November 2018 Meeting: A Lady Floats!

Ring Report Ring #170 “The Bev Bergeron Ring” SAM Assembly #99

November 2018  Meeting

Mike Matson gaveled the meeting to order. Several visitors were present: Mark Gagnon from Vermont, Joshua Stenkamp and Mark O’Brien and ,son, Alexander. Mark lived in Orlando and performed on cruise ships, Busch Garden, Circus World  and Nickelodeon TV before moving to the New York area.

We had an interesting discussion about the magic illusions in the stage show at the old Circus World attraction here in Central Florida. Bev Bergeron had a story about Owens and Les Smith providing the illusions, Dan had stories about working there as the illusionist and Mark O’Brien also performed there. The biggest mystery is that no one is sure what ever happened to several truckloads of illusions when the show closed.

Bev Bergeron added more to his last “Teach In”. It was how to use notecards with slate moves to achieve some incredible effects. He showed how to make writing appear on  what seemed like empty cards and a three card monte.

Dan Stapleton did the magic history of Sneaky Pete Remco magic sets. He showed the first, second and third sets and some history of each.

Mike Matson’s “Theory and Thaumaturgy” topic was “Repeatability” and how many effects do repeat themselves but each action should build up the tension. He used Cups and Balls, Linking Rings and Card’s Across as examples.

Sebastian Mitdtvaage had a mini-lecture on his card magic. A card morphed and three cards that were merely thought of were revealed. Sebastian explained lots of the subtleties in getting the best out of the presentation.

Dennis Phillips opened the performance portion of the meeting with an Abbotts Super X  Levitation, assisted by the lovely Marah.

Trey Talo revealed a spectator selected card with a snap change followed by a spelling reveal. Bob Swaddling enchanted us with his British humor and style . He had a delightful card effect built around special times of your life and what the cards mean. He also did a clever Three Card Monte.  Bryan Sullivan did an extended one-rope routine in the style of Tabary. Ends of the ropes and knots appeared and disappeared.

Paul Hallas also enchanted us with his polished British style. Two spectators selected cards and Paul introduced a special pair of glasses where he could see the cards people selected. Eventually the spectators could also see the cards!

Dennis Phillips

Dennis Deliberations … Ring # 170

“The Bev Bergeron Ring”

December 2018

“Advertising is to a genuine article what manure is to land, – it largely increases the product.” 
― P. T. Barnum, The Humbugs of the World

Okay…Christmas 2018 and the statute of limitations has long since  expired and confession is good for the soul.  This  is about what I got involved in during much of the Summer of 1969. I was out of college for the Summer. AFROTC classes were finished.   Kids my age were going to Woodstock. I was traveling around the Mid Atlantic with what was essentially a Carny Promotion.

The late Phil Barr ( professionally known as Phil Chandler) was a Dayton, Ohio magician, illusionist and mud-show Circus Ring Master. His last years were with the Hoxie Circus.  Somehow he got linked up with a promotions outfit out of Toledo to run their road operation. They had bought a straight box rig “Reefer” Truck ( Trucking  term for Refrigerated Unit) and had opening panels fitted on the sides along with doors.   The idea was that they would sell their  3 day weekend promotion to car dealers and shopping centers.  The truck would be set up and they would heavily advertise that they would “Freeze a Living Woman in a Block of Ice for Three Days!” and you were invited to witness the marvel if she survived.  They would buy 4  30 to 60 second remote cut-ins on the local Top 40 or Country Western Station for 3 days.  Recall that weekends are the slow commercial time for broadcast radio so the time was cheap. I would usually do an interview on the Friday Morning show and then do all the live cut ins from the car dealership by telephone line. On a couple of occasions we used a “Marti Unit” which is an FM voice quality radio link.

Phil was using his wife (his first wife, Cathy) as the lady frozen in ice. A couple of years ago I relinked with Phil’s daughter Lauren, who now lives in Sarasota and I filled her in on some details that happened in her childhood while her parents were away. Lauren grew up to be an attractive woman and helped Roy Huston with illusions in his final years.

Before you get freaked out about the ice stunt, it was a set up that happened long before David Blaine made the same stunt one of his.  Phil’s wife was actually inside a white-silver Styrofoam and metal  insulated casket 30 inches by 30 inches by 7 feet  with a foot square viewing window and it was equipped with a heated ventilation system, telephone, two way microphone system, and alarm.  The ice was slabs a half foot by two feet by three feet that we froze in rubber molds. We froze a few to be only one inch thick and those went on top and the side where the viewing window was.

So… On Friday afternoon we set up the gaff and left the lid off the top and briefly opened the side of the truck when the crowd was ready and I introduced Phil and did the short radio commentary. The woman climbed into to casket and he and an assistant slid the lid and then ice over and she was sealed in. The big side doors closed and we opened the access doors with stairs so spectators could walk up and through the truck and see her in the casket window. We had a fake medical monitoring panel supposedly showing breathing rate and pulse and a recording that played somber slow ethereal music with a male voice that cut in every minute and said “Everything is A-OK”. That was a line borrowed from the NASA Astronauts. There was a lot of wonderful psychology in the whole promotion.  I would do the cut-ins in my announcer voice inviting people to come down and advising on her medical condition. “We have a call into our medical staff advising on signs of hypothermia.” , “Her heart rate has slowed. We don’t think we have to bring her out.”

