P.T. Selbit

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Joe Mckay
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P.T. Selbit

Postby Joe Mckay » May 15th, 2018, 4:32 pm

Well - I tracked down the Eric Lewis/Peter Warlock book on P.T. Selbit.

I am currently working my way through it. As such - I thought I would start a thread on him. I should wait until I finish reading the book before posting on him. But I just want to get the ball rolling now. No doubt that means I will end up correcting myself and answering my own questions once I have finished the book.

I already knew about P.T. Selbit from his trick The Mighty Cheese which has one of the oddest secrets in magic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTrgdhq0vTw

I then read an article by Jim Steinmeyer in Genii magazine about Selbit's Broadcasting A Woman illusion.

It is a transposition trick that makes use of identical twins. Seems simple enough. But in this trick, the girl who appears at the end has a hand that was signed by the spectator at the start of the trick. It is a small touch, but it intrigued me. I have a soft spot for those creators who put in the work to add an extra winkle to a trick that would otherwise be quite flat without it. As such - I added Selbit to my list of illusionists that I was curious to learn more about. Speaking of identical twins, recently I read some tricks by David Berglas that makes clever use of identical twins.

P.T. Selbit is famous for inventing the Sawing A Woman in half trick. I also found out that he invented a lovely routine called The Spirit Paintings. You can see Geoffrey Durham perform that trick here. It is lovely:

https://youtu.be/z4CbskjdE7c?t=1h59m18s

I understand that David P. Abbott also has a version of this trick in print as well. But I have not gotten round to studying his version yet. I am assuming Durham's trick is based on the Selbit version since he also performs the Selbit blocks. So I am guessing he is a fan of Selbit's work as a whole.

Often you find out a magician has a couple of brilliant ideas, and then you find that nothing else about their work really grabs you. I was worried that might be the case with Selbit. Then I came across the delightful bluff he uses in his Selbit's Mystery illusion that is described in the Lewis/Warlock book. It is wonderful. It was invented 20 years before The Million Dollar Mystery. Yet - it duplicates the same effect. What is fun is that the mirror tunnel (which had yet to be discovered) is replaced by a cheeky bluff instead. At that point I wanted to post some more about Selbit since he is clearly the real deal. An amazing thinker.

Last night I was going through The Learned Pig database over at Lybrary.com. It is a collection of old ebooks that Chris Wasshuber offers for free to those who register with the site. I had a casual read through of a book called The Magician's Handbook by Selbit. For some reason - I assumed the book was written by another magician called Selbit. Since I am now a fan of how Selbit thinks - I thought it unlikely I would stumble across a free ebook of his work. I wasn't thinking clearly. I do that sometimes.

My worst example involves the pianist, Bill Evans. I remember Michael Close raving about his music in an old 'It's Not Magic ,But...' section of his review column in MAGIC magazine. So next time I was in a record shop - I asked to buy some Bill Evans music.

They didn't have any.

But they did have some music by Gil Evans. Well - that is close enough I guess, and I walked out with a CD of Gil Evans instead.

Man I am dumb.

So - in light of writing this post, I thought I would double check and see who wrote The Magician's Handbook. Well - it turns out it is by P.T. Selbit. So I will have to go away and study it properly when I get a chance. You can see a list of the contents to that book here:

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:avOrZ6R02T8J:magicref.tripod.com/bookssz/selbitmagicianshandbook.htm+&cd=3&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk

You can also find the book for free here:

http://themagicwiki.com/magos/www.thelearnedpig.com.pa/magos/books/selbit1/001.html

Okay - I expect I will post some more once I finish the book. And thanks once again to Richard Kaufman for giving me a push in this direction. He called Selbit a genius in a different thread, and that definitely got me even more interested in this creator. Thanks, Richard!

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Richard Kaufman
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Re: P.T. Selbit

Postby Richard Kaufman » May 15th, 2018, 7:26 pm

The Learned Pig was started by a guy from Central or South America, and it was revolutionary (that is, ahead of the digital curve) at the time. Wish I could remember his name. But he was smart!
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Jack Shalom
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Re: P.T. Selbit

Postby Jack Shalom » May 15th, 2018, 7:32 pm

Jose Antonio Gonzales Campos, I believe, from Panama. Went by the handle of Marko.

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Re: P.T. Selbit

Postby Bill Mullins » May 15th, 2018, 9:59 pm


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Re: P.T. Selbit

Postby Daniel Z » May 15th, 2018, 10:39 pm

David Ben did a very clever version of the Selbit sawing in a number of his stage shows (he also did spirit painting routine in a few of them).

