Holiday Party and Fun

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

December 2017  Meeting

President Craig Schwarz gaveled the December Holiday meeting to order. We had 38 people attending. The only official business was to elect a new yearly board in accordance to our state corporate charter. Outgoing president Schwarz opened the floor for nominations after reading the nominating slate by the board. There were no nominations from the floor.  Bev Bergeron made a motion that the slate be approved. Phil Schwartz seconded and the vote was taken. Here are the new and returning  elected board members for 2018: President – Mike Matson, Vice President – Craig Fennessy ,Treasurer – Bev & Alouise Bergeron, Secretary – Dennis Phillips, Sargent of Arms – Chris Dunn.  Schwarz also made a motion to establish the non-voting Committee several positions. It was seconded and approved:  Chairman of the annual Ring Day of Magic and Webmaster. Schwarz will take that position. Financial  Assistant to Bev and Alouise, Josh Arroyo and Lecture Chairmen, Craig Fennessy and Jimmy Ichihana. At the conclusion of the business meeting , outgoing President Craig Schwarz passed the gavel to new president Mike Matson. The gavel had the date June 5,1962 which was the date of the Ring formation and used by the first President, the late, Don Masters.  The entire FAME group thanks Craig Schwarz for his years as President and for all of his efforts to make us a great magic group.

We also collected funds for Carrie, who was our hard working IHOP waitress for many years of club activities. She is moving to Tennessee and we wanted to give her a great send off.

Jacki Manna returned again as the lively emcee and  featured entertainer for our party fun.  Jacki had three fun activities: The first was a gift wrapping contest, where teams of 4 competed to see who could gift wrap the most boxes in the fastest allotted time. The second was our annual gift exchange where everyone brought a gift and drew numbers to exchange this. This year some excitement was added by also rolling dice to create for excitement and less certainty in the exchange.

Finally, Jacki invited everyone to play a Magic Trivia game. The questions contained a lot of magic history and Phil Schwartz , our resident magic historian and Bev Bergeron were standouts with answers.   Jacki made it all fun. It was a great evening for all.

Dennis Phillips





Dennis Deliberations … Ring # 170

“The Bev Bergeron Ring”

January 2018

“Be so good they can’t ignore you.” – Steve Martin

Remember: Steve Martin never said, “Be so original they can’t ignore you.” We know the source of the trick this guy does, and it’s done by a lot of magicians. The Beatles did everyone else’s hits when they started out (their first album is full of them) — and still they climbed out of obscurity to become great and later “original” (with the help of George Martin)

One tiny bump in the road: You’ll notice when the guy accidentally left one card on the table, he had to fan through the cards and cut to the right place to put the tabled card back. A good sleight of hand worker has more courage than a naked guy swimming through a tank full of hungry piranhas….

Don’t you think that any reasonably intelligent KNOWS it is done with a stacked deck?

Yes, this is a clever variation and done well.

I did a close-up gig years ago after Bill Malone had popularized “Sam the Bellhop” and at the gig one of the other magicians was doing “Sam the Bellhop”… He did it well. The ONLY comments I heard was about how “cute” the story was and how “The guy is great at setting up the cards”… They did not know how or anything about false cuts but they intuitively knew it had to be done with a stacked deck.

Years ago, when I was using a stacked deck in a trick for lay men at conventions, , I would just ask the people at the table, “Have you see a guy named Sy Stebbins at this convention?” They would say, “No” and I would say, “I want to give him back this deck that I borrowed from him. This is a borrowed deck.”  Once I did have a magician come up and tell me that he about fell over laughing when I pulled that line.”


I rarely get into the topic of Hypnotism, but here goes:

First watch this video:


I over the years I have been  friends with several guys who have done stage Hypno acts. Paul Royter has been a friend for 45 years and his mentor was Peter Reveen.

And yes, up until the 1980s, I did a Hypno act, as another of  my Variety offerings.  I cut way back and eventually ended because of Liability Insurance costs and limited venues. It has been increasingly difficult since the mid 80s to get booked… And now, it is almost impossible. Why?

Much of America has drifted into an irrational superstitious and anti-science mindset , especially in the rural areas, and the Fair markets ( mostly in rural areas) dried up and that was about all there was in terms of venues. High School Proms used to be big and a lot of fun but School Boards stopped that due to parental complaints and lawsuits.

Hypnotism is basically “crowd and individual manipulation” The individual participant wants to please the crowd and the performer.  The  technique seems identical to a modern religious Faith-healer. I don’t want to set anyone off here on a fight over religion. Certainly the mysteries in life and our experiences and convictions, both individually and communally should be respected.  My purpose in writing is only for analysis and comment and not a comment or criticism of religion or anyone’s belief of causality or authenticity. I am a man of faith and active in my church.

