MAGIC. . . .
Tricks of the Trade
A magician is an actor who pretends he is doing the impossible. The most common trick is to make objects or people disappear and reappear. For some illusions the magician depends on mechanical or scientific props. The fire-eater, for example, uses a loosely woven rope specially treated with chemicals. The rope glows before it is put into the mouth, but it does not actually burst into flame until the mouth is opened and a gust of air is expelled.
It is vital that a magician keep the audience from noticing what is actually being done. This is the psychology of deception. If the audience's attention can be controlled, the magician needs only some skill of hand and very little apparatus. Distraction of the mind may be just as necessary as distraction of the eye. The attention is drawn away from the method. In a mechanical trick, for instance, the magician talks about skill of hand or magic words anything but mechanics. Robert-Houdin was very adept at misdirecting an audience, as he proved with his wooden box that could not be lifted by the strongest of men.
Another element in the psychology of magic is timing. According to the manner in which an action is performed and the time at which it is done, a magician can impress audiences with the doing or make them fail to notice that anything at all is being done.
Sleight of hand must be done slowly and gently. The magician may speak of quickness of the hand to mislead spectators so they will watch alertly for some swift movement. They thus fail to notice the normal, easygoing motions by which the trick is really done.
There is a vast amount of equipment designed to help magicians perform their mysteries. Much of it is never seen by the public. Some of the apparatus the audience does see may have very little to do with a trick. Feats in which people or large animals play a part can only be done on stage, and they require special, often cumbersome equipment.
Magicians have tended to specialize. Alexander Herrmann, a 19th-century German, did mostly small tricks. Harry Kellar, Thurston, Dante, and David Copperfield became famous because of large illusions making a woman float in the air or making some huge object disappear. In one fascinating trick Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear. Thomas Nelson Downs, an American, was known as the "king of coins" because he specialized in coin tricks. Gus Fowler of Birmingham, England, did tricks only with watches and clocks. Houdini emphasized fantastic escapes, while Dunninger amazed audiences with seemingly impossible mind-reading acts.
Readers interested in learning more about magic should consult 'The Illustrated History of Magic' (Crowell, 1973) by Milbourne Christopher, a noted American magician. There are many books available to teach one how to perform magic tricks.
|Early American Magicians