Was Vernon a success

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby Guest » 02/22/03 09:40 PM

Professionally speaking, was Vernon successful?
I've heard different opinions on the subject.
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Postby Guest » 02/22/03 09:59 PM

I believe he didn't do that great because of stagefright and the fact that he didn't really want to do that great anyway.
He really was the supreme hobbyist. I even heard a legendary old professional magician describe Vernon as an "amateur"
Of course "amateur" really means "Lover" in Latin, I believe. Vernon seemed to love magic in the way nobody seems to have done before or since.

However, one thing completely baffles me. I note that David Alexander alleges that Vernon had a quarter of a million dollars in the bank. At first I discounted this as a mere story. But then Richard seemed to confirm this even though he put the figure at "only" $100,000. Still a tidy sum for someone who hardly did a show.

How the hell did he accumulate that kind of money?
Does anyone know? Was it the silhouette cutting. I doubt it. I certainly doubt that the money he made from magicians was responsible.

I am thoroughly baffled by this especially since on reading his biography and viewing a TV documentary about him he seemed to be constantly in debt and without funds. I think they even came to take the furniture away at one point.

How did he end up with so much money? It sounds like the greatest trick he ever did.
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 02/23/03 12:28 AM

It's true that Vernon was a reluctant performer, but I don't believe saying that he suffered from stage fright is accurate. You must remember that you are talking about a man who did indeed perform magic professionally. During the '20s and into the '30s he had a prominent agent who booked him into high society affairs (and was very handsomely paid). During WWII he performed for servicemen in the South Pacific. He then performed the famous Harlequin act in New York nightclubs and then on cruise ships into the '50s. By then he had become the center of New York's magic scene and pretty much stopped performing, and why not? He was about 60 years old! Of course then there was the move to Hollywood and that whole aspect of his life. Was he a success? Obviously you are speaking in monetary terms, but Vernon did not think about money. He said that he never chased money, but money would find him. If he had 100 grand in the bank, then clearly it found him, and by that measure I suppose he was successful enough.

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Postby Robert Kane » 02/23/03 12:30 AM

I guess the correct answer depends on your own definition of success, commercial or otherwise.

My reading of his biography in the Vernon Chronicles indicates that he enjoyed quite a bit of commercial success performing for the social set in New York as well as a lot of magic work in the early cruise industry. Plus, a variety of network TV appearances later in life.

Perhaps not as successful in the Siegfried & Roy sense, but pretty darn good though. :)
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Postby John Smetana » 02/23/03 09:35 AM

"There is only one success..to be able to live your life in your own way".
Christopher Morley

Vernon certainly did that.

Best thoughts,
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Postby Guest » 02/23/03 10:09 AM

I can't imagine Vernon having stage fright...not with all those years of performing under his belt.

My personal opinion is if he didn't care for performing, it had more to do with his love of the Art. There may have been a side to him that felt his "Art" was corrupted, or cheapened, working for the General public (who can be sadly indifferent to magic). For a man of Vernon's depth and creativity, this would be torture, and unacceptable.
The expression "pearls before swine" comes to mind.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 02/23/03 10:29 AM

The amount of time you've spent onstage has nothing to do with stagefright. It is an irrational phobia that can attack even the most experienced performer.
Laurence Olivier went through a period of terrible stagefright during the 1960s, I believe, many decades into a successful stage and film career.
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Postby Guest » 02/23/03 04:12 PM

I do not necessarily define success in monetary terms.
Furthermore I do have reason to believe that Vernon suffered from nervousness appearing on stage. I may be wrong but that is what I have been led to believe by people that knew him.

However, my question has not been answered. I know it is none of my business but my curiousity
is unabated.
How did he accumulate so much money? Or is this just a story?
I know he got some well paying gigs but I think this was in the thirties and only in the Winter months. The TV documentary I saw indicated he was often broke.
So where did he get the money? He seemed to accumulate it after he stopped working.
Just being nosey, that's all. However, I bet there are a few other people here who are curious too.
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Postby Frank Yuen » 02/23/03 06:51 PM

However, I bet there are a few other people here who are curious too.
Naaah! We just want to know why Lance and Melinda split up! :D

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Postby Guest » 02/23/03 08:15 PM

That is being too nosey about people who are alive and kicking. Too personal and none of our business.
Neither is Vernon's money I suppose but it seems a less contentious area of curiousity.
I must admit to a certain envy and admiration.
How can someone who was not known for overwork make so much money just by doing nothing?
This a secret that I need to have revealed. It would be a service to tired out old magicians if someone would let us know.
I must confess suspicion about this story. It seems hard to believe.
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Postby Geno Munari » 02/23/03 08:58 PM

I have upmost respect for Dai Vernon, and was so happy to have met him many times and he was so nice to mention my work in his column. He was tremendously talented.

