Jack Birnman

Discuss general aspects of Genii.

Postby Sean Macfarlane » 12/22/05 11:58 AM

What did Jack do for a living? Was he a professional Magician? Just curious, thanks.

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Postby Joe Z » 12/22/05 02:13 PM

I knew Jack Birnman back in the late 1970s-early 80s and I believe he was retired at that time. I don't recall exactly what Jack had done for a living, but I do know that he was pretty much an amateur magician -- however, Jack was an extremely creative and wonderfully skilled performer as well as an interesting, giving, all-around great guy to know.

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Postby Sean Macfarlane » 12/23/05 12:16 AM

Thanks Joel for the reply. It sounds like he kept a lot that skill of his well into his old age. Love to hear more about the man seeing as his book may never get published.

Did he frequent conventions? Was he a member of the Magic Castle? What was his character like? funny, quirky .....Look forward to hearing about him.

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Postby John Pezzullo » 12/23/05 03:46 AM

From Harry Lorayne's "Best of Friends" (1982):

"Jack Birnman is sixty-one years of age, widowed, with two daughters and one grandson. He is a salesman for a large glass company, and card magic has been, and is, a boon in his profession."
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Postby Guest » 12/23/05 09:28 AM

Jack Birnman was a warm, funny, friendly, and creative man, with incredible card chops. He had a big influence on the card scene in the Washington DC area. Bob Kohler and Richard Kaufman could tell you far more than me and Aaron Fisher was also close to him in his last years. It is a shame that the book he wanted to publish on his material is in the hands of someone who apparently has no interest in ever publishing it.

Postby Rafael Benatar » 12/23/05 02:15 PM

I met him in the early 90's when he came to my lecture in Baltimore with Richard Kaufman. I had read about him in John Bannon's book and it was exciting to meet him. He was very warm and generous. We corresponded a couple of times and in less than a month I was overwhelmed to read (in one of his letters) that he had performed some of the tricks from my lecture for a lay audience. Sometime later I saw him again at a convention (maybe FFFF, not sure) and he showed me some incredible sleights. He was ultra-smooth. Everything looked effortless, and even the exposed view felt like magic.
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Postby Sean Macfarlane » 12/23/05 08:36 PM

Love watching those effortless sleights. I heard Paul Gertner had met him at a trade show and after Birnman had showed him something Gertner went for his hands because he couldn't believe that something was being executed. I don't recall where I heard it, maybe at a convention somewhere. I heard he was amazing at palming cards.


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Postby John Pezzullo » 12/23/05 10:24 PM

I recall reading somewhere that Bob Kohler has a Jack Birnman DVD in the works.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 12/24/05 08:57 AM

Jack was a great guy.
Somehow, in the last year of his life, he was conned by Harry Levine. When we were at Jack's funeral and Harry escorted Jack's widow, you could've knocked all of us down with a feather--we didn't even know that he was good friends with Jack.
He copied Jack's book onto computer discs, then erased the hard drive. He took all the photos I shot of Jack's hands, as well as the parts of the manuscript that Harvey Rosenthal and I had edited.
I saw the contract--it was not legal, and was not signed by Jack, but by Caroline.
Large portions of the manuscript (in hard copy form) are in the possession of several people. Aaron Fisher knows all the sleights. A book could be done. I wanted to do an issue of Genii devoted to Jack but I was told not to by his friends. I'm still not sure why.
Oh--Harry Levine also managed to purchase Jack's enormous library for a fraction of its value and took that away as well.
Jack's sleight of hand was eccentric: he tended to use his own sleights, which was why you were caught off guard.
Bob Kohler did shoot a video of Jack's material one year up at Fechter's, however Jack was uncomfortable in front of a camera (I found this out when I videotaped several tricks which were later published in The Looking Glass). When I asked Bob about it several years ago, he said that Jack didn't look his best on camera.
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Postby David Regal » 12/24/05 09:01 AM

Why is everyone so sure that a Birnman book is an impossibility? From looking at posts made on this forum, it appears that a person was given a contract to publish a book. If the contract has expired or was voided, another party can publish the book (the material is in the hands of more than one person). Of course, no one is doing a lot of book publishing, as, in magic, it seems to be going the way of the audio cassette.

My limited understanding of this mess, the part people seem to agree on, is this: Birnman was a good person and a talent. It would be awful if his wish for a book, his legacy, did not materialize, especially since it has apparently been written. My affection for magic is based largely on affection for the train of contributors to this odd area of entertainment. It would be a shame if this situation was never dealt with, and problems ironed out.
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Postby Seth Kramer » 12/26/05 03:16 PM

Jack was also a master checkers player and was involved in national and international checkers tournaments. For many years, Jack was the secretary-treasurer of the American International Checkers Society (AICS), the United States affiliate of the World Checker Federation.

I had the pleasure of meeting Jack several times in the late 80s and was taught several of his sleights, one of which I still use in every performance I give.

