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Leland Stone
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I have recently had the opportunity to review a series of DVDs featuring the greats, the legends, the larger than life Magicians whose names are still whispered reverently by our fraternity.

*sighs*

It was, for the most part, bad. These vignettes, from the early days of television and the Golden Age of Magic, showcased patter that was often horrid, staging and presentation that were usually stilted, gags that would induce gagging, and Magic that was often, at best, lackluster.

Mind you, these were compilations of the 'best of the best.'

I can't be the only cynic in the room, nor the singular Magician who's looked to past, scratched his head, and wondered, "Was everyone raving about...this?"

Leland
Michael Baker
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You didn't specify any names of these famous magicians, but I can only guess that you may be overlooking the fact that when filmed, this material may have been fresh and appropriate for the time. It would stand to reason that magic has advanced as most everything else. Refinements can only come from earlier standards.

As a builder of magic, I have seen vintage pieces that are revered by collectors, but are remarkably crude by today's standards. It takes an understanding of where we came from to appreciate what we have now. Many things that we are familiar with today grew from earlier inceptions that sucked if you compare them side by side. It is however, an unfair assessment. What these other magicians did is wholly responsible for why any of us are able to do magic today. I'm sure not every turn they made was the best one, but it forged a solid path for us to travel, as we are hopefully doing for our descendants. I'd imagine that several decades into the future, magicians will look back at the bloated YouTube submissions and wonder, "What the hell were they thinking?"

It is also possible that the representations you saw were not indicative of why they became legendary. Perhaps their contributions to the art of magic was for other accomplishments, compiled over time, and not based upon a single performance.

The same could easily be said for magicians today. Very often, I have witnessed performances at conventions that for me, failed to live up to the hype surrounding the name. It will be interesting to see how any of us are remembered in the future.
~michael baker
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Leland Stone
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Hey, Michael-

Good to see ya here again, and you're right, I left out names, but intentionally. The names would be instantly recognizable and I have no desire to take potshots at anyone's legacy. Besides, while I may fancy myself a plainspoken critique pointing out that the emperor has no clothes, it may also be that I am simply a hack taking potshots (that is, consciously or otherwise, it's possible my motives are other than purely and constructively critical). Reasonable people leave room for doubt and reconsideration.

Your point about changing tastes is well-taken and some latitude might be in order. However, the staging and presentation I witnessed looked anachronistic even for the period; one tailed-tuxedo clad Magician in particular ended each performance with a courtly bow toward the audience while saying "I thank you." In 1952, I imagine this was as oddly out of time as a performer in disco-era clothing and speech would seem to us today.

There were also the gaffs and goofs and outright bad work that plague Magicians today: Disjointed, marginally cohesive patter bearing little relevance to the effect being presented (what, exactly, does an ancient Eastern Mystic have to do with an Atomic Age cocktail shaker?); numerous fumbles and dropped props (yes, live TV, yes, I've been there, but...this was the most auspicious example available of that person's work?); dated -- even for the time -- lines that fell flat; bland silences which served no theatrical purpose. I can't imagine that audiences 70 years ago had any more interest in such half-baked offerings than have spectators today.

There were notable performances, particularly that of Al Flosso. The Magic was good, the lines were funny, the performance is as good today as it was then. Another Magician whom I'd never heard of presented a flawless and entertaining performance -- and then thanked his audience volunteers by sending them back to their seats with a small gift. Magnificient!

As to how I may be remembered, that thought occured to me while I was jogging one afternoon. A man sped past me on the trail, and I laughed, yelling after him "Where are you going in such a hurry?"

"Oblivion," the man yelled, never looking back.

He then ran out of sight and I lost him. But I'm gaining on him. Smile
SpellbinderEntertainment
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Leland, I’m glad you bring this up.
I too saw many hours of rare footage of the “great names”
magicains we have held in awe our entire lives.

How could the innovative Dariel Fitzkee break every rule in his books?

Yes, as Michael says, some is the era, and some the poor filming.
But I also clearly recognized the “roots” of our popular/dour magic of today.

There are some cliché quotes that hold some truth:
“History is always written by the winners.”
“They remember a good curtain call more than the show.”
“Don’t speak ill of the dead.”
“Die to become a hero.”

Perhaps all of the above has led to today’s myths and legends.
Once a story is told as “fact” then retold and retold,
the truth can be embellsihed or lost.

There performers, while products of their times,
had the same pitfalls, foibles, and stichk that we cringe at today.

For instance:
Don’t get me started on Bobo, the great coin book guy…
who prefomred some of the most insulting, demeaing, dumb,
sucker gag filled, tastless kid magic I’d ever seen.

One amusing thing I noted in all these rare films,
you could amost tell the year a popular effect was invented.
You’d see, say “1952” --and every act used the brand new Walsh cane…

So our forebarers had feet of clay, and some, underserved reputations.
What can that say about us:
Honor the past but do not repeat it?
Innovate?
Be better then be the best?
Pass along the good and discourage the bad?

Or… just lie like heck to everyone, build your reputation, and become imortal! <grin>

Walt
“Tales of Enchantment: The Art of Magic”
by Walt Anthony
www.LeapingLizardsMagic.com

"spinning tales and weaving enchantment"
magomarko
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I had the same experience watching some of these and it was really painful.
David Charvet
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Now you know why so many of the old pros were deathly afraid of television. (Virgil turned down an offer to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show because he did not think he would be presented properly.) Keep in mind that these performers were used to working for a live audience in a theater or club setting, for the most part. As any performer will tell you, what works in that setting does not always translate to television (especially early television, which was shot with 2 camera angles: wide or close-up.) No one really understood that time on television is accelerated in the minds of the audience at home. (Meaning things they would gladly wait for on stage in a theater seems exceedingly SLOW on television. Every performer suffered on TV until this was understood - not just magicians.)

