MAGIC SEWING

As a magician one often has to learn various skills besides performing; such as woodworking, soldering and sometimes sewing. While I’m handy with the above for small projects, up until today, I had no idea how to fix a sewing machine. While sewing a prop today the machine kept jamming and wouldn’t catch the bobbin.

It turns out the hook timing needed adjusting and I had no idea how to do that. But by watching some YouTube videos and taking the whole thing apart, after a couple of hours I finally got it fixed. (This includes breaking another part inside and fixing that also). I’m quite proud to have learned yet another skill and put it into practice. Now I can get back to sewing the prop I had started 3 hours ago!

My Stars of Magic

I’ve always been sentimental to a fault.

After a great show tonight at Coney Island, I came home to find that a copy of my all time favorite magic book had arrived. I have been looking for this particular copy for so many years that I lost track. Just seeing it floods me with happy memories growing up and first learning sleight of hand.

During my journey, I’ve been fortunate to have have met three of these Stars of Magic. I met John Scarne at Flosso’s shop where, despite being close to 80 years old, floored with my own deck of cards. I shared the bill numerous times with Tony Slydini at Mostly Magic and later took private lessons with him. And twice performed for Dai Vernon; once at his roast at the NY Magic Symposium and once at the Magic Castle. This was where he sat in the front row and watched me perform my pet routine with the Cone & Ball.

In those days Castle members were asked to rate the performers on little cards which were later given back to the management to keep on file. After my performance, Vernon made a point of calling me over to show me what he had given me. I was stunned to see that he had given me a 9 out of 10 rating! Coming from one of the greatest magicians of our time, this was just incredible to me. Growing up reading the Stars of Magic, I never could have fathomed meeting any of them, let alone being highly praised for my work. Magic has certainly been a blessing my whole life.

New Photo from the Show

A wonderful photo of my Dad and myself by Norman Blake from my new show:
“A Hanky and a T-T-T-Top Hat” – An autobiographical solo play that tells of a little boy who stutters, explores his relationship with his father, and dreams of becoming a professional magician. While this is not your traditional magic show, I do feature magic performances to help illustrate my story.​​

For more info: Click Here

Only two more performances this month at Coney Island on Friday, Jan 19 & 27 at 8 pm.

Here is the link for tickets and directions:  Click Here

Hope to see you there!

 

Video for my new solo show

I’ve just finished editing a short promo video for my new show,

“A Hanky and a T-T-T-Top Hat”

We are opening tomorrow and every Friday in January 2018 at Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY.

Here is the link for tickets and directions:  Click Here

It’s going to be a lot of fun!  Hope to see you there!

 

A Magical Christmas Story

Ever since I was about seven years old and had fallen in love with magic, I told “Santa” that I no longer wanted any toys or games; just magic tricks (of which I always made out a long list). And every Christmas, the living room would be filled to overflowing with so many tricks that, even as a child I would think, “This is almost too much!” This would go on until I was 16 years old. That was when I wanted a particular magic book for Christmas.

Now, in those days magic books were not nearly as expensive as they are today. A expensive magic book back then might cost $10.00. But one day I saw an ad in a magic magazine for a new book on one of my favorite magicians, Okito Bamberg. It was to be a very limited, numbered edition. I immediately knew that I had to get it! That is, until I looked at the price. The price was to be the unheard of amount of $60.00!!

But I wanted it so much that, that year for Christmas, I told my parents that I didn’t want any other presents. I just wanted that book. They asked if I was really sure, and I said, yes I definitely was! So that Christmas, for the first time, the living room was not filled to overflowing, but with just a single present under the tree. Ever since then whenever I look at the book on my shelf, it reminds of that very special Christmas back in 1973.

Johnny (Jonah) Angel

Here’s a song I’m re-sharing that has meaning for me on several levels. First, I remember growing up and watching this on the Donna Reed Show. But more importantly it makes me think of my late friend, Jonah Emsig. We used to work together for the Big Apple Circus clowning for kids in hospitals. Now, I DON’T SING AT ALL. But Jonah would insist that we sing this song to the kids making them and the staff crack up. It was a lot of fun. We sang it so much that Jonah even gave me the CD of it one year for my birthday. This month it will be 11 years since loosing Jonah much too young to cancer. However, I know how much he would have loved my sharing “our song.”

