Showing posts with label Roy Benson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Roy Benson. Show all posts

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Linking Rings, A Tricks Whose Time Has Come and Gone and Come Again!

I would love to blame my sudden fascination with the Linking Ring trick on Frederick Eugene Powell, but he is only partly to blame. I was already researching this ancient mystery when I saw his video 2  weekends ago. In his routine, at the 5:50 mark on the video, he does a remarkable move where all the rings fall and cascade off of one ring onto the floor. I had read about this move before but never saw it in action. Having seen it, all I can say is WHOA! That is awesome!!!

Just so you know, I will not be revealing the methodology of this trick. I know that 90% of the people who read my blog are magicians, but I do get lay people who read it from time to time and I am from the old school, a keeper of secrets.

The trick known as the Chinese Linking Rings is said to be 2000 years old, possibly older. I am not certain of it's origins, though I have read it can be traced to Egypt and other areas of the Middle East as far back as the first century. The Annals of Conjuring mentions that it could possibly be from Ancient Rome, but it also says that evidence is slight.  And still other sources point towards India and China as the place of origin for the Linking Rings.

The trick was introduced to the European magic world via a troupe of Chinese Jugglers and Acrobats in 1830 and thus I suspect the reason the effect is known as the 'Chinese' Linking Rings.  According to the book The Annals of Conjuring, 'they were from the Court of Pekin and performed at the Savile House, #1, Leicester Square.' A number of online sources list the French conjurer Phillipe as the first magician in Europe to do the Rings after the Chinese troupe came through, but apparently, an English magician by the name of Jacobs was doing the Rings two years earlier than Phillipe. That information also comes from Annals of Conjuring.

I think it's probably safe to say we'll never know the true origin . But at least we have a good idea of when they gained popularity, in the 1800s. The early routines presented by Europeans were done with a lot of rings, 8, 10, 11, 12 and more. I'm not sure there is anyone today doing routines with large numbers of rings. About the most you'll see are six or eight, as most sets sold in magic shops come in eights. Levant, in the book Roy Benson by Starlight speculates that the reason shops started selling sets of eight rings was because Modern Magic by Professor Hoffmann contained a routine with eight and twelve. Eight was easier and less expensive to produce and thus cheaper to sell a set of eight. However, Levant says on his DVD Levent's Ultimate Guide To The Linking Rings, that magic shops probably always sold a variety of rings, from 8-12. Today however, the set seems to stay at 8 or less.

From my research on Edward Maro earlier this year I learned that he too presented the Linking Rings but he used very large rings. I suspect he was doing either Robert-Houdin's routine or one of the routines featured in Modern Magic by Professor Hoffmann.

I first learned the Rings when I was a kid. But from the research I've done over the past week, I apparently never really learned the Rings, lol. I learned a routine, but to my delight there is so much more to this little effect than meets the eye. I was surprised by the amount of magic literature that covers the rings. For example: The Robert-Houdin routine can be found in The Essential Robert-Houdin by Miracle Factory, Tarbell #4 contains a couple sweet routines, one of which was the routine of Eugene Laurant, Greater Magic by John Northern Hilliard contains several different routines, Roy Benson by Starlight by Levent has the best possible recreation of the Benson Liking Ring routine available, and there are many other sources as well.

I've recently watched over a dozen routines on video including: Chris Capehart's brilliant routine, Pop Haydn's stellar 4 ring routine, Dai Vernon's Classic Symphony, Richard Ross's 3 Ring and 4 Ring award winning routines, Cellini's Silent but deadly two ring routine and many others. One of the best variations was Mike Caveney's Linking Coat Hangers.  I have watched videos by pros and by some not so pro but still well done. And I've seen a couple routines that I did not like at all. Two that I didn't like come to mind because I could tell, both performers knew how to do the rings, both had skill with the rings, but they chose to add dance and fast movements and it got difficult to follow the magic. Confusion is not magic and speed is not needed when performing the rings, in fact, the slower you go the more mysterious the illusion. 

I believe my first real exposure to the rings was watching Doug Henning present them. Actually, my first true exposure was a theme park magician in Kentucky just a few months before the first Doug Henning Special. I desperately wanted to know how the trick worked so I bought a copy of The Amatuer Magician's Handbook by Henry Hay and found the secret, or so I thought. That's the great thing about magic, there is never one secret to any trick. A good effect has layers of secrets along with psychology and misdirection. Then there is the  magician who must interpret all those elements and bring something of himself/herself to the mix. One of the most beautiful routines I've seen with the rings is done by Tina Lenert. Her routine is so mysterious and magical and fun. Her's is done to music and she just captivates with her presence.