I do know of one instance wherein he was asked to perform for Johnny Carson, I believe, but it could have been Cavett. Sorry it has been so long, however he sent the late Chris Michaels in his place. Chris did a great job.

Maybe someone could shed a little more light.
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 02/23/03 09:22 PM

Unless those who were exceptionally close to him are willing to jump in (and I'm betting they will not), your question may remain a mystery. (Both parts: did he have the cash and if so, how did he get it?)

It's all too easy to speculate about how he got it (payment for the Chronicles books, etc.). How he kept it is even easier: Vernon had few expenses. He was most definitely "America's Guest."

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Postby Richard Kaufman » 02/23/03 09:37 PM

I think the amount Vernon had in the bank was $100,000 or so. Where did it come from? Social Security ... ? Not sure. He did virtually no paying performances from the time he left for the West Coast in the early 1960s.
You must remember that he paid for virtually nothing for much of his life ... he was supported by wealthy magicians like Doc Daley until he moved to Los Angeles, at which point the Magic Castle paid for everything!
It was the Tonight Show on which Vernon was supposed to appear and sent Chris Michaels in his place. What a fiasco! That night millions of laymen clearly saw how a false shuffle was done (can't remember if it was a Zarrow or Push Through, but the camera was so close, and he did it so badly, that it was like an instruction tape).
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Postby Guest » 02/23/03 09:45 PM

It was mentioned elsewhere that Vernon lived rent free at the Castle...He would have saved a bundle there alone.

But this is not the original question...

What's infinately more interesting is why he gave up performing in the first place. Did he feel, as an artist, that performing was beneath him, akin to a circus monkey...
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Postby Frank Yuen » 02/23/03 10:05 PM

That is being too nosey about people who are alive and kicking. Too personal and none of our business.
Just kidding Horace, I guess you missed the fiasco a month or two ago with the Lance Burton groupie. Oh well, I'll just shut up because you know what they say about having to explain the joke. :(

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Postby Guest » 02/23/03 10:10 PM

Lew McKissic (sp) a noted attorney insisted
that Vernon file for back social security
benefits when the Prof. was in his early 70s'.
He continued to draw these payments until death.

The Larsons were a bit upset to learn that Vernon
had accumulated nearly $150,000. I'll leave it
to others that may care to speculate further.

Roger
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Postby Pete Biro » 02/24/03 12:44 AM

Vernon had many angels that picked up his tabs throughout his life.

People just liked having him around, and being "considered" friends of his.

To me, the sad part of his life, was somewhat abandoning his family.
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Postby David Alexander » 02/24/03 01:20 AM

The figure of $250,000 was given to me by Larry Jennings in a conversation after Vernon was taken to live in his son's home, a hundred miles away from his friends.

That Vernon suffered from stage fright came from a long visit I had with Faucett Ross in the late 1970s. Faucett told a number of stories.

Vernon also drank and that, combined with his stage fright, plus the lack of a certain kind of discipline, made a successful performing career unlikely. Vernon liked the freedom to pick up and go when he heard about a gambler with a card move, etc. He would not have had that had he been tied down with multiple performing contracts. I've been told by several people that the Harlequin Act was not a success.

Vernon was booked by Frances Rockefeller King for society functions, but the evidence I've seen had him primarily cutting silhouettes with the occasional booking for silhouettes and "card tricks."

And, as others have said, Vernon had any number of "generous" friends who happily bought him anything he needed. Given that the Castle paid his rent and fed him, there wasn't much else he needed.

As Pete said, the sad thing is how he treated him family. Certainly nothing admirable about that.
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Postby Jim Riser » 02/24/03 01:28 AM

IMHO Dai Vernon (as related to magic) was a success. I vividly remember seeing him perform live and briefly chatting with him several times at The Castle. He was always in his regular seat. BTW - Listening to Vernon and Kuda Bux chatting while playing cards up in the library was a hoot.

The long lasting effect that Vernon has had on magic indicates a high level of success. Most people associated with magic can only hope to successfully entertain a few audiences. Vernon changed the way magic was thought about and performed around the world. We should all strive to improve magic to the point that we might change it for the better. Anyone attempting to learn one of Vernon's routines will appreciate the careful thought and attention to detail which contribute to its effect on an audience.

As we grow older, we tend to want to leave something of ourselves behind - something that might preserve our memory and remind others that we were once here. I could only hope to have an effect on magic (with the apparatus I build) that Vernon had with his way of thinking and performing. Yes, to me Dai Vernon was a success.
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Postby pduffie » 02/24/03 02:37 AM

If I remember correctly, Doug Henning gave/paid Vernon $100,000 for his help and advice?