I grew up watching Faith-healers so I thoroughly know their manipulative techniques and the amusement value.

The whole performance begins with “Expectations”… The Faith Healer says, “Expect a Miracle!”.   The hypnotist says:  “Expect to see people prance like chickens and talk to their shoes like they are kitty-cats and act like their pants are on fire! ….

The hypnotist need banners, posters and a line of pre-event hype about how great he is. Loads of publicity pictures of people slumped over in a lines of chairs.  Remember “Expectations!”

The show event begins with 20 minutes of loud pop rock music… with frequent announcements calling for volunteers to help. “It will be fun! We need some of you to come up who wants to have fun. The experience of a lifetime!” In the case of Faith-healers, it is religious music from lively to somber and a call for the congregations to be in prayer and expectation.

You bring up 12 to 18 people to sit in the chairs and you begin the “induction” , which is simply finding out who is going to play along, listen to directions and be your most active and energetic volunteers. In a Faith healing service, they line up in wheel chairs and with walkers and canes hours before the service in desperation for a miracle.

As you do the induction exercises (I did between 8 to 10 demonstrations), you winnow down the people and send those unsuitable back to their seats.  On the TED talk video,  the girl that failed, next to the guy on the end would be sent back by me , unless , as in this case, the guy was her boyfriend and he left her up on stage to egg him on.  I did that occasionally but I did not like anyone on stage who I was not controlling.

You then rationalize away and dismiss those who don’t  cooperate…. They go back to their seat. You dismiss them by thanking them for being good sports.

If you are a faith-healer, those who do not “get their miracle” simply lack enough faith to claim it. The problem is their faith and not the basic premise. In my thinking that is emotionally devastating to the sick and dying person and reduces healing their sickness and sorrow to the level of a crass Carnival  Sideshow or Hypnotism Act.  It the worst case it delays or stops proper medical care.

After you get down to between 3 to 6 really good cooperative people, you go on with the silly and humorous  exercises and demonstrations.

All the words you use are identical to a Faith Healer… minus the theological part and demonstrable permanent cure.

Here is the bottom line: In my opinion , after dozens of shows… Stage Hypnotism is an emotional/ imaginative state of hyper-suggestionYou get them focused and simply command then to follow directions.

I am not attacking anyone’s religion. I actually believe that some people do find relief from pain and psychosomatic sickness and , in some cases, the emotional state can lead to bodily healing. I will leave pronouncements of a supernatural causality to others and their faith. Endorphins (contracted from “endogenous morphine”) are power natural substances. We do not fully understand the connections of influence between mind and body. Look at an printed paper insert that comes with medication and read the statistical double-blind test results. By Federal law the results of taking the drug must be better than a placebo but sometimes not by much! That is why some drugs are removed from the market. In a cost to benefits analysis, the drug’s helpfulness does not statistically outweigh its side-effects.

Hypnotism for smoking cessation, removing phobias, giving up illegal drugs and weight loss does work, for some. So does religious faith! Again, it is allowing the hypnotist to manipulate the patient toward positive thoughts and behavior. There is a close parallel between Hypnotism and faith healing and that may be why all faith-healers are against any form of hypnotism. Often, psychologically an addictive personality merely substitutes a less harmful addiction for another one. It like the old joke: “I finally gave up cigarettes! I joined smoker’s anonymous. Now every time I crave a cigarette, I call up a fellow member and they come over and have a drink with me!” .


Speaking of Smoking. I hope no one reading this does:

Chuck Windley once joked with me  many years ago and told me: “When I came back from South America in 1979 I decided to cut down to one cigarette a day. So far, I have been successful. This morning I had my cigarette for July 14, 2329.”

Charles “Chuck” Windley died of cancer last week at age 75.  The young Chuck pictured was 20 years old and the old Chuck was 75.









I have known “Chuck” since 1958. That is almost 60 years! (He detested the name Chuck after he reached middle age, and insisted on being called Charles)  We both grew up together in Norfolk, Virginia.  I was there because my father was in the Navy.  Norfolk produced some big names in Magic. Bob McAllister, a Norfolk native and then of New York TV’s Wonderama fame. Dick Oslund, Mike Rogers and others came through with the Navy.  The center of magic was Earl Edward’s Magic shop. That was where I was introduced magic.


