UNFINISHED BUSINESS - ISSUE 20

Some things you just can't let go

Welcome back, this is Cardopolis Newsletter 20. This issue is all about unfinished business. As the song says in the introductory titles to Bosch, there are some things I can’t let go. Here you will find a credit that took 35 years to track down, an obvious sleight that seems underused, a trick that evades perfection, and a different perspective on a well known story. As always, Cardopolis is free to read and can be shared. If you’d like to catch up on past content, all back issues are still online here. Thank you to those who donate using the Buy Me A Coffee feature, you will continue to receive additional material on the Cardopolis Buy Me A Coffee page.

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PAPER PRISON

In the 1980s Bob Ostin showed me an astonishing coin trick. It wasn’t his. And he couldn’t remember where he got it from or who showed it to him. Its origins were something of a mystery when I published it in New Talon issue 1 (1986). That was 35 years ago. I’ve shown the trick to many people over the years but no one recognised it. Tracing a trick to its lair is something of a preoccupation and in that respect Paper Prison was unfinished business. This year, I discovered where the trick came from.

The roots to Paper Prison lay in Gene Shelley’s A Taste of Money which was published in Genii magazine (September, 1970). The trick there is a complex one involving two coins. The Genii article mentions Eddie Tulloch as being the first to snap a coin from a folded paper while the spectator held it. That, too, sounds like a cool trick. Paper Prison are Tulloch/Shelley ideas pared to the bone to produce a stunning visual illusion. I think you’ll like it.

TWO EMPTY HANDS

It’s best you watch the video before reading what I have to say next. This field of magic is another kind of unfinished business, something I’ve been interested in for a while without ever finding something I liked. I hope it’ll inspire further research from cardicians and maybe some input from those who know more devious uses for these methods.

I remember reading in The Gen that Ken Brooke sleeved cards (Ken Brooke Card Vanish, Sept 1957). He even lectured on sleeving, as did David Berglas (Art of Close Up Magic Vol 2 by Lewis Ganson, 1969). In the Dai Vernon Book of Magic (1957), the sleeve is used to add cards for The Six Card Repeat. Jerry Andrus (Andrus Card Control. 1976) and Karl Fulves (Imprompu Holdouts, 1978) also wrote about sleeving but many of their methods seemed difficult to do. I never actually saw anyone using them. An additional stumbling block for me is that you needed to wear a jacket. I rarely wear jackets. Sleeving was a potentially interesting idea but difficult to put into practise.

Some years ago I got to see Rod The Hop work with a holdout. The most interesting aspect of this work, for me, was that Rod used the holdout under a shirt. He didn’t need to wear a jacket. More recently I saw some footage of Asian gamblers stealing and retrieving cards from their sleeves. They wore long-sleeved casual garments, like Polo shirts. Like Rod’s work with a holdout, the handling was very close, the cards held in an unusual position that might be okay for someone playing cards but was very different from the more open way a magician performs. Inspired by the way card cheats could get cards in and out of a shirt sleeve, even a close-fitting one, I thought it was time to look again at this area of magic. Here are a couple of experiments you might like to play with.

For this practise session I wore a baggy shirt with cuffs that fit loosely around the wrist. When sleeving was mentioned in Koschitz’s Manual of Useful Information (1894), reference was made to having a sleeve lined with mohair because it was a smooth material that minimised friction. The material the shirt is made of is as important as the fit around the wrist. Bear that in mind if you give it a go.

OFFWORLD

I sent this trick to Abracadabra magazine in 1976. They rejected it for being too complicated. To be honest, it is not as good as the trick it is based on, Paul Curry’s Out of this World. I eventually published it in Peter Duffie’s Virtual Miracles (2000) and in Genii (October, 2018 ).

It’s perhaps best for performing to magicians who think you are about to do OOTW but are surprised when the cards are dealt into two piles without interruption.

The trick is unfinished in several ways, some of which you will only discover when you try it, but most notably is that it doesn’t always conclude perfectly. There’s some stuff to hide. I do come back to it from time to time, finessing it here and there and hoping to find a presentation that justifies the procedure. The version here eliminates the Half Pass that was in the original. That’s progress of sorts I suppose.

