Magic and
the following joint efforts. There haven't been a lot of two-author
magic books. Our Magic of course, Hugard and Braue, the recent Eugene
Burger-Robert Neale book, and the Rhett Bryson, Jr.-Dexter Cleveland
(as Algonquin McDuff) series are a few that come to mind. Why did you
decide to go that route, and how did you two share the process?
The first book could easily have been called "Alternating" Card Magic as that was what it was - there was no collaboration on any one trick. First, Jerry and I sat down and we each made a list of the tricks we thought were worthy of publishing. Then we looked for any clashing of effects. The final list was our best variety at the time.
The concept of dual-authorship was Jerry's idea - the title of the
book was mine.
On writing and illustrating magic books
There is a refreshing economy in your writing, or trick
descriptions, that reminds me of Karl Fulves's writing, for one. You
obviously work at this lean, clear style. To what extent are you
influenced by the writing of others?
Karl Fulves has had a big influence me - I love his thinking. Some
of his principles are mind- boggling. So I expect his way of
explaining methods has stuck in my mind. My writing style is
definitely influenced by Roy Walton. You can read anything of Roy's
without getting bogged down in fancy prose. I like that.
Duffie's Card Compulsions is full of vintage line drawings of loosely
clad young women. I felt they complemented Joseph K. Schmidt's
technical illustrations, creating a lovely and unique overall effect.
Did you receive any interesting praise or criticism for their
This is an interesting question and I can give you an interesting answer - Richard Kaufman phoned me one day and asked me if I was religious or prudish? I said, "No, why?" He said he had found some old French clip-art that he wanted to put into the book featuring naked women. I said, yes. So that's how they got into the book.
But there's a follow-up to this. In a letter I got from Joe Schmidt, he told me he was a bit annoyed with people asking him if the drawings of the naked women were his! You see, there's no credit for this artwork - because it's out of copyright clip-art - so some people automatically thought Joe had drawn them!
To answer the last part of your question - yes, I have had many
letters from people who thought the drawings were great. The funny
thing is that none thought that Joe had drawn them - but they all
thought I had supplied them! Part of my porn collection?
What is it like to create a book in cahoots with Joseph K. Schmidt?
How do you communicate where it is you wish illustrations, and their
I said earlier that Fulves had a big influence on me. Because of this J.K. Schmidt was one of my heroes too. It's like a double-act - can you imagine Fulves without Schmidt? I also remember Roy Walton saying one time that he thought Schmidt's drawings were excellent because they reminded him of the drawings in Erdnase. Joe draws free hand so he gets that natural and distinct style.
Originally Richard Kaufman was going to illustrate Compulsions, and I was delighted because I think Richard's drawings are great. Then he phoned me one evening and said he was unable to commit himself to the task (can't recall why but there was a good reason), and my heart sank. But then he said how would you feel about Joe Schmidt doing your drawings! Because we were on the phone Richard couldn't see me dancing, and I didn't want to sound too enthusiastic in case he thought I was glad that he was no longer illustrating the book. I just couldn't believe that Schmidt was going to illustrate my book! I still can't believe it and he's done two for me now!
Working with Joe is a remarkable experience. He works from the text
alone - and I thought he had no chance with some of the moves in
Compulsions simply because they weren't standard moves. Can you
believe he only got about 6 drawings wrong, and these were NOT the
ones I thought he'd have problems with. You know, a finger in the
wrong place here and there - that's all that he got wrong. I believe
he taps into another dimension because there's no way I can see how he
gets all these drawings right. I simply insert the figure numbers and
he does the rest. Amazing.
On the other manuscripts
In Duffie's Card Compulsions, you analyzed the extent to which some
of your previous routines were used or reworked for their appearance
in the book. To what extent did earlier routines figure into
Effortless Card Magic? (It is interesting to note, for example, that
you made the conscious decision in 1991 to develop a body of easy or
self-working card tricks.)
I started Effortless (it didn't have a title then) with a list of
tricks culled from my various manuscripts. About 30. I then began
coming up with new tricks - the idea was hit 50. I seemed to get to 50
rather quickly, and when I got there I found I was still coming up
with ideas. So I started to replace the 30 previous tricks with these
new ones. Eventually I finished with 70 new tricks and 10 reworked
versions of previous tricks. In the end 6 were removed because I had
screwed up somewhere. They stayed out because Richard had enough for a
book - 74.
Almost simultaneously with the publication of Effortless Card
Magic, you published another new manuscript called A Near Deck
Experience. Can you tell us a little about that work?
That was unfortunate in a way. You see I had this manuscript ready
called NDE and as soon as I started selling it, Richard sent me a
message telling me that Effortless was at the printers and would be
out very soon! I have an agreement with Richard that I won't sell
books (only lecture notes) for a period after the release of one of
his. So NDE actually came out before Effortless, but by the time NDE
hit the American market via H & R, it seemed much closer. Not that the
small distribution that my booklets get would harm a Kaufman book, but
I didn't like to be seen promoting NDE when my second major hardback
was just out. I think it worked out OK with H & R who linked the two
together with a special deal.
