The Professor

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Postby 000 » 04/16/08 10:19 AM

I refer to the article Vernons Wisdom, Part 1 by Roberto Giobbi.
He states that Vernon always strove for excellence, and gives two examples. In one instance he informed his son, who had proudly announced to him that he had come third in an athletic competition, never to come to him again unless he got at least first place. Personally I can think of nothing worse to tell a child in these circumstances. In the second instance, after a man had approached him and showed him a lousy card trick, he scolded him with the words that he was the worst magician he had ever seen, and that he should never show him another card trick.
I mean really, is this guy for real? Imagine if all magicians treated their colleagues in this way. Hardly what one would call striving for excellence. I would be interested in the opinions of others.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 04/16/08 10:39 AM

000 wrote:I refer to the article Vernons Wisdom, Part 1 by ...is this guy for real? Imagine if all magicians treated their colleagues in this way....


You are starting off by striking some raw nerves - the largest of which would likely be bringing to bear common social decency and social norms upon an icon - who serves this community as an object lesson.

Yes, though if Peter Pan did that the rest of the lost boys would be most confused.
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Postby 000 » 04/16/08 12:07 PM

Of course I respect him....as an icon.
What I questioned was the manner in which he purportedly strove for excellence, or may the words or actions of an icon not be questioned ? Do I remember someone describing him as a decrepit old man who had neglected his family? Nobody who puts themselves in the public eye is above scrutiny, that includes the Professor and Peter Pan
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Postby Brandon Hall » 04/16/08 12:12 PM

Talent and character do not necessarily go hand in hand. There are many, many stories that highlight the mans shortcomings. He was however, just a man.
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Postby DrDanny » 04/16/08 12:18 PM

FEET OF CLAY: an unexpected flaw or vulnerable point in the character of a hero or any admired person. (From the "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson, Facts on File, New York, 1997).

Not all that rare an affliction, really.
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Postby Gordolini » 04/16/08 10:06 PM

000 - I visit this forum on occassion and have glanced at others, and agree that finding unexepected flaws in character of our admired heros that strive for excellence( whether in magic, music, sports, business, fill in the blank) is not all that rare an affliction...
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Postby John LeBlanc » 04/16/08 10:52 PM

DrDanny wrote: FEET OF CLAY: an unexpected flaw or vulnerable point in the character of a hero or any admired person. (From the "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson, Facts on File, New York, 1997).


As the name of the book is, "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" I find it ironic you would short change Mr. Hendrickson's reputation by abridging his entry on the very origin of the phrase:

FEET OF CLAY - "The phrase comes from the Old Testament (Dan.2:31-32). There the Hebrew captain Daniel interprets a dream for Nebuchadnezzar, founder of the new Babylonian Empire. Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed of a giant idol with golden head, silver arms and chest, brass thighs and body, and iron legs. Only the feet of this image, compounded of iron and potter's clay, weren't made wholly of metal. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that the clay feet of the figure made it vulnerable, that it prophesized the breaking apart of his empire. Over the years readers of the Bible were struck with the phrase 'feet of clay' in the story and it was used centuries ago to describe an unexpected flaw or vulnerable point in the character of a hero or any admired person." From the "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).


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Postby Dan Strange » 04/18/08 12:08 AM

Nobody who puts themselves in the public eye is above scrutiny, that includes the Professor


Not to excuse any shortcomings but I'm not sure it is accurate to say Vernon put himself in the public eye, rather other people put him in the public eye. At least that is how I understand things.
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Postby Brandon Hall » 04/18/08 11:37 AM

Vernon was a magician. A magician is a performer. A performer requires an audience. He put himself in the public eye.
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Postby flynn » 04/18/08 03:40 PM

He was just from a different generation thats why. But his constructive crticism, as he called it, was a bit harsh I think.
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Postby Max Maven » 04/18/08 06:08 PM

Brandon Hall wrote:Vernon was a magician. A magician is a performer. A performer requires an audience. He put himself in the public eye.


Your syllogism is faulty. Most magicians are performers, but by no means all. Some are primarily theorists. The Professor did some performing, but that was a relatively small part of his activities during a long timespan.
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Postby Glenn Godsey » 04/18/08 08:22 PM

If Vernon was blunt about what he considered to be mediocre, he was equally effusive with praise about talent he admired.

I did the painting of the cups and balls that has hung in the Vernon nook all these years. Dai lavished praise on me both in long letters and in person. He went to the trouble of having photos made of him with the painting and when I met him twice in person, he spent a lot of time with me and continually praised my art.

This wasn't thanks for a gift...I didn't give the painting to Vernon or to the Castle (although I don't think that Milt is aware of that. I have remember to clue him in one of these days). I agreed to leave the painting at the castle on loan for an indefinite period of time because Dai was so taken with it.