Charles worked behind the counter, as a High School kid. I was 6 years younger than him and with me being 10 and him being 16, there is a world of difference in maturity.  To Chuck, I was always the pesky little kid, even the last time I talked to him at my age current age of 69, he still pulled rank with age. But it was a warm friendship and I appreciated having him as an old brother in magic. I still remember holding his derby for him in his 1960 act at Virginia Beach’s “Frontier City”, a Western themed amusement park. Our paths kept bumping into each other over the years and we never lost touch. He was off to New York and Hubert’s Dime Museum and worked as a side-kick to “Congo The Jungle Creep” and did magic.  I moved with my family to Pennsylvania, in 1963 to finish High School.

He found a wife, Sher-lee and had an instant family. She had two photogenic teenage daughters. At 20 he married, Sher-lee an older ,and gorgeous mid-30s, mature woman (pictured holding the dove) and she managed their show. Al Cohen, of Washington, D.C. Magic Shop fame was his accountant. Few know that Al Cohen is also a skilled book-keeper and accountant.  He then had a daughter with Sher-lee and after some early 60s work playing side shows and Circuses, he settled down with Sher-lee to a Mid Atlantic School Show Route and summer amusement park gigs. He did well with it,  enough so that Chuck bought a nice suburban home in Bel-Air at Bowie, Maryland just outside of Washington, DC.  Chuck always lacked all concepts of managing money, but good luck shined on him

Chuck lived about a block and a half from me during my college years from 1967 to 1971. So, I was frequently over at his house building, repairing and maintaining his props.  In the Summer I would watch his house while he did a month or two at amusement parks.


The summer of 1968, he had a gig at Charlie Wood’s Gaslight Village in Lake George, New York. It could arguably be called America’s first East Coast theme park, preceding Disneyworld. Knotts Berry Farm in California was before Disney World. He wanted to do the Ducks from a Tub and Where do the Ducks Go.  It is a classic routine and I recalled seeing Joe Smiley perform it. So I set about making the props for him.  I kept telling him he needed two ducks and should practice.  The props were finished, and I was using throw pillows for ducks. I also made a wooden crate to carry the ducks. He loved the props. Still no ducks. Finally, the night before he was going to leave for New York with his Econoline Van towing his travel trailer, he realized that he needed ducks! Baltimore Ed Sparrow was visiting Chuck and Sher-lee and Ed had his wife and family with him. It was a good-bye party for the Windley’s.  At 9 pm Chuck looks at Ed and says, “I need two ducks!” Ed and he had been also having a slow and enjoyable conversation with Jack Daniels and Jim Beam.  So, Chuck and Ed pile into the Van and go looking for ducks.  The hours roll by and Ed’s wife and Sher-lee are in a panic at 3 am when they were still gone. Finally, close to 4am the van pulls in and out stumbles Ed and Chuck soaking wet.

According to them, they searched every pond for miles in Maryland and eventually ended up at the Pentagon which had a lagoon nearby.  There they tried in vain to catch two ducks. They even found an all-night grocery store and bought a loaf of bread as bait. Finally, they lured two ducks but they had to jump in the water to catch them. Stop and think, the only ducks that you can get close enough to are the friendliest ducks and because they are used to being fed by people, the result is that they are the fattest. They had stolen two of the fattest ducks I have ever seen and had been chased by the Pentagon police who  thought they were two Russian spies . But, they were just  two drunks in a green Falcon Econoline van with a couple of quacking ducks in the back. The van had been trailing smoke from burning oil rings all around the Pentagon parking lot .Chuck ran the engine on half STP and half oil.  No Russian spies would leave a smoke trail.

So Ed and his kids stayed over for the night to see the Windley’s off in a few hours. Chuck told me later that Saida, his daughter by Sher-lee, caught the chicken pox that night from one of Ed’s kids.

About the time that I graduated from college in 1971 and moved to Roanoke, Va. to work in Television, Chuck and Sher-lee broke up. I am not sure if she just wanted more financial security. Her new husband owned several profitable gas stations in the Bowie area.  Once I asked her what drew her to Chuck and show business and she said, “I guess I was just a bored housewife”. Chuck said the blended families of Sher-lee and her new husband became “the new Brady Bunch thing”.

I think that Sher-lee got the equity from the house when it was sold and Chuck ended up doing some cruise ships and managing and owning a magic bar in Miami.  When I moved to Charlotte from Roanoke (1972), Chuck moved back to Virginia and Roanoke! He married Liza (standing next to the fire in Chuck’s hand). He found his way 2 years later to Charlotte, where I was living and went to work with Phil Morris on one of Phil’s touring shows.

