John Mulholland's Flash

Discuss your favorite close-up tricks and methods.

Postby John M. Dale » 11/07/05 09:45 PM

I've seen it mentioned that one of John Mulholland's pet effects was the "impromptu" prodution of a flash of flame between his fingertips. I actually saw him do this on a televised interview sometime back in the 70's (I think Dick Cavett was the interviewer, but I could be wrong.)

He was making a point about things happening unexpectedly and when he finished his point we pulled his hands apart and "poof" a small ball of fire flashed. I'm guessing he was using flash paper or cotton but I've never found a method to cleanly reproduce this effect in spite of years of searching. I'm quite sure he wasn't smoking at the time either so I don't believe he touched ot off with a palmed cig.

If anyone has any insight into the method Mulholland used, I'd be very interested in discussing it.

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Postby Pete McCabe » 11/07/05 11:10 PM

Brad Burt once told me of a chemical preparation that you apply in very small quantities to your thumb and first finger, and when you snap your fingers it's like you set off a cap pistol -- a flash of sparks and a puff of smoke. Brad didn't give me the formula but said it was quite dangerous, which sounds very believable.

I have no idea if this is what Mulholland was using, but it sounds like it could be similar.
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Postby David Alexander » 11/08/05 12:47 AM

Are you sure it was Mulholland? Milbourne Christopher did that effect quite often on the shows he worked. A palmed bit of flash paper and a secreted bit of burning punk or a cigarette did the work.
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Postby John M. Dale » 11/08/05 05:19 PM

It's been a long time since I saw the interview so it could have been Christopher instead of Mulholland. This being back when smoking was more in vogue it's possible that someone at the interview was smoking which would have covered a smoldering punk but, as I remember it, there weren't cigs in evidence.

Silly me, I hadn't thought of a punk. Fireworks not being legal many places, I haven't seen punks since I was a kid.

Thanx for the suggestion. Covering the smoke in these anti-smoking days might be a challenge.

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Postby Pete Biro » 11/09/05 02:44 PM

The man responsible for getting me into magic kept me fooled for 20 years with an "in hand" explosion. It was more than what has been described, it was a real flash and a large puff of smoke.

It was clean as clean at the finish.

Byron Walker saw him, Bill Anderson, do it several times and NEVER found out.

If I ever finish my book it will be there.
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Postby David Alexander » 11/09/05 04:05 PM

Flash Cotton, as opposed to Flash Paper will produce the result you're looking for BUT!! Flash Cotton is FAR more dangerous than Flash Paper. Someone sent me some as part of a trick years ago....in a baggie filled with water. No problem there, so it stayed relatively safe for some time. When I moved I decided I didn't want to take it with me so I let it air dry and then set it off in the street. It was a small piece, maybe 3 inches around and yet I could feel the impact of the tiny explosion.

As I understand it, Flash Paper can be produced to burn slowly or quickly and can be unstable when stored too long.

Even though there are formulas floating around, I would not consider for a moment of making my own.
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Postby John M. Dale » 11/09/05 06:11 PM

Thanx for the warning, David. I'm quite sure the effect I saw was Flash Paper derived. I've messed around with paper quite a bit.

Flash Cotton, I haven't personally dealt with but I was a Chem major in college so I'm aware that Flash Cotton (AKA Gun Cotton) is a much bigger deal. Also, having studied chemistry, I wouldn't think of trying to make Flash Paper or Cotton myself. I had a friend who nearly blew his hand off trying to make a flash powder using red phosphorus. :eek: He never messed with flash anything after that.

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Postby David Alexander » 11/13/05 02:17 AM

Good. I'm glad you understand the danger. Others haven't been so smart. Back in the 60s there was a chap in San Francisco who made all sorts of chemical goodies. I remember Joe Berg commenting after he left that "he had enough explosive in his briefcase to blow up half a city block."

And, of course, he flew and mailed his products by air mail. He sold one product called "Vulcan Powder," a powder that exploded after a time when a liquid was added. Fred Rickard used wonder if the guy ever brought down any planes, since he mailed all his stuff.

I believe he made a mistake one day and that was that. Explosives can be so unforgiving.
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Postby Ian Kendall » 11/13/05 08:20 AM

I've got some of the stuff Pete's talking about.

Around ten years ago a magician came to Edinburgh for the Fringe, and he was using this as a crowd stopper for his street show. He gave me a supply in return for teaching him the muscle pass - he told me to store it in two separate film cannisters and keep them apart.

The idea is to take a _very_ small amount of each powder and mix them _very_ carefully on a flat surface. Dab your fingertip in the powder, and if you snap your fingers there is a large bang, a puff of smoke and, depending on how much you had on your finger, a degree of pain and first degree burning. Also, it discolours your finger and thumb tips with a lovely purple stain.

One day I met up with him and he told me that he had dropped his briefcase and it exploded - the outside of the case survived but the insides, and most of his props, were purple toast.

I haven't tried the stuff for about nine years now - the cannisters are in my box - and I'm not sure how stable they are. Perhaps I'll mix up a bit and drop a stone of it to test...

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Postby Pete Biro » 11/13/05 10:30 AM

Count your fingers.
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Postby Ian Kendall » 11/13/05 12:25 PM

Before or after the test?

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