serious question

All beginners in magic should address their questions here.

Postby Guest » 07/08/06 06:41 PM

Ive been thinking about this for a while now.

What makes a magician great?

We all hear of magicians who have extraordinary reputations.

But what is it that makes them great? Is it their technical skill, their ability to entertain an audience, their outstanding presentation?

Some examples come to mind: Aldo Colombini is a great entertainer, yet his card magic uses very basic sleights. Ernest Earick's sleight of hand is very advanced, but he admittedly very seldom performs.

Yet both of these magicians are great.

Id love to hear some thoughts on this.

Postby Guest » 07/08/06 07:34 PM

Originally posted by rage1:
Ive been thinking about this for a while now.

What makes a magician great?...
Offhand, consistent oohs and ahhs and repeat bookings to entertain audiences come to mind as a few good criteria.

Postby Pete Biro » 07/08/06 08:33 PM

Personality, command, management, choice of material, appeal.
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Postby Guest » 07/09/06 05:16 PM

Louis Armstrong was once asked, "What exactly IS jazz?". He responded, "Man, if you gotta ask, you'll never know".

How do you pin down that "X" factor? You might not be able to describe it, but you know it when you see it...(or read about it).

Mr. Biro was spot on, but much more succinct than I am able to be...So here are a few additional thoughts:

--"Mastery of strong material", and (or) "the ability to turn supposedly hum-drum tricks into miracles". --I truly hope you all one day get to stand around in a bar and watch Michael Weber do a half-hour with a box of matches. Every stunt, trick, and puzzle you've ever heard about, ABSOLUTELY SLAYING you.
(*Here's a bonus 'forgotten miracle' for Mr. Regal's "Speaking Volumes": "Decapitation" by Mr. F. Carlyle. How do I know? Because I've seen it with my own two eyes, brother!)

--"Consistant--if not Constant--excellence over time": Max Maven and Jay Sankey as two examples, have come up with incredible material for more than a quarter century.

--"Timing": We have all learned Max Malini got huge mileage out of small, straight-forward things because of the patience he had to wait until the BEST--most unbelievable--MOMENT to spring them on people.
(*Aside: Here we cannot neglect to mention another attribute contributing to Mr. Malini's brand of Greatness: namely his gigantic, solid-steel balls.)

--"The ability to 'connect' with people": picture Tommy Wonder or Daryl, and the way they completely "win-over" audiences. Certainly stage-craft and public-speaking can be studied and practiced, but some people just have that zazz. It is so great when you get to see it.

I've gone on too long, as usual. Here are a few traits others might like to wrangle:

P.S. I know there are a lot of chaps on this site that have stories, tid-bits they could share about cool instances when they crossed paths with "The Best" let's hear 'em, unless you're too cool to post...

Postby Guest » 07/09/06 06:07 PM

Thanks for that post castawaydave, it was great.

I have a story for you when i crossed paths with a great:

I was at the magic castle when Allan Ackerman was there. I was introduced to him and he immediately starting performing magic for me.

He was such a nice guy, with great technical skill. He performed magic for everyone that night, for hours. It was great.

Some of what he performed for me is now in my active repotoire. It was a true pleasure to see him there.

Postby Guest » 07/09/06 08:28 PM

It depends on what you consider "great", really.

You can be a great technical magician.
You can be great in your handling of spectators.
You can be great in your choice of material.
You can be great at being funny.
You can look great.

On the other hand, you can have many of the above qualities and still be a horrible "entertainer". If you can't entertain, then the only people that will care about your magic will be other magicians.

Tony Brent

Postby Guest » 07/26/06 10:52 AM

I have a slightly different take on this.

What makes you great is how many times your name appears in print.


A long time ago I thought I was highly skilled. However, few knew who I was. I started a campaign to correct that. It consisted of getting lots of ads out and performing at magic conventions.

To a large degree, it worked.

Many greats have a large circle of friends. Many examples can be found in NY, LA and Chicago. Ever wonder why so many greats come from there?

I do not have such circles of friends. I had to rely on ads.

Now you might say that Matrix did it for me. Well, it didn't because those ads puushed my name and Matrix.

Consider this. How many people know who invented Professor's Nightmare. This is more popular than Matrix could ever hope to be. Yet few know who he is. I met him. He is a very accomplished magician. He deserves more. But his name does not appear in ads and he does not have a circle of friends that appear in the magic media all of the time.

Al Schneider

Postby Jim Maloney_dup1 » 07/26/06 11:28 AM

Originally posted by Al Schneider:
I have a slightly different take on this.

