When you wish upon a star

Doug Henning changed my life.  It was while watching his first network television special, broadcast live-live, meaning in real time and not on a tape delay, that I said to myself: “I want to become a magician.”  The year was 1975 and I was fourteen years old.

Now, some thirty-five years later, I have had the chance to repay Doug the favour.  Doug Henning will receive his “star” this weekend on the Canadian Walk of Fame and I have been working behind the scenes for the past several months on the tribute to Doug that will be broadcast to the nation.

Although Doug, sadly, passed away on February 7, 2000 from cancer at age 52, he not only left behind a large body of work – eight NBC television specials, three extended runs on Broadway, a legacy of magic on the Las Vegas strip, and numerous national tours and television appearances – but also he transformed the way that magic was performed by magicians and viewed by the public. You can learn more about Doug’s contributions here.

Fortunately, in creating the tribute to Doug, many friends lent a hand. First up was the late Sid Lorraine. Sid passed away in 1989.  I acquired, however, Sid’s extensive collection of magic from his widow, Rene Johnson, a few years ago.  Sid was very close to Doug, and had been one of his early mentors. Fortunately, Sid had videotape records of most of Doug’s television specials and appearances.

Jerry Goldstein – Doug’s longtime manager – gave me permission to digitize the collection so that I could review all of the television appearances and make some suggestions as to which clips epitomized Doug and his magic. Once we narrowed down the selections, Jerry kindly provided the pertinent excerpts from the master tapes for inclusion in the broadcast.

Richard Kaufman and Stan Allen, of Genii and MAGIC magazines respectively, provided dozens of digital images of Doug and his performances for both the media kit, and the broadcast tribute.

Charles Reynolds and Jim Steinmeyer, both men behind-the-curtain who advised Doug on what to perform and how, offered me their counsel and insight. For that I am grateful.

Keeping this all on track were the people at Magicana (Julie Eng and James Alan), Insight Productions (Aili Suurallik and Joseph Recupero), the Canadian Walk of Fame (Peter Soumalias), as well as Peter Samelson in New York, and Allan and Gary Slaight in Toronto.

Special thanks must also go to Chris Kenner, Homer Liwag and, in particular, David Copperfield, for donating their time and talent in honouring Doug. While Doug blazed the trail for modern magic, David Copperfield has certainly taken it to heights magicians never imagined.

Most of all, we have to thank the many people who voted for Doug to receive his star on the Canadian Walk of Fame. As the organization only recognizes one posthumous recipient per year, it makes Doug’s star that much more special for all who admired and were inspired by him.

Doug’s star will be unveiled on Saturday, October 16th. The broadcast of the ceremonies and celebration will take place on October 20th on Global TV.

A Grand Exposé

I have just returned from five days in beautiful Fisher Island, a private island just off of Miami. I was there to work with my host, Allan Slaight, on his business biography, which is slated for publication later this year.

As per one of my earlier Tricks & Tweets postings, I adhered to my Walter B. Gibson mode of working, and managed to finish proofing the text of Magicana’s forthcoming reprint of A Grand Exposé, a scare but significant book on deception published in 1860. It is now in the hands of Michael Albright who will cast his magic spell so that the reprint mirrors, as much as possible, the look and feel of the original publication.

As I write in the Present Day Publisher’s Preface, it is full of surprises. A sample passage is set out below. I find it, given the 1860 date of publication, particularly enlightening.  For many of you, however, it will be gobbligook. To paraphrase Joseph Dunninger, who Sid Lorraine discusses on his Blog, “For those who understand, no explanation is necessary; for those who don’t, no explanation will do.”

So, from A Grand Exposé:

Hollows and Rounds.

The next kind of cards which I shall describe are called hollows and rounds, and squares and rounds. These two kinds of cards are acknowledged by gamblers to be the most ingenious now in use, which is, beyond a doubt, true. The hollows and rounds are made in the following manner: It is first decided how they are to be arranged, as in the case of the strippers, mentioned above; then one half of the deck is cut so as to leave each a little rounded on the edges, which makes them a trifle wider in the middle than at either end; the other half of the deck remains square. Now, by placing the two half decks together they can be stripped or pulled the same as the common strippers – the difference being that the common strippers are stripped by being pulled lengthways and from the ends, while the hollows and rounds are stripped by pulling them lengthways from the middle of the deck; thus, a person who has seen a deck of common strippers, could not pull a deck of rounds or a deck of rakes either, and consequently would think they were fair cards; and another great advantage which these cards possess over others, is that they can be turned around and thrown about the table, and still they are not divested of their fraudulent character as strippers and rakes would be, should they be used in the same manner.

There are some few persons, who, having heard of strippers, often turn the cards around if they suspect they are being cheated; such a proceeding would have no effect whatever upon such a card as just described; hence the bettor in such a case would be satisfied that he was playing against a square game. I am told that many professional gamblers could be swindled five or six years ago with this kind of card. Squares and rounds are made much in the same manner – they are cut to pull from the ends, like rakes; they also can be turned round without producing any effect on them; also, like hollows and rounds, they can be shuffled after being pulled and run in without changing the relative position of the cards; they take two and use them otherwise in the same manner as described of the common strippers. It will readily be perceived how easily the uninitiated can be swindled at this game with these ingenious contrivances of the professional gambler. The reader (if he is not a gambler) will now presume that he has learned all the secrets of the Game of Faro, and if the cues should come out correct by his keeping, that it would be an impossibility for the gambler to swindle him at the Game of Faro. To such I must say that they are still ignorant of the entire system of this game. I have yet some very important expositions of this game to make which I have no doubt will surprise the readers as much or more than the expositions I have already made.

Forewarned is forearmed!

A World of Wonder

Sometimes we forget just how magical this time of year can be.

The more we are involved with creating wonder, the less we appreciate its power.  We become jaded.  It’s all a trick. Fortunately, the holiday season gives us opportunity to rekindle our sense of wonder, and share that gift with others.

Recently I acquired the bulk of Sid Lorraine’s magic collection. Sid was known for many things, one of them being his Christmas cards. A gifted artist, Sid designed something unique every year to send to his family and friends. He also collected the cards sent to him by others. The card at the top of the page was drawn by the great magic illustrator Nelson Hahne and was sent to Sid by J.B. Bobo, the author of the seminal text Modern Coin Magic. (A copy of “Bobo’s” is in the postman’s satchel ready to brighten up a magician’s day.) The card reminds me of my youth.

I remember receiving magic books at Christmas. I can’t recall any other gift that brought me more joy – and keeps on giving – than the magic books I received at Christmas. I still remember, for example, ripping open the wrapping paper to discover volumes of the Tarbell Course in Magic and spending the day devouring the contents. I still have those books some thirty-five years later and I still dip into them from time to time to learn new ideas and revisit old ones.

The holiday season is also a time when we get to perform our magic for family and friends. Whereas at other times of the year we had to sometimes impose our performances on our audiences, people actually seemed interested in watching it during the holidays. For many performers – professional and part-time – it is the busiest time of the year.

My work as the Artistic Director of Magicana, a performing arts organization and registered charity, reminds me of how we are part of the present but also deeply rooted in the past; how we are part of a larger community both locally and in the world at large; and how fortunate we are to perform something that gives us and, more importantly, others joy.

Until I return next year, here’s wishing you a safe and joyful season.