He was extremely kind and complimentary to me, and he seemed very sincere in his praise.

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Postby Richard Kaufman » 04/18/08 09:21 PM

I had a similar experience with Vernon, who was effusive in his praise for my illustrations. He said it every time we met, and even wrote about it in Genii.
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Postby NCMarsh » 04/18/08 09:31 PM

Imagine if all magicians treated their colleagues in this way.


There was a dean at my alma mater who, I think only half-kiddingly, proposed the following as a curriculum for a complete college education:

Freshman year: The Bible, with beatings
Sophomore year: Aristotle, to learn the power of reason
Junior year: Kant, to learn the limits of reason
Senior year: The Bible, without beatings

When it comes to training in the arts, there is a long tradition of something like "The Bible, with beatings" as the student's foundation. If you lived in the walls of a freshman art school dormitory, you would hear a river of tears the night following the first studio critique.

There is very good reason for the earnest upbraiding that those starting out, in these circumstances, get:

The greatest obstacle to progress in any art/craft is the difficulty untangling yourself from your work. You have to be able to observe your work -- as passionate as you are about it -- as this thing outside of you; like it is something growing in a petri dish. You are dispassionately observing it, seeing what's going to help it grow and what's keeping it from growing.

If the ego is tied up in the work, we ignore faults in the work because they threaten us: they are faults with us; and we can never move forward because we protect ourselves by hiding those faults rather than protecting the work by striving to eliminate them.

The first step towards being able to achieve that separation is to have your bell rung by someone who knows a lot more about the craft than you. Often, it can be a sign of respect. When an expert sees someone who is sharing their work just because they want to hear nice things, they often acquiesce and pat the performer on the head (having seen the work of some of those who were on the receiving end of glowing praise from Vernon -- I wonder if he was always sincere in his effusiveness). When they see someone who earnestly wants to improve and has in them the seed of doing things well -- that's when a beating, when warranted, is likely.

I have no idea who the performer in the anecdote was or what the context was, this post isn't about that anecdote. I am only saying that honesty about each others work -- and, more importantly, honesty about our own work -- may not be such an awful thing for magic. It's a question of what we value more: our feelings or our work.

We hear complaints all the time about magic not being respected as "art." I can say this much: the legitimate arts are populated with people who care more about the work than their feelings.

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Postby Richard Kaufman » 04/18/08 10:51 PM

At the Stella Adler Conservatory, where I studied acting for a year and a half (or two, can't remember), the instructors routinely berated students in class and did their best to humilate you and strip off all the defensive [censored] that you'd built up over your life that kept you from learning and acting. It was a degrading process, but educational. I expect Vernon did some of the same thing to get his students to think. Then, again, he was also a sadist.
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Postby 000 » 04/19/08 06:35 AM

Sounds like the military.....first break you down, then buld you up? Constructive criticism, now were talking. Pehaps his epitah should have read, Here lies a great man, but he could have been nicer. Enough said?
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Postby David Alexander » 04/19/08 08:35 AM

Defining Vernon as a "Great Man" stretches the definition of the words "great" and "man."

He was a poor father and a lousy husband, two responsibilities he deliberately avoided or abandoned.

Absent the Magic Castle, it is highly likely that in his later years he would have gone down the road Francis Carlyle traveled.
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Postby Glenn Bishop » 04/19/08 09:55 AM

I remember meeting Dai Vernon and he was the few magicians I met at that time that really lived up to his reputation. I respected Dai Vernon and his published works.

However without his published works, his routines and theory that were part of the published works of the magic community. And his retirement years at the magic castle and his column in Genii Magazine.

Magicians may not have remembered him.

In my opinion magicians like Vernon and Marlo - they seemed to like to session with a small group of magicians. More than they liked to "perform" magic.

However it is mostly through their published works - that they are remembered by magicians today.

Just my opinion.
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Postby 000 » 04/19/08 12:18 PM

Absent the Magic Castle and its idealized non real world close up performance settings ( it was Bruce Chevron who said that it was in the early Castle days that they realized that a living could be made performing close up) and the professor would have been doomed to perform stand up in his silly oriental garb for a few more years.
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Postby Doc Dixon » 04/19/08 01:00 PM

David Alexander wrote:Defining Vernon as a "Great Man" stretches the definition of the words "great" and "man."

He was a poor father and a lousy husband, two responsibilities he deliberately avoided or abandoned.


I remember watching the bio documentary about Vernon and his son, now a grown man saying "As a father he was a great magician." Then he nervously laughed. If ever there was a cautionary tale about what's really important in this world and in magic, that was it. I hate to play amateur psychiatrist, but there seemed to be a world of hurt in those eight words.

Funny I should come upon this topic when I did. I discovered it after I put my 19 month old boy down for his afternoon nap, after our lunch and playtime. Coincidences are funny sometimes, aren't they?
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Postby Max Maven » 04/19/08 06:44 PM

I am baffled by the revisionism regarding Dai Vernon that seems to crop up about once a year.