I moved to Florida in 1975 and opened up a costume shop which I owned for 34 years. Chuck moved back to Norfolk where Liza sadly died young of an illness leaving him a widower. He never emotionally recovered from it. She really was his one soul mate. In the mid 1980’s he opened up a magic and costume shop and absorbed the old Earl Edwards Magic shop and later expanded to another satellite store in Virginia Beach.  Again, he found a great and organized woman to run the stores. They did not get married.  Eventually in the late 90s most costume business migrated to seasonal super stores and that spelled the end of local year around costume stores as well as brick and mortar magic shops, so Chuck began the slow process of divesting himself of his magic stock from a warehouse in Norfolk for a few years.

Age caught up with him and he began to write his memoirs. His step-father was wealthy, and Chuck inherited an income from rental properties in Washington, in his later years. His step dad (Said Hadad married Betty, Chuck’s Mom ) owned ABC Demolition Company ,was a legend in the demolition business and the prime contractor for government demolition in D.C. and was the company that cleared the rubble from the 1968 King Assassination riots in Washington.

In his time in New York in the early 60s Chuck had helped Chang as well as Bill Neff. I put Bill Rauscher in contact with Chuck while Bill was writing the book on Neff, “Pleasant Nightmares”. I am also mentioned in the book because Neff was from near where my relatives lived in Indiana, Pennsylvania and my uncle, a Teamsters Union worker, in New York knew Bill and Evelyn when they lived in Manhattan and lived in a hotel in the 50s, and very early 60s. My uncle sneaked me into one of Neff’s shows in the late 50s and I had never seen such sights. I was probably a little too young to see women dressed the way Neff’s assistants were. But at that age, the magic was all that I wanted to see.

I will let history and others sort out just who was Neff’s successor. Both Chuck and Roy Huston claimed to be. Certainly, Neff influenced Chuck and you can see Chuck’s version of the Neff (Sherms-built) Upright Noma Blade Box below.  I believe that Roy Huston had hopes that he would become Neff’s successor and did manage to salvage the old Neff truck with the much of the gear from a Manhattan parking lot. But at that point Neff was back in Indiana in poor health existing in a perpetual alcohol stupor. Chuck seemed to be only the loyal stage manager but he did preserve many elements form Neff’s show, which Huston did not: The Haunted House of Drury Lane, a Sherms Broom suspension, the Neff Rope trick and Pigeon Catching and the Duck Routine.

At one point in 1966 to 1968, Chuck drove an emerald green Econoline van, and kept around several matching gallons of green paint.  I painted all his wooden crates, that I made, with that green paint and cut a “Windley” and IATSE stencil and stenciled them in black and white. He would say to stage crews: “The green crates go in the green truck! “Chuck said the color was from Fu Manchu’s show (David Bamberg) and the reason for the logo for IATSE (The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees , Union) was to please the union help! They would see the logo and treat him and his props with extra care. He said that many times the logo prevented problems with locals.

I am getting to the age where I know far more dead people than living. I recently lost Phil Morris and earlier Bob McAllister and so many others. These friends still live in my memories and I hope my stories have kept them alive for you. History is a living thing and if you know more than I do or can correct my memory, please do.








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David Stone Lecture

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

November 2017  Meeting

 President Craig Schwarz called the meeting to order.  Nominations are due for next year’s board members.

The November Ring meeting featured a lecture by David Stone from France. He was very entertaining. His first language was French but he did understand American humor and kept up a barrage of funny lines.

Rather than just “pick a card. I know what it is”, his card effects we especially baffling. He used several clever devices like a gimmicked card box and one with a magnetic  outer card that could stick on the box  and steal away cards as well as one with a magnetic stamp that could clip a card for the “ Card on ceiling .

We saw a slowly and visibly vanishing deck of cards that melted away slowly.

He also had a hidden cloth strap bottle holder that clipped on his belt and he showed a dozen ways to produce a bottle of champagne.

He concluded with a borrowed ladies ring appearing in a tennis ball after a lot of comedy by-play.

All his effects were amazing.

Dennis Phillips, Secretary Ring 170





Dennis Deliberations … Ring # 170

“The Bev Bergeron Ring”

December 2017

 Sexual Harassment accusations are currently rocking all forms of show business. This is not a matter to be taken lightly by a performer.

David Copperfield faced that issue in 2010.  David was interviewed by the FBI and state prosecutors during a two year investigation but no charges were ever brought.

His accuser, former beauty queen Lacey Carroll, was later arrested for making false sexual assault allegations against another man.
Now David Blaine faces the same problem. The outcome has not been revolved yet with criminal changes or exoneration.

I did not see a headline that said,  “Blaine ordered held without bail…in a giant block of ice.” (I made that up)


I recently sold an AGA Levitation that I built and used for many years. It has a nice new home in a theater in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, under the direction of Illusionist Craig Diamond.

