Friday, May 28, 2010

The 41st Annual Magic Collectors Weekend Day 2

Friday May 14

Not staying at the hotel this year had its advantages and disadvantages. The late nights were just about the same except my drinking time was replaced with driving time. The mornings were a little earlier due to that same driving time. Traffic was surprisingly good. I rolled into the hotel about 9:30.

It is a half hour before the first event. Normally at this point I would complain about having an event at 10 A.M. but if you read paragraph 1 you’ll understand that it didn’t matter as much this year. The dealers’ room is open. I walk around and drool over things I cannot afford and talk to various people, many my once a year friends.

Maybe I should explain if you haven’t read my review of the last LA Conference. My once a year friends are those people who I only see once a year at these conventions. Seldom, we talk during the time between. This is not a derogatory term. How can one keep up with everyone? Once, sometime twice, a year we share a deep bond over the thing we care deeply about, magic history. I cherish all these interactions. Usually, I list all their names, but I’ll refrain. They all know who they are and how I feel about them.

The first presentation of the morning is called The Sphinx and The Sage. Joe Culpepper spoke of bringing his doctorial research “alive” by recreating the 19th century illusion, The Sphinx. I was especially curious because this idea has fascinated me ever Eddie Dawes wrote about it in his book about Col. Stodare. Joe did an interesting presentation that was marred by a dark and incomprehensible video of the actual performance. He showed a few backstage photos of the construction and explained why he changed the story from Egyptian to one of the stories from the Arabian nights. A perfect marriage of story and effect, it was an excellent choice. He also spoke to the power of the illusion for the modern audience and how it still fooled them.

Next we watched two video presentations showing the normally private magic collections of The Magic Circle. Originally, David Ben planned to do a live Skype tour, but technology doesn’t always cooperate. What a cool idea though. I think this could be an annual event, video tours of various collections or museums from around the world, things we normally don’t get to see.

Will Houstoun followed with a talk on Professor Hellis. Hellis was a fine 19th century magician and Will had access to a notebook of magic half written by Hellis and Half written by one of his students. I’ve seen Will before and I am impressed with his level of scholarship. He also does and excellent job at presenting his material. I look forward to reading his book, Hellis in Wonderland.  Will spoke about the very modern nature of the coin and card magic in the notebook and about an interesting plot in which a handkerchief is scented with perfume, instead of signed, destroyed and made to reappear in an impossible location.
Instead of a banquet, David chose, this year, to have a lunch instead. We all ate box lunches at the tables in the lobby and dealers’ room. A nice little social moment.

The afternoon session started with the emotional high point of the convention, the last stage performance of Walter “Zaney” Blaney. Walter has performed for over sixty years and is the inventor of the Ladder Suspension. I should say his world famous, the most incredible, greatest suspension ever, Ladder Suspension. If you haven’t seen it, pop over to and search for it. I’ll wait…

Did you go? It fooled the heck out of you didn’t it? Don’t worry, you are not the only one. It is one of the best kept secrets in magic and should stay that way. I have some ideas, but not talking, so don’t ask.

After performing his ever present vanishing bird cage, Walter sat before an enthralled audience of just under 200 to tell the story of his invention. Sitting, listening, to Walter is like an evening with a favorite Uncle. He is the personification of easy charm. Seductive, but in a friendly way. I can see why he was such a successful performer; no booker could resist that kind of traditional style and class. He spoke for just over an hour. I wish it had been two.

Some highlights from his talk: He spent years performing the Suspension in miniature with a model and continually fooled his magic buddies. He took five curtain calls the first time he performed it at a magic convention. Jack Gwynne originally refused to learn the secret and finally gave in at the urging of Walter. He badly fooled the original Mercury astronauts who amazed Walter with their gullibility. He really showed how smart and classy Merv Griffin was and how Merv saved his performance. Last, David Copperfield begged for 5 years before Walter would let him do the illusion.

The details of that and much more of Walter’s incredible life will appear soon in a must read book.

Then, it was time. Julie Eng was to be the last floatee. If you saw it on youtube, you know what we saw. But I felt a chill, goose bumps. My eyes welled up. I would not be the only one. Everyone I spoke with confessed the same. We were seeing history, something us historians and collectors only read about. Of course, it was a standing ovation. The performance deserved it.

Afterward I would feel sad. The world has been robbed of this experience. No one will perform the Ladder like Walter. He may not perform any more, but I hope now he’ll find time to make the convention circuit and collect the rewards of being legendary. If you see him say hello, you’ll like him.

Jason England had to follow that. He acknowledged that much when he came to the podium. Jason is a gambling expert and did a slide presentation of various gambling devices, mostly crooked. The talk mostly amounted to a laundry list with not much “color.”
Further sucking the life out of the room, Daniel Zuckerbrot followed with what was supposed to be a talk on the history of magic and movies. It barely touched on that. It was supposed to be a talk on the issues of exposure, editing, and interviewing. It didn’t really address that. Daniel is a fine documentary filmmaker. Basically, he just showed some clip from his movies and the movies of other that were magic related. I think a one more rewrite and recut of this talk was needed.

Listen, it was an impossible task to follow Zaney Blaney, but those two talks would not of stood on their own even if they didn’t have to create a miracle.

We broke for dinner and the evening was a free program night.

The MCA had a bus to take attendees to the showroom of Potter and Potter auctions, into downtown Chicago to see Supernatural Chicago, or just to do a little shopping and site seeing. I stayed at the hotel to watch a film of Billy McComb being interviewed at the 31 Faces North convention. The uncensored, no-holds barred interview was an incredible and moving experience. Jason England followed with a virtuoso demonstration of gambling skill. (Somewhat redeeming himself) Finishing the night, in the lobby lounge, one of the most talented magicians in Chicago, Tomas Medina performed close-up.

I am not sure how anyone else felt, but I liked this relaxed format.

 I got to mingle with friends as always. I'm a lucky guy because they are some great people.

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