In the fall of 1945, full-page ads began appearing in the pages of major magic magazines trumpeting the arrival of "A new organization...formed to bring you the finest and most effective type of magic from the brilliant minds of Today's Masters of Magic..."
Stars of Magic, Inc. invited magicians to, "Pull up a chair for John Scarne...Let him teach you his pet tricks!" Series No. 1 consisted of three separate effects (segments) by Scarne, sold individually or as a set: Scarne's "Classic Ball Routine" ($3); "Triple Coincidence" ($1); and "Silver & Copper Trick" ($3). All three were available together for the princely sum of $6. It may not sound like much now, but consider this: These three pamphlets totaled about 13 pages; during this same period Tarbell 4
was being advertised: Its 418 pages could be purchased for $7.50.
George Starke and George Karger were the men behind Stars of Magic, Inc. Starke, a conjuror of some repute, was the editor while professional photographer Karger (who regularly contributed to Life
magazine, including several covers) was responsible for "photographic interpretation." Together, for the next seven or so years, they produced series after series of magical instruction of which John J. Crimmins, Jr. (book reviewer for Hugard's Magic Monthly
) said, "...have no parallel in conjuring publications..."
In his review of Series No. 8 in the March 1951 issue of Hugard's
Crimmins pondered, "How the Messrs. Starke and Karger consistently corral such remarkable material is one of the modern miracles in magic." Perhaps one clue was that Karger was very good friends with Dai Vernon and also Scarne. In fact, Bruce Cervon passed on a story from Vernon that confirmed that his, not Scarne's was to be the first in the series, but Vernon had to leave New York for a cruise ship engagement which delayed work on his four-part series; it was released as No. 2. Vernon would later have two more series (six segments) dedicated to his own material and would also pen the series on Leipzig and Malini (Nos. 10 and 11 respectively, edited by Bruce Elliott and released in 1952).
The Stars of Magic
series were available directly from Stars of Magic, Inc. (New York) and through most magic dealers, most notably Max Holden's shops in New York, Boston and Philadelphia. During this run, series dedicated to Bert Allerton, S. Leo Horowitz (Muhammed Bey), Emil Jarrow, Francis Carlyle, Dr. Jacob Daley, Slydini and Ross Bertram were released. The prices ranged from $1 to $8 for individual pieces and up to $12 for a complete series. Series Nos. 10 and 11, the last two, sold for $10 each.
By the mid or late 1950s, Holden's was advertising the complete set (a $94 value) for $25, complete with a customized pressure binder; bright red with gold print.* At the same time, two other items appeared in the Holden catalog: New Master Lessons
by Vernon and Slydini: Vernon's "Royal Monte" and Slydini's "The Art of Using the Lap as a Servante," each sold separately for $2.
In the June 1961 issue of Genii
, Lloyd E. Jones briefly mentioned in his "Light From the Lamp" column that, "Lou Tannen...is considering a reprint of the Stars of Magic Series." Exactly when and what the circumstances were behind Lou Tannen's acquisition of Stars of Magic
are still unclear (and perhaps those details, or leads to them, will be revealed here), but in the August 1961 issue of Genii
, the first ad for the hardbound edition of Stars of Magic
published by Louis Tannen appeared: its price was a mere $12.50. Included with all eleven of the original series (a total of 34 segments) were "two extra lessons: one by Dai Vernon and one by Slydini." These, of course, were Vernon's "Royal Monte" and Slydini's lapping treatise which originally sold under the New Master Lessons
There are many who say, and I am among them, that Stars of Magic
is the greatest book of close-up magic ever published. There is not a "weak sister" among any of the items, any one of which, if properly mastered and performed, can be a (forgive me Harry) "reputation maker."
Volumes could be written (and, in fact, have been written) on the Vernon material alone. "Triumph," "Cutting the Aces," "Spellbound," "Slow Motion 4 Aces," and "Royal Monte" are but a few of Vernon's classic pieces that appear in this book and they represent some of the most important works of close-up magic in the 20th century.
For many, this book was their first introduction to the material and style of Francis Carlyle, whose naturalness gained the admiration of Vernon. A reading of the rest of the names; Allerton, Daley, Horowitz, Jarrow, Slydini, Bertram, Malini, Leipzig: and just a partial listing of their magic; "Chink a Chink," "Homing Card," "Pump Room Fantasy," "The Cavorting Aces," "Flight of the Paper Balls," "Card Stab," makes one only shake their head in wonder. These effects and their contributors are of monumental importance to close-up magic. The fact that they appear between the same covers is itself an undeniable stroke of good fortune.
Each segment is wonderfully and clearly written and the early editions of the book did a good job of reproducing the photographs. (Though I've been told they do not hold a candle to the originals, and, unfortunately, apparently there are some later editions that have much less than desirable photo reproductions which is a shame, as the photographs represent such an indispensable element to these instructions.)
Besides the quality of the magic, most of which constitute the genesis of countless variations, these effects and their instructions are lessons in the art of conjuring.
Simplicity of effect and directness of methodology are present in the subtext of virtually all of these pieces. Lessons in timing and attention direction abound and for one simple reason: with little exception, these pieces were the "workers" of their day; pieces honed to perfection by their contributors. And yet, though decades old, they remain timeless, an affirmation of their excellence.
Representative of the character of many of the men who contributed to Stars of Magic
is the fact that these men remained students of their craft. As perfect as these pieces are, many, particularly Vernon but certainly Carlyle and Slydini as well, continually searched for ways to improve upon these works, as is evidenced in their later works. Also worth noting is how, on one of the Revelations
videos, Vernon speaks of how the sequence for "losing" the aces in "Cutting the Aces" is different in Stars of Magic
from how he actually performed it. Starke felt Vernon's original method too complex for the average magician. (Or perhaps too complex to describe?)
The Stars of Magic
series continues today with Tannen's New Stars of Magic
pamphlets (there are about 21) including items by David Roth and Paul Harris. However, Starke and Karger's astounding accomplishment of collecting from a legion of the greatest names and some of the most important work in the annals magic set the bar at a height that may prove unattainable. There are many great books in magic, and more yet to come (we hope), however I have yet to come across a single book that contains more "genesis-like" magic than is contained within the pages of Stars of Magic
*For those interested, Michael Canick has available an original Stars of Magic
binder with most of the original pamphlets. For more information, contact Michael through his web site: http://www.canick.com/
I would like to thank Tom Ogden and Bruce Cervon for their help and input. And, of course, my most sincere appreciation goes out to Gordon Bean whose guidance and patience is immeasurable.