The question everyone asks is “Did she eat and use the bathroom”…  Of course, she did!  We would close the door when the crowd was low to “put down some salt and saw dust because the truck bed is slippery” and she would climb out for 10 minutes, go in a port-a-potty on the other side of the ice block  and have a hamburger and fries. Phil also had a medical bag and white lab coat and would hang a stethoscope around his neck and I would tell the crowd, we needed the doctor to go in and talk to her through the intercom and look at her skin color. She seems a bit blue.    The inside of the casket had a blanket and drinks and all the comforts of an RV bunk bed.   The stunt was all in the perception.

Final Day… We had a big coming out ceremony. Music would blare, she would struggle to get out. The assistant wore the doctors coat, faked like he was listening to her heart.  She would sit in a lawn chair with a blanket as Phil recounted that a record has been set and we would take her to be checked out at a medical facility, but she appeared to be okay, maybe a little dehydrated. (This is almost identical to the David Blaine stunt)

We once had an irate old guy who came up to Phil after the stunt and said, “That whole thing is a fake!” Phil tensed up. Then the old guy said, “She wasn’t in here for 3 days!” Then he said, “She went in Friday ay 3PM and got out at 3PM on Sunday. That’s only 48 hours, which is two days.”   Phil lowered his voice and head like a Preacher talking to a repentant sinner in church and said, “ Dear Brother, Jesus was crucified on Friday and arose on Sunday before dawn! The Bible calls that 3 days! We all believe that was three days! Do you want to argue with God?”   The old guy looked like he had been punched in the stomach and said, “Oh, I see! I had it wrong, Bless you sir!”

I almost fell over laughing to myself….   I love a good con!

Phil Chandler (Barr) magician, stage illusionist and circus ringmaster.

Philip E. Chandler originally from the Dayton Ohio area, acquired his enthusiasm for magic at age 7, after watching Harry Blackstone Jr.’s stage show.

After graduating high school, Phil joined Dr. Franklin’s illusion and spook show which played fairs, theatre and drive-ins. After which he toured with a circus and hosted horror movies on local television stations. (WHIO-TV) and did a children’s TV show.

Phil then toured with Jack Baker’s (Dr. Silkini) for eight years and stated “I loved every minute of it”.

After leaving Baker, Phil started his own and framed an illusion show which he toured it in the United States, Puerto Rico and Santa Domingo.

In 1973 Phil and his wife Linda joined the Hoxie Bros. Circus where he served as ringmaster and his illusions were featured in the performance. Audiences attending the circus in the centennial year of 1975 will not have forgotten the opening production were the dapper Phil, in his top hat and red tales sang “It’s a Grand Old Flag”.

Phil toured in the early eighties as Merlin the Magician on Allan C. Hill’s stage production of “The Amazing World of Magic”. Later in the eighties Chandler opened “Merlin’s Magic Den” in St. Augustine Florida.

He later work with Bob Childress’ Hendricks Bros. Circus.

Philip E. Chandler passed away quietly on October 10, 2002 in Gibsonton Florida, after completing the season with Bob Childress’ Hendricks Bros Circus.

Phil’s two daughters: Lauren and Natalie today:


I remember when “Caravan” was the theme song to every night club magic act. Bill Neff and Jack Gwynn and others used it. Now the name “Caravan” is the beginning of a political argument. Go figure.

The familiar brass tune starts at :58 into the cut..  Magicians take note… this is a great classic magic track. 


I was please to be a part of the November 10th Circus Picnic Show.

Cast bows from last week’s Circus Fan of America  Tent #137 circus picnic show, Polk City, Florida.

Produced by Dan Stapleton.

l-r Juggler/sword swallower Ted Campbell, Ringmaster Chris Connors, balancer “Csaba”, Mimi (silks), Lydia the elephant, Dennis Phillips (plate spinning), Dan Stapleton (magic). 

It was a coming true of the promise at the end of all circus shows, “May all your days be circus days!”


We lost another icon of magic on November 24th.

Ricky Jay.

He was a trend setting and influential to today’s style card magic. Jay also acted in films and TV shows such as “Boogie Nights,” “House of Games” and “Deadwood,” died Saturday in Los Angeles. He was 72.

He appeared in several David Mamet movies, including “House of Games,” “The Spanish Prisoner,” “Things Change,” “Redbelt” and “State and Main.”

In the 1997 James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies,” Jay played a cyber-terrorist to Pierce Brosnan’s Bond.

He also provided the narration for movies such as Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia.” His one-man Broadway show, “Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants,” was recorded for an HBO special in 1996.

With Michael Weber, he created the Deceptive Practices company, which provided solutions to movies and TV productions such as the wheelchair that hid Gary Sinise’s legs in “Forrest Gump.” They also worked on films including “The Prestige,” “The Illusionist” and “Oceans Thirteen.”


I am also sad to lose my friend, Richard Robinson. He published a book, 20 years ago,  by Dick Biow and me on the Jarrow Bill in Lemon effect and he was known for his All Magic Guide Website.