The Professor was a genius, whose influence on magic was and is pervasive, arguably beyond that of any other person during the 20th century. But yes, he was also a fallible human being, and had plenty of negative baggage.

In case you haven't noticed, that is the nature of most people.

Some of the comments that have piled on in this thread have been questionable. For example: "Absent the Magic Castle, it is highly likely that in his later years he would have gone down the road Francis Carlyle traveled."

Perhaps, but the fact is that Francis Carlyle also became part of the Castle community during his later years, so the premise of that statement doesn't hold up to the actual history.

Or: "[W]ithout his published works ... Magicians may not have remembered him."

Yep. And without the published works of the majority of authors, they wouldn't be remembered. What is the point of that statement?

Or: "Absent the Magic Castle ... the professor would have been doomed to perform stand up in his silly oriental garb for a few more years."

Now this is nonsensical. Vernon did an act in Chinese attire for a very short time (and, by all accounts, it was quite good). But, although he could have worked doing stand-up as a full-time career, he chose not to. In his early days he made top dollar doing small scale performances at private parties for the very rich. For brief periods he explored doing stand-up character acts (in addition to the Chinese act, there was of course the harlequin act that garnered raves). Much later, he did stand-up on cruise ships. All of these were successful. But, he did not have the personal drive to be a full-time performer. Indeed, during his most active years he made most of his income by cutting silhouettes -- which he did with superb skill.

But what do those choices have to do with anything in this discussion? In any given field, there will be a small number of people who innovate to the point that they change the course of that field. Dai Vernon was to magic what Marcel Duchamp was to painting. Does that excuse his shortcomings? No. But it renders them a side issue in the exploration of his life's work.
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Postby Joe Naud » 04/19/08 06:55 PM

Amen.

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Postby Paul Q » 04/19/08 07:02 PM

MAX,
have you considered writing an autobiography so that we can get first hand life stories instead of other opinions about you when you've gone.

(Just don't leave before June 27th, I plan on seeing your show then.)

What does this have to do with Vernon?

Everything...
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 04/19/08 07:06 PM

I have always wondered what the allure was, to audiences in the early to mid 20th century, of seeing a fake Oriental magician. Vernon's act was done in a mask, Mike Bornstein did an act ... . The phenomena was an odd one.

Vernon's was different though, because of the mask. One of the exercises you do in an acting conservatory is work with masks. Wearing a mask onstage is liberating in a way that is difficult to explain beyond the obvious "it allows you to hide while performing" thing because it covers your face. It also has the ability to completely transform the person under the mask. It would have been interesting to see Vernon do it (or Sam Horowitz, for that matter, who subbed for Vernon once in a while).
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Postby NCMarsh » 04/19/08 07:56 PM

"Absent the Magic Castle, it is highly likely that in his later years he would have gone down the road Francis Carlyle traveled."

Perhaps, but the fact is that Francis Carlyle also became part of the Castle community during his later years, so the premise of that statement doesn't hold up to the actual history.


Asked in honest innocence and ignorance: was Francis Carlyle offered financial sustenance by the Castle? My sense was that the teeth of Mr. Alexander's comment was that the Castle essentially took care of Vernon's material needs. If a similar arrangement -- perpetual shelter and housing in exchange for one's presence -- wasn't available to Carlyle, then the fact that he was a part of the scene has nothing to do with how Vernon would have fared without his unique arrangement.

That Vernon was treated in this way is further evidence of his extraordinary influence and genius.

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Postby Glenn Bishop » 04/19/08 08:49 PM

Max Maven wrote:Or: "[W]ithout his published works ... Magicians may not have remembered him."

Yep. And without the published works of the majority of authors, they wouldn't be remembered. What is the point of that statement?

I will be glad to answer that question with my opinion. Vernon is remembered by the "magic community" in my opinion "mostly" for his published works.

He is not remembered by the lay audience.

Few magicians are remembered by the lay audience the exception of the time might be Houdini.

In my opinion magicians that publish are remembered more by magicians than the magician performers of that day that did not publish. Also in my opinion Vernon is remembered by magicians because a lot of what he published was great.

Many magicians that do the cups and balls today were influenced and inspired by the Dai Vernon Cups and balls routine. And many magicians started learning the cups and balls - with Dai Vernon's routine.

Now, having said that as time moves on - we get older there will be less and less people that got to see Dai Vernon do his routine live in a performance of a show.

Yes there is some taped footage - but that is not the same as seeing the man do it live in a show.

I knew Don Alan quite well and I remember being in a conversation with another magician a few years after Don passed away. The magician I was talking to said something like - "There are a lot of magicians doing the Don Alan chop cup routine and never got to see Don Alan do it."