To those of us who struggle to come up with one or two viable new
routines a year, prolific inventors such as yourself or Max Maven or
Stewart James are an inspiration. Can you describe your creative
You just named another two of my heroes! I never met Stewart James, but I feel honoured to know Max as a friend. Stewart James is one of Max's heroes! You see I have always studied and tried to fathom what makes these gentlemen tick. How does their mind work? The clues are all there to see - in their published work. Actually Max is a freak - I say that because he is a top professional performer as well as being the most prolific creator living. Most folk who create a lot of tricks are not performers. I could list my top 20 magicians and very few would be performers. I don't mean they don't show their magic to others, but they have not been bitten by the show-biz bug. They have no urge to get up and do it. And that's how I am. I like impromptu situations but I hate formal shows. I've done them (I've done some children's shows too but that's another dimension I'd rather keep out of!). The funny thing is I've done more stand-up shows than close-up.
How do I come up with an idea? Well I usually start with one! Normally some principle rather than somebody else's trick, though I have published a lot of variants. I rarely have a vision of the effect first. But I do have visions as I sit and move with the principle. For anyone who wishes (this is aimed at those who don't already!) to try and evolve something from any of the fascinating arithmetic or visually deceptive principles, I urge you to make every effort to fully understand why and how they work. It's not always that obvious and it's virtually impossible to go forward if you are employing a principle that's still fooling you! I made up my mind some years ago that I would never perform a card trick that I didn't fully understand. At first, that might sound a little crazy, but it is amazing the number of magicians who perform tricks using the Gilbreath Principle, the Free Cut Principle, the Stay Stack, and so on, and they do not know why the trick works? They are as amazed as their audience every time they do the trick! Now what happens if something goes wrong - say someone drops a couple of cards? If you don't understand how the trick works you could be in trouble.
Once you grasp the rudiments of a principle, only then can you begin to see the further possibilities, if one wants to that is. I don't spend a great deal of time working out tricks. People often assume I'm sitting with a deck of cards all the time, and I don't.
This is how it works with me: I will suddenly decide that I want to work out some new tricks. So I'll grab a deck and start. Very often an idea will pop into my head and I've got to ask a few trusted friends if they have seen it because I didn't really make any conscious effort to think of it. That happens a lot. Very often when I am working with a principle a vision of a layout, or perhaps an ending, will come to me. It's like, "Yes, that's it!" It came to me but I didn't seem to think too much to get it. If I had to think deeply about every trick I'd probably be in an asylum by now.
The only other thing I add is 'some' presentation. I nearly always
include basic suggested patter. Not a script, but just the bare bones.
I started doing this early on, not to tell others what to say, but to
show how I go about covering certain actions. Take a Reverse Faro. A
very useful tool as Charles Jordan proved, but what is it? No way can
you say, "I'll just give these cards a shuffle." The audience would
laugh. They'd think you were joking. So you need to make up an excuse.
That's where a line, crazy or otherwise, is essential. I prefer the
audience to laugh with me, not at me.
Over here, we know you primarily through your books and
manuscripts. To what extent, and in what context, do you perform
magic for laymen or other magicians?
I like performing for magicians. Some tricks are only for
magicians, but there are a whole bunch of tricks that are as good for
one as the other. It's nice to entertain some lay people and fool any
magicians who happen to be there too. Very often I do set out to fool
magicians. Most magicians are not familiar with some of the card
principles, so a trick using such a principle will often catch them.
Especially if it doesn't look like the usual procedure. So a lot of
times it's the principle that fools them and not necessarily the trick
- rather the way the principle is presented to them.
Is magic now your principal occupation, or is there, as there is
for most of us, a day job?
Since 1991 I have been out of work. So I have tried to make magic
my main financial motivator. More recently things have improved as I
have gradually managed to penetrate the American market place - thanks
to people like H & R, Hank Lee, L & L and hopefully more in the near
future. I'm talking tricks and self-produced booklets and not big the
books - Richard Kaufman is my publisher.
On favorite effects
I count at least 25 books and manuscripts to your credit. That's a
lot of card tricks! If you had to choose five or so of your favorite
effects, what would they be and where can we look them up?
This is the most difficult question you could have asked me. When
someone asks me, "What's your favourite trick (meaning one of my
own)?" I usually say, "The last one I worked out." That is not
intended to be a smart-ass answer - rather it's the truth. My greatest
pleasure is working out the trick - I then show it about - then I
publish it. As soon as it's gone for publication I've moved on. My
next trick might be a load of junk, but I still get pleasure working
it out! If I think it's junk I won't publish it though. I don't
believe in "magazine tricks." That is unless the idea is a variation
on something in a particular magazine. For example, there might be
some mathematical monstrosity in a magazine that for some reason
catches my attention. So, I might add something to it. In the end it's
still a monstrosity, but I would submit it as it might be of interest
to other readers, as well as the original contributor.
