Jim Steinmeyer
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Summer 2011

Alex Ramon Presents Heartless

Alex RamonOver the years, I've been involved with literally hundreds of effects for magicians. The latest idea took about six months for drawings, and then another six months, in and out of William Kennedy's shop, as it was mocked up in wood and metal. At the end of May, we finished the prop; it's called Heartless. We polished it up, pushed it into the crate, and turned it over to Alex Ramon, the talented young illusionist who I worked with in Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus.

Heartless is a liberal interpretation of a classic magic plot. Trapped inside of a small, form-fitting cabinet, the magician's assistant seems to lose the middle part of her body when a round tube intersects the cabinet. The performer also uses two spikes in this "heartless" procedure, but of course the assistant survives it all. I really thought it could be a good trick. But once it got into Alex's hands, he diligently experimented with the handling and worked out a beautiful, crisp routine. With a performer like that, it becomes a great trick. I was really pleased by what he's accomplished, and he featured it in shows across the San Francisco bay area in July of this year.

Incidentally, Alex's shows in the Bay area were a great success. My wife and I caught up with his last show at the end of the month, and it was a pleasure for us to sit in an audience, adults, kids and families all bubbling with excitement, charmed by the performer and excited about watching real magic.

Houdini, Margery and "The Card Trick"

At the end of May, we presented "The Card Trick" at the Magic Castle for several performances, and then for a special benefit lunch for the Skirball Museum. I wrote the one-act play, a speculative conversation between Houdini and Margery about their contentious face-off in 1923 over the subject of Spiritualism. Jim Bentley played Houdini. Jeanine Anderson played Margery. The cast was pitch-perfect. Jim's Houdini was filled with bluster (and a certain insecurity just beneath the surface), and Jeanine's Margery grandly self-confident (with a touch of desperation). During the course of the conversation, they each demonstrate their points by performing card tricks. Houdini performs a near-miracle, a card that vanishes and reappears across the room. Margery stuns him with a nearly-psychic revelation.

The photos show Houdini's trick, just before the card seems to dissolve away. And that's Margery, ignoring his magic and about to make her point to Houdini. The script was reproduced in the August 2011 issue of Genii.

Jim Bentley as Houdini Jeanine Anderson at Margery

A number of magicians who saw the show asked me about Houdini's trick. No, Houdini didn't actually perform it. It was created specifically for this show; that was part of the dramatic license. But it was based on a trick from 1862, so the principles used not only existed in Houdini's time, but were understood and utilized in different forms during his lifetime. That's a nice way of saying, "He could have done it."

Coast to Coast

My fourth appearance on Coast to Coast, the national radio program hosted by George Noory, was on June 17, 2011.

Twenty-Five Years of Origami

In 1986, the wonderful Doug Henning, my former boss, introduced the Origami illusion, which means that it's been twenty-five years since that debut.

Of course, at that time, I had no understanding how popular or how imitated this illusion would become. For the record, there are no "plans" for the illusion; I've always licensed it through specific associates and the illusion is protected by US patent. This hasn't prevented some magicians from building, selling and performing embarrassing and inferior versions of it. And it hasn't stopped magicians from performing it when they never really understood it. But I try to remind myself that imitation, even poor imitation, is the sincerest form of flattery.

The origin of the illusion is a long, complicated story. And some day maybe I'll write about it… The reason it was created, Doug's influence, John Gaughan's craftsmanship, the title, the patter, the presentation, the ivory skewers, the color, the day the magicians got to see it, and the day that I got to meet Lillian Openheimer!

It was David Copperfield who later added the presentation touches that became highly-imitated by other magicians. Doug's original routine was very different. So I'd like to mark the anniversary by publishing Doug's patter (with a storyboard of images from a television appearance). Magicians today (who think that the illusion starts when you push out a table with a mirror attached to it!) might be surprised at the presentation and why it all made sense, once upon a time.

Doug Henning Presents Origami, 1986

Doug Henning Presents Origami"The next impossibility I'd like to show you is a very original illusion, and it's called the magical Origami Box. Here it is right here. This is a small box, about 12 inches square, and it sits on a very thin table."
(Showing prop, turning it. Box has gold Japanese prints on the sides.)

"I'm going to describe this closely so you can pay attention. There are two ivory skewers, running through the sides, the front and back. That's what holds the box together. And there's a wooden pole that goes right through the box and comes through a hole in the bottom of the table."
(Ivory skewers and wooden pole removed and held.)

"Now, to add to your viewing enjoyment, we're going to put this mirror behind the box, so you can see the box from the back and from the side angles throughout. This is kind of a new idea in magic. People always wonder what magic looks like from the back, and now you're going to get a chance to see it."
(Mirror placed on the back of the table, skewers and wooden pole placed on table against mirror.)

"The reason we call this the Origami Box is because this box unfolds, like an Origami work of art."
(Doug begins to unfold it into a large orange and black box.)

"Origami is the Japanese art of paperfolding, and this small, 12-inch square box, unfolds to make a much larger box. Actually, it's about four times larger. Origami is still a very popular Japanese art form, with the paperfolders making airplanes, birds, and all kinds of shapes."
(Box is now completely opened.)

"Now the reason we call this a magical Origami box is that this box holds just as much when it's folded down small as it does when it's opened up large. I'll show you what I mean."
(Debby enters in a turquoise costume.)

"Debby is actually going to get inside of the magical Origami box. There she goes. Now, you'll notice that she barely fits inside of the box when it's opened up to its large size. But here's the magic. Even though she barely fits in the large box, we're going to attempt to do this…. Fold up the box."
(He begins re-folding it smaller again.)

"As I do this, there's a little poem that goes with the box.
A little box, proved otherwise.
The world at large, made small in size!"
(He's finished folding box. Applause. He picks up skewers and pole, stepping forward.)

"Oh, yes. The skewers, right through the box. The first one goes right through the front. You can see it coming through the back, in the mirror. And now this skewer right through the sides. I can hear Debby. She says it's cold. The wooden pole right through the center. The magical Origami Box!"
(Applause, he holds the tablel and turns it completely, showing all sides and the back of the mirror for the first time.)

"Isn't that crazy? Debby, now when we go on the plane, I can take you as carry on baggage. We'll take turns. Now the Japanese believe that what can be folded up, can also be unfolded."
(He pulls the skewers and pole out.)

"So let's see what surprise we have in here, as I unfold the box. This is my favorite part. As I do this, the little poem that comes with the box continues.
And as they gazed, the wonder grew.
The more they saw, the less they knew.
Each fold and crease had not explained;
All wonders of the world contained!"
(Debby stands, now in a pink costume and mask. Applause. He helps her out of the box and they bow.)

Jim Steinmeyer

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