Regards

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Postby Guest » 02/24/03 03:51 AM

Originally posted by Jim Riser:
[...]As we grow older, we tend to want to leave something of ourselves behind - something that might preserve our memory and remind others that we were once here. [...]
Someone once posed the question to Marilyn Vos Savant ("The World's Smartest Woman"): "What is man's greatest fear?" Her answer was, "Fear of the unknown."

I disagreed, and wrote to her to tell her so. I felt then (and still do) that man's greatest fear is to be forgotten. Fear didn't build Mount Rushmore, fear didn't paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and fear didn't fund Trump Towers. Man creates to establish his presence in, and his impact on the world; he does so because he needs to say (as Jim Riser points out), "I was here!"

Ms. Vos Savant failed to respond to my letter and I daresay she's forgotten me by now.

Regards,
Thomas Wayne
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Postby Guest » 02/24/03 04:39 AM

This entire thread reminds me of an interesting point.

Money has nothing whatsoever to do with the persuit of art. One has only to investigate some of the great artists of the twentieth century to see this. Allright Magic is a -performing- art and one imagines that one must be a -performer- to partake in it in a real sense. This does not mean that one needs to be paid for it to be a success. As long as one performs it for other people it exists then as a performing art, whether they are paid for it or not.

I'm an actor by trade and I have taken part in lots of non paid plays in order to further my art and career.

if I do a couple of magic gigs a week and spend the rest of my magic time developing new tricks at the kitchen table I would hope to be still considered an exponent of the art of magic, like other -ametuer- performers who are far greater than me and who's shoulders I sit upon.

All the best
DeanoXXXXXXX
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Postby Terry » 02/24/03 05:45 AM

I felt then (and still do) that man's greatest fear is to be forgotten.
Thomas,

I would have to agree with your post. I've heard it applied as another reason for having children in that you are leaving a part of yourself behind as a type of legacy.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 02/24/03 10:31 AM

David,
I think Jennings was mistaken in the $250,000 figure. $100,000 to $150,000 seems to be closer to the actual number.
I think the Larsens and the board of the Magic Castle had every reason to be shocked to learn he'd been saving money while his entire life had been subsized by them for decades.
Vernon didn't care about money at all, an attitude fostered by the fact that people essentially supported him for most of his life. He didn't care if he had money in the bank. He didn't need it and probably paid little attention to it.
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Postby Guest » 02/24/03 11:33 AM

This unfolding story is shocking to me...

The idea that Vernon suffered from stage fright, and that silhouettes were the primary reason he was hired for the socialite parties...this is all a little bewildering, and hard to digest.
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Postby Bill Mullins » 02/24/03 11:37 AM

What's really shocking (and many magicians have been working hard to keep this secret "underground", but I'll spill it), is that Vernon made his money selling Amway.
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Postby Guest » 02/24/03 12:00 PM

Chris, he was a wonderful silhouette artist who is just as well known in the silhouette community as he is in the magical one.
They seem to think that magic was just Vernon's sideline.
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Postby Pete McCabe » 02/24/03 12:08 PM

Isn't The Silhouette Community the title of the new Robert Ludlum novel?
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Postby mark » 02/24/03 01:00 PM

It is interesting to read threads like this, not for the sensational aspects of how much he had or how he got it (at least to me). What really interests me is that there are those of us who never have had the opportunity to meet some of these artists that we have admired for so long a time. We build an image of these men and women based upon our opinion of their work, our ability to relate to them as humans, and finally what others have shared about them. In the end, we have an amalgamation built upon legend, admiration, and 'polite conversation.' I mention the last, because, as we recall dearly departed persons that are admired by others, we don't really wish to burst bubbles with wart stories, so we tend to be polite and do what our mothers have told us to do - have something nice to say, or don't say it. Finally, I have to tell you 'old timers' how much I appreciate your reminiscing for the benefit of people like me. I so much appreciate hearing more than what has been printed, but a fuller picture of a man like Dai Vernon. I know that he was a masterful artist in magic, and I also know that he drank too much, was self absorbed, and gave little thought to the family he left behind. I understand though, that while these more negative pieces of his life are part of the public record, they have not been sensationalized here. Rather, they have been shared by friends in passing down a verbal record to other friends. Now when the heck is someone going to write a killer *major* book about Mr. Vernon, or someone that I greatly admired, Mr. Skinner? I know it might seem like celebrity watching, but I would just love to sit down in a coffee shop one evening and listen to stories about Mr. Skinner. I can so much identify with his quiet approach and thoughtful renditions of Royal Road material. Thanks for making it this far.

