Originally posted by Bill Mullins:
Burton Sperber's privately published periodical, A Real Miracle, reprints "The Story of Erdnase" by Wilford Hutchison and mentions "S. W. Erdnase, Another View" by someone named Sawyer. Who is Sawyer? Is either the original of the Hutchison book or the Sawyer book readily available? Is there any real new info in the Sawyer book?
I am not wholly persuaded that M.F. Andrews was Erdnase. But (at least according to Whaley/Busby/Gardner) some of his relatives (who were laypeople in magic/gambling) and others (some of whom recognized the significance of "Expert") believed he had published a book. If that book wasn't "Expert", what was it? Since "The Man Who Was Erdnase" lays out the case that Erdnase was Andrews, it doesn't really pursue this line of inquiry -- has anyone else?
The Sperber reprint was done because the originals are so scarce. I believe there were only 12 copies of the original (I dont have my copy of the Sperber reprint handy, but it gives the bibliographic details and lists the whereabouts of known copies). The information in it is merely a summary of Martin Gardners Milton Franklin Andrews (MFA) theory, as detailed in TRUE magazine in January 1958. The Sawyer monograph questions that theory, based on the evidence presented in Busbys THE MAN WHO WAS ERDNASE (TMWWE) and Ortizs ANNOTATED ERDNASE. Sawyer, a lawyer and conjuring bibliophile, concludes that the MFA theory, though plausible, remains unproved. He does not examine competing theories, asat the timethere were none. Sawyer was first to point out that the frontispiece photo of MFA in TMWWE is not the same person shown in the morgue photo of MFA and that the photos of MFA on pages 10, 20, 21, 119, 129, and 144 of TMWWE are all versions (some touched up to show him clean shaven and with a goatee) of the same photo, not independent images. He also questions the testimony of Albertie Minkley, MFAs sister-in-law. TMWWE makes much of her recollections, in Chapter 15, A Case of Identity" (an imaginary cross examination of the principle players in the identity issue), where Whaley has her say: When that nice Mr. Jay Marshall showed me his copy of THE EXPERT I recognized it right away! Just like the ones in the big pile of copies of dear Miltons own brand new book that he kept in his room back in ought three . Keep in mind, this is an invented testimony, not an actual statement made by Mrs. Minkley. If accurate, it would constitute compelling evidence of MFAs authorship of the book. The actual facts are somewhat different:
In early May 1956 Jay Marshall, after appearing on the annual Boston Magicale show, visited his parents in Chicopee, Massachusetts and took that opportunity to go to nearby Holyoke to see what he could dig up about MFA, who lived there with his in-laws for several years at the turn of the century. His visited the office of the HOLYOKE TRANSCRIPT-TELEGRAM and got the editors son interested in the story. A small notice appeared in the paper on May 10, 1956, Local Magician On Ed Sullivans TV Hour Sunday, and the article mentioned that Jay was trying to contact the family of MFA, a reputed card shark who may have written a book, a belief the truth of which Marshall is attempting to ascertain. As a result of the newspaper story, two family members got in touch. One, a niece of MFA, provided some information about what happened to his wife and daughter, but no information about his authorship. The other was Mrs. Oscar W. Minkley (Albertie Walsh), sister of MFAs wife. Donald Dwight, the editors son, wrote Jay on May 12, 1956, having spoken with Albertie. In addition to relating some family information, he says that Mrs. Minkley knew nothing about the book, but did say he was a college graduate (which turns out to be untrue) and did write books or pamphlets and gave magic exhibitions in the area. Before going to the next stage, keep in mind that Mrs. Minkley, age 71 in 1956, was attempting to recall events from more than 50 years earlier, prompted by a newspaper article that specifically solicited information linking MFA to a book popular among magicians and gamblers. Immediately after appearing on the Ed Sullivan show on May 13th, Jay Marshall called her, but made no notes of his initial conversation. However, after returning to Chicago, he did call Martin Gardner, whose typewritten notes (misdated May 11, 1956) indicate Mrs. Minkleys memory had improved somewhat since speaking with the editors son, as she apparently confirmed that Andrews wrote the book and said that he also wrote sev. Pamphlets, privately printed, sold to gamblers for large sums. Jay returned to the east coast to perform on Gary Moores television show (his recollection of this in a letter written in December 1956 was that this was about a month later, but the Holyoke newspaper article indicates he was to appear on Moore's show on Monday, May 21st. Of course, it could have been postponed or a later appearance) and took that opportunity to travel to Holyoke to interview Mrs. Minkley. He did take notes of that conversation, and called Gardner afterwards. Gardners typewritten notes (misdated March 20, 1956) say that the mss. he sold were probably typewritten by him, not printed. She looked at book [a copy of Erdnase Jay brought with him], recalled pictures, but remembered book as being thicker than it was. Recalled that he had many copies of it on hand. She repeated that she thought he had been to college. Jay transcribed his notes of the interview in a letter to Gardner dated December 12, 1956. Unfortunately, the surviving transcription in Gardners collection may be missing a second page or second letter (the one page letter says continued at the bottom). Jay Marshall probably has