What makes you great is how many times your name appears in print.
There seems to be an inherent flaw in this. Assume that my name appeared in every issue of every magazine over the course of twenty years. By your argument, I would be one of the greatest magicians around. However, it fails to take into account that every time my name appeared it was in this context: "Jim Maloney, the most gawdawful 'magician' around, bored everyone with the most convoluted piece of crap trick I've ever seen. At least I think so. I'd say more, but I fell asleep halfway through."

There's also the other side of this. Al, you seem to have a good deal of respect for Bob Carver. But would you say that he's not a great magician since his name isn't mentioned that often? You stated that he's very accomplished, which would seem to indicate that he is great or at least very good.

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Postby Guest » 07/26/06 01:07 PM

Great in the eyes of who?
The lay audience? magicians? amateurs? Professionals? Agents? Event organisers?

The truth (imho) regarding lay audiences which i think is the most important, is that they have NO way of comparing... If you have an audience that never saw a magician, they will probably like it, even if it's (very) bad... So many "Bad" magicians work a lot, unfortunatly... and create audiences that think that all magicians are bad...or that the magician is "great"...until they see the "real" work, so they CAN compare...

just my thoughts....


Postby Guest » 07/26/06 01:32 PM

Originally posted by Al Schneider:
I have a slightly different take on this.

What makes you great is how many times your name appears in print.

I think you are confusing "great" with "famous".

They are not the same thing.

Jeffery Daumer was "famous".

Postby Guest » 07/26/06 04:46 PM

Bob Carver's name has appeared here several times. The posts imply that he is alive and active. Regretfully, Bob passed away many years ago. During his day, mostly the sixties, Bob was a gem of original and innovative magic. He was not concerned with claims of originality or rushing to print. He was simply having fun. He wasted no time in showing others his creative conceits and, once having fooled you, he delighted in explaining the modus operandi. He never put any restrictions on his disclosures of which I am aware. I think that he just assumed that people would be honorable. He had fun fooling others and the revelation of the secret to those deserving to know was a double pleasure. Back then, in certain areas, it wasn't fashionable to brag about originalities. It's a shame since many of his creations would have baffled you. He was a nice guy who really, really loved magic.

Postby Richard Kaufman » 07/26/06 05:44 PM

Don, can you tell us about some of Bob Carver's other creations?
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Postby Guest » 07/26/06 07:02 PM

Richard, as you know, everyone is aware of Bob Carver's Professor's Nightmare. I think it gained notoriety because it became a dealer's item. I saw Carver do many, many things, but my memory didn't latch onto any particular one since I had no intention of "borrowing" it. I wish that I had. At the time, I was content on being a mere spectator. I do recall one effect, however, that I saw him perform several times. It always appeared impromptu although, obviously, it wasn't. It involved some machinations with a dollar bill, the details of which are lost in my memory. The portion that I recall was that the bill increased in size. With a couple of folds, that larger bill also doubled(?) in size. The patter was along the lines of the type of purchases each bill could make. After some more folds, a huge Jumbo bill made its appearance. The bill was tapped lengthwise on the table and as Carver talked about the auto that money could buy, the bill was lowered to reveal a very large toy-sized replica of an automobile! It doesn't sound like much, but the steal was invisible and the load was done on the offbeat. I still don't know where the replica was kept prior to production. This might be old stuff now, in view of all of the popular cup loading and similar moves, but the handling appeared very advanced at the time. It's a pity that it never occurred to me and, obviously, others, to make notes. Bob died at an earlier age than one would have expected and, I guess, none of us, sensed any urgency. Pity.

Postby Guest » 07/26/06 11:22 PM

I accept your comments.

My problem is that I read about and hear about people that many think are great. My perception is that they are not.

My point is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There is no right or wrong.

It is also my guess that if,

"Jim Maloney, the most gawdawful 'magician' around, bored everyone with the most convoluted piece of crap trick I've ever seen. At least I think so. I'd say more, but I fell asleep halfway through."

appeared in every magazine in existance for 20 years, you would be considered great. Every hear the term bad PR is good PR. On the other hand there is no way to prove this is there?

Al Schneider

Postby Guest » 07/27/06 01:16 AM

Esteemed Mr. Schneider,
CERTAINLY you must be pulling legs. You're tryin' to spur thought and study through reverse psychology, right?
--Surely a gentleman with thinking as nuanced as yourself understands the difference between "fame" and "in-famy". Sheer news-paper column-inches don't have anything to DO with "greatness". By that logic, Bonnie and (or) Clyde would be "greater than anyone that received less ink".

