I held off on posting this for a couple of days out of deference for the "performer" involved, but I have not had a reply from him, so here goes...
If you haven't yet come across it, John Booth's Extending Magic Beyond Credibility (an unfortunate title, but an interesting collection of essays nonetheless), contains a chapter on Malini. No tricks, just stories. There are two photographs in the book: one of Max playing the violin and the other an inscribed (to Booth) and signed studio shot. I prepared the book, and it was quite a thrill to hold the original in my hands (it currently resides in the Norm Nielsen collection).
Now on to my frustrations…
I tracked down and called Ozzie about six or seven years ago and was most interested in having the autobiography see the light of day (perhaps an annotated version with a more accurate and detailed description of Max's feats, along with inviting a few contemporaries and students to chime in). Ozzie was very pleasant and excited at the prospect of seeing it finally in print.
We had a very interesting conversation, and he complained bitterly about the Vernon book, claiming that Vernon made most of it up and didn't really have a clue as to how Malini accomplished most of his feats. He also claimed that Vernon didn't have the facts straight on the details of several effects, but Vernon had the name and was “doing the books quickly to make some cash.” No judgment on my part, I didn't know Vernon (I'm just a young punk who rarely leaves the woods, preferring to meet these guys in my library). Others undoubtedly have more to say on this.
He told me at the time though that he had just met with a performer who had been out to visit with him and had taken a large quantity of photographs and a copy of the autobiography and was going to produce a “coffee-table” book on Malini. No explanations, just pictures and stories. Ozzie had also spent quite some time teaching this performer Malini's pieces. Ozzie was very familiar with the material and, although I believe he made a living in real estate, he had performed periodically as an amateur. This performer has since incorporated the Malini pieces into his repertoire.
Encouraged by my enthusiasm and experience in the book world, Ozzie suggested I contact this performer and offer to work with him. At the time, Ozzie was not in the best (or worst) of health, but very interested to see his father's brief (as David Alexander mentioned) autobiography published. He had lots of other materials and the book would make a nice compilation of materials a la the Houdini Scrapbook by Gibson.
I spoke with this other person (a busy performer in his own right, but not too experienced in the literary world) and offered to work with him. He expressed concern at my interest and asked me to keep it under my hat as there were other sharks in the pool that might try to take the project away from him (and ultimately, I assume, actually publish the darned thing). I “touched base” repeatedly over a couple of years with this gentleman who assured me that he was working on it and that he was “shopping it around” (his coffee-table version, build the myth) to some major main-stream publishers. Each time I called I got the impression that lots of work was finished, but more work was needed. Each time he repeated his request for me to keep this under my vest.
I spoke with Ozzie several times over this period and he expressed growing frustration with the interminable delay in the publication of any material. I did my best to assure him that things move slowly in the publishing world, but personally shared his frustration. Particularly so because I knew there was work to be done and I wasn't allowed to participate and would have been happy to do so “pro bono.” After a while I drifted to other projects and would send the occasional email to the performer inquiring as to the progress. For a while longer he would send me an occasional reply, but ultimately the communications became one-sided. The last communication I had from him was on March 26, 1997. I called him a couple weeks after this but never had a reply back...
Of course, a short while ago, Ozzie passed away. I enjoyed our conversations, he was a warm and genuine person who enjoyed his father's successes and was honestly interested in sharing with the world-at-large not only his father's stories and scrapbooks, but his own personal (and at times troubled) relationship with his father. It saddens me to say this, but it appears that “one of our own” would take advantage of an old man by promising to produce a “vapor-ware” book about a prominent (and historical) magical figure in order to pry the knowledge and personal mementos for his own “collection.”
What has happened to this material? Will the book ever be published? Why is there no outcry over this sort of this behavior?
I don't know, but I would like to find out. Wouldn't you?
Andrew "Not wishing to remain anonymous" Pinard