Died on November 15, 2018 at home in Manhattan. Robinson, born in New Britain, CT, was a graduate of the Loomis School and attended Yale University until several months before graduation, dropped out to join a rock and roll band. After moving to Manhattan in the late 1960s, he worked as a record executive at Buddah Records, had a syndicated music column with the Bell McClure syndicate, was a late night disc jockey on WNEW-FM, and hosted a syndicated radio show. Additionally, he directed early videos for The Ramones and Blondie, produced albums for the Flamin’ Groovies, Lou Reed and David Johansen, wrote 13 books — including “The Video Primer,” books on music, kung fu and magic, and co-authored Dick Clark’s autobiography. He was a contributor to Creem Magazine and edited the rock magazines Hit Parader and Rock Scene. In the late 1990s, he quit the music business to perform as a magician and run several magic web sites . He is survived by his wife and author Lisa Robinson.



(Source: NEWS 360 online)

You’ve probably seen magicians pull playing cards from thin air, make silk handkerchiefs change colors, or cause cigarettes to vanish. What you likely didn’t notice – assuming the trick was successful – were the secret gadgets and modified props, called “gimmicks,” used to fool your eyes. From fake thumbs to silicone eggs, they only work by evading detection.

Louis De Belle exposes them in his new book Disappearing Objects. Many of the 32 gimmicks he spotlights belong to magicians in Italy who let him photograph them under the strict condition he not actually give away their tricks. “I made a vow not to break the number one rule of magic,” De Belle says, “though it’s not hard to google how a thumb tip works.”

Magic tricks, like the famous cups-and-balls routine, can be performed by simple sleight of hand, but magicians have also relied on gimmicks for centuries. In one mischievous monk’s 15th-century vellum notebook, he described how to attach a thin strand of hair to a hollow egg to make it look like it’s moving on its own. Today, amateur magicians share how-to’s on YouTube and buy cheap, China-made accessories on Amazon. Rigged decks make it easy to cut to the right card; thumb tips hide away hankies and coins; and “funkenrings” let you shoot fireballs from your hand, just like Iron Man.

This world of illusion entranced de Belle in the early 2000s, when endurance artist David Blaine was busy pulling stunts and making headlines underwater. Though impressed, De Belle was more enamored by the old-school magicians working on street corners and in parlors to deceive spectators mere feet away. “It’s a pretty paradoxical act,” he says. “You’re aware of being deceived, yet you want to be fooled.”

The subject struck De Belle as a natural follow-up to Besides Faith, his prior exploration of Italy’s $5 billion religious paraphernalia market. Last year, he began visiting magic shops by day and venturing out at night to the unmarked basement venues in Milan where magicians perform. At first, they shunned him. But after studying enough magic to talk the lingo, he gained access to a supportive circle of people who continually traded tips about which gimmicks might improve their acts. “Illusionists don’t only spend years practicing, they also change and customize their tools,” De Belle says. “I wanted to celebrate this enormous yet invisible work, by giving these marvelous tiny creations a chance of being seen.”

The magicians preferred to remain anonymous but allowed De Belle to borrow their gimmicks between shows. He carried the objects to his studio, where he shot them against a plain backdrop with a Canon 1DX and large soft box for even lighting. His favorites? The fake body parts and flesh-toned contraptions fitted with tiny metal switches and pulleys – especially those customized to fit the performer’s hand. “To me, they represent the ultimate secrecy, since they’re used right before the spectator’s eyes,” he says.

De Belle preserves the mystery – likely to the consternation of some viewers. The images become themselves a kind of magic: “We know it’s a trick,” De Belle says, “but we still don’t know how it works.”


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Halloween 2018 Ring Meeting and Show

President Mike Matson gaveled the October meeting to order. New Member Joe Fox was welcomed.
Bev Bergeron did his Teach-in with a Seance theme. He made Houdini’s signature appear on a card and a pair of handcuff spring open.
Mike Matson did another of his Theory and Thaumaturgy mini-lectures on the importance of theming effects and a show. He used a theme with the Professor’s Nightmare.

Dan Stapleton announced the first Magic History and Collector’s Conference in the South. September 6-8 in Orlando . Open Registration begins January 1. More details coming.

Nathan Coe Marsh opened the meeting show with a small white handkerchief that disappeared while wedged in a stem glass and covered by a blue handkerchief on top. He followed by producing a shot glass of whiskey from the blue hank.
Dr. Ken Schreibman presented a clever cell phone effect where a selected card appeared for a short time in the eyes of Houdini on everyone’s cell phone. Ryan Steiner told a haunted story about a haunted cancer ward in what is now a resort hotel. He knew who had selected a diamond out of several other stones in a bag.

Roger Reid showed a homebuilt themed Square Circle with a Jack O’ Lantern as the outer circle and a tube on the inside, Greg Solomon had a clever gag with a rubber ear that he uses when a child asks if he can pull something from his ear. He then showed a three rat monte where spectators could not find the one that squeaked after they were shuffled.

Michael Flanigan presented a math trick and was able to predict the total of several random numbers called out by the audience. Dan Stapleton did a couple of eerie effects where ashes appeared on a spectators hand and a voodoo effect when a spectator burned cigarette hole in a paper hand drawing and it matched the locations of a blister on his hand.

Brian Sullivan did a rubber band effect where two bands melted into one and then a series of coins across with coins ending up in a folded dollar bill.
Dennis Phillips concluded the show with a car key that vanished in his hand and a medical explanation of the disease of porphyria which he said is the historical basis for many vampire stories. He then did the classic MAK Magic Vampire Block release after a wooden stake is driven through the block.