"Better remembered", "More famous", etc...ARE one thing; but I perceive "greatness" as having something to do with "GOOD".

Postby Guest » 07/27/06 10:38 AM

Yes and no.
My concern is that others might not understand the difference between fame and in-famy.
It is a bit reversed. But then it is not.
I am concerned that people often do not question that which they read.
It seems that people question that which I write.
This is a good thing and means there is hope.
Al Schneider

Postby Guest » 07/27/06 11:01 AM

Of COURSE we check what YOU write--You're one of the greats! :whack:

Postby Guest » 07/27/06 02:40 PM

Originally posted by Al Schneider:
Every hear the term bad PR is good PR. On the other hand there is no way to prove this is there?
I'm sure we've all heard that sentiment, or something like it. But being well known has nothing to do with greatness.

Anna Nichole Smith gets a ton of press, most of it bad. She is very well known and manages to make a living out of being well known. But I doubt very much that anyone could call her great, though she is more well known than Vernon ever was...

Postby Guest » 07/27/06 04:47 PM

Some of the greatest performances I have seen caused me to suspend my disbelief, to forget that what I am seeing is not real. I am certain that everyone has felt this when enjoying the work of Robert DeNiro, Meryl Streep (insert your favorite actor here). Performance that is so compelling that we become emotionally invested in the character. Many great performers in the variety arts have brought me to this place, Avner the Eccentric, Michael Moschen, Marcel Marceau, etc..

Magicians are expected to fool their audience. I think that may make it a little harder to suspend the disbelief of the audience. I remember the first time I saw Tina Lenert performing her classic "cleaning lady" act. She thoroughly suspended my disbelief when the character she created came to life.

Though there are others in magic that have sucessfully suspended my disbelief, I chose this act because it was not about any single magic trick. It was her acting abilities combined with mime and magic that completely blew me away.

There is one thing I find common to these experiences I have had while watching great performers. What I thought of the act was far less significant than how it made me feel.

I would love to hear from others of magical acts that caused them to forget, even for a minute, that what they were watching was a professional magic act.

Postby Guest » 07/28/06 02:15 AM

Watching Jorge Alexander perform in the Parlor comes to mind.

I felt like a laymen again, it was great.

Postby Guest » 07/28/06 08:14 PM

Here is a memorable experience I had.
At some convention I sat in the back row of the close up area watching Don Alan.

When he entered the room and started to perform I forgot I existed until he took his final bow. Mind you, I was in the last row. During the entire show I felt as if I were one foot from the front of the table. I do not remember being fooled. I do remember being totally tied up with the events that unfolded between Don and the ladies he invited to join him.

I consider this event one of my greatest lessons in magic.

The strange thing is that he seemed to barely notice the audience. Occasionally he would glance at the audience. But it was merely a fliker of a look. He focused on those helping him. He never teased the ladies in any way. He never offered some action to change his mind to do something else. He started and moved directly to the planned conclusion.

I have seen videos of him but they do not touch what I felt in the room that day.

Al Schneider

Postby Guest » 07/28/06 10:55 PM

I got to see "The Asparagus Valley Cultural Society" (at the Phoenix Theater, on Broadway in San Francisco) five times including closing night, October 31, 1981.

I have NEVER seen, nor do I EXPECT to see the equal of Teller performing "The Miser's Dream", "The Needles", and his legendary "Shadows" six or eight feet from one's nose, in a theater the size of one's living room.

People talk about "real magic"--well, that was a bit of it.

Postby Dustin Stinett » 07/28/06 11:21 PM

Originally posted by castawaydave:
I have NEVER seen, nor do I EXPECT to see the equal of Teller performing "The Miser's Dream", "The Needles", and his legendary "Shadows" six or eight feet from one's nose, in a theater the size of one's living room.

People talk about "real magic"--well, that was a bit of it.
Hear, hear. I sat on the isle the night I saw the show in that theater. Teller was but a few feet from me as he performed those pieces. I can still see his facial expressions in my minds eye.

The closest I have come to that experience (three times now) is watching Kalin and Jinger in their very intimate theater in Reno. Perhaps not so coincidently, the name of the show is Real Magic.

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Postby Guest » 07/29/06 12:30 AM

The fact that it has been a QUARTER OF A CENTURY since those few perfect evenings slays me. I still honestly remember as if they were last night.
After one show, we were standing on the sidewalk out front, and Penn grabs me and says, "HEY! Listen to the Clash!" before striding off up Columbus Ave. We did, as a matter of fact, and the rest is history.