Yet it is my opinion that there are many magicians that do the Don Alan chop cup today that never even heard of Don Alan.

That was "very" true of my dads rope tie effect. There are many magicians that do my dads trick today - that never heard of Billy Bishop - that is until they meet me!

By the way Billy Bishop did not publish. He was a "performer" and did comedy magic in the "top" night clubs of his day. He also performed on television. He did not publish and if I wasn't in magic and in "the business" he would have been forgotten.

Magicians that publish have a better chance of being remembered by magicians.

Just my opinion!
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Postby 000 » 04/20/08 03:11 AM

To refer to the above discussions as revisionism is a stretch...and a very long thin one at that, as any revisionist historian will tell you.
There are indeed many of us who rely on published works to form our impressions. Thirty five years ago, I managed to procure a copy of Vernons Symphony of the Spheres, a splendid 6 ring routine. Now, when the Vernon chronicles ( his life and not his actual routines) are being written up, as readers all we ask for is that the complete picture of the man is painted. And sorry if that hurts.
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Postby Glenn Bishop » 04/20/08 09:04 AM

000 wrote:There are indeed many of us who rely on published works to form our impressions.
Yes - that is what I was trying to say.

Vernon did his Harlequin act in the "Rainbow Room" 1939. That was a high class night club venue. I don't think that there are many magicians around today that got to see that performance.

Most of us read the story that is published about it.

I have memory of Vernon doing the cups and balls and the linking rings at his lecture. I never saw him perform these classic tricks in a show - and in my opinion a memory of that would be a lot different than my memory of him doing the rings and the cups and balls at his lecture.

In my opinion some magicians are remembered for their performance and some for their - or because of their published works.

Just my opinion.
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Postby Jim Martin » 04/20/08 10:52 AM

Richard Kaufman wrote:...One of the exercises you do in an acting conservatory is work with masks. Wearing a mask onstage is liberating in a way that is difficult to explain beyond the obvious "it allows you to hide while performing" thing because it covers your face. It also has the ability to completely transform the person under the mask.


The person under the mask is more free in their performance.

I'm not sure of the audience's fascination in seeing a fake Oriental magician, but I'm reminded that one of Sir Laurence Olivier's later roles involved wearing an exact replica of his own nose. He said the audience never even knew of its existence, yet he felt completely different and it enabled him to become the character.


...........kinda like when I use a thumb tip ;)
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 04/21/08 09:32 AM

Some might argue that what makes a person who they are is what gives meaning to their work.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 04/21/08 10:41 AM

I think a person's spouse and children might argue that point.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 04/21/08 11:23 AM

Richard Kaufman wrote:I think a person's spouse and children might argue that point.


Exactly, especially in the arts. This notion was touched upon in the Leipzig quote about being fooled by a gentleman.

A couple of questions that almost made my interview list were "What item does your family most request you to perform at family gatherings?" and "What items do you most enjoy sharing with your family?"

On the lighter side one might also wonder if something like: "if you can't fool yourself how can you expect to fool others?" has a place in our knowlegebase?

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Postby 000 » 04/21/08 04:58 PM

The man was a sadist. Abracadabra, and see, the icon is melting away.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 04/21/08 05:04 PM

000 wrote:The man was a sadist. Abracadabra, and see, the icon is melting away.


I have not heard or read a report from anyone who knew him that he derived pleasure in and from the pain of others.
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Postby Cugel » 04/21/08 05:17 PM

He certainly enjoyed playing his acolytes and worshipers off against one another. Look at his unreasonable treatment of Ammar on those old tapes. There are lots of apocryphal stories about how he stuck pins in people who looked after him or sought his favour.
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Postby Glenn Godsey » 04/21/08 08:55 PM

Max Maven wrote:I am baffled by the revisionism regarding Dai Vernon that seems to crop up about once a year.

The Professor was a genius, whose influence on magic was and is pervasive, arguably beyond that of any other person during the 20th century....


I am with you, Max. I am amazed at the hear-say stories propagated by people who were never even in the same room with Vernon, and some who never even studied his work.

It seems to me that this is a sort of anti-intellectual resentment of genius...

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Postby Richard Kaufman » 04/21/08 09:11 PM

Glenn, it is possible to agree with Max and also agree with the personal issues others have written about Vernon--they are not mutually exclusive. There is no "anti-intellectual resentment here." Vernon was a genius in our field and rotten to his wife and kids. End of story.
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Postby Michael Kamen » 04/21/08 11:32 PM

Anybody seen the Nova presentation on the life of Einstein? They make a womanizing ne'er do well out of him. What was he really? In the context of what he did contribute to humanity (for better or worse), does it matter?
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 04/22/08 12:06 AM

It mattered to his family and friends.
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Postby Michael Kamen » 04/22/08 12:14 AM

Well ok then.
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