Dennis Phillips

Bev with mysteriously opened handcuffs

Dennis Deliberations … Ring # 170
“The Bev Bergeron Ring”
November 2018

Two ladies were hanging out together and one was depressed. “What’s wrong?”
The depressed one replied, “I’ve been married four times and every one of my husbands has passed away.
The other lady asked, “What did they used to do?”
The depressed lady replied, “Well, my first husband was a millionaire, the second was a magician, the third was an evangelist, and the fourth was a mortician.”
And the other said, “Oh, one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go.”

Here is a blast from the past. 1983 to be exact. There was a local part time illusionist, J.L. Harding., whose big show that he produced every year was a fund-raiser in Apopka ( at a Methodist Church). He got many volunteer acts.

That year Michael Ram and Nadine, Wallace Murphy, Gary Kornfield and I were on the show.

You can see Mike’s homebuilt mirror Sword Box and Sub Trunk and his night club table. During the heyday of Malls, Michael ,and his wife Nadine, had a busy route playing Mall shows.
He did a great job with their husband and wife act.

J.L. moved to Atlanta with his wife “Stardust”. His day job was as the warehouse manager for Goodyear here in Orlando. He transferred to Georgia (early 90s) and disposed of his illusions at a one day garage sale. I recall it was more like a “What can you give me so that I do not have to haul the stuff to the landfill”.
He did have some nice home built pieces. J.L. had a good heart and his yearly fundraisers were a benefit to the community.

On this show ,J.L. was doing his Illusion act, so he wanted me to be the Escape Artist of the show, so I did my Comedy Siberian Chain Escape and wiggled out of a Strait Jacket.


The World War One Flu Epidemic and the Decline of Vaudeville

Typically, magicians and illusionists blame the decline of Vaudeville on the rise of radio and talking motion pictures.
I believe that this is only part of the story and possibly not the death-knell of vaudeville.

The continuation of the vaudeville era after the devastating and socially destabilizing years of World War One was problematic and greatly affected by the massive 1918 influenza outbreak, that killed millions worldwide. The forced closing of places of public gatherings and its effects on live theatre are all documented.

Vaudeville never recovered the six month shock because the revenue stream was too marginal to maintain nationwide chains , with touring acts ,in both the rural and urban areas. Urban theaters began to become ethnic, as newly arrived small town and rural World War One factory workers formed urban isolated communities. This was all a result of the industrial buildup of World War One. The Harlem Revival (“Cotton Club”) and Jazz and Swing resulted. The country began to lose mass culture. Motion pictures were cheaper to show and by 1920 free radio and phonograph records were beginning to occupy the public’s time as a cheap alternative. And then talking movies finished off the last of the Vaudeville circuits as the owners converted the theaters to movie houses.

Vaudeville spanned fifty years of American history and yet few deal with the effects of the Great War and Influenza. The most popular form of entertainment got battered by the encroachment of technology in the form of movies, radio and ultimatelytelevision and until medical science began to understand and be able to treat epidemics, there was much fear in public gatherings, especially during the winter Flu season, which was when the shows operated in the days before air-conditioning. In the 1920s , America began the slow shift to an economic and culturally polarized nation.

I noticed a marked decline in the costume rental business beginning in the mid-to-late 1980s with the rise of the HIV epidemic. Many people were fearful of trying on and wearing used costumes even though they were all cleaned and sanitized. The shift in the costume business was to pre-made and packaged sale costumes (made off shore) . This fear , combined with the economic decline of Middle class incomes and political polarization led to a less happy cultural climate. The party atmosphere , that we know as the 70s Disco Era, was ushered in by the end of the Viet Nam War and mature Baby-Boomers and the monetary bubbles created by easy credit and optimism. That faded in the mid to late -80s as a series of periodic credit collapses (S&L late 80s, Dot Com 1990 and the 2008 Financial Great Recession)

Coupled with this is the revival of Tribalism, Nativist Exclusion and the death of Mass Culture. Show Business does not work well without Mass Culture consumption. The Music Business relied of the mass culture of AM Top 40 radio and Broadcast TV on a limited number of channels in the pre-cable world.
Technology replaced all those and today we have only Niche markets, few of which generate enough impact to have a Mass Culture.

David Copperfield was the last of the Mass Culture Magicians. He rode in on the late Disco exhilaration and datedness of Doug Henning’s look and style with an 80s subdued sophistication. Rainbows and brightly colored props gave way to the black paint and chrome of the David Mendoza, Bill Smith , Willie Kennedy Industrial look for Copperfield. David used the final days of the dominance of network television and yearly specials of vanishing, manipulating and exploding cultural landmarks to develop a mass following that he used to sell tickets to his touring show. His era collapsed in the mid-1990s with the rise of the Internet, many TV channels and cultural cynicism and anger. He was replaced by grunge magic and a more intimate close -up magic.

Vaudeville in a limited form only survives in some places in Europe and destination resorts, like Las Vegas and cruise ships.

Magic is often a lot like this: Art for art sake.