Here is the mechanism. It is a “Rising Block” design. I designed the lift without a gooseneck. Trick hoops work great and in my design you can pull the lifting bar back through the curtain and wheel the couch out to the footlights to awaken the girl.



One Ring member asked me, “what does AGA stand for”?

Peter Warlock’s book Walter Jeans: Illusioneer indicates in the footnote on the first page that Winkler sold the Aga levitation to Will Goldston in 1910. Will was manager of the conjuring department of A.W. Gamage, Ltd. It is said that “Aga” was formed from the initials of Gamage’s managing director (Alec) plus the first two letters of Gamage.

However, John A. McKinven’s book Roltair claims that Otto Heinemann appeared with “The Mysterious Aga” about eight years prior to the Gamage version.

I was told that the name “Aga” was from an Arabic word that meant “King”.  But that is wrong, the pronunciation for King is “malik”  ( ملك )

In Arabic speaking Muslim countries, especially under the Ottoman Empire, an “Aga” was a military commander or official, so maybe that was the confusion.

The Aga Levitation has been attributed to several individuals – Albert Winckler (Venturini) and Otto Heinemann both of Germany and Ernst Hartwig Seeman (Prof. Seeman). It is unclear which of these men used it first, but they each incorporated it into their acts. The Aga was a popular levitation in the early 1900s. Eventually, it got competition when Servais Le Roy introduced his levitation (the Asrah).

The person to be levitated lies uncovered on some sort of couch and then starts to float in mid-air. In the improved Aga, a hoop is then passed around the person, twice. The Aga effect uses a “behind the curtain” method and the improved Aga uses a “gooseneck” principle.


Does anyone else hate it when card tricks are too “busy?”
Discovery (find-your-card) tricks are the worst offenders. When done right (see Shin Lim) they’re amazing, but when the trick involves multiple meaningless instructions I lose all interest and patience.
“I’m gonna find your card. Cut the deck into 3 piles. Now take the top 2 cards of the left one and put them on the right one. Okay, now deal the cards of the middle pile onto just the left one- no you can’t just put the pile on top, you have to deal them. Now name a number between 3 and 5. Cut the-”

But in contrast , here is the late Fred Kapps with a perfect card effect!  This is card magic as it should be!



The Egg Bag Routine from Master Payne, at the end of the clip, is fabulous. It is a pure tease with a great finale



Phil Morris (magician, mentor and businessman) passed from Alzheimer’s. Amy and the family wanted me to come up for a celebration of his life.

That happened on November 11th.  I flew up on Frontier Airlines to Charlotte and stayed with Eddy and Sandra Wade. Eddy is the owner of “Magic Methods”. Buy something from him! This is a shameless plug.

A friend of their’ s owned an “event hall” , in Charlotte, called “Extravaganza” and decorated the big room into a circus theme and they invited many of Phil’s friends to perform.  In this photo you can see the Morris extended family.

They had big screens around projecting picture from his life. Show Business friends performed in the center ring. They has a circus band and a row filled with popcorn, cotton candy and hot dog concessions. At the end many were given kazoos and red noses and invited to make a Congo line parade and sing “When the Saints Go Marching In”.  This might sound tacky ( and Phil was tacky in a fun way) but the idea worked well and it was to bring everyone together and party!  At the end we all put on red clown noses and were given kazoos to parade around the room in a line singing, “When the Saints Go Marching in”.
















 I was treated like one -of-the-family.



















Here I am with Don Post Jr. on my right and Ed Edmonds (Hollywood Maskmaker) on my left.

 These  photos were made at Scott Morris’ “Castle” (CEO of the company and Phil’s Son) on Lake Norman, just north of Charlotte

The Morris Castle is a kind of Biltmore Estate . Scott and his family live there.



Phil and I co-authored this book which is still in print













I saw people in Charlotte, who I had not seen in 42 years.  One of my lines was, “ Why does this crowd look more like a Walmart Greeter’s Convention?”  Many old people, I knew very well long ago, I recognized only by their name-tags.

It was a crazy weekend!





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October Ring Meeting: Story of Paul Valadon

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

October 2017  Meeting

 President Craig Schwarz called the meeting to order.  We had two special guests, Harold Twaddle and Lee Earle. Craig have a recap of the recent Genii Convention here in town. Dan Stapleton showed a beautifully restored and rare 3 sheet poster from the 1953 movie, “Houdini” staring Tony Curtis.

Bev Bergeron total a funny store about Lee Earle and Larry Becker going through airport security with Becker’s Russian Roulette pistols and Earle’s plastic comedy pistol.

