In 1994, Dan Jenkins, the famous sportswriter and novelist, prefaced a collection of his golf writings with the words, "Jack Nicklaus, comma." For a twenty five year period it was the line he, and just about every other sportswriter, used the most and, frankly, it was all that need be written, such was the greatness of Nicklaus. Today, the writers are typing, "Tiger Woods, comma." Here in our little world of magic, a handful of people have reached such a level of greatness (fewer still outside of our world). Needless to say, Dai Vernon is one of those who, within our little world, surpassed legend and attained the level of deity. As Lloyd Jones wrote in 1968, "there is something of a Vernon cult forming."
In 1958, Vernon traveled to England to begin work on what was to be a four-book series on his card magic. In fairly quick succession, Henry Stanley's Unique Magic Studios (London, England) would publish three books of Vernon's material (as well as some from a few select Vernon associates). Written and photographed by Lewis Ganson, Dai Vernon's Inner Secrets of Card Magic was released in the Fall of 1959 and was followed quickly in the Spring of 1960 by More Inner Secrets of Card Magic. Further Inner Secrets of Card Magic followed a little over a year later. A fourth book was planned and, in fact, published. However, Dai Vernon's Ultimate Card Secrets did not appear until late 1967. A fire in the same building as Stanley's Unique Magic Studio resulted in the manuscript being destroyed by water and health issues further delayed Ganson's work on the project. This near seven year lapse, and perhaps the fact that the word "Inner" does not appear in the book's title, resulted in the magic world embracing only the first three books as the Vernon Inner Card Trilogy. And so it is this Trilogy on which we will focus our (hopefully!) discussion.
Originally published as a paperback volume (and then later in cloth as well), Dai Vernon's Inner Secrets of Card magic features nine chapters and 33 items in its scant 76 pages. The mainstream reviewers of the time heaped lavish praise on the book. It was, after all, Dai Vernon's material. "Something for everyone" and "a must for card men" were common phrases bandied about. Such praise, however, was not universal.
In the pages of P. Howard Lyons' Ibidem #20 (May, 1960) there appeared excerpts from a letter from Lin Searles in which he lambastes the author (going so far as to referring to Ganson as a "jackass") on his selection of material as well as his writing skills. He also questions the provenance of the "Elastic Touch," which (as Ganson wrote) Vernon attributes to a "wily old gambler" (there's little question that Vernon was a raconteur with a tendency for embellishment). In a separate letter, Neil Elias questions the technique provided in the book for making impromptu strippers. After relating these comments, Lyons praises the just released second book of the Trilogy calling it "as good as the first was disappointing." Given just how good More Inner Secrets of Card Magic truly is, this is a scathing comment. While there is no doubt that the second book is the jewel of the series, Inner Secrets is not without merit. "Emotional Reaction" is a lesson in the cunning use of a key card and "Matching the Cards" is a nice effect using an interesting force. "Dai Vernon's Colour Changing Pack" provides the reader with the proper (and subtle) motivation for the use of the Hindu Shuffle in showing the back color of the deck. There is also some notable work on color changes, though there is also an item I wouldn't do on a dare (and one or two I couldn't do on one).
Published in both paper and cloth boards, More Inner Secrets of Card Magic may have more quality, and seminal, card magic in it than in any other 87-page stretch in magic literature. More Inner Secrets boasts 12 chapters and 39 items including such classic plots as "Twisting the Aces," "Out of Sight--Out of Mind," "McDonald's $100 Routine," and "The Trick that Cannot be Explained" (perhaps the ultimate example of true "jazz magic"). Also found within these pages is Vernon's work on riffle shuffle technique (including his handling of the Zarrow and pull-through shuffles), crimps, forcing and several other "Vernon Touches." Also, for the first time in a publication, is a description of Alex Elmsley's "Four as Four Count." We know it better simply as the "Elmsley Count." This, of course, is found within the description of "Twisting the Aces" which probably has had more variations published and also sold as a single trick than just about any other plot in card magic.
Because the second book followed so closely on the heels of the first, the yearlong (plus) wait for the third must have seemed like an eternity for the members of the burgeoning "Vernon Cult." Further Inner Secrets of Card Magic is not the abundant gold mine More Inner Secrets is, but within its 72 pages (12 chapters, 29 items) are certainly many wonderful nuggets. Vernon's work on the Three Card Monte is required studying (even if only for the "Optical Move"). A chapter on palming is also required reading primarily for the work on the top palm. Vernon's second deal is well covered in "Dealing Seconds," which also includes a one-handed second and the "New Theory" stud second. At the end of this chapter is "A Quick Trick" that uses what, it seems to me, is more of a spread technique, though it is also worth more than just a cursory look. An in depth look at the top change kicks off the eleventh chapter of the book which includes three other change techniques.
There are, of course, plenty of tricks in the book, and of particular note (at least to me) is "Larry Grey's Cards Across." Throughout the series, when Vernon would serve up someone else's work, for the most part it would include what is now commonly referred to as "The Vernon Touch." This effect, however, Vernon didn't "touch" at all. There's a reason for that and, I think, it's a significant point about the trick.
"Another Larry Grey Trick" has "potential showpiece" written all over it for those who perform standup/parlor style magic. "The Card Puzzle" isn't a puzzle at all, but a great (and fairly easy) trick to do for people who play cards. "Blindfold Poker Deal," in my opinion, isn't as much a poker deal as it is a "control" demonstration using selected cards, but in the right situation it should prove most effective. There are several other effects and more of the ever-present "Vernon Touches."
In all, the Trilogy encompasses 235 pages, 33 chapters (though some of these are single tricks or techniques) with 101 individual items. In the 1970s, Supreme Magic reissued the books (over several printings) and in 1996 L&L reprinted them in a single volume. Dai Vernon's complete bibliography (comprised of manuscripts, books, lecture notes and articles) is scattered among several publishers and magazines, starting with Secrets (1923), a small book for the general public, and his self-published Twenty Dollar Manuscript, his first work specifically for magicians. So far, the L&L published four volume Vernon Chronicles series (the first three written by Stephen Minch, the fourth--an autobiography of sorts--edited by Bruce Cervon and Keith Burns) is the most recent Vernon work to be published. But the magic world awaits the Vernon biography from David Ben and the collection of "Vernon Touch" articles from the pages of Genii to be published by The Genii Corporation. And who knows what treasures Bruce Cervon may still be holding back in his collection of notes taken over more than two decades of working with The Professor? The Vernon Cult remains alive and well, and with more to come to satisfy them, the reviewers and columnists will be typing, "Dai Vernon, comma."