Billy O'Connor

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

Postby David Alexander » 01/24/06 10:59 AM

Does anyone have a detailed description of Billy O'Connor's act. He was billed as "The 'New Era' Card Expert" and put out the "Instanto Deck" which apparently he used in his act.

Ted Annemann published the deck's construction details, but little about the act. In various listings O'Connor seemed to have been a member of the Blackpool magicians group up to the early 1940s.

According to what little I've read, he was humorous and successful. I'd appreciate more details.

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Postby Dustin Stinett » 01/24/06 11:06 AM

It seems to me that he is listed in David Price's Magic, however I'm not at home to check. If it's who I think it is, he was the guy who originally called a deck of cards his "52 Assistants."

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Postby Guest » 01/24/06 11:22 AM

Ahhhh, this goes way back..
I recall "Billy O'Connor and his 52 assistents" as being used by him as his "trademark/stagename".

The memory though can't recall where I did hear and read about him.
No doubt, Bobby Bernard would be a good source for info, I probably either did hear/read about Billy O'Connor in *Tricks of a trouper* (Jack LeDair) or got stories from Ken Brooke..

Wasn't he,(Billy O'Connor) the guy that did the 'Nap Hand Deal'?

Nope, I think that was Lionel King...memory isn't what it used to be, OTOH all this goes way back :confused:

All I recall is that he had a great act, soley cards, Vaudeville-style.
Not of much help I am afraid, just brought up some memories :help:

Postby David Alexander » 01/24/06 12:31 PM

I'm glad I'm dredging up some memories. Yes, he worked under the name "Billy O'Connor and his 52 Assistants." Max Holden wrote about him in his "Programs of Famous Magicians," but, as is often the case, the effects are briefly listed but not the important presentations and bits of business that make the act go over.

Has anyone out there ever made up and actually used the Instanto Deck?
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Postby Guest » 01/24/06 02:03 PM

Just came to my mind, no doubt Billy McComb also must know a lot about O'Connor, as you know O'Connor was Irish as is McComb..
Don't know if any of our english friends and members of this forum are in contact with McComb, IIRC he now lives in Hollywood near the Castle? Not sure at all, but somehow I recall having read about this probably even in "Genii".
Also, Richard Kaufman might know more about all this.
But remember, O'Connor goes back to WW I ! and even worked before WW I, he was born between around 1890 and 1900!!!

Postby John Pezzullo » 01/25/06 06:55 AM


Harry Stanley's description of Billy O'Connor's act was published in the January 1983 issue of MAGIGRAM.

I'll look up the issue over the next day or so and let you know how detailed the description is.
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Postby John Pezzullo » 01/25/06 07:07 AM

I have a vague recollection that Billy O'Connor was the subject of one of John Booth's chapters in his MEMOIRS OF A MAGICIAN'S GHOST series (published in THE LINKING RING).

Perhaps someone with a set of THE LINKING RING CD-ROMs can check this reference.
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Postby Michael Pascoe » 03/14/08 12:09 PM

In the Suave Deceiver, Fisher talks about Billy OConnor and his relationship to Cardini. Richard marketed the item thats why his pictured is on the ad. Also, David Bamberg briefly mentions Billy and his Instanto Deck.

David was in England at a magic club meeting when Houdini and the Great Raymond got into a fight. Raymond was escorted out, but there was definitely a lull in the evening. So Billy jump up and did his rapid fire routine of cutting the deck to any card called for.

I wish there was more on this entertaining artist.
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Postby David Alexander » 03/16/08 12:24 AM

The lack of information on Billy O'Connor well-illustrates the over-emphasis on magic "secrets" - the mechanical as opposed to the real secrets: presentation and bits of business. It is sad that so many acts that were done over a period of years refined and polished to perfection have become lost to the point that the performers insights are lost to future generations.
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Postby John Pezzullo » 03/16/08 05:23 AM

Anonymous wrote:Harry Stanley's description of Billy O'Connor's act was published in the January 1983 issue of MAGIGRAM.

From the January 1983 issue of MAGIGRAM:

Many artistes spent time each week looking round the antique shops. Our old friend Billy O'Connor had a keen eye and through the years picked up many fine pieces. On retirement, he took up 'antiques' full time and became a successful and much respected dealer. He taught the act to his son Robert who, although he did very well, lacked dad's flair and vast experience.

Billy O'Connor was of French origin. He often kept us chuckling at his stories about the early days when he worked as a hypnotist, De Voe. He later found fame as a magician and was my favourite stage card comedy performer. He worked 'front cloth' with just a small table and two chairs on stage. The act ran for twelve minutes. He completely fooled two male audience members (not stooges) and the entire audience. Laughs came continuously with patter that hadn't the slightest hint of 'blue'. Don't let anybody kid you to use 'dirt' to get laughs. That's a cheap substitute for talent.