Equivoque is the word that most magicians recognize as “A Magician’s Force”. This is the technique of making the spectator think that they have a free choice by you know what you want them to choose and manipulate them to take what you want. I was recently talking to a couple of professional magicians and we were talking about the technique. I told them that I always explain it to magicians as the same thing as asking someone to choose which current author of mentalism books they prefer, Phil Goldstein or Max Maven. The PATEO Force is usually credited to Roy Baker. It stands for (P)ick (A)ny (T)wo – (E)liminate (O)ne. One of the great examples of this technique was when the deep voice of Eugene Burger combined with a Robert Neal story. Eugene laid many cards face down on the table and said that people were dying in the small Medieval town and people began to accuse others of being responsible for the deaths. Eugene had a spectator pick two cards and he turned over one. It was the Queen of Diamonds, the town’s seamstress. Was she a witch? No soon she died. All the cards had a profession in the village. It got down to the only card that was not dead and Burger turned it over and it was the one who brought the plague, the ace of spades. I thought that this was a great example of storytelling and the PATEO Force. One suggestion on Equivoque: If you are doing it multiple times, break up the way you ask them to choose so your method is not obvious. Like Max Maven’s B-Wave, the application of Equivoque can be simple and yet powerful.


Combining Ballroom Dance with Magic


Be a part of magic history as Magicpalooza presents the first Magic History and Collector’s Conference in the south. September 6-8. Open Registration begins January 1 but you can reserve your room now at the lovely Holiday Inn Resort Orlando-Lake Buena Vista (five minutes from Disney World). Rooms only $99…mention Code: MHG when booking your room. It’s FLORIDA! Make it a vacation! —

Dennis Phillips

Posted in Monthly Newsletter | Comments Off on Halloween 2018 Ring Meeting and Show

September Meeting and Tips on performing from Bev

Ring Report Ring #170 “The Bev Bergeron Ring” SAM Assembly #99

September 2018  Meeting

President Mike Matson was away. Vice President Craig  Fennessy conducted the meeting. We welcomed guests Nathaniel Stevens and Jim Henson, of Little Rock and new member Paul Hallas.  Ravelli gave us a description of his new magic shop at the Auburndale Mall where he also performs on weekends.

Bev Bergeron’s teach-in was tips on performing from one of the pamphlets he has written. One great tip was to always hold up cards when performing for an audience because they are not visible on a flat table.   We continue to raise “Go-Fund-me” money for the medical care of our member Sebastian Midtvaage who is suffering from rare Pineoblastoma brain cancer.

Dan Stapleton showed a few Gerald Heaney posters and catalogs and told about  visiting the Heaney home in the early 1970s in rural Wisconsin. Dan grew up in Milwaukee. Heaney was a magician and owned a mail order magic business and is known for buying part of the Thurston show and storing it in his barn. Dan hopes to tell the complete story in a planned Magic History Conference here in Orlando.

Dan Stapleton then emceed our meeting show. William Zaballero have a spectator three opportunities to pick a card and they mysteriously ended with a winning Black Jack hand. Dave Freeman  did Bewildered in Tarot where a freely selected card matches a prediction. Michael Flannigan had a “pick-a-card” effect made intriguing by his addition of flip charts showing the mathematical odds of him being about to predict the selected cards. Paul Hallas did a card effect where he was able to feel the selected cards.

Dennis Phillips wrapped up the show with two prop effects created by Ian Adair, the British magic legend who worked with Edwin Hopper and Supreme magic. Adair is still inventing. Dennis showed the Twin Doves in Balloon and vanished the dove using Dove-van. Both effects were made by Abbotts Magic in the 1960s  with permission from Supreme.

Dennis Phillips





Dennis Deliberations … Ring # 170

“The Bev Bergeron Ring”

October 2018

“You can take the whole seat…but you’re only going to need the edge!”

                   -quote from an old Ghost Show ticket-











Houdini’s Grave in Machpelah Cemetery

8230 Cypress HIlls Street

Ridgewood, Queens County, New York, 11385 USA


It is the final resting place of magician Harry Houdini, his brother Theodore Hardeen, his mother, father, grandfather, four other brothers, and a sister.

I am going to engage into some historical  and medical speculation. This is the month that Houdini died on October 31,  1926. The most common explanation of the cause of his death was from peritonitis, a massive infection in his gut area from a ruptured appendix , which was said to be caused by a punch to his stomach by a college student challenging Houdini who had  offered to be punched in the gut  to prove his muscular ability. My belief is that there could have been other contributing and pre-existing health factors.  This is only my theory but supporting facts seem in place.  Houdini was already in declining health and only age 52. Most biographers talk about him suffering from chronic fatigue, he had a broken ankle and an overall physical decline over the last half decade of his life. My assertion is that high exposure to x-rays  starting a decade before and the resulting pathological effects may have led to his declining health and premature death.

Houdini bought his brother, Radiologist Dr. Leopold Weiss ,one of the newly-invented x-ray machines, and he x-rayed Houdini dozens, if not hundreds of times.  Houdini was intrigued by x-rays and how they could “see through” solid objects. Apparently Houdini had a small pistol round embedded in his hand from being shot earlier in his life and an x-ray showed the bullet.  Recently the x-ray film was offered for sale as a collectable.

Speculation, among some old magicians,  was that Houdini’s massive exposure to radiation led to Houdini becoming sterile.


