Jim Steinmeyer
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Fall 2003

Hiding the ElephantThanks for the interest and response to Hiding the Elephant, my recent book published by Carroll and Graf in New York. Currently, you can find it in bookstores or available on line through Barnes and Noble or Amazon. As I was writing the book, it was a pleasure to weave together the stories of so many important magicians, explaining their parts in the evolution of these secrets and the illusions that were used on stage. It's quite a cast of characters—including the amazing David Devant, the imposing John Nevil Maskelyne and the mysterious Guy Jarrett. But I also included a cast of contemporary magicians that I've had the pleasure of working with over the years. Although these people make "guest appearances," I thought you might enjoy reading about them as well.

Jay MarshallJay Marshall, who owns and operates Magic Inc. in Chicago, is now the "grand old man" of American magic. He'll hate that title. But it really applies, as he is the revered dean of the Society of American Magicians. Jay is well known to magicians around the world. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of its past masters and wonders; he has a legendary, quirky sense of humor and loves a good story. He's also one of the great performers, for many years a favorite master of ceremonies. He made numerous appearances on the Ed Sullivan show, often with his beloved, gloved alter ego, "Lefty," who, for over fifty years, has convulsed audiences by singing "If I Had My Way." Jay gave us all a great magic shop and numerous important books. In turn, the Chicago magicians were proud to claim him as our own. (Actually, Jay had lived in New York and performed in several Broadway shows before moving to the city in the 1950s to marry Frances Ireland.) Magic Inc. is still Chicago's great magic shop, and many days you'll still find Jay behind the counter or sorting through a stack of books in the back room. Magic Inc. is located at 5082 North Lincoln Avenue (just two blocks south of Foster) on Chicago's north side.

Vic TorsbergVic Torsberg died at the end of 1979, but he was a longtime demonstrator at Magic Inc. Before that he was the shop manager at National Magic, Jim Sherman's magic shop at the Palmer House in Chicago's loop. In addition to performing his own act, he had also worked as an assistant to Harry Thurston, Howard Thurston's untalented brother, who attempted for several years to take out his own illusion show. The community of Chicago magicians had always been a colorful group, and Vic had known them all. For example, when I was trying to find information on an extremely mysterious Viennese magician named Joseffy (shortly after the turn of the century, he stopped performing and became an electrical engineer in Chicago), I asked Vic what he knew about Joseffy's legendary parasol trick. "It was this big," he said, holding out his hands. "I was the stage manager on the show where he performed it, and it was my job to go out on stage and fold it up." I saw Vic host many evenings at the local magic clubs. One of his greatest tricks, believe it or not, was pulling his thumb off. You just had to see him do it.

For several years, Tim Felix worked behind the counter at Magic Inc., and for one summer Tim and I worked in the back workshop, making wooden tricks that could be sold in the store. Tim's always had good insights about magic and good taste about how it should be presented and sold. Not surprisingly, he decided to open his own magic shop, called Midwest Magic in Franklin Park (near Chicago's O'Hare Airport). It's a beautiful, modern shop which generally makes magicians gasp—Tim prides himself on keeping things in stock and being able to offer his customers the latest effects, books and tapes. The great magic shops are, sadly, becoming a thing of the past. But if you really want the "magic shop" experience, try to visit Midwest Magic. It's at 3148 Calwagner Street, Franklin Park, Illinois, 60131.

Bob Higa, who used to beat me in local magic contests, went on to become a professional performer. He's been featured in the "Folies Bergere" in Las Vegas, on television specials and in Atlantic City, but over the years Bob gradually specialized in corporate presentations and motivational speaking. He's a sophisticated, skillful performer, who has been in demand by many of the leading corporations around the country, producing special shows suited to their needs. One of his best-known tricks involved nothing more than a sheet of tissue paper and a dish of water. He's used this as the climax to his show for many years. Higa's dusted off the old traditions and brought a new approach to his magic.

