Friday, March 15, 2019

Review of the book: Powell Master of Magic and Mystery

Alright, I'm just going to come out and say it. I gave this book a standing ovation! Seriously! I love this book, Powell, Frederick Eugene Powell Master of Magic & Mystery by Thomas Ewing.

I will be honest, before reading the book, I didn't know a lot about Powell. I had written a couple paragraphs about him on this blog, but nothing very extensive. Then along comes this book, and not a minute too soon.

Who was Frederick Eugene Powell?" Really! Well, Tom Ewing answers the question and many more.
Powell was a gentlemen, he respected magic. He cared for his audiences. He wanted to deliver a great show now matter where he was playing, no matter if it was before a crowd for 4000, or a small group at a school. Powell had a high opinion of magic. He didn't care for the exposure of magic. Yet, Tom Ewing points out, one of his first exposures to magic were tricks taught in a magazine for children.

Powell was a big believer in knowing your magic history. He spoke of Robert Heller and finding Heller's grave in disrepair. Sadly, many years later, so did I. Frederick Eugene Powell was a big hit with Mexican audiences because he spoke Spanish and had knowledge of the culture. He was actually performing in Mexico when the Mexican Revolution broke out. He was also in Mexico when they got hit with some pretty fierce earthquakes.

Powell continued to perform in his 60s and 70s. After all, a showman is born to perform, and Powell was clearly a magnificent showman.

The author uses a combination of newspaper articles, magic magazine articles and correspondence that Powell shared with various magicians, as his source material. And I must say, it is a rich history that is delivered. I also love the fact that Tom Ewing occasionally adds some historical perspective in regards to events happening in the world, while the activities of Powells' life are playing out.

The reader also gets to see quite a few of Powell's props that are today in private collections. In fact, one that is pictured is the umbrella for Powell's Cone and Flower production. In fact, the box of Powell's Spring Flowers is also in the book. Well, below I'm going to post a video of Powell performing his Cone and Flower mystery!

But before I do, I want to encourage you to pick up this excellent book on one of magics most beloved artists and one who has been mostly forgotten to time. You can purchase the book from , although truthfully many magic dealers are carrying the book, so find it somewhere and get a copy. You'll be glad you did!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Three Early Pioneers of Mind Reading

John Randall Brown
I must reluctantly admit that I do not know as much about mind readers as I do other areas of magical entertainment. I know of some of the bigger names: The Zancigs, Dunninger, Alexander, Annemann, and others, but as far as it's origins, I am not as knowledgeable. This brings me to the subject of my latest podcast, Episode 15, The Early Pioneers of Mind Reading.

Stuart Cumberland
It appears that things center on three people: John Randall Brown, Stuart Cumberland, and Washington Irving Bishop. The only name of the bunch I was aware of was Bishop and I didn't fully grasp his contribution. It turns out though that things begin with John Randall Brown and a technique he developed which would become known by a number of different names: Contact Mind Reading, Hellstromism, Psycho Physiological Thought Reading are just a few names it was given. For my podcast, I used the word CMR technique to simplify the name.

The technique in it's simplest form involves holding the wrist of a spectator and apparently having the vibrations of their thoughts pass from touch into your brain. (Magicians will understand what I'm saying). What I didn't know was this was once considered very close to the real thing in regards to reading someone's thoughts, because it used no props or gimmicks of any kind. On top of that, this technique could be used to reproduce many different types of effects in mentalism. And it turns out, this was the technique used by all three of the pioneers of Mind Reading mentioned above.

John Randall Brown's initial test with the technique was to have someone hide a pin, and then he
Washington Irving Bishop
would locate the hidden pin by holding the wrist of the person who hid it. Moments later he would walk right to the object that was very well secreted away. A simple test and effective. It reminded me of modern day mentalists who have a spectator hide a coin in one of their hands and they are able to devine which hand contains the coin with 100% accuracy. It's also the same as the stunt Kreskin has done for years where someone hides his check and he finds it.

All three of these early mentalists used the Pin Test. They were each tied to one another in some way and they all did the same basic act. What made them different was their individual personalities.

I did find researching this podcast to be more difficult than others due to the lack of information on mind readers. Granted, there may be some excellent books on the history of mind reading that I do not own, but I have a pretty extensive library so I don't know if I'm missing much.

They also are all connected to spiritualism. These three all presented Spiritualist exposures in their programs. But other performers who would become iconic in mentalism were more closely tied to spiritualism, like Anna Eva Fay and Samri Baldwin. It's as if the earliest mentalism had to deal with the spirits telling the secrets of members of the audience and then that changing to the mentalist telling the secrets of members of the audience, aka mind reading. In a similar way, escapology has it's origins in spiritualism as well. The Davenport Brothers being examples of very early escape artists, and other performers following suit.

Of the three early pioneers, Stuart Cumberland seems to be the most prolific having written a biography of his exploits. Washington Irving Bishop was likely the most famous and suffered the most tragic death. To find out more, please check out episode 15 of The Magic Detective Podcast.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Remembering Doug Henning 19 years later

Doug Henning passed away 19th years ago on Feb 7th, 2000. It doesn't seem like that long has passed. I decided that I would put up some of my own recollections of Doug in the latest episode of the Magic Detective Podcast. I didn't want to do a biographical piece, at least not this time around. Rather, I just wanted to share some of my own thoughts. 

Doug was influential in my interest in magic. Over the course of my own career and development it seems I have done around 40 Henning tricks in my own shows. Now, I didn't always do them like he did, but they were material that I first saw Henning do. They range from close-up magic to stage magic to grand illusion. Doug was the first person I ever saw do many tricks. For example, Card Warp, I first was exposed to this on one of his specials. The Mental Photography Deck is another that I saw Doug do for the first time. Granted a lot of this stuff was already out there in the magic world, but because I was a kid at the time, Doug Henning was the first I saw present them.

He was the first I saw do The Needle through Balloon, the Al Wheatly One Cup routine, and he was the first to do Rubics Cube magic on TV! Talk about a trailblazer! Illusions, let's see, Shadow Box, Zig Zag, Mismade Lady, Microphone Suspension, Sword Suspension and more. All of these things I've listed are things I have since done. And of course, so have thousands of other performers as well. 

One of my favorite routines came from the 4th TV Special. It was a Monte Effect that boggled my mind when I first saw it on TV. Then later I saw Doug Henning perform it live several times. Years later, my friend Denny Haney would tell me where I could find that routine, it was locked away in a booklet, and thankfully I obtained it and learned it. I then wrote a script that was original to me and it became a signature trick in my own show.  In my show I tell the story of Houdini meeting a very young Charlie Chaplin for the first time, and the routine takes off from there. 

My podcast on Doug is the longest one I've done so far, almost an hour long. And I realized something after I finished the podcast. Doug's TV specials were great, but some were hit or miss. And it's hard to judge him from just the TV specials. However, in LIVE performances he was fantastic. He was charismatic and likable and he won over everyone with his joyful exuberance. He was a breath of fresh air and there has never been another like him since and there certainly wasn't anyone like him prior.  

Let's all remember Doug Henning on his day. What effect did he have on your magic? He paved the way for so many magical artists.  We were lucky to have him in our world.