According to Jay Marshall, Bessie Houdini (his wife)  told Anne Gwynne (Jack’s wife)  that Houdini and Leo played with the x-ray machine until they both unknowingly sterilized themselves. However, it may have also been that Bess had fertility issues herself. Bess and Harry had been married for 10 childless years by the time Harry started experimenting with Leopold’s X-ray machine. Biographer, Kenneth Silverman revealed evidence of an extramarital affair Houdini had with Charmian London (widow of author, Jack London).  Sterility is not the same thing as impotence, so two factors could be at work here. Possibly Bess was not fertile and Harry was sterile.


Recall that not a lot was known about the dangers of ionizing radiation back then and the machines spewed out many times over the necessary needed x-rays to get an acceptable radiographic image on primitive thick emulsion film.  Unaware of the dangers, in the 1930s, the Mayo Clinic experimentally used X-ray radiation to treat asthma.  I recall X-Ray machines ( Fluoroscopes) were used in shoe stores, X-raying my feet and many other  kid’s feet for shoe fittings until they were banned in 1953!  X-Rays were used to treat acne. The double-helix structure of DNA was not discovered until the early 1950s  and that provided the mechanism for understanding cell destruction and radiation illnesses. Ionizing radiation has a very short electromagnetic wavelength and a lot of energy (Planck’s Constant) so it can figuratively punch holes in your DNA and nucleic acid cell structures (RNA)  since DNA is the pattern used for cell reproduction, and RNA for biochemical synthesis, massive errors of the code patterns ( cancer) can result.  High doses can act like burns and immediately destroy tissue.

Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), and acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) can be caused by past radiation exposure.  Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a bone marrow cancer that can turn into acute leukemia, has also been linked to past radiation exposure. Part of the reason is that white blood cells are some of the fastest reproducing cells and shortest lasting cells in your body. You need a constant supply.

My hunch is that Houdini had a weakened immune system from radiation induced leukemia which contributed to his susceptibility to infection

Harry with brother Leopold


Houdini’s brother, Dr. Leopold Weiss, became a successful New York radiologist. For a time he even ran his practice out of Houdini’s home in Harlem. Around 1916, Houdini and Leopold had a falling out when Leo married Sadie, the divorced wife of another Weiss brother, Nathan. Houdini turned against Leo, banishing him from the family cemetery plot and even cutting his head out of family portraits. The brothers never reconciled.  In 1962, Leopold, elderly and blind, killed himself by leaping off the roof of his apartment.



Shim Lin won America’s Got Talent! The second magic act to win the series.

It just goes to show the immense power of the BEST magic to blow away just about every other branch of the performing arts: singing, instrumental music, acrobatics, stand-up comedy, dance groups, animal acts, stunning ‘black art’ theatre with state-of-the-art electronic effects, and more. Shin Lim left ALL of these top-caliber acts in the dust, and solely with his riveting sleight of hand card magic!

Even the curmudgeonly Simon Cowell, who at one point expressed his utter disdain for “card tricks”, completely reversed his stance after watching Shin Lim, saying, “Anyone who tries to tell you they don’t believe in magic — HELLO!!

As well, it should be noted that it’s one thing for a magician to compete among his peers at an international magic convention and WIN (as Shin did: I.B.M., FISM, etc.); that in itself is a fantastic accomplishment, there’s no taking away from it. But when the PUBLIC votes for some of the greatest (non-magic) variety talents in the world and ends up giving their highest accolades to a MAGICIAN — well, that has to have virtually every other magic fanatic in the world ‘bursting their buttons’ with pride.

And we in the magic community are all immensely proud of Shin Lim.

Shin Lim could be the biggest name in magic since David Blaine

His accomplishments include fooling Penn and Teller . . . twice.

Toward the end of magician Shin Lim’s “Dream Act” routine, his hands slowly rise to his head, palms up. Just as the accompanying dramatic orchestral music swells, he opens his mouth, expelling a cloud of smoke and revealing a folded playing card that had been inexplicably moving between both of his hands and his vest pocket.

Lim’s precise movements, his intensity, the crescendos of the music. It is cinematic.

The question is: In today’s world of entertainment, how far will a deck of cards and smoke machine take you?

Most of you know that personally, card magic , and his style , is not at the top of my list of “likes”, but I give credit where credit is due. A full discussion of this and the grief other magicians have given me can be found in an e-mail exchange at the bottom of this Deliberation.


Some months ago I did this effect , in a disguised format, at a meeting. It is a fooler. Print it out and carry it around.

  1. Print out the Magic Math cards page and cut out each of the cards individually.
  2. Place all 6 cards face-up in a pile and put the “Pick a Number Between 1 and 30” card on top.  The order of the other 5 number cards does not matter.
  3. Show your student the “Pick a Number Between 1 and 30” card and ask him/her to pick a number between 1 and 30.  Be sure that the student does not tell you what it is.
  4. Show the student the first number card in the pile and ask, “Is your number on this card?”  Be sure that the student looks carefully before responding.
  • If the student says “yes,” make a mental note of the number in the top left hand corner of that card (it’s either 1, 2, 4, 8, or 16).
  • If the student says “no,” just continue.
  1. Show the student the next number card in the pile and do the same as you did before.
  2. Repeat until you have asked the student for all 5 number cards.
  3. You should have kept a mental note of the top left hand corner numbers for all of the cards to which the student responded “yes.”  Add those numbers together.
  • TIP: Keep a running total in your head as you move through the cards instead of waiting until the end to add them.  It’s much easier to remember a running total than to remember a bunch of different numbers.
  1. The sum that you just calculated is the student’s secret number!  Now’s the fun part – blow the student away by sharing what his/her secret number is!

