Why I Wanted To Strangle Michael Ammar

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby Q. Kumber » 06/24/09 07:40 PM

I've just been re-watching the DVD series of Dai Vernon's Revelations and I was reminded of why I wanted to strangle Michael Ammar.

Michael is interviewing The Professor, who is talking about the time he worked for Frances Rockerfeller King and the high fees she was able to command for the acts she booked. Vernon said his fees ranged from $100 to $300, while at the time the best of the New York magicians were getting no more than $50. He goes on to say that Miss King was a great saleslady and "I'll tell you how she was able to get those kind of fees."
At this point I am all ears. This is certainly information worth hearing.

However at this very point Michael interjects, "Let me interrupt you there Professor and ask you about the letters J, K, L, M and what they mean to you." ... changing the subject completely!

The Professor never got back to revealing what Miss King did.

That's when I wanted to reach into the TV and strangle Michael!
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 06/24/09 07:52 PM

You can tell when people are not listening to the person who is speaking. Larry King NEVER seems to listen to the guests on his show.
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Postby Eric Fry » 06/24/09 08:04 PM

Then there are those interviewers who never stop talking. Essentially they interview themselves.

I wonder if Vernon explained King's high fees in The Vernon Touch? I don't have it in front of me.
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Postby Jim Martin » 06/24/09 08:21 PM

Richard Kaufman wrote:You can tell when people are not listening to the person who is speaking. Larry King NEVER seems to listen to the guests on his show.
Love the Charlie Rose show -- - hate it when:
1. he asks a question
2. the guest begins to answer
3. CR interrupts to re-phrase or re-direct (rather than allow the answer, or for CR to pause and ask a more precise question the 1st time).

Listening is an art, whether it be of clients, colleagues or audience members.

(Huh? I'm sorry.......is this thread about downloading DVDs?) ;)
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 06/24/09 10:08 PM

Charlie Rose is insufferable, yet he's the darling of New York Society. He was interesting when he first started, but he just can't shut up.

It's like that old joke:

"Knock knock."

"Who's There?"

"The Interrupting Cow."

Then as the other person starts to speak you yell out "MOOOO!"

A few seconds pass, the other person starts to speak again, and again you interrupt with "MOOOOOO!"

It's funny for about five seconds, then they want to punch you in the nose. I want to punch Charlie Rose in the nose: he is the embodiment of The Interrupting Cow!
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 06/24/09 10:12 PM

Knock knock...
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Postby Eric Fry » 06/25/09 12:16 AM

Back to the original question. You can let Ammar live. I think the answer is in The Vernon Touch: King considered the people she booked for private parties to be artists, and she expected the wealthy hosts to treat the artists like guests. For example, if the hosts expected the entertainers to enter through the back door or sent the entertainers into the kitchen to eat their meals, they were to leave, King said. She booked very few magicians, so the ones she did book enjoyed the pay and status of being one of her clients.
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Postby Jim Martin » 06/25/09 12:26 AM

David Ben's excellent 'Dai Vernon: A Biography' included several pages (pp. 108 - 114, plus several other items) about Vernon's interactions with King.
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Postby Q. Kumber » 06/25/09 05:50 AM

I do understand where Michael was coming from. He had done his homework and had a series of questions and topics he wanted to cover and The Professor certainly could talk.

Were Michael doing the interviews now (with much more professional experience under his belt), I suspect he would be much more interested in the higher fees topic.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 06/25/09 09:05 AM

Quentin Reynolds wrote:I do understand where Michael was coming from. He had done his homework and had a series of questions and topics he wanted to cover and The Professor certainly could talk...


Did the production studio have editing equipment? That's one of the basic reasons folks use a two camera (or two shot) setup for interviews.
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Postby El Mystico » 06/25/09 09:06 AM

There are a few places on those otherwise fabulous tapes where they should have let Vernon talk...another good one is ring on wand.
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Postby Mike P » 06/25/09 09:19 AM

Is any of the missing information on the Vernon Interview tapes?
I know he goes over all kinds of things on that set.