Phil Schwartz presented Magic History Moment #89. This month is was about Paul Valadon. He was born as, Adolph Waber in Cologne, Germany in 1867 and became a determined student of magic manipulation. After being an assistant for magician Herr Basch, in Germany, he changed his name in the early 1880s to Paul Valadon. His wife Kate, helped him in a “Second Sight “ act. Valadon moved to London and worked for John Nevil Maskelyne and partner George Cooke at the Egyptian Hall for five years from 1899 to 1904. It was here that he learned the secret of Maskelyne’s famous levitation.  American Magician Harry Kellar had tried to buy the levitation but was rejected.  With a renovation of the Egyptian Hall, Valadon was out of work. Kellar signed Valadon as his successor and brought him to the United States along with the plans and blue prints of the  Maskelyne levitation.

A young Dai Vernon saw Valadon on the Keller show doing sleight of hand in 1906. Valadon worked for Kellar for 3 years  and assisted in designing illusions and reproducing the Maskelyne levitation  until a personality clash between the men, as well as their wives ended the partnership. In 1907 Howard Thurston bought the Kellar show and became Kellar’s successor.  On his own, Valadon received many rave reviews. His life was cut short by tuberculosis. He died in Phoenix, Arizona on April 23, 1913.

Many performers in the Ring show emceed by Phil Schwartz : Craig Schwarz had a spectator seeing visions on black playing cards, Greg Solomon had a cute gag with a rubber ear and a dollar bill guillotine. Mark Fitzgerald has a mysterious nut and bolt that wound and unwound itself without anyone near it. James Bailey III produced a ghost and a bloody hand from a paper bag. Joe Vecciarelli showed Lotta vases that he has printed in plastic from a 3-D printer. J.C. Hyatt returned this week for an updated version of his Three Little Piggies. David Freeman honored Bob Swaddling by performing for him Swaddling’s coin penetration with a cocktail glass and card deck. Harold Twaddle had a many funny bits with printed cards, a fast tie rope and silk off rope. Dan Stapleton did  clever book test with regular books. And Bob Swaddling closed out the show with  a blank deck that became printed and then a series of effects he learned from the Royal Road to card Magic.

Dennis Phillips, Secretary Ring 170





Dennis Deliberations … Ring # 170

“The Bev Bergeron Ring”

November 2017

His therapist suggested that he tell his wife about his magic trick addiction by writing her a letter. He said to the therapist, “I just can’t pick up the Penn and Teller”.

 Every once in a while all of us wand wielders sit through a magic show that is so awful, so revolting and so stomach turning that we leave the performance and want to rush home and burn our equipment.  At best, we have to spend all the drive back home with our spouse explaining how the show wasn’t really all that bad.

One of my most memorable stories was when I lived in the Carolinas in the early 70s.  Back then; a person could make a fair living doing school shows, service club shows, Cub Scout meetings and birthday parties. The hills of Western North Carolina were filled with little mill towns and each town had company factory and community spirit.

One such enterprising performer was a bit of a local legend in that area.  For purposes of this story let me call him Luke Porter. That is not his real name but I have every desire to let the dead rest in peace. His wife was Opal.   Luke was a rather rotund character with thinning gray hair on the sides and patches of hair in the middle.   His face was deeply wrinkled and resembled fifty miles of bad road ahead.  He had a pencil thin moustache.  His massive hands looked like they belonged to a plumber. In fact, his whole personage resembled a country plumber and that would be complete with a big potbelly and a belt that allowed it to hang over.   Luke wore a tailcoat outfit that had been homemade by Opal. The store-bought black pants did not match the shade of black on the tailcoat!   The tailcoat had actually been constructed by cutting down a black suit coat and merely tacking on tails made from black cloth. Are you getting the idea that this was not your class act?

Opal was very grandmotherly. Her gown was homemade out of lavender satin and she barely fit into it. It was sleeveless and allowed a generous hanging slab of arm flesh to flop around.  She wore loads of powder that accented her wrinkles and bright red lipstick that was the popular shade in 1954.

Luke had a bit of a speech defect and could not say the sound of “r” very well. He also had a curious shaking in his hands. Seeing his obvious hump back (kyphosis), it seemed to look like Trousseau sign of latent tetany (hypocalcemia).  He moved like an elephant.  To his credit he did have a warm smile and enjoyed what he was doing even though he was clueless as to how he looked and acted to the audience.

Luke and Opal traveled to shows with their son-in-law, Theodore.   “Theo” was very thin country fellow about 40 years old. He had a receding chin and a bit of an overbite. His eyes were droopy and nose long.  He wore a blue velvet sport coat that was two sizes too big and white pants and shoes and a long paisley necktie.  Theodore was a frustrated Pentecostal evangelist. He had all the hand motions and staccato speech pattern with a deep breath between every 3 words. Theo carried props on and off stage and did his own specialty act in the show. Luke paused the show for a special word about each person’s soul and where they would spend eternity. Evangelist Theodore came out with an easel and some flannel pictures and preached a down home sermon.