As for the book or DVD, never say never.
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Postby Glenn Farrington » 12/26/05 11:54 PM

Jack was one of the greatest men I have ever known. I first met Jack when I was working behind the counter in Al's Magic Shop. I heard this group of people laughing so hard I thought they were going to pass out. They were watching this very animated man with wild eyes doing a card trick. Jack had a way with cards that included his body movements that would be hard for most to copy. Although a bulk of his work could be done by others, if they were lucky enough to learn it, but they would have to put in plenty of time to come close to doing it so effortlessly like Jack. I was lucky enough to have him as a friend, a teacher and a father figure when I most needed it at one point in my life.

The Gertner story is true. Paul told me himself. Jack had a way of palming cards, or rather getting the cards into his palming position that would take anyone to the cleaners.

But my favorite story is when Jack was at a convention in DC showing some card tricks to some of the younger magicians in a common area, when a very well known stage magician (who shall remain nameless)not knowing (and probably not caring) who Jack was and walked up to Jack, took the deck out of his hands and said to the small crowd that had gathered, "Now let me show you some professional card magic" Jack just watched and smiled. God he was a gentleman.

I use quite a few of his slieghts and two of his full routines to this day.

I sincerely hope that someday something is published of his work. Not only because it is killer stuff...but quite frankly...he would have wanted it that way.

Here's to Jack's Nectar of the Cards.

We all miss you Jack.
Comedy's Easy...Dying Sucks.
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Postby Guest » 01/05/06 09:07 PM

Glad to see this discussion is moving along. If enough people show interest, maybe someone will think a book or video is worth doing. I personally think a video, even showing Jack not at is best, would be important. Part of the reason Jack destroyed you is that his moves were covered by his normal mannerisms, and his mannerisms were eccentric. They were not the smooth, flowing movements of Slydini or David Roth. Jack had erratic tempos when he moved, and his gestures were uniquelly his. While his techniques could be put in print and learned, the bigger lessons of how he made his "moves" fit is own personality and way of communicating could only be shown visually.

I would be interested in knowing who Jack's friends are that don't want his material published. Many, many people who are capable of appreciating what Jack created cannot do so at this point. I think that is a shame. Jack was not secretive, he was very generous.

Mark Phillips

Postby Bill Wells » 01/06/06 10:05 AM

Mark Phillips said:

"I would be interested in knowing who Jack's friends are that don't want his material published. Many, many people who are capable of appreciating what Jack created cannot do so at this point. I think that is a shame. Jack was not secretive, he was very generous"

Just to underscore what Mark, Glenn and others have said about Jack. I also knew Jack quite well and I strongly feel that he would most definitely have wanted his material made available to the magic fraternity. He was a warm, friendly human that loved magic and performing for his fellow magicians. When I think of Jack, I always see him coming up to me with that gleam in his eye and that lopsided smile and I knew he was about to fool me with one of his creations. He deserves to be more widely known in the world of magic.

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Postby Guest » 01/18/06 12:11 PM

When I first got into magic back in 1991, I got to meet Jack at John Bannon's lecture. He performed a couple of his gems for me (ie - Surgery) and I was absolutely blown away. I focused on cards from that day on.

I had the opportunity to session with Jack twice through a mutual friend and I saw Jack perform tricks at practically every lecture he and I were at. At every lecture that Jack was at, there was never a shortage of magicians that wanted Jack to do something with cards. He had such a charming approach to his magic and it was contagious when he was performing.

He was a very nice guy, very generous and if a book or DVD comes out I will be first in line for it.

Richard had mentioned that he wanted to do an issue of Genii devoted to Jack but was told not to by his friends. I would love to see an issue about Jack. I think most people would.

Let's take a vote. I say Yes. It's unanimous.

Postby Richard Hatch » 01/22/06 05:51 PM

Ran across a Jack Birnman card trick, "Sticky Fingers," going through the 1993 LINKING RINGS (November issue).
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Postby Guest » 11/26/07 02:54 PM

What I don't understand is why, when everyone found out that this Harry Levine got possession of Jack Birnman's book, people didn't have a talk with him about it or watch him like a hawk to find out where he's moving too, instead of now when he's at a place no one knows where.

Postby Guest » 11/27/07 08:37 PM

Harry Lorayne published one of Jack's effects called "Bulls-Eye" in Apocalypse. I used to do this one quite a bit. I met him years ago and he was very nice. If this book ever surfaces, I will definitely pick up a copy.

Postby Guest » 11/29/07 09:38 AM

The Looking Glass Summer 1996 Higher Math
The Looking Glass Winter 1996 The Dyslexic Psychic
The Looking Glass Winter 1998 My Spectator, My Clairvoyant

How about a Jack Birnman In Print thread.


Postby Guest » 12/10/07 03:08 PM

Found another one: MO#2 - Sharper's Image


Postby Guest » 12/11/07 01:21 AM

Jack appears briefly on a 'magic compliation' lecture series type video that I used to have. It was released in the late eighties. I cannot remember anymore information than that I am afraid. He also wrote the Introduction to Aaron Fisher's set of notes called 'The Sleight Album'...


Postby Sonicstabber » 05/26/12 11:13 AM

Sorry to bump an old thread, but I've always wanted to see more Birnman material published, especially as it was originally intended. I've even seen comments from his daughter on Facebook supporting that.

I'm for bringing this back to the foreground. It's important. This can't end up as one of those things we leave as a lost cause.

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