I do remember Vernon talking about another reason she booked him. Many of the magicins at the time would lick their thumb before doing a trick or dealing cards. This is considered rude and ungetlemanly and if a magician was doing this King would not book them again. Vernon never licked his thumb before dong a trick, he even laughs about that on one interview.
King would only book people who knew the rules without her having to tell them.
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Postby Q. Kumber » 06/25/09 11:11 AM

Mike, Vernon did say that the main reason she booked him was because he could use a knife and fork - social skills are lacking amongst many magicians.

Alan Alan (featured in this month's Genii) once told me that he recommended all aspiring professional magicians acquire a college (university) education. Not for what they would learn but for the polish of their personalities. Alan argued that if you wanted to earn good money from magic, the people who would be in the position to book you, would likely have college educations.

Apart from my 'gripe' with Michael Ammar, we should all be grateful that these videos (now DVDs available from L&L) were made for they are truly fascinating.
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Postby mai-ling » 06/25/09 12:08 PM

Moo




sherry lewis did that knock knock joke with lamb chop
on her kids show years ago.
you will remember my name
http://www.mai-ling.net
world's youngest illusionista

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Postby Tabman » 06/28/09 03:31 PM

Ammar is the Trickster in Chief.

-=tabman
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Postby Tortuga » 07/22/09 09:50 AM

As a former "interviewer" on radio in the '80's I can empathise a little with Ammar. He probably had a a set "script" of questions that he wanted to cover and knew that Vernon was verbose, so he was prepared to interrupt and redirect in order to cover everything that he felt needed to be covered. He was "editing" the interview live, not on the cutting room floor.

In my experience, the best interviews are more free-form. I would ask open-ended questions and let the subject ramble a little. Sometimes that would strike paydirt and they spoke about things that I didn't anticipate and that turned out to be better than what I had wanted to learn in the first place.

To cut someone off is touchy. You can't appear rude. That can cause the subject to turn inward and change to brief responses that don't do them or the listener justice.

As for Larry King, I agree with Richard. King is the story, in his mind. He has a preconceived notion of how the interview is going to play out in his mind and that's that. A subject could throw him a major curveball and he would whiff. I've witnessed interviews by him where a follow-up is literally being begged for and, alas, nothing. This is particularly true when he interviews persons that he has a major philosophical issue with. He pretends to listen to them, shows them no real respect and then, instead of playing off of what they have said, merely keeps going on his set way. Shame.

Obviously you can tell that he's not one of my favorites.
It's never crowded on the extra mile.....
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Postby David Alexander » 07/22/09 02:47 PM

Having conducted hundreds and hundreds of interviews I agree that the "free form" approach is best. It must be tempered with the understanding that you let the subject veer off on tangents, you explore those tangents thoroughly and then bring them back on course. It takes time and experience to develop the skill.

Another secret of successful interviewing is the re-interview. This is done when one is working on a project and has access to the interviewee more than once. Daryl Gates, then Los Angeles Chief of Police, told me how the interviewer who did his biography started off with a few hours of taped interviews and ended up with 140. Daryl was stunned by the amount of time and effort put into establishing a foundation for the project.

I've done the Larry King Show twice. Larry does not prepare in advance. His staff may have a few suggested questions, but that's it. He walks in, meets you on set, and you're off and running. If he's interested, it can be fun. If he's not, or having an "off day," then it's not particularly pleasant. And with that, he remains successful.

Charlie Rose, with whom I worked on a project years ago, was in my experience, simply impatient. Things couldn't move fast enought for him. I was offered the "opportunity" to be interviewed by him for the piece we worked on in lieu of being paid. I opted to be paid a consultant's fee rather than the opportunity to be on screen for five seconds to save CBS a few hundred dollars.
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Postby Eric Fry » 07/22/09 06:25 PM

The old New Yorker magazine writer A.J. Liebling had a perceptive and amusing take on interviewing. He said that when he started out as a young reporter in Providence he was very shy and didn't like asking questions. You'd think that would be a liability, he said. But if you ask questions, you only receive the answers to your questions. Your questions limit the interview. So he let people talk and eventually he'd wind around to asking questions like, "So, how did the ax get in your wife's head?"
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