The team rode and carried their props in a converted step van, better known to most as a bread truck. It had been painted white and Luke had free hand lettered the name of his show on the side.  It said, “Luke and Opal Magic Shows. The best in magic shows. Call 704- xxxx” (The number ran down hill, as did the whole lettering.

Luke made almost every prop in the show.  He must not have known about such things as sandpaper or a square or putting an undercoat on plywood before he painted.  He made an attempt at creating a fabric backdrop by using plumber’s pipe.  The backdrop fabric had huge gashes in it. After the show I asked him about the gashes and he said, “It allows the wind to go through it so it doesn’t blow over when we do outside shows”.  His stage lighting was a pair of outdoor floodlights mounted on a square of plywood that sat on the flood.

The show opened with a very scratchy instrumental playing on a phonograph record. Luke plodded out and tried to do the gloves to spring flowers. He tossed the gloves into the air and they fell to the floor as he was trying to get the spring flower packet to open.  Bautier DeKolta, the inventor of spring flowers, would have had a stroke watching this.

My wife, Cindy, commented on the way home that as low-class as we thought the show was, the audience enjoyed it. It really does not take a lot to please an audience if they can connect with you.


I’ve always thought that magicians who do “sideline” things do so because they’ve failed to make a decent living out of magic for a (largely disinterested) public. For every Copperfield or Paul Daniels, there are a thousand magicians seemingly “working their butts off” to avoid… ah… “working their butts off engaged in regular employment.”     …And so they end up:

Owning and/or running a magic shop.

Publishing a magazine.

Starting a school of magic to suck in the gullible (mostly starry-eyed youth).

Organizing magic conventions.

Morphing into Motivational Speakers.

Writing hack and re-hashed magic books.

Inventing and marketing oddball tricks.

Selling *Success!* literature and books that evangelize how “You too, can make a million dollars out of magic!”

Becoming a jack-of-all-trades: part-time close-up worker, trade show hustler, street magician, hypnotist, stage illusionist, mentalist, M.C., standup comic, juggler, trickster-clown-doing-balloon-animals, and anything else in “show biz” that helps them avoid the horrors of a mundane day job.

Or any combination of the above, either serially, or all-at-once. —While ending up going through three wives, Alcoholics Anonymous, several bankruptcies, accusations of pedophilia or chronic spousal abuse, psychotic visions of greatness, clinical depression and/or manic psychological break-down, and all topped-off with the bitter lifetime conviction that “I COULD have been rich and famous if only this lousy rotten world had GIVEN ME A BREAK!”


In the year 2525: (No apology to Zager and Evans for stealing the title to their 1969 popular song)

Two guys (1 and 2) questioning the “magic” on the stage

1) Why is he manipulating all of those decorated pieces of cardboard?

2) They’re called playing cards.

1) Playing… what?

2) Playing cards. People played games with them. They gambled with them, and that, more often than not, destroyed lives. But you’re watching ‘fantasy magic’ from a bygone era. We haven’t had factory-made, three-ply, air-cushion-finish Bicycles, Aviators, or Bee decks since 2040….

1) What? Played games and gambled with Bicycles, Aviators and Bees? — What the HECK are you talking about…?

2) *Sigh* You just don’t know your magic history, do you?


1) That’s a fun act, but where did he get all those shiny disks of metal? And that odd-looking bucket?

2) Ah, you’re beyond hope. That dude’s doing The Miser’s Dream, a classic of ancient magic where you pluck money out of the air and toss it into champagne —

1) What? There hasn’t been physical “money” since the first Mars colony was established. I read in a history book when they used to use that stuff.

2) Have it your way. The guy is presenting a classic illusion of desire: The ability of a magician to pluck large sums of physical cash out of thin air…

1) Yeah, right. When I want large sums of ‘cash’ as you call it, all I have to do is plug into the Cloud and Google it. It’s only digitized information, after all–

3) Hey buddy, shut up! I’m trying to watch the show!


1) Now there’s an act you don’t see very often. Talk about doing things the hard way!

2) He’s called an illusionist. The Zig Zag and the Substitution Trunk haven’t been seen for a very long time. Ten thousand hack magicians overworked them and killed those effects for at least a hundred and fifty years —

1) And now they’re a novelty again, right? But the “novelty” is not what he’s doing, but how he’s doing it!