On other Scottish magicians
You have cited Roy Walton as an early mentor and eventual friend,
and his influence is occasionally detailed within your trick
descriptions. How has that relationship evolved over the years?
Roy is one of the most intelligent people I know. I remember when I
first met Alex Elmsley in the early 1970's - I instantly realised why
he and Roy were close friends. They are both geniuses without an ego.
Apart from their hugely creative talents, I would say their modesty
kept them together. Roy enthuses at other people's achievements and
his generosity towards others is remarkable. I remember some years ago
trying to fathom the Gilbreath Principle. Roy spent a whole morning
and most of the afternoon in his shop explaining the how and the why
of it. Another time after I had learned the Strike Second Deal, I
asked Roy about the Push-off method. Roy can do both perfectly. He
spent another morning teaching me the Strike method because he
considered that I should have the opportunity to decide which one
suited me. In other words, he spent that time teaching me something
that I might in the end discard.
In my youth I was fortunate to hang out at the Magic Castle, where
one of my favorite magicians was Scottish expatriate Ron Wilson. (I
truly loved his act. Of the many books Richard Kaufman has published,
I strongly feel that Ron's book is one of the five most valuable.) Of
those who stayed home, it is not only Roy Walton but you who have
helped put Scotland on the map in modern day card magic. Can you
mention the work of a few others in your area that Americans might not
be familiar with?
Most certainly. This is not an order of rating, just a few guys who you will hear of sooner than later. But first I must mention three people who do rate in the very top bracket: Gordon Bruce. Gordon has had a profound influence on me and was the first magician I met when I went to Roy's shop when still at school. His name is well-known despite having published so little. Then there's Steve Hamilton. I've known Steve for about 25 years. Steve's a full time pro and another freak! Yes, he creates some of the most beautiful magic and is currently writing his long-overdue book. Watch out for this one. It'll be top. Last but not least is Andy Galloway. Andy performs real magic - I compare it to virtual reality. You have to be there, books and videos cannot convey that certain something that hits you when Andy performs anything.
Here's some others that are ready to break through - R. Paul Wilson has already made some impact in America with a lecture and booking at The Magic Castle, and he has released some excellent booklets and tricks and has a Kaufman book in the works. George McBride & Gavin Ross have both released booklets and tricks that contain some very clever concepts. These guys are about 10 years younger than me. And they get younger still...Iain Girdwood is only 22 and has created some of the most original card tricks and moves of recent times! Then, there's Peter McClanachan...he's even younger and has already released a fine booklet of his card magic. Steve Hamilton's wife Mary gave birth to a healthy baby girl Emma only last week...but as I far as I know Emma hasn't published anything yet!
These are some of the names currently on the move and ones that you
will hear about sooner than later.
On non-card material
Roy Walton has written that your "ideas cover the whole spectrum of
magic." To what extent have you delved into areas other than card
I published some coin stuff in the book Inspirations (title not by
Sadowitz or Duffie but by the publisher). I like mental magic - using
other than playing cards, but I find it difficult not to think of
cards. In the past I worked out handlings for the Torn & Restored
Newspaper, ropes, cigarettes and various props and things, including
billiard balls and Zombie!! I just love magic, whether I am tinkering
with it or watching it.
On convention appearances
You have published two significant books through Richard Kaufman
over the past few years. Would you favorably consider an offer to
appear at a major convention over here?
I would but I don't know when. By that I mean - I need to get into
a particular frame of mind. For example, a few years ago I decided I
wanted to lecture extensively in the UK. So I did quite a few
lectures. Then, I decided I had had enough, so I stopped. The
travelling got to me. I grew to hate it. Now the UK is smaller than
some of your States! So I would need to really want to do it. I love
America but I won't see too much of it if I'm touring a lecture. The
problem with a major convention is, will they hear me? I have a quiet
voice - a Scottish accent - no real microphone experience - a recipe
for disaster? But to answer your question, yes, I certainly would
consider any offer. Perhaps that's all I need to get the adrenalin
|What is your favorite brand of Scotch?|
|I stopped drinking 3 years ago. However, I would recommend Crawford's Five Star whisky.|
|What is your favorite card trick (others)?|
|Roy Walton's "The Overworked card."|
|What is your favorite parlor/stage trick?|
|Torn & Restored Anything!|
|What is your favorite magic book?|
|Expert Card Technique.|
|What is your favorite non-magic book?|
|Anything on the paranormal.|
|What is your favorite movie?|
|What are your non-magical hobbies/interests?|
|The paranormal and music.|
|Who is your favorite female in magic?|
|What is your magical pet peeve?|
|Magicians who demean sleight of hand because they can't do it.|