In January of 1942, Walter Gibson and Bruce Elliott (1914 - 1973) launched a four-page periodical that became lovingly referred to as "The Bird." Gibson and Elliott shared the editorial duties of The Phoenix until December 1944. Gibson's name vanished from the masthead with issue 74, and from issue 75 through 300, a period of nearly a decade, Bruce Elliott served as sole editor of one of magic's greatest publications.I have tried to make this the kind of book I would like to have read when I first became interested in magic.
From the preface of Classic Secrets of Magic by Bruce Elliott; Harper & Bros. 1953
While cranking out a biweekly magic magazine, Elliott also had a career to which to attend. He was a freelance writer, with short stories and articles published in magazines of varying subjects: detective stories, fantasy, sci-fi (his specialty) and children's works (he became managing editor of a children's magazine toward the end of his run with The Phoenix) and he even did some early TV script writing (ever see the TV version of "Flash Gordon"?).
It is in his editor's piece in The Phoenix called "The Back Room" that we learned about all his goings on. His jottings in "The Back Room" were as varied as his other works; he never followed a pattern. Elliott shared his personal news (and plugs), magic news, reviews, newspaper clippings, tips on tricks, even complete tricks were described. Sometimes he would publish a letter he received, or he would regale his readers with the events of the latest "Friday Night Sodality" that usually took place at his home. The list of attendees to those events usually read like a "who's who of magic," but sometimes a "who's that?" And his occasional jabs taken at Frank Joglar (usually return volleys) a columnist (and trivia question) in Hugard's Magic Monthly were always fun to read; right up to issue 300. At least one time there was only a cartoon, but usually it was an odd mix of any of these and other tidbits. "The Back Room" was masterful writing by a master of the typewriter. There is little question that The Phoenix is Bruce Elliott's legacy. However, in 1953, he contributed a work to the published record that is truly significant.
Published by Harper & Bros., a mainstream publisher, Classic Secrets of Magic is a compendium of some of the greatest effects in magic. Twelve to be exact. Twelve, that is, with variations and treatments from some of the great names in magic that ends up equaling over 30 effects, many of which are still very popular today.
There are card revelations (who didn't learn the "snap change" from this book? If you didn't, you probably learned it from someone who did); the rice bowls; a wine glass production; paddle move work, including Dr. Sachs' Dice Routine that seems to be making it back into everyone's repertoire these days. There appears several versions of the Four Ace trick; the Miser's Dream; Egg Bag and Chink-a-Chink. Effects with razor blades, matches and billiard balls. (Did this have any influence on our own Chief Genii who authored a book on the balls early in his own career?) Also included is Elliott's version of the Ambitious Card, Charlie Miller's cups and balls and Roy Benson's bowl routine. It's all in there. It's a clich, but in this 210-page book there truly is enough solid material from which to choose for one to begin a career in magic.
Just a few of the notable names that appear in the book are Dai Vernon, Jay Marshal, Lee Noble, Walter Gibson, Joe Berg, Cy Enfield and the aforementioned Miller and Benson.
Readers of Genii will recall David Regal's fine article, "Speaking Volumes" in which he asks an impressive list of magicians to speak about their favorite "buried treasure" from magic's panoply of books. Classic Secrets of Magic is mentioned a couple of times. Impressive, if one stops and thinks about the number of titles available.
Bruce Elliott received some grief about his "exposure" of magic in his books, since non-magic publishers published them (he also wrote Magic as a Hobby, The Best in Magic and Professional Magic Made Easy). Classic Secrets of Magic even had a "read and return guarantee" promotion for which Elliott was lambasted. However, the promotion was not national, and it was done through the mail. The mailing list used by Harper's was provided by Elliott and came from a magician's directory. But, since his books were marketed to the general public, was Elliott "exposing" secrets? Especially these amazing pieces in this book?
What about the fact that this volume is a compilation? That issue has been discussed within these forums recently. What sets this book apart from other compilations? (Other than the fact that it's a book, not a video. And if you want to discuss this issue, the issue is compilations, not print vs. video.)
These are just a few of the thoughts that come to my mind regarding this book. Of course, you may wish to discuss which effect(s) you use or used. Did this volume have a specific influence on your magic?
In the mean time, while you collect your thoughts on this book, I will also pose a couple trivia questions specific to the book and Elliott (fear not Richard, I won't do this all the time. But please forgive me, old habits are hard to break):
1 Whose name is misspelled several times in Classic Secrets of Magic?
2 Who was behind the "poison pen" of the infamous pseudonym "Frank Joglar" who tormented Bruce Elliott so much?
That's all for now. Do keep those emails coming.
PS: Should you be the first to post the correct answers to the trivia questions, you win bragging rights. Sorry, that's the best I can do.