his original notes, which would be interesting to see, as the surviving transcription makes no mention of the book or the manuscripts. It does say She insists he was a college grad which we know now to be inaccurate. That is the extent of the documentation I have seen of Mrs. Minkleys testimony on this subject (she does report anecdotes about his card tricks and other family information, all given in TMWWE). There are a couple of very curious features of her reaction to the copy of the book Jay showed her: She apparently recognized the illustrations, but misremembered his book as being thicker. If Jay showed her a first edition copy (as Gardner reports in an essay in THE ANNOTATED ERDNASE), this memory could be explained by the passage of time, we tend to misremember things we saw as a child as larger than they were. But in a 1990 phone interview with Bart Whaley (see footnote 15 to page 303 of TMWWE), Jay recalled that hed shown her the Fleming edition, surely the very thickest of all editions (Perhaps in light of this, TMWWE interprets Gardners notes cited aboveas that she thought the edition Jay had was thicker than the books MFA had. That was not Gardners understanding, as shown by his essay, and his assumption that Jay had shown her a first edition. The notes are open to either interpretation). Since she claimed to recognize the illustrations, she must have looked at an open copy, indicating more than passing acquaintance with the book. Does it strike anyone else as strange that she wouldnt have looked at the title page and asked her brother-in-law who Erdnase was? The name "ERDNASE" is clearly printed on the spine of the first edition as well. The authors strange name, especially if MFA claimed to her to have written the book (she never says he did), would surely have left an impression, I would think As Sawyer points out, MFA may have had stacks of books, but were they THE EXPERT? Were they books he wrote? Perhaps she saw a copy of MODERN MAGIC. To a laymansome fifty years laterhands manipulating cards might strike a memory chord, even if drawn in very different styles (Curiously, Marshall D. Smith, the named illustrator of the book, did NOT recognize the illustrations when Gardner first showed him a copy of the book! Some take this as evidence that he did not do them)
Heres how I see the Minkley testimony: She learns of Jay Marshalls interest in the Holyoke newspaper and contacts the paper. The first person who speaks to her about it reports that she knows nothing about the book, though she does confirm MFAs interest in magic, and that he wrote some manuscripts. She receives a long distance call (quite an exciting event for many in the 1950s!) from Jay Marshall, immediately after hed performed on ED SULLIVANS popular Sunday night television show, which shed likely watched, having read about it in the paper. That must have been quite exciting for her too, and she now confirms that her brother-in-law, MFA, wrote the book. When celebrity Jay Marshall takes a special trip from New York to Holyoke to interview her after appearing on the Gary Moore show, she does not disappoint him, claiming to recognize the books illustrations, if not its physical features, and offering numerous anecdotes about MFA. How seriously should this testimony that MFA actually wrote THE EXPERT be taken?
I personally find the non-affirmation of MFAs older brother Alvin much more troubling for the MFA theory. He was only too happy to meet with Gardner in the fall of 1949. Gardners notes do not show Alvin had ever heard about the book, though he knew quite a lot about MFAs gambling activites. Their relationship was so close that it was Alvin who advised MFA to go to Australia to avoid the police charges of murdering several people (Alvin did not believe him guilty). Gardner conjectures that MFA did not tell his family about the book because it might embarrass them. This would seem to fly in the face of the authors clear pride of accomplishment and strong sense of worth as expressed in the book (not to mention its conflict with the recollection of Albertie Minkley, cited above. If she is to be believed, he had no qualms about letting his in-laws know about the book). Would a known card cheat and pool hustler and an accused multiple murderer be embarrassed to tell his family about a book hed written? Gardner sent Alvin Andrews a copy of THE EXPERT with a lengthy letter dated November 7, 1949. Gardner says he is anxious to know if you think the writing sounds like Milton. He received no reply. Now, if someone sent me a copy of a book written by my late brother, whom the world believes to have been a serial killer, but whose book shows had a redeeming side, Id have surely acknowledged its receipt and commented on its voice! We dont know why Alvin didnt bother to respond (he didnt die for several more years), but possibly he wasnt convinced that MFA had anything to do with the book, and regarded Gardner as a bit of a crank for thinking so Admittedly, that is pure conjecture on my part.
A final note: I sent Gardner a copy of Sawyers book (the second, revised and enlarged 87 page edition of 1997) and in his letter to me, dated 31 August 1999, he says: Thanks for your letter and the copy of the Sawyer book which I did not even know existed. He raises good points, and I admit that the identity of Erdnase is still an open question, lacking in any positive documentary evidence that MF Andrews was the man. I would estimate my belief at about 80 percent. Pratt is the major link. I dont believe he lied. He was very reluctant to give me information about Andrews because he said it would be hard on his brother My views on Pratts reliability and motives can be found earlier in this thread.