Alan WakelingAfter many years as a performer, inventor and consultant, Alan Wakeling retired in 1986. Many of his creations had been made for Mark Wilson's shows, featured on television specials or in theme park shows around the country. Several years after he retired, I worked with him on a book of his creations, including his Fan Act, which he performed with his wife Helen in the early 1950s. Here's a photo from Alan and Helen's Fan Act—this was, incidentally, one of my late friend T.A. Waters' favorite magic photos. Unfortunately, in recent years, Alan's health has limited his activities, but I've continued to work with him on a number of new ideas, including several illusions that he's suggested to me or improved. Some of his most recent inspirations were a little wooden box filled with "loaded dice," and a locked chest that could be used to predict the newspaper headlines a week in advance. Alan's latest idea, a new sort of "guillotine," is absolutely amazing and typically creative. I hope soon to help Alan release it to magicians.

Guy JarrettI never met Guy Jarrett. He died in 1972 in Los Angeles, generally forgotten by magicians and long removed from his career as a magic inventor and builder. Through the process of revising his famous book on magic and studying his effects, I've come to feel as if I know him. In 1956, while passing through Chicago on a road trip, he stopped in to see Jay Marshall, who was living in Oak Park. Jay taped an interview with Jarrett. Here you can download a portion of that interview. It's about three minutes long in which Jarrett discusses working as the barker in front of his sideshow of illusions, how his customers thought it was "worth a dollar" just to hear him lie, giving the spiel for the "smart guys," and drinking milk, not whiskey, for his voice. At the end of this segment, Jay asks him when and where he was born...

Guy Jarrett Audio
(QuickTime 6.0 or Higher Required)

Where to learn more: You've already found your way to my website, but let me direct you to a few sources that might be of interest regarding the history of magic and the personalities that are responsible for this fascinating art.

The Story of Magic: Rick Davis and I wrote and produced a four-hour documentary history of magic for the A&E Network. The show was hosted by Ricky Jay and featured interviews with Jay Marshall, Mike Caveney, John Gaughan, John McKinven, Edwin Dawes, and Siegfried and Roy. Sections of the documentary discuss the careers of Houdini, Robert-Houdin, Maskelyne, David Devant, Harry Kellar and Howard Thurston. It includes the only known voice recording of Houdini and rare footage of the Thurston show. A&E offers the tapes for $39.95. If you're interested, you can connect to their site to order it here.

Mike Caveney's Magic Words: My good friend Mike Caveney has written and published some of the most important recent books on magic history. Many of these books were inspirations to me and used in my research. I'd particularly point out his biography of Charles Carter, Carter the Great, which served as inspiration to Glen Gold's Carter Beats the Devil, the Anne Davenport and John Salisse book on St. George's Hall and a recent biography of Harry Kellar. You can find the website with Mike's historical books at: mcmagicwords.com

The American Museum of Magic in Marshall, Michigan. The finest public repository of magical lore, posters, costumes and apparatus is this amazing museum in Michigan. My friends Robert and Elaine Lund lovingly assembled the collection and installed it in this historic building. It is still operated today by Elaine Lund. If you're interested in seeing it (it houses, among many other fascinating artifacts, Houdini's Milk Can escape and one of his packing box escapes), please call ahead, as hours for tours must be arranged. Call 269 781 7666.

When Robert Lund used to give his tours through the museum, he always reminded his guests that it was good to read books about magic and it was informative to tour museums about the subject. But if you're really interested in magic, you need to see a good magic show and support the magicians that are working in the art. There are a lot of good magicians working today, performing innovative and skillful programs that offer "state of the art" thinking as well as utilizing the old traditions of the craft. I'd particularly point out several shows that run regularly in Las Vegas. I'm sure you've heard of the famous Siegfried and Roy show at the Mirage—but here are four shows that you might not have considered that I also know you'll enjoy: Lance Burton at the Monte Carlo, Mac King at Harrah's, Rick Thomas at the Tropicana and Penn and Teller at the Rio. Each show is remarkably different from the others. Each one represents a magician (or magicians) at the top of their game in their particular areas of expertise.

Thanks for your interest.
Jim Steinmeyer

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