Here's a simple rundown of the act. Billy was first blindfolded. From a well shuffled pack a chosen card was quickly named. This was repeated and the effect ended by naming, rapidly the face cards of the pack while held towards audience. Blindfold was removed during applause. A freely number was named; instantly a portion of pack was handed to helper, who counted them aloud; correct! This was repeated twice with the same result.

Card next selected, was shuffled back into the pack by helper himself; it was quickly discovered. Anther was chosen but it proved to be the same card as before. It was dropped face down on the stage and covered by helper's foot. A further chosen card was found to be the same; the one under helper's foot was different. The two men were dismissed with thanks.

Billy did some fancy shuffles, then placed a half pack in each trouser pocket. He asked audience to call out the name of any card; each named was instantly produced. Holding last named card aloft Billy said he was going to perform the greatest ever visible vanish. He asked audience to shout the word 'go', which they did lustily. He responded "thank you, I will" and walked right off. That must sound a bit corny but, believe me, he always walked off to loud applause. The act was a perfect example of clear cut uncomplicated magic but all the better for it proved the old adage - "It 'aint what you do. It's the way that you do it".

Billy also successfully toured with a longer act adding two fine illusions which he later sold to Murray.

The bent, or cut-corner card locator, was his creation and he marketed 'Instanto', an ingenious cut-corner pack that made easy the location of any requested cards. He taught me how to do it the 'hard way' with a normal pack. Set it up Ace to King, C.H.S.D. and use the thumb riffle. If you practiced hard and long, cards could be located without peeping. I did quite well.

Billy also produced some fine trouser pocket card holders, similar to those used in his own act. There was also his trick in which a freely chosen, signed card was eventually found in a leather wallet taken from the inside breast pocket which, when opened, revealed two brass plates with a large centre hole through which was seen the signature. The plates were held tightly together by masses of stout rubber bands. That was a real fooler.
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Postby David Alexander » 03/16/08 12:46 PM

Thank you, John, I'd not read that before. Very interesting. It would be great to see his pocket card holders...something actually used and perfected over the years. Anyone in the UK with a set?
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Postby Allen Tipton » 07/24/08 02:02 PM

Max Holden in his Programme book details:
Billy O' Connor. London1920 Time of Act 12 minutes.
Small table & 2 chairs on stage.
'Opens brsikly requesting the assistance od two gentlemen from the audience to assist him. O'Connor is blindfolded and a card is selected. O'Connor names the card correctly; this is repeated several times. O'Connor concludes the effect by naming the cards on the face of the pack while it is held towards the audience. The blindfold is removed and a number bettween one and twenty is requested. Immediately O'Connor rifles through & hands a portion of the cards to be counted. They prove to be the correct number of cards. Another number is requested between twenty & thirty and again a portion is removed and again found to be correct. Selected card is then shuffled back into the pack by the spectator himself but O'Connor finds the card easily. Another card is selected but this proves to be the same card. This card is placed on the stage and a spectator is requested to place his foot on same and to select another card but again it is the same card. On picking the card up from the floor it is found to have changed to another one. Cards From Pocket; pack is divided into two and each half is placed in a different pocket. Any card called for is immediately produced.
Working easily with a running fire of clever comedy patter, O'Connor makes a great hit'.

I did see him, once in my teens in a Harry Stanley show at I think, The Scala Theatre London. Still have the programme somewhere in the files.
My memory is of a very likeable, kind and witty man who worked swiftly but never rushed, playing each effect to the audience.
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Postby Mark.Lewis » 11/29/09 09:02 PM

I am very interested in this old thread. Harry Stanley actually helped me produce a cabaret card act which I did in those days and he was always talking about Billy 0' Connor and seemed to want me to do an act along those lines. He forced me to do 6 card repeat (which O'Connor didn't do) and I resisted on the grounds that I hated the bloody trick. I am still doing it to this day.

He kept telling me about the card under foot and how Billy 0'Connor did it and wanted me to do it as well. I had been doing it for years as a close up item and still do but never as a cabaret trick as Harry wanted me to do. I can tell all that it is one hell of a trick.

As for the cards from pocket a la Billy 0'Connor-yes- Harry wanted me to do that as well. Harry himself had an idea which he claimed was original but I wouldn't be surprised if it actually came from Billy. That is that the card index has sandpaper at strategic points to make the trick easier.

I tried and tried to do the trick at Harry's insistence but in the end I gave up the bloody thing. It was too fumbly for me and in fact it just didn't suit me.

When I was in Mexico working resorts a couple of years ago I resurected the old stand up card act but lengthened it to 45 minutes instead of the old 15 minutes I did in the old days. It went well.
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