Another great thing to watch in this video is Donna Reed’s wonderful acting – being able to show such a range of emotions such as surprise, confusion, and being proud of her on-screen daughter without saying a word.

Now, for the ironic part. Even though I can’t sing, and despite my protestations to Jonah, I sang this song to kids in hospitals. The producer of the Donna Reed show was very much insistent on Shelly Fabares singing this newly written song on the show. Ironically, in an interview Shelley Fabares later confessed that she also COULDN’T SING AT ALL! She said she was not being modest but really couldn’t sing a note. She told the producer and said that she really didn’t want to record the song. The producer calmly asked her if she liked acting on the show? (Yes) And did she want to come back the next season? (Yes) Ahem. Shelley got the message. She recorded the song as best she could and after they “fixed it in the studio” it became a mega hit.

The 20th Century Silks

One of my favorite magic tricks is called the “20th Century Silks.” This is where two handkerchiefs are tied together and placed in a glass. A third handkerchief is then made to disappear and is later found tied between the two knotted ones.

I can still vividly remember seeing it for the first time when I was eight years old during a performance by our local magician, Larry Shean, at my cub scout pack’s Blue & Gold dinner. Even realizing now what was not a particularly remarkable handling, it still impressed me more than anything else he did.

Soon afterwards I began learning magic myself and as soon as I was able, I added the “20th Century Silks” to my little act. Unfortunately the first time I tried it was in my Fifth Grade class and I muffed it up. But I kept at it and it became a staple of my act for many years. Eventually I improved my handling by adding a startling and visible vanish of the handkerchief from a glass. Eventually I found out that 50 years earlier the great magician, Nate Leipzig, had also performed it the exact same way.

Over the years magicians have made light of my doing what they thought was an old and hackneyed trick; that it was not “edgy” enough for today’s audiences. But my experience has been just the opposite. I recently re-introduced the trick back into my act after many years and it is going over better than ever.

Just tonight I was reading a review of Leipzig’s act by the magician, Ellis Stanyon from 1906. Stanyon subtly dismissed the trick saying that the techniques Leipzig employed were commonplace (even back in 1906) and readily available in books of the time. But the last line of his review indicated that Stanyon himself was surprised at how well the trick went over. He wrote, “This trick, which was well and smartly worked, secured for the performer unusual applause.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Here is a photo of the master, Nate Leipzig, around the time he would be performing it.

Shanghai-ed by Silhouette

In April of 1997, I was scheduled to be one of 37 magicians from around the world to compete in the Shanghai International Magic Festival and Competition held in Shanghai, China.

​The organizers had originally planned that I arrive the day before the competition which was not satisfactory to me. Between getting over jet-lag, finding my way around, getting used to the food and wanting to rehearse new material, I was going to need more time if I wanted to give a finished performance.  We agreed that I would arrive eight days before the competition was scheduled to take place.

Needless to say, that also gave me plenty of time to relax and do some sightseeing before I had to crack down and get to work.  The first fellow competitor I met was a woman from New Zealand, Tania Nordick.  Except for the organizers, we each didn’t know anyone else in the hotel so we thought it might be fun to do some sightseeing together. 


Tania with the “Artist in Paper”
Shanghai harbor

Upon receiving some advice from the hotel front desk as to the best places for shopping, we went out in search of a taxi.  We found one without much difficulty and gave the driver a card, written in Chinese saying where we wanted to go, and were off.  Coming from New York City, I was used to some hair-raising taxi rides, but Shanghai drivers put them to shame.  Both of us would have felt a bit safer if there were seat belts available, but no such luck.  We soon found out taxis were cheap (like most everything else in Shanghai) and a 45 minute ride for the two of us came out to the equivalent of $4.30!  In New York City, that would get you about an 8 minute ride.