Closing night, I begged Teller not to stop doing the show--I mean, what more amazing, hilarious date has there EVER been than Asparagus? (Answer: NONE.)

[Now, HERE is my bit of REAL bone-headed infamy:] After that last show, I literally said to Teller, "You will never do anything better than this. Asparagus is the PERFECT show". He said, "Well Dave, we've gotta try".

I suppose saying here that the rest is history would be a bit of an understatement.

Postby Guest » 07/29/06 12:58 AM

I saw P&T a few years later in LA. One thing that really impressed me was how well the material fit them. It seemed so incredibly natural for these two to perform their casey at the bat straight jacket escape. It was brilliant and timeless...

I also had the good fortune of seeing one of the imports from the '84 Olympic Arts Festival, Circus OZ from Australia. Although I saw the show like ten times, it was that very first show that literally changed the way I view not only circus, but theater.

Though every act was incredible, it was probably the act leading into the intermission that hit me the hardest. And it was a plate spinner, no less. The scene was the inside of a nuclear power plant, the plate were the fuel and he was trying to get the plant up to full power. After all the plates were spinning, there was a malfunction, followed by an explosion and yes, a mushroom cloud of smoke on stage. Within a few seconds, robotic exo-skellitons (on stilts) came out with beams of light coming from their heads pushing brooms to clean up the mess. A voice came over the loudspeaker and said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, there has been an accident and there will now be an intermission of 150 thousand years." The stage went dark for the intermission I have never seen any act illicit anywhere near this kind of emotional response. Goose bumps were everywhere, people cried and were visibly shaken.

If anyone here saw this act or OZ, I would love to know your thoughts on this amazing show. I do not have a video of this show, but I think it is time to search for one. Anyone???

Postby Dustin Stinett » 07/29/06 01:04 AM

I was in town for a (PCAM?) convention. When he found out I was going up there, a friend told me NOT to miss that show no matter what. Another friend, who also attended the convention, and I went and, of course, we caught some grief for missing one of the evening shows at the convention. HAHAHA!!! Like I would rememberas well as I do the AVCS show that nightsome crappy convention show! I also recall seeing a few well-known faces there that night as well. I felt like I was in the smart set (because it turned out that I was).

I can still remember Teller looking at me as he signed my flyer after the show: He never looked down as he signedhe just stared me straight in the eyes. I still have that brochure, signed by all three guys (along with several other pieces I collected that night; prized possessions all).

Since that night, Shadows remains one of my favorite pieces of magic I have ever witnessed.

Teller is, as the subject of this thread is about, truly great.

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Postby Guest » 07/29/06 01:47 AM

Ah, so Mr. Stinett, you have one of the rare Wier Chrisemer autographs. Well done.

In addition to Teller's magic, we haven't even mentioned, how absolutely f--ing HILARIOUS that show was: the music (mostly Wier's parts); Penn's juggling (say, with lacrosse balls while eating an apple, all the while flinging copious apple-spittle onto the front row with lines like, "Yeah! Call early: get good seats!"

And the icing on the cake, Penn's fire-eating to close the show, with the house-lights off: only the light of his torches and his perfect monologue...[including] "...and if you think I'm using 'cold-fire', wait'll I get it lit, put up your hand, and I'll stick it in your eye!"

Those actually WERE the days, my friend.

Postby Guest » 07/29/06 08:29 AM

Originally posted by castawaydave:
I got to see "The Asparagus Valley Cultural Society" ...
Thanks for the reminder. Brought me back to a discussion with Jeff McBride about these guys when they were being considered as entertainment for Tannen's Magic Camp. I could see the deep respect Jeff had for these guys and was pleased to pass on that recommendation to the decision makers... and got to see AVCS perform a few weeks later at the camp.

I much enjoyed their group straight jacket escape timed to pick up the musical instruments onstage to continue a piece. And of course Teller's needles and shadow routines.

Postby Guest » 07/29/06 05:32 PM

Recounting the glory of "Asparagus" has warmed my cockles to the point where I am compelled to perform a minor act of generosity in the spirit of those old days:

To the first 10 folks who email me their mailing addresses, I will send an actual rare, original piece of memorabilia from that show: One of their souvenir postcards that is a 2-color reproduction of the show's poster. It says "Funniest Show in San Francisco! ASPARAGUS The Amazing Comedy of Theatrical Surprises".

