Sunday, November 27, 2011

The 12th LA Conference on Magic History 2011

November 10 – Thursday

From almost the moment the last Conference ended I’ve been waiting for the next one, like a child counting down the days before Christmas. It wasn’t a daily obsession, but always there, in the background. This convention is that special of an experience.

I arrived a couple of days early. Time for me to relax after a busy October and do a few touristy type things including my traditional visit to the Magic Castle. There were quite a few other early arrivers and what is really the best part of the Conference started early, the social interaction. I’ve written about it before and I won’t write a long list of names, but increasingly this is my favorite part. Mostly over at the bar, I got to visit with old friends and make new ones. Had two long conversations with an amazing woman and got to know her a little better, more than confirming that amazing part.

Thursday is the pick-up of the registration packets and where the fun really begins. I specifically avoided any knowledge of what the events might be in order to be surprised. Everyone tears into their packets, again like Christmas morning, to see what they hold.

Inside are our badges, schedules, and the beautiful Conference program put together by Jim Steinmeyer. The program is 40 glossy pages of picture and articles illustrating the days’ events.

The first session will start at 2:30

John Gaughan will begin our day with a tribute to some of our friends who have passed including Burton Sperber, who spoke several times and often provided expensively produced booklets on the subject matter to the Conference attendees at his own expense. He will then introduce Margaret Steele

Margaret is a magician who is widely known for her recreation performances as Adelaide Herrmann. She has been a tireless researcher on the life of Adelaide Herrmann and has some exciting news. After years of following leads and rumors, Margaret has discovered the existence of Adelaide’s autobiography. A manuscript lost to the magic world for 78 years. Adelaide can be considered the first great magic assistant, a true partner to her husband Alexander. She can also be considered the first great female magician, a successful vaudeville headliner. Most of Margaret’s talk will deal with the lavish, expensive book she published containing the manuscript, full color pictures, and her own additions to the story. She does tell us that 25 of the 30 chapters cover Adelaide’s life with Alexander. There she creates a narrative of how she wanted him to be remembered, no warts here. She often takes credit for improving the act and adding a more theatrical sense to the show. The last 5 chapters in the book cover her 30 years after her husband’s death. I eagerly await a non-collector’s version of this important memoir.

Ho Yam was the stage name of William Mayoh, who adopted the “Chinese style” of performance after seeing magicians’ acts such as by Okito. In 1949, he published the book “Ho Yam Mysteries” describing his stage magic. Years ago, Nate Kvetny met Mayoh and purchased some of his costumes and custom apparatus. Because of his accent and halting way of speaking English, Nate chooses to use a friend’s recording of the introduction to Ho Yam’s book as an introduction to the man and his performing philosophies. This goes on for much too long. I begin to think it might be an “Andy Kaufman” type bit and it will just go on and on until the audience gives up. When finished, Nate will perform a series of production effects using Ho Yam’s original props. He wears Ho Yam’s hand embroidered costume. It is a delicate and old fashioned performance that is magical, especially since some of those props are nearly 100 years old.

The last talk of the afternoon is a somewhat bizarre one. Bill Taylor will speak about the set of cups and balls Dai Vernon used. Well, actually, just the cups specifically. Oh, and another set just like them. He gets into the minutia of their construction including the various ways a metal cup can be constructed. He will also talk about their exact measurements (because they were handmade each is a little different). Also, we’ll learn about the silver/lead/copper and other metal content of the cups, all of them. I do give him credit for his diligent detective work, but really, I don’t know who cares about this, beside him apparently.

The Evening Session 7:30

In the first talk Steve Freeman discusses his experiences with Suzy Cottrell. First a little background on Suzy from an article on “sightless vision”: “Outstanding in the field of sightless vision was Susie Cottrell, a student at the University of Kansas, who appeared in the American Johnny Carson "Tonight Show" in 1977, and whose claims were extensively tested by a Denver psychiatrist and parapsychologist Dr Jule Eisenbud, and other highly qualified academics. Susie Cottrell's repertoire included predicting the selection of a nominated card, the order of the cards in a deck, the sequence of suits, the naming of cards in sealed envelopes and predicting which persons would select the highest cards in a simple dealing of the pack…”

Steve was invited to a private party to meet Suzy and to try to discern her methods. Immediately, he recognized she was using trickery, an advanced use of a Matt Schulien card force among other techniques. In one on one “testing” with Steve, she failed terribly. Missing the card more than a dozen times in a row. After Steve broke down her methods and his experience, he played a video of her 17 minute appearance on the Tonight Show.

Following Steve was the most eagerly awaited and most disappointing events of the weekend. The legendary Philip Morris would appear. Did I say disappointing, I meant disastrous. I want to learn more about the man; instead we got a commercial for his business Morris Costumes and all it provides. Then he spoke about his involvement in the Bigfoot film hoax. This went on much to long, as if he was trying to build a case that Bigfoot is fake. We know that already. He showed video clip after video clip, all of them saying exactly the same thing to support his case. Simply said, too much of that other garbage and not enough Morris. I might suggest anyone else considering him for their convention to do an interview format. Philip has to have some great stories to tell, just not on this night.

One of the big surprises and heart warming moments of the weekend was the introduction of Albert Ching. For years, Mike Caveney sent guests to a little hamburger shack called the White Hut, but it wasn’t until Arden James mentioned he did magic that it was revealed that the owner was a magician also. And not just any magician. After serving our country in World War II (Thank you, Albert!), he took advantage of the GI Bill and enrolled in the Chavez School of Magic, where he learned from Benny and Marion Chavez. He went on to perform at the Palace in New York (3 times) and appeared twice on Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town. We were treated to a short clip of Ching, The Oriental Mystifier on that same show. A fine performance. Albert and his family were treated to extended applause. It was an emotional moment for all of us.


Gordon said...

Nice write-up, thanks. Well, except for the part about Bigfoot being a hoax. :)

mai-ling said...

Yes definitely a nice write up.

I've heard of Albert Ching.
My father has mentioned him in
the pas I believe.