Having watched so many ring routines over the past week, I have a far better knowledge of the
different routines. I know that David Copperfield for example was doing Richard Ross's routine on one of his old TV specials. I know that Doug Henning and my friend Cesareo Pelaez from Le Grand David both were doing Dai Vernon's Symphony of the Rings. OH, and Dai Vernon's routine seems to have been based on Cardini's routine. I can see similarities in Chris Capehart's routine to those in the smaller Ninja Ring by Shoot Ogawa.  I would surmise that Chris developed his through the school of hard work and repetition. His routine, uses only three rings and features a repetitive link that simply looks impossible. He does the link over and over, right under people's noses and still it's impossible to see how he does it. The Capehart routine has a different feel from others, almost a more direct in your face sort of approach, and I like it.

Who has the best routine? I don't think there is a definitive answer. John Northern Hillard says in Greater Magic that Chung Ling Soo's routine was the best he'd ever seen. Many magicians point to Vernon's Symphony or Pop Haydn's 4 Ring routine as their favorites. In the 1970's, I would have to say that Richard Ross dominated the field with his beautiful Linking Ring routine. There are just so many great ring routines, it's impossible to choose a 'best'. One thing is for sure, a Linking Ring routine, well constructed and well performed is just as strong today as it was in the 1830s.

On the DVD, Levent's Ultimate Guild To The Linking Rings, Levent share's Robert-Houdin's routine with 12 rings, Chung Ling Soo's 12 Ring routine, Claudius Odin's 8 Ring routine, Cardini's 6 Ring routine, Dai Vernon's 4 ring and 6 ring routines, Paul Potassy's 8 ring routine, Jack Miller's 5 ring routine, Roy Benson's 11 ring routine, Richard Ross's 4 ring routine, and several of Levent's own ring routines that he created. He does these routines perfectly and they are all a pleasure to watch. If you want to learn the Linking Rings, Levent's DVD is a must have, but it's expensive, so the merely curious will stay away. His 4 DVDs are a college course in mastering the Linking Rings. One thing that sort of surprised me was that among all the various ring moves and sleights he displays, none of the four I created are among the bunch. Now, I did not reveal mine to Levent, but I had always kind of assumed that I was likely reinventing something someone else did, but apparently that isn't the case. So, it's nice to know I've got four Linking Ring sleights that are unique! One more think on Levent's DVD, it's FANTASTIC. I found the historical information and the recreations to be just as great as the teaching segments. He always does a stellar job.

Oh, and I was surprised to find that Houdini has a contribution to the Linking Rings. Though, it appears that Houdini's contribution may have come from Adrian Plate's notebooks that Houdini owned. The contribution appears in the book Houdini's Magic by Walter Gibson. The sequence is a very unorthodox linking of two rings that is brilliant and deceptive. I don't know if Houdini ever actually performed the Linking Rings in his show, but I'm guessing he probably did not (if I'm wrong, let me know).

UPDATE:  I had to mention this, I just watched Jonathan Pendragon's Linking Ring routine on video. I had seen it before but forgot about it. After watching so many ring routines over the past couple weeks and watching 7 hours of rings this weekend, I must say that Jonathan's routine is among the best there is. His routine is very well constructed. It's a combination of patter and music, part of the routine he interacts with the audience, part of the routine he is on stage performing to music. And his choice of music is the perfect fit for the routine as the rings act as almost a musical instrument interacting with the music. As with anything Jonathan does, it's a very physical routine and it goes to show how a performer takes a routine and makes it their own. Just great stuff.

UPDATE2: I forgot to mention I have two friends who do the rings. But they don't really 'do the rings' They make music with their rings. They're routines are a thing of beauty and you can sense the years of dedication and practice and love in every movement. They both do similar routines but yet the end results are different. My two friends are Glenn Gary and Keith Pass, two maestros with the rings.

The reason I did not personally continue with the rings many years ago was because I shifted to the Linking Hula Hoops, which is a variation of the Linking Rings. I have been doing the Hoops for 30 years and it's become my signature trick. Originally created by Dick Zimmerman in the 1960s. I took the original routine and added my own additional moves and figures. The only flaw, if there is one, to the Linking Hula Hoops is that it's a stage trick only. So now, I'm considering a return to the Linking Rings for smaller venues. I'd like to venture into one of the 11 or 12 ring routines because those are so rarely done.  For now however, I'd like to share my variation of the Linking Rings, done with Hula Hoops. This is actually a ten year old video, so my current routine is slightly different, but you get the general idea. I hope you enjoy it and I hope you liked my history of the Linking Rings!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Nate Leipzig - A Real Magician

Right now I'm asking myself, "how did I miss this guy?" There are some folks in magic history that I've heard about all my life but don't really know much about. Today I'd like to share with you a little about the life of Nathan Leipziger, known professionally as Nate Leipzig.

