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.

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