AB-SO-LUTE-LY no b.s.: email me at and a little bit of magi-history will be sent your way. FREE! Just for fun! No strings attached of any kind! Really! Do it! I may even send them to the first 15 people if you're lucky...

Ay carumba! Could this guy be any more of a kook? :eek:

Postby Guest » 07/31/06 03:18 PM

"The Asparagus Valley Cultural Society", must have been something else.
During the early '80's I went to my first magic convention. Del Ray was featured. Being new to magic, I had few expectations. When I arrived for his close up show, all the seats around his table were taken, and all the performers and lecturers had found chairs to stand on so they could see over the crowd. Realizing that something special was about to happen, I went looking for a chair too. I opened the door to a utility closet and there was Del Ray, waiting to be introduced. We both laughed, I quietly grabbed a chair and shut the door.
Del Ray was announced, and the most memorable show of my life began. Disbelief was suspended and then it was annihilated....pure magic and I'll never forget it.

Postby Guest » 07/31/06 07:16 PM

Indeed, "Asparagus" WAS SOMETHING, as my starry-eyed posts have attempted to relate...

As well, the response to my offer has likewise been something!
It has been fun playing Santa in July, and I wanted to mention that, for some of you who may have felt you were a bit late emailing (I HAVE mailed 15 already), I still DO have several more cards available to send out, to other deserving fans.

...This thread is about "greatness" and I am glad to pass along a teeny reminder of that. (Reflected glory is delicious too.)

--But don't delay! This near-psychotic offering can last forever!

Dave Cox, San Francisco

Postby Guest » 07/31/06 07:22 PM

CAN'T! --"This psychotic offer CAN'T last forever"! The offer can't, just the psychosis...

Postby Guest » 08/05/06 12:22 PM

Hey Dave,

Thanks for the way cool collectable. It arrived yesterday. By the time I saw P&T in '81, Teller had already cut his hair. Over the years, I have seen them many times. Shadows redefined theatrical magic for me. It set the bar. In the late 80's, I saw the bullet catch in Vegas, EXCELLENT!

Anyway, thanks again!

Bruce Sinclair

Postby Joe Pecore » 08/05/06 01:30 PM

Got mine in the mail yesterday! Want a nice surprise.

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Postby Guest » 08/07/06 05:57 PM

Thanks a lot....that's cool!

Postby Dustin Stinett » 08/07/06 06:18 PM

I too am a happy recipient of this most generous gift. Thanks Dave!

I was also regaled by a selection of his writings: Its interesting stuff. It makes one wonder just how much of the Summer of Love Dave experienced! :D

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Postby Guest » 08/07/06 06:57 PM

The envelope arrived yesterday.

Also With artwork.

Thanks! :)

Postby Pete Biro » 08/07/06 07:00 PM

FLIP and I were standing behind the back row of seats at the FISM in Brussells watching Sara Kabagujina and Sultangali Shukurov do their incredible act (gad must have been almost 30 years ago?) and at the finish we looked at each other, both of us in tears.

It was the most incredible, poetic magic act either of us had ever seen.

Much of it was, in fact, D'lites and more... but what a pair. Almost like ballet dancers, moving about the stage so gracefully and their finale, producing maybe a dozen birds at one time was a mind blower.

They came, seemingly from nowhere, flew out into the audience and flew back, all landing on the duo's outstretched arms.

I can still see them....

Oh yes, they won the Grand Prix (and due to politics had to share it with Ger Copper--who was "supposed" to win, but was OFF that night, but they gave him a "co-GP" anyway).
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Postby Guest » 08/07/06 08:01 PM

Gentlemen: It has been my pleasure, I assure you.
Mr. Stinnet cracking-wise at my expense ALONE is worth the horrible, horrible trauma of sending those free gifts out...! :p

In fact, Dustin, I WAS here for the summer of love! I was 4 years old, and Jim Morrison & I tore it UP!!

Further, I DO currently live on Haight Street, so you add 2 and 2.

In FACT: here's my NEXT wacky offering: come one, come all to the City, and I will personally escort you to Hippie Hill Golden Gate Park, in honor of Dustin Stinett and the Summer of Love!

You may be surprised who you meet up there.

Don't be strangers,
Dave C., S.F., CA.

P.S. Damn Mr. Biro! After 30 years; remembering such an ACT, let alone the spelling of: Sara Kabagujina as well as Sultangali Shukuror! That's awesome.

Postby Guest » 08/07/06 10:21 PM

Hey Dave:

Much appreciation for your kind gift, it is truly appreciated...



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