2) It’s a mechanical kind of magic. Not seen since the Alien Invasion of 2180. The unique thing about it, is that there are no electronics, no photonics, no time warps or three-dimensional holograms —

1) Hah! And as the dealers used to say in ancient history, “no threads, no magnets, no trap doors, no mirrors, and your fingers don’t leave your hands at any time during the performance!” (laughs).

2) Yeah, we all know the illusions of the past were made obsolete by holography, teleportation, quantum invisibility, and I.M.J. [Internet Mind Jack) so this guy is just giving us a magic tour down memory lane. Just play along with it and pretend you don’t know what the heck is going on!

1) Okay. But right about now, I’d rather be out camping on the moons of Saturn with my kids.

2) What? You had kids!? Do the P.C.P. know this? [Population Control Police]

3) That does it!! In about two nanoseconds I’m going to Telethink the theater’s Android ushers and have you thrown out of here!


I remember the time when it took hours of physical practice to do magic instead of the latest download of prepackaged software.

Learning to play an instrument, faro a deck, juggle balls, dance — you name it — involves an initial resistance of a very stubborn brain (what is it – some kind of evolutionary defense mechanism NOT to master new skills??), but then persistent repetition coupled with dogged determination, and the brain eventually “breaks down” and readily absorbs the new skill, which can then be a relatively easy task — for a lifetime.

I read this once: Some famous classical pianist (forget who) had just done a long and complex recital. A voice in the audience was heard: “Man I’d spend my entire life just to be able to play like piano like that!” To which the pianist responded, “I already have.”

One more: A pianist was heard to say, “If I don’t practice for a day, I know it! If I don’t practice for two days, my agent knows it. And if I don’t practice for three days, my audience knows it.”

Two magicians are watching a fantastic sleight of hand artist. The magician is effortless ripping through the most complex pieces of Vernon, Marlo, Elmsley and so on. … After about forty minutes of this, one magician leans over to the other and whispers, “Man, it’s hot in here. That guy is great! I’m sweating like a pig. Can’t you feel the heat?”

“No,” says the second magician calmly, “I just do birthday parties.

Most of you know that I am a professional educator and I spent 22 years as a college professor. The education business has expended an enormous amount of effort in trying to determine how people learn. Much of the progress was made in understanding the process of learning during World War Two when we had to take untrained farm boys and quickly teach them war technology. Out of that effort Benjamin Bloom developed a taxonomy to understand the education process.

If you look at the Psychomotor Domain, I hope it will give you encouragement if you ever try to learn a physical skill such as sleight of hand! It will show that it takes times and goes in stages.

“Common Sense”. Seventy years ago the humorist Will Rogers said the problem with common sense is that “it ain’t so common.” Well, it is much less common today than it was back then.

I will keep you posted from the future.


I am well known for my selective appreciation of card magic.  In my aggravated moments, you will hear me say, “I hate card tricks!”.   Much card magic is just boring to me, but some is amazingly entertaining.

especially if it has a premise and is more than the “pick a card- I know what it is and you are a moron”  variety ( I am quoting some professional, I forgot. I think it was Penn Gillette).


Here is  a master at work in a TED Talk. Lennart Green!


Green’s psychology is brilliant. He fumbles around with playing cards that keep collapsing in disorganized heaps on the table making him look like a ten-thumbed buffoon. And yet! While apparently “struggling” with such clumsiness, he is inexplicably able to pull off effortless feats of masterful card control that make all but the most hardened card mechanics *gasp*.


For those among us in the magical arts with the mature cerebral capacity [what — five percent?]  to appreciate the depth to which Green has gone to paint such a jarringly sharp contrast between total ineptitude and a god-like control of the pasteboards, this man is a delight to watch.  However much it may seem “du rigour” for me to venture the opinion, carte blanche, that “I hate card tricks” (and which was often echo’d by one, Penn Jillette), it behooves the more astute of you to realize, that however rare the “REAL” playing card entertainers are (and the operative word here is “entertainers”), virtually all of conjuring falls in line with the iconic quotation of science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon when he wrote, “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”


In Wikipedia we find the following revelation:


A similar adage appears in Rudyard Kipling’s The Light that Failed,  published in 1890: “Four-fifths of everybody’s work must be bad. But the remnant is worth the trouble for its own sake.”


I am going to risk being brought before the Religious Inquisition…  Please do not burn me at the stake.

But for all magicians who are not humor challenged and want a good laugh, please enjoy this

comedy sketch by Rowan Atkinson  reading , in the style of a Bishop in The Church of England, the story of Jesus turning Water-into-Wine.

I had a well-known evangelist once tell me  that if God did not have a sense of humor ,he would quit preaching.





When an Obstetrician is a magic hobbyist?









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