How cool and simple is that trick?  You can repeat it .

Bonus!  Here is an even more complex Magic Square, if you enjoy doing this effect.















This bit of advice on distinguishing your magic and personality from one of the real theatrical artists in magic from John Tudor. Read the whole blog entry here:

John Tudor


“Have our magicians had any training or direction in the art of magic? Have they stage presence, or can they act? No, they have not. They just got hold of a bunch of tricks, and walked out on the stage. Magic, which is one of the arts, and one of the best entertainments for the great intelligent public, has suffered terribly. In fact, it has been murdered.”

Guy Jarrett wrote those words…..

“A theater manager once told me, “We (theaters and performing arts centers) are all doing these mind-reading and card trick shows, on projection screens. We do good business with these too, but they all seem the same.” The magicians seemed interchangeable to her, and she wondered whether they would grow an audience. My opinion may seem obvious, but I truly believe it. The better trained you are (aside from with the use of media) the less interchangeable you will always be (even projected on a big screen). I think the stage presence/acting aspect becomes even more crucial in a TV or media heavy production, than in a “normal” magic show.

The buyer also asked me why there weren’t more artistic magic shows, like the artistic puppet and juggling shows she’d presented. I told her about Jeff McBride & the Mystery School scholars, and the one-man fringe festival shows, like Ricky Jay’s. She said, “I would love to offer a magic show that’s different, something more robust.”

Robust, she said. Robust… I confess I’ve spent a lot of time pondering what she meant by that choice of words! Perhaps it is different for everyone, I don’t know. I am sure, however, that you, the reader, would prefer to seem “robust” than to seem “interchangeable,” wouldn’t you? Then don’t just watch YouTube, or Fool Us. Think hard about Guy Jarrett’s words. Get some training, some direction, work on your stage presence, take an acting class…or a Master Class. You’ll find yourself much happier, to be a champion, rather than a murderer of the art.”

I was happy to meet John at Magic Palooza 2016 and have been impressed by his work and writing.


How many male magicians feel this way?  Honesty is the best way, as well as having more than the talent self-claimed. The working class is not starved for entertainment as it was in the days of P.T. Barnum. Every magician needs to be unique. That part you can control.



The whims of culture and what is a fad is something that you can not control.


Here is an e-mail exchange with a Canadian Magician who took exception to me saying that I appreciated and applaud Shin Lim but what he does in not of great interest to me and I would not go out of my way to see him perform.

I said…. (My Assertions and Response is in the bold type. His are in the smaller type)

I respect and applaud his magic. I am happy for him and his fans and magicians everywhere who do this type of stuff.

It’s just “stuff”, is it? And because it “isn’t your thing”, meaning since you don’t (or can’t) do it yourself, or, to be fair, just don’t care to, then  that lessens your appreciation of it?

Not at all!  I can appreciate  that liver smothered with onions is enjoyed by some people.  I just don’t care for it.  How am I supposed to feel guilty and self-loathing because I don’t care for it?

What I can artistically do has nothing to do with my likes and dislikes! I cannot sing like Andrea Bocelli but I went to see him and I follow his art. I have my likes and dislikes in magic. To each his own.

“To each his own” is a rather dismissive phrase.

Not at all… I am giving you and other magicians the freedom for their likes and dislikes and opinions.  Why can’t you do that for me? I do not care about artsy close up close up stuff. It adds too many complexities for an analytical mind like me. i.e. smoke in a card trick?   It is like taking a perfectly great sophisticated song such as “Misty” (Errol Gardner) and doing a Jazz version that add so much complexity that the melody and mood get lost in the chaos. It seems that in Post Post-Modern art forms, all sequence and logic goes out the window and it is chaos punctuated by snap shots of seeming discontinuity ( that is the psychological “magic” moment).  Modern magic was more like Bauhaus architecture ( “Form follows function”) and Scandinavian design.  I prefer that.

I get lost in what is happening in most Post-Post Modern art expressions. David Blaine and Criss Angel both went too far into grunge. The performer was not  separated in look or power from the audience. To me, the psychological effect is like a shark feeding frenzy . Out of the chaos arise the Darwinistic victor or the luckiest survivor.  Sure, certain patterns of the “natural” can appear to be “supernatural” but , to me, the thrill of the “supernatural” is that it remains in its domain and interjects onto our natural and does not merely rise from the “natural”.

I have to confess that as interesting as Siegfried and Roy’s Mirage show was, the net effect that that the stage action and pace was so chaotic that the thrill of the magic was lost.  Too many “miracles” reduce the effects to mundane, sort of like Superman showing off his powers.

It suggests to me that you didn’t see the many incredible performances Shin Lim did to “claw” his way to the top.  With most of my lifetime involved in magic, I confess I saw him do things that totally defied all belief. Studying him in slow motion repeatedly still left me baffled.