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Re: P.T. Selbit

Postby Tom Moore » May 16th, 2018, 5:27 am

Paul Daniels presented a surprisingly accurate recreation of the Selbit sawing in his 80's tv show; right down to the pacing & convincers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjCerkXPw78 It's well worth a watch to see how the effect /should/ be presented and just how corrupted it was as it morphed in to the Wakling sawing most magicians now present as "the selbit sawing"
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Joe Mckay
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Re: P.T. Selbit

Postby Joe Mckay » May 16th, 2018, 10:05 am

Thanks for that. Will watch it when I get home.

I always assumed the Wakeling version was an improvement though? I never hear magicians discuss it as a step backwards.

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Re: P.T. Selbit

Postby Daniel Z » May 16th, 2018, 10:44 am

Hi Tom.
I think you may be correct that David Ben's version was closer to the Wakeling than the Selbit. Of course with his own modifications both technical and in performance. For example, and perhaps most notably, in the spirit of Richardi, he doesn't restore the subject. Unlike Richard David's version is more slyly humorous than horrifying. I say that with no disrespect to Richardi, who was a fantastic magician with an extraordinary style.

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Re: P.T. Selbit

Postby Pete McCabe » May 16th, 2018, 12:07 pm

I'm fascinated by Selbit as well. I have a copy of the Mighty Cheese poster on my wall (one of the very few magic posters that does not show the magician). I think it would be great if, say, Penn and Teller brought this trick back, getting professional wrestlers to wrestle the cheese.

With regard to not restoring the woman, I saw Richiardi live and it was great, but it's not quite the same as if you did a classic in-a-box sawing and then didn't restore the person. Actually I would love to see someone secure the assistant in the box, saw it in half, and pull each half offstage in a different direction, the end. I think that would be very effective.

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Re: P.T. Selbit

Postby Joe Mckay » May 16th, 2018, 12:12 pm

Pete - P&T did do a feature on The Mighty Cheese on one of their TV shows.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTrgdhq0vTw

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Richard Kaufman
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Re: P.T. Selbit

Postby Richard Kaufman » May 16th, 2018, 12:14 pm

The Mighty Cheese is just a bad idea. I've seen it done several times and frankly it's not a magical effect. I don't know what to call it ... a stunt, perhaps. People in the audience have no idea what's going on. You need to feel it (the inability to push the cheese over) in order for it to have any effect.
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Bill Mullins
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Re: P.T. Selbit

Postby Bill Mullins » May 16th, 2018, 2:25 pm

The Mighty Cheese is not Gouda nough for today's audiences.

Joe Mckay
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Re: P.T. Selbit

Postby Joe Mckay » May 16th, 2018, 2:46 pm

It was great seeing Paul Daniels do the Sawing in Half trick. Selbit said that his version was more of a puzzle effect (where is the girl hiding?) rather than a sawing effect. So his version has a much more relaxed feel to it compared to the versions that came after.

It is great seeing so much magic from such a simple secret. As I learn more about illusions - it is interesting to see how many of them rely on the simplest of methods.

The Paul Daniels magic show is a great record of illusions that you rarely see. Two good examples are his performance of Charles Morritt's Oh! illusion and the Any Drink Called For act. A plan of mine is to research this TV series and create record of the unusual illusions that were featured on the show over the many years it was on the air. Many of these trick are ones that magicians rarely get a chance to see. Of course - that would make a nice magazine article as well. So maybe the guys at Genii will put together something like this one day?

For those wanting to learn more about Selbit's illusions - the Mike Caveney volume called The Conference Illusions describes his recreation of Selbit's Through The Eye of a Needle illusion.

Joe Mckay

PS Here are the two illusions mentioned above that Paul Daniels did a great job recording for posterity.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cr2zKCsbkdA Charles Morritt - Oh! illusion

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHiR6Vxv-Zg Paul Daniels - Any Drink Called For (seems to be a version of The Magic Kettle by David Devant)

And let's not forget Paul Daniels recreation of Robert-Houdin's Marvelous Orange Tree - it is the most beautiful trick in all of magic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZb4nw7_hGY

Joe Mckay
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Re: P.T. Selbit

Postby Joe Mckay » May 16th, 2018, 2:57 pm

The audio is a bit out of sync here. But this performance by Paul Daniels seems to be an updating of Selbit's Through The Eye of a Needle illusion.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDhxEb6Ex7A

I am noticing a lot of Paul's illusions on YouTube. So soon I will start another thread - just so I can gather together what I feel are his most interesting illusions all in one place. Of course it will be interesting to hear from others as well.