When we got out of the taxi, we soon realized that the ride had been relatively safe compared to trying to cross the street!  Dodging bicycles, cars, pushcarts and pedestrians, was no easy matter even though the streets were quite narrow.  We entered the recommended department store, “The Friendship Store,” and found out that it is one of the biggest tourist centers, very expensive and run by the government.  We agreed to split up and would meet each other out front in an hour.

Browsing through this Chinese department store with all of it’s wonderful and colorful pottery, silk scarves, beautiful fans, etc. made me almost wish I was still doing my oriental act from 10 years ago.  What a perfect place for props!  It reminded me of  how so many famous magicians of the past, Malini, Okito, Fu-Manchu and others, built up their shows with exotic props such as these while stopping through the Orient.  In fact, my teacher, Bobby Baxter recalls how when he was in Hong Kong during the 1960’s, he passed a tailor’s shop who still had a picture of Malini in his window.

Well, I ended up buying a little musical instrument that I needed for my act and later met Tania as planned.  (That evening while in the hotel elevator, I listened to another American tourist lamenting to his friend how he had bought an expensive statue at “The Friendship Store” last year on his first visit, and later found the same piece back in America at K-Mart for a fraction of the price.)

Meanwhile, back in downtown Shanghai, we headed over to the river and promenade where one can watch the many small boats and ships as they pass by. As we approached the promenade, peddlers immediately began beseeching us to buy this or that, such as postcards and cheap flutes.  This is where being a NewYorker helped and we quickly brushed by them.  While leaning over the rail of the promenade and wondering to each other what the various buildings and towers were, a Chinese man came over with a big smile and asked us in fairly good English, “How-are-you-doing?”  We smiled and replied that we were fine and asked him, “How are you doing?”  He laughed and replied that he was, “How-are-you-doing!”  We chuckled at that and he engaged us in conversation and found out that he referred to himself as an “Artist in Paper.”  He told us about the various sights and explained that the large, futuristic tower across the river was the TV station and that this was representative of the “New Modern Shanghai.”

He was quite helpful and volunteered much “tourist” type of information as to where to go for cheap shopping, the location of the nearest ATM, etc.  Having my camera along, I figured this would be worth a picture or two, so I snapped one of Tania and our friend.  A few more pictures in various combinations of us and him were taken and the conversation drifted down a bit.

I was talking to Tania when out the corner of my eye, I noticed our friend had stepped back from us and was taking some paper and scissors out of his pocket.  Having been a fan of Dai Vernon (The Professor) since my childhood, I immediately realized that he was cutting my silhouette.  In his younger days, Vernon had made quite a good living doing the same on the boardwalk of Atlantic City.  The first thing I thought was, “Oh, how nice,” and then realized that our “friend” was going to be expecting some monetary compensation for his trouble even though he had started without asking us.

He cut both of our portraits and by the time he was finishing Tania’s, we had a nice little crowd around us.  I took out my wallet and in my best New York accent inquired, “OK, how much?”  When he saw a US $20.00 bill he immediately said he “would accept 20 dollars.”  I calmly explained to him that that was not going to happen and as we bargained over the price,  the crowd began closing in on us.  Being new with Yuan (Chinese money) and not wishing the ever curious crowd to see how much I had, I hurriedly gave him the equivalent of $12.00 for both the silhouettes and quickly left.  After a moment alone and figuring out how much I had given him, my sunny mood diminished somewhat.

Tania felt stronger about it than I did.  She gave me her half of the money and was a bit put out by it all.  I chalked it up to experience and that a trip to Shanghai was not complete without being “Shanghai-ed.”  So hey, for my 6 bucks I got my silhouette cut, received some shopping advice and found out where the ATM was; not the worst that could happen (I told myself).

Later, when I looked at the silhouette, I noticed that he had sported me with a crew cut and necktie, both of which I did not have, which I thought was funny.  As I laughed and put it away, I couldn’t help but think that The Professor was looking down on us, having been “Shanghai-ed,” and having a bit of a chuckle himself.