I can appreciate all the obvious work that he did.  I don’t care if he “clawed” his way. Lots of people claw their way and never get anywhere. But, as you know, I have no respect in the Calvinist work ethic which is some sort of self-justification for why a person is rich. But like my professional magician friend, Jeff Eaton, once said, “The magician has failed if, when he finishes, and you ask, ‘So what?”.  Often in close-up, I ask, “So what”.

The reason *I* loved it had nothing whatever to do with the type of magic I actually do. Like you, I don’t do his kind of magic, and so in that sense it was “not my thing” either. But my admiration for his skills, his pacing, his showmanship (it’s not for nothing he took first place in close-up at FISM and the I.B.M.) and the fact that he stunned me and everyone else with conjuring feats that seemed utterly impossible, is why I couldn’t be like you: confessing, as you did, that if it is not something YOU can find a venue or make money with, then you don’t give care.

Professional show business is a business. Making money is the only way to stay in it,as a business, otherwise it is a hobby.

In the final analysis, if you are not hungry, thirsty ,insecure, sexually in need or poor or have some internal drive to get rich, why should you care about any magic other than as a hobby? Maybe some small amount of curiosity may compel you. But “magic” is a shallow way to explore mystery, because you know it is illusion. It is only a mystery as to how they did it.

If you want real mystery the pick something that is not knowingly fake but mysterious , like   

Someone could interpret that as a kind  of jealousy. Or a man who is a magician himself, but in his twilight years has become somewhat bitter over his lost opportunities. But I’m no psychologist.

I am not bitter over my experiences.  I am disappointed that the Modern paradigm ( Weltanschauung) has evaporated into social chaos and the common elements of Mass Cultural Entertainment has degenerated into tribalism. Professional Sports may be the last vestige of Mass Entertainment. Probably David Copperfield was the last of the broad spectrum mass culture magicians. Interesting to note that his broad appeal declined in the 1990s just as the Internet was talking over. That era also spelled the doom of “The Big Three” TV Networks which had a sufficient share of audience to create an awareness of a singular personality. This goes for all of show business including radio broadcasting.

 David and Dania, Matt Franco, the two previous AGT winners, have respectively faded into  “ A half-time basketball court show” and “The Las Vegas backroom” Purgatory  where they have been consigned for magic eternity. Neither arrived in the age of  Mass Culture which is how Copperfield made his billion dollars of net worth.  

A man who truly loves the art of deception loves it all, unconditionally. With the only criterion being DOES IT SATISFY THE PARAMETERS THAT ELEVATES TO AN ART? Not listed in any order of importance, the best of the genre should — entertain … fool the audience … and be emotionally gratifying. A kind of visual beauty is also important, as are secondary considerations such as: a challenge to the intellect … a lesson in the psychology of deception … and the uplifting experience of seeing the laws of Nature seemingly violated.

I don’t see any reason to “talk him down” at all.  UNLESS! – he failed utterly to satisfy all or any of the criteria I listed above. In my mind, he did not. His material is on a par with the classical dove magic of Channing Pollock and Lance Burton. And many others I could name.

I did not talk him down,  all I told you was that his magic style was “not my thing” and I was privately honest with you ( as I would be with all magicians) and you act like I do not appreciate all the credits he should get and deserves! He is golden ,in my view, when I talk to the general public.

One reason he is so good, is that he put an incredible amount of work into his magic. When he was mastering classical piano, he was required to practice 15 and more hours per day, until he was smitten with carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists. That kind on near-maniacal dedication was then turned over to his second passion, card magic, as he was forced to give up piano and concentrate on only one thing.

Hard Work never equals success or wealth… Pre-1865 Slaves and low-wage factory workers in 1910 prove that!  “Success” depends on some linkage to society and in showbusiness, Mass Culture Media is the link- how much ever of it still exists.  AGT is the best example but still, the format is not as constructive to individual stardom as having your own TV prime time network special.  “Fool Us” and “Masters of Illusion” are another, but the lesser cable channel location makes them less effective.  Of course, You Tube, is the eternal domain of all magic gods and wanna-be gods and their detractors. You Tube is “Magic Hell” and like Dante’s Satan boasted, “I would rather rule in Hell than be subservient in Heaven”, You Tube continues to attract reprobates.  

The reason there are so many lousy magicians in this crazy world, is that there are so few willing to put in that kind dedication.

But I have known personally many great magicians who died unknown. They were totally dedicated, creative and awe inspiring and, when performing, hailed by audiences. But they got nowhere and died unknown and forgotten. I have a “clock act” that was passed on to me by Vince Carmen and he got it from an unknown magician ( who I saw once when he was elderly). For its day (the 40s-50s) is was the most diabolical of methods and effects. I would say that Karl Germain was another and he would have been lost to time, if it was not for Stuart Cramer’s documentation.  Another is Ho Yam ( William Mayoh b.1886) who also was a photographer and luckily self-published his creations which found their way into Lou Tannen’s collection. All of these people are unknown outside of magic.

Like music, there are some remarkable outstanding talents and many low talents.  Talent does not equal fame.

I remember years ago, someone saying that at any typical magic get-together, there can be illusionist after illusionist [yawn…] but the moment a brilliant sleight of hand artist comes onto the stage, his manipulations cause the magicians to sit bolt-upright and take keen notice. Because they all know the kind work it requires to pull off successfully. But I digress…

Yes…and that is probably why the Juggler is usually the one who brings down the house at a magic convention! Ever notice that?







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