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Re: P.T. Selbit

Postby Joe Mckay » May 16th, 2018, 3:01 pm

Here is another Selbit trick performed by Paul Daniels.

The Bewildering Blocks.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PfaaCemZe0

I know Geoffrey Durham performs this trick a lot as well. So I may find footage of him performing it somewhere as well. This trick is also covered in the Mike Caveney volume called The Conference Illusions.

Over the years the trick has been known by a few different names: “Magic Bricks”, “Bewildering Blocks” and “Cube-Libre”.

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Re: P.T. Selbit

Postby Tom Moore » May 16th, 2018, 5:40 pm

Define “improvement” - the Wakeling sawing is directly evolved from the Selbit effect and many performers present it as the Selbit effect or as an authentic Victorian performance when actually it’s not.

I have a lot of issues with the Wakeling sawing - it’s too well made (half the deception of the Selbit effect is that it feels homemade and simple, mahogany boxes, chrome swords and brass fitting doors feels far too planned) and almost every performance I’ve ever seen of it has some fundamental narrative flaws in the way it’s presented, making it more of a direct challenge to the audience and missing the key points of the effect.

“Magicians like it” or “magicians don’t complain” is the worst justification for just about anything - less than 1% of magicians actually consider narrative; internal logic and proper storytelling for their acts. Magicians make purchases because it’s the hot new trick/toy or because they got a tingle when they saw “famous magician on tv” perform it and think of they buy the same trick, wear the same costume and use the same music their audiences will feel just the same tingle.
"Ingenious" - Ben Brantley: New York Times

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Joe Mckay
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Re: P.T. Selbit

Postby Joe Mckay » May 16th, 2018, 5:44 pm

Has anyone got a link to the Wakeling version? I don't have an opinion on this yet since I am still new to the world of illusions.

I just always imagined that the likes of Wakeling and Steinmeyer would have good reason for preferring the newer version. They are about as smart as you can get when it comes to this area of magic.

But I am keeping out of this debate for now since I have yet to make a side by side comparison. And even then - I am too much of a newbie in this area of magic to make a considered judgment.

Joe Mckay
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Re: P.T. Selbit

Postby Joe Mckay » May 16th, 2018, 5:46 pm

Okay - I just found a couple of performances of the Wakeling Sawing by Paul Daniels.

I am gonna' watch them now.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyJLUtZEuW0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2QXaMDoBEE

Joe Mckay
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Re: P.T. Selbit

Postby Joe Mckay » May 16th, 2018, 5:56 pm

In my unqualified opinion - I think Tom Moore is correct. The original leaves a bit more to the imagination. It is more engaging since you are trying to imagine where the assistant could be hiding.

In the Selbit book - I am not sure if it is Selbit or another great of magic - but somebody in there said they preferred the Selbit original for precisely that reason as well.

You find this with card tricks as well. Sometimes a double lift to show the wrong card and then you show it to have changed to the selection can be more mysterious than something more visual (and sleight of hand heavy).

Still - I am open to persuasion here. I just have a soft for those older types of illusions where it is like a game between the magician and the spectator. Rather than simply being confronted with a stark illusion that simply asks, "How is it done?". One is a puzzle and the other is a challenge.

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Re: P.T. Selbit

Postby Bill Mullins » May 16th, 2018, 7:57 pm

Joe Mckay wrote:Here is another Selbit trick performed by Paul Daniels.

The Bewildering Blocks.


Wasn't Bewildering Blocks from Hoffmann? The Selbit trick was the Magic Bricks.

Joe Mckay
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Re: P.T. Selbit

Postby Joe Mckay » May 18th, 2018, 1:35 pm

Cheers for that, Bill!

Also - here are some comments from Geoffrey Durham. I am not sure how well known he is in America. But he is one of the all-time greats here in the UK.

The Spirit Paintings is a lovely trick, but I didn't do a good job on the Best of Magic. I later revived it in my theatre shows, changed a lot of the internals and gave away the picture to the volunteer at the end. It was better that way. But I pulled it from the show in the end, because a member of the audience told me the method was obvious - it was the heat of the lamp that fixed the image onto the canvas. That hadn't occurred to me and even though it's completely wrong, I realised that it wouldn't ever have occurred to anyone when the trick was invented in about 1900. It didn't matter that it was mistaken - in the twenty-first century it was plausible. So I cut the trick.


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