Nate was born in Stockholm Sweden in May 31, 1873. He came to America in 1883, so he missed the 1880 census and sadly the 1890 does not exist, it was destroyed years ago in a fire. But he shows up on the 1900 US Census. The reason I bring up the census records is because they add some interesting information that is different from what Nate wrote in his autobiography. Nate states his father was from Russia and his mother from Utica NY. However, the census records state his parents were both from Poland. And in 1900 he was 27, and still living at home and working as an 'optician'. It is possible his mother was born in Poland, moved to the US and that is where is father met his mother. Also, depending upon the area of Poland his father was from, it could have been considered Russia at some point. But then again, perhaps he was doing what many people did at that time and rewrote his own history.

He apparently felt that if he read about a trick in a book, it was his duty to recreate the effect using his own methods. It was this unusual philosophy that caused him to not only impress magicians but everyone who watched him perform. Magicians were taking notice of the youngster. The King of Koins, T. Nelson Downs was bragging about a coin flourish that Leipzig had created. Ten Ichi from Japan was so impressed with Nate that he asked to meet with him and offered to trade the method of his Thumb Tie Routine for Nate's Ring on Stick routine.

In 1901 Nate was asked to become a partner in an act by Berol and Berol which was a 'Rag Painting Act'. This alone is fascinating to me as I have never heard of rag painting. From what I gather, different colored rags were placed against a black velvet background to create recognizable works of art. Joining this act would mean Nate would have to leave home for the first time. His family did not have high hopes for his future with this venture. But as unique and novel as the act sounds, after two years the partnership split up and Nate was on his own.

Here is when a stroke of luck comes his way. J. Warren Keane was a vaudeville magician who needed to find a quick replacement for his act. He called Nate, who had never done magic in vaudeville before, but Nate agreed to give it a try and began to perform at Proctors in NY. It turns out he was a huge hit. The same reason that magicians were bowled over by Nate was the same reason audiences were. He did tricks that no one had ever seen before and if they had, he did them differently than everyone else. In other words he was highly original. After appearing at Proctors for only two days, he received word that none other that William Morris wanted to see him. Nate showed up at his office and Morris offered Nate a contract to tour the Keith Circuit. Consider this, you don't find a bigger agent than William Morris, and Nate was brand new in the Vaudeville world, yet he had the bravery to haggle over the pay. Nate requested more than Morris was offering. They argued over it and Morris agreed to increase his pay. He knew Nate was worth it.

His act consisted of manipulations with thimbles, billiard balls, cards and card tricks like the Rising Cards. He also presented Vest Turning, Ring of Stick and the Magnetized Knife. By 1904, Nate decided to change his name from Nate Leipziger to the shortened version that we all know, Lepizig. In 1906 offered a tour of Europe and he became as big a sensation over there with audiences as he had been in the U.S..  The one difference between Nate's work overseas is that he often had the opportunity to perform before royalty.

He returned to the states for a few months but in 1908 he was heading back to England for more work. It was on this tour that he met Leila, who would become his wife. Over the next few years he would continue to travel the globe and return to the U.S.. But when WW1 broke out Nate had an interesting predicament. Because of his German sounding name, he was forced on occasion to alter it. One of the alterations was 'Nat Lincoln'.

Over time, Nate began to slow his performing schedule down. He seemed to have a keen sense that Vaudeville was coming to an end and he switched gears to more private functions. He remained one of the most influential and original magicians of all time. He also picked up three students that he taught and shared his magic with. Those students were Roy Benson, Fred Keating and John Scarne. And of course his magic also greatly influenced Dai Vernon who wrote the book along with Lewis Ganson, 'Dai Vernon's Tribute to Nate Leipzig'. One of the lessons he imparted to his students was 'to never make a sucker out of a spectator'. In other words he was against embarrassing or humiliating a volunteer. Nate also believed in a natural approach to magic, he was against the fancy flourishes and finger flinging. He wanted things to be as simple and mystifying as possible.  His one exception to the rule was the flourish that he had developed, and that most everyone in magic eventually learns but probably doesn't know who created it, the coin roll.

Nate Leipzig died on October 13, 1939 from cancer. He had a long and influential career in magic and his insight and magic live on today in the acts of many performers.

When I started writing this I said "How did I miss this guy?". I don't have an answer. I knew who Nate Leipzig was, and have even read about him, but apparently it didn't sink it. When I was researching the life of Long Tack Sam I came upon a whole section in the wonderful Roy Benson book by Levent, about Nate Leipzig. As I read the words that Benson had to say about Nate, I sat spellbound. I began to recall moments in time when I heard others mention Leipzig, for example John Carney presents his version of a Leipzig Cigar Trick on one of his SECRETS DVDs. David Blaine actually has a Nate Leipzig trick that he apparently saves for special occasions to show clients because it's so strong. Well, as all this began sinking I decided to dig in and really look up this guy and it was like finding a whole new world! Thanks to, The Roy Benson by Starlight Book by Levent and Todd Karr, and other sources I learned a great deal about one of magic's greats and now can proudly say that I too have been influenced by the magic of Nate Leipzig.

In May 2020, I expanded this original article and made it a podcast. There is a lot more information on the podcast. You can hear that here.