Incidentally, if you want to learn Out of this World, I recommend going back to Curry’s original instructions, especially the fifth printing (1944) which includes many ideas from his contemporaries. So many magicians learn this trick from second hand sources that they risk missing out on points that made the original such a strong item.

Mention of Out of this World also takes us to our last piece of unfinished business. The story of Harry Green and Winston Churchill.

HARRY GREEN & WINSTON CHURCHILL

In World’s Beyond (2001), Paul Curry told a story about Out of This World that has become legend. He said:

My warmest memory concerning this trick goes back to a day during World War II, when the mail brought a note and a newspaper clipping from a magician friend in London. “Congratulations,” the note read, “You’ve done something Hitler couldn’t do - you fooled Winnie.” The clipping from the London Times told how actor-magician Harry Green had, at Prime Minister Churchill’s insistence, performed “Out of This World” six times in a row. Still baffled, the report states, Churchill finally left for Parliament where his delayed arrival prompted the story. It’s something, I think, to know that an effort of yours occupied the thoughts, however briefly, of one of the world’s greatest men - particularly at a time when diversions could not have come easily.

Curry told a slightly different version of the story in Magician’s Magic (1965), and over time the story has metamorphosed into the idea that the British Prime Minister was so baffled by a card trick that he was late for an important meeting. The truth is slightly different.

The incident occurred in June, 1946. The war was over, Churchill had been ousted as Prime Minister and was now Leader of the Opposition. He had attended a show called Fifty-Fifty, a farce starring actor Harry Green who was also famous for his card tricks. According to Hannen Swaffer’s account in The People (June 30th, 1946), it was at a party after the show that Harry Green performed Out of this World.

Winston, one of a party of ten taken by the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, his kinsmen, to see “Fifty-Fifty,” went behind the scenes, met the company and then supped with the Greens and the other guests in a private room at the Savoy.

Afterwards, Harry produced a pack of cards, shuffled them, and then said to Churchill, “Lay them down in what order you like, backs up and in two rows – trying to put the reds in one row and the blacks in the other.”

When Winston had done his guessing, Harry turned the cards over. All the reds and all the blacks were in separate rows!

Hannen Swaffer was a well-known newspaper columnist and drama critic. He was also a magic enthusiast, serving at one time on the committee of Will Goldston’s Magicians’ Club. He was probably aware of Out of this World, one of the most popular card tricks of the time and sold by UK dealers. He went on to say:

Churchill made him repeat the trick six times and then do others, hour after hour, over and over again. It was perhaps with his head full of millions and billions that, at 2.30 in the morning, he felt really capable of going down to criticise the Budget.

Swaffer said that Churchill had been noted for his recent ‘absenteeism” from Parliament and so it was a surprise when, left ‘befogged’ by Harry Green, he turned up at Parliament at 2.30 in the morning! He wasn’t late for work, he was exceedingly early. And perhaps a little worse for wear.

The ‘millions and billions’ refers to an interesting line that Green used during the presentation. After the trick, he said to Churchill, “If you had bet £1 on being right over the first card, Mr. Churchill, and then doubled your bet each time, you would have won something like £2,000,000,000.” That might be an idea for anyone who wants to apply a gambling presentation to the trick.

Harry Green, real name Henry Blitzer, was from New York, had appeared in many movies and became a popular figure in British entertainment, having his own TV series and even running a club called The Jack of Clubs in Berwick Street, London.

As well as Winston Churchill, Harry counted royalty and aristocracy among his friends. He has one magic book to his name, Harry Green Says You Are a Magician (1954). In the Introduction he says, ‘I do not consider myself a magician, but everyone can learn to entertain, and there is nothing so fascinating as magic.’ The book contains photos of Harry entertaining some chimpanzees with magic. An idea Paul Daniels resurrected for one of his shows. And a stunt now popular with magicians on YouTube and psychologists looking to write another paper about how magic tricks will change the world.

THAT’S ALL FOR NOW

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