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Postby Michael Edwards » 02/24/03 03:47 PM

Mark: It is my understanding that David Ben is writing a multi-volume biography of Vernon. As I recall, David represents Dai Vernon's estate and was preparing, in association with the Theatre Museum and the Department of Canadian Heritage, an exhibition and theatrical presentation based on Vernon's life and work.
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Postby Jeff Eline » 02/24/03 06:21 PM

This may be a dumb question... but... What is a Harlequin act?
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 02/24/03 06:48 PM

The "Harlequin Act" was a nightclub act that he put together where he performed primarily sleight-of-hand magic dressed as a Harlequin. Apparently it did well in small clubs but closed after only two days at the Radio City Music Hall. Of course, the show was not meant to be performed in such a large venue.

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Postby Leonard Hevia » 02/24/03 06:52 PM

Hi Jeff--The Harlequin Act was Vernon's brief stage career around the late fories or early fifties that played in Radio City Music Hall. Attired in a harlequin type costume, Vernon performed the "Linking Rings" and other sundry effects such as "The Ball, Cone, and Handkerchief." There are wonderful photos in the literature of his performances as The Harlequin.
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Postby Brad Jeffers » 02/25/03 01:10 PM

One of the ways that Vernon accumulated his "wealth", that has not yet been mentioned, was by giving lectures. By his own account, he gave "hundreds and hundreds" of them. The first lecture he ever gave was arranged by George Karger around 1947 and was attended by around 300 magicians who paid $5 each. Not a bad days pay for 1947! This was followed by a tour of 29 cities in just over a month. Karger made all the arrangements and got 25% of the proceeds. I know, that in 1972 at the age of 78(!) Vernon gave an extensive lecture tour of Europe, and this was not his first lecture tour abroad. In 1976 at the age of 82(!) he embarked on his "farewell" lecture tour of the U.S. I'm not sure of the exact number of lectures that were given, but I think it was around 20. Anyway, his fee for each stop was $1000. Jay Marshall attended one of these lectures and asked Vernon if he would make an unscheduled stop in Chicago. Jay could not guarantee the full $1000 on such short notice, but said he would charge $15 each for admission and Vernon would keep all the proceeds. At the end of the lecture Jay presented Vernon with a check for $1180. In refering to that first lecture tour of 1947, Vernon had this to say, "After I started this lecture circuit it got to be laughable. Everybody began giving lectures. Even fellows that had only been in magic a couple of months. I guess when a magician sees a bad lecture they should blame me, as I'm guilty of being the father of the modern lecture series."
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Postby Pete Biro » 02/25/03 04:03 PM

So Brad, when I get to Savannah in a couple of weeks, what's good to do/see??? :confused:
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Postby Guest » 02/25/03 07:26 PM

Between early 1963 when he came to Los Angeles and July 1979 when I left the city there were many periods when I saw Dai every night week in and week out except when he was out of town. That includeds one period when I didn't miss a night at the Castle for three months and another when I was at the Castle every night for three years. I was at the Castle every night. During that time it never occurred to me that Dai drank too much. That he had a drink handy was undeniaable. That he over-indulged was improbable and unthinkable.
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Postby Guest » 02/25/03 08:02 PM

The man lived well into his nineties...good for him that he drank and smoked and got away with it...

Who cares if was in excess or not!!
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Postby Brad Jeffers » 02/26/03 08:02 PM

Pete, Sounds like you're going to be here for St. Patrick's day. I hope you like crowds! Savannah hosts one of the largest St. Patrick's day celebrations in the country, second only to New York city. I'll put on my thinking cap and e-mail you with some info about things to do while your here. I would suggest that if possible, you stay at one of the downtown hotels, near River Street. That is the historic district, where you will want to spent most of your time while your here. You will need to make reservations early, if you are indeed going to be here on St. Patrick's day weekend ... and be sure to pack your green suit! :)
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Postby Guest » 02/26/03 08:50 PM

Yes, a man's success is not measured by fame or fortune, and Vernon was a successful man on many levels (and how many of us - like Vernon - have played Radio City Music Hall...even unsuccessfully?).

However, the initial question is a very relevant one for the magic world. How many of our revered big-name magic stars were actually not good at making a living as professional performers or else had other jobs?

There's a big difference between having a name in the magic world and being able to make a viable living at our craft.
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Postby Guest » 02/26/03 09:37 PM

I guess it depends on your priorities, but I'd say Vernon is a success because he's dead and we're still talking about him and studying his work. And our grandchildren will likely be doing the same.

How many magicians have been the focus of this kind of active fascination and study for 75 years or more, without interruption? Nobody. What other single magician could claim to have changed the face of magic as much as Vernon? Nobody again.

Wine, women and card tricks for almost one hundred years, the satisfaction of knowing your work matters, and an object of reverence almost the whole time? Sounds like success to me. Sign me up.

Best,

Geoff
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