The Man Who Fooled Houdini
May 22, 2009 7:43 PM   Subscribe

Dai Vernon chased down card cheats and swindlers to make him a better magician. It paid off. One of the best magicians of the twentieth century, Dai first made his name in 1919 when he became The Man Who Fooled Houdini. Watch his version of the classic routines the cups and balls and the linking rings. Vernon also mentored many magicians throughout his life, including Ricky Jay. Vernon died at the age of 98 after years as the Magician in Residence at Hollywood's Magic Castle.
posted by Bookhouse (25 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Oh my, such memories.

When younger I was a magic fanatic. An avid fan of Genii magazine; a weekend hanger-on at Tannen's Magic Shop in Times Square. I once wrote to Dai Vernon and was blown-away when he responded with a personal letter. It's in a scrapbook somewhere.

I got to visit the Magic Castle a number of years ago, as a guest of filmmaker, commercial producer Joe Pytka. Joe -- thanks for the evening.
posted by ericb at 7:57 PM on May 22, 2009

The Magic Castle is one of my favorite places anywhere.

posted by MythMaker at 8:40 PM on May 22, 2009

Recently, I spent part of a perfectly fine afternoon in amazement at the closeup slight of hand of Slydini. The rest of the day was lost in a maze of Wiki links and that kept coming back to The Magic Castle.
posted by now i'm piste at 8:47 PM on May 22, 2009

Thank for this. I saw Ricky Jay's show in LA last year and it was absolutely awesome.
posted by anazgnos at 9:09 PM on May 22, 2009

posted by sappidus at 9:17 PM on May 22, 2009

(yes, I felt strongly enough for a very post-mortem full stop)
posted by sappidus at 9:18 PM on May 22, 2009

I can do a few teeny slight of hand tricks, and watching folks like Mr. Vernon still amazes me. I even know how it's done, and I don't know how he's doing it like that. Also, I didn't know there was online footage of him, so that's a fabu find, thanks!

There's a few professional magicians on Mefi, one of whom has been nice enough to give me tips to keep my 6 year old astounded and convinced Mommy is Magic. Maybe one of them will pop in and explain how he got billiard balls under those cups.
posted by dejah420 at 9:22 PM on May 22, 2009

Awww dejah, that would be... telling!
posted by The Deej at 10:57 PM on May 22, 2009

Booooring. Call me when this guy bakes himself into a loaf of bread then appears in a giant sandwich.
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:23 PM on May 22, 2009

I've never really been interested in magic, but I'm interested in gambling and con-men, and I've read a couple of books in which Vernon makes an appearance, turning up in some God forsaken hole, trying to figure our whether it's really possible to deal cards from the centre of the deck.

That led me on to reading Ricky Jay, which led me on to Jim Steynmeyer, and all of a sudden, I'm in my fifties and find that I *am* becoming interested in magic after all.

Nice post, bookhouse.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:41 PM on May 22, 2009

OK, so I am becoming interested in sleight of hand for various reasons.

Where would a noob start? Say I just want to make things appear from behind your ear convincingly...
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:04 AM on May 23, 2009

I_am_joe's_spleen: There are many different types of magic. The coin behind the ear is coin magic. Probably one of the best ways to start in that area is to get J.B. Bobo's Modern Coin Magic. It's a classic and it covers the physical techniques you will need to learn before being able to go on to more advanced texts.

If you are interested in card magic, then the Card College series are probably a good bet. Start with volume #1 and work your way through.

Personally my first book on magic was "The Dai Vernon book of Magic", which contains a variety of routines (coins, cards, linking rings, cigar vanish, cups and balls, etc).

Dai Vernon was a very special man and is a legend in the magic world. I currently am going through some notebooks of a student of his, Bruce Cervon. The man had real depth and breadth of knowledge of magic.
posted by splice at 3:43 AM on May 23, 2009

splice: ta.

The thing that always gets me about discussion of magic is that there is clearly a deep underlying theory, a la (for example) harmony and counterpoint on top of acoustics in music, but no one ever talks about it. It's always the minutiae of performance, or an impressionistic review. I find this very frustrating.

(also I am going through the cup and ball trick frame by frame. *boggle*)
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:06 AM on May 23, 2009

Maybe no one talks to you about it, but that doesn't mean at all that no one does.

For starters, you could track down Darwin Ortiz's "Strong Magic" and "Designing Miracles". Then there's Ken Weber's "Maximum Entertainment". There are a number of solid books on magic theory. You just don't really hear about them unless you're actually in the field.
posted by splice at 4:14 AM on May 23, 2009

The Amateur Magician's Handbook has a wealth of information for someone just starting out. Classic stuff, and not just sleight of hand.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 5:36 AM on May 23, 2009

If you want to watch how the cup and ball trick is done, look up the Penn and teller version.
posted by empath at 6:02 AM on May 23, 2009

> "You want advice, Ricky," he said. "I'll give you advice. Fuck as many different women as you can. Not the same one. Not the same one. Fuck many different women. Many different women."

I believe there was an almost-identical line of dialogue in Little Miss Sunshine delivered by the Alan Arkin character to his grandson. I wonder if this is what inspired it?

/ also wonders if his appearance in this thread qualifies as eponysterical
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:37 AM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

That Ricky Jay trick is possibly the coolest shit I have ever seen.
posted by Captain Cardanthian! at 6:58 AM on May 23, 2009

Pure pleasure. I love his costume and character, the Old Professor. Complete with an honorary medal! And such delicate hand movements, very precise. Jealous.

Watching this reminds me of the rough-and-tumble Paris flea market version of this sleight of hand, with discs. Same basic trick, only with a lot of money on the table, some frightening looking thugs, and everyone with an eye out for the cops. And lots of patter and shills to bring in the marks.
posted by Nelson at 8:15 AM on May 23, 2009

I read The Magician and The Cardsharp (about Dai Vernon looking for a legendary deal-from-the-middle-of-the-deck cardsharp) last year, and liked it.
posted by steveburnett at 8:32 AM on May 23, 2009

The Ricky Jay link is just incredible. But the Dai Vernon cups and balls blew my frickin' mind. And I'd never even heard of him before. Thanks for the education, Bookhouse!
posted by hecho de la basura at 9:19 AM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just watched this, then squealed and clapped my hands like a little kid.

posted by Dr. Twist at 10:11 AM on May 23, 2009

Nice to be reminded that "magic" used to mean something other than spending a week in a plexiglass box suspended over Times Square.

Plus he's got the most important part down to a science - the running dialogue. "No need to applaud every time, just nodding your head will do." I think the chatter the magician develops is my favorite part of any magic routine.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:30 AM on May 23, 2009

I've got Modern Coin Magic and also Royal Road to Card Magic (or whatever it's called). Both excellent books. Also, Dai's cup-and-balls were very entertaining but when it's easy to pause and rewind, it kind of ruins the magic.
posted by DU at 6:15 PM on May 23, 2009

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