Also, since most of these programs were broadcast live (with a kinescope film being made from the monitor for later re-broadcast), there was no chance to edit or re-shoot. Imagine taping a network TV show that way today! (Even Doug Henning stopped doing live broadcasts because it was just too risky.) It took David Copperfield to understand that magic on television must be filmed just for the camera and the one viewer at home - not the audience in the studio. He understands the medium and what it can accomplish to enhance the effect for the viewer at home.

Don't be too hard on the old pros, however. Remember you're looking at them after 50 or 60 years have passed. Obviously, tastes have changed. (Look at films of other performers from the same era such as Ed Wynn and Eddie Cantor - both HUGE stage and radio stars - but lousy on early TV.) But at the time, they had paid their dues in the "real world" of LIVE entertainment where a personal rapport was developed with each audience member. They became "legends" due to their ability to entertain paying customers. If they had not succeeded, chances are they would have never been asked to appear on TV in the first place. I'm sure none of those magicians expected that we would be here in the 21st Century analyzing and judging their entire careers based on a single performance in an unfamiliar medium.
Father Photius
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Those shots of Uncle Harry were made well after he had retired his show. It was done in a studio format with no audience, one effect at a time, without the audience interaction it loses a lot of energy. Also he wasn't in good health by then and not at his prime by any reach of the imagination. I am persuming the "I thank you" was a cue to the camera people that he was through with the routine as these were shot one at a time and not as part of a continuous show. You also have to take into account that in early filming of these "masters" they often did not have the control over the camera. As such the angles, framing and staging would go lacking. I noticed several of Uncle Harry's routines done during the filming from which those clips were taken lacked much of his actual stage decoration when he was on the road with his show.
"Now here's the man with the 25 cent hands, that two bit magician..."
Atom3339
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The past is often viewed through rose-colored glasses.
TH

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John Cox
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Interesting topic. I think David makes a great point that we are not seeing these pros in their true element (and not always in their prime). I'm thinking particularly of Dante. The footage of him is...meh. But he's hamstrung on rushed on TV. Early TV was not a great venue for the great stage magicians.
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Tom G
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Many years ago when I was starting out and reading a lot about magic and magicians one name constantly popped up.
Fast forward a bunch of years and a DVD was put out of a bunch of his early television appearances. He appeared
very ill-practiced and not routined at all. In all, quite hard to watch. As pointed out it was early TV and it was
a new medium. Still other acts have stood the test of time.
Atom3339
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And if you view Kapps appearences on TV: stunning.
TH

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Jerry
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I never get tired of watching Don Allen's "Magic Ranch" DVD's (although I do fast forward when they have a kid perform).
I love my Fred Kaps DVD.

May I know the source material? I really don't think Dante or Blackstone are going to object. Anyone?

Jerry
Leland Stone
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Good food for thought here, Magi. Thanks for weighing in.
Leland Stone
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Quote:


So our forebarers had feet of clay, and some, underserved reputations.
What can that say about us:
Honor the past but do not repeat it?
Innovate?
Be better then be the best?
Pass along the good and discourage the bad?

Or… just lie like heck to everyone, build your reputation, and become imortal! <grin>

Walt


Walth, good stuff, thanks, and your point about idols with feet of clay is spot on.

It seems axiomatic that Magic is the lowest rung on the show biz ladder, and I can't help but wonder whether our hero worship has contributed to this poor standing. We in the craft may swoon over the luxuriousness of the fill-in-the-blank-name-of-the-wizard's new clothes, but those on the outside have a far different assessment.

My intent isn't to take potshots at those who are dead and cannot respond. Further, comments about some of these guys being past their prime and working out of their element are noted. But there are clips from the era in question that have held their ground stunningly well -- Cardini, for example, enthralls today no less so than he did then.

After watching the clips I saw -- again, compilations of the best! -- I was once again made painfully awarw of the trade off between innocence and enlightenment. There was clearly, in my opinion, bad Magic in the Golden Era, and I'll work at that legacy of my own to which you alluded.
Jim Sparx
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I think as we grow older our expectations of other people, no matter what they do, become more rigid and self-serving. As a child, I watched the great magicians with awe and wonderment, and I was thankful to be entertained. My preference is to leave those memories intact and not revisit what I cannot change, or judge others for what I cannot do.
Michael Baker
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The Un-masking of Robert-Houdin?
~michael baker
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Trois
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Yes I've seen the old masters not lookng so good too, and I've seen myself on film too. Not real pretty sometimes and I'm in the present ! Just saying..........
Not clever enough to come up with something orginal, or did I.
magicgettogether
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Sometimes its not fair to judge a certain era by todays standards. I think as Einstein said "everything is relative"

This comes up often in sports. How would the 1927 Yankees do in 2012. Remember there were not any black athletes in the major leagues back then and conditioning was completely different. I would bet if you were able to transport the 1927 team to 2012 they would not be very competitive against our modern athletes. Yet they are considered the greatest baseball team of all time.

Lets do the reverse. Lets take lets say Criss Angel and put him in the past, how well would he have done. Mostly live performances, bad camera angles. Jokes better be G rated to get past the censors.

Also lets take the mindset of the audience. How often did they see magic, they could not tape the show so they could only see it once (not over and over like today). There was not any youtube to compare creative works with so what could the average viewer compare it to. Most were probably elated to see anything that was not from a Gilbert magic set.

IMO of course
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Anatole
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If you go back to just about any television broadcast of the 1950's and 1960's, I would guess that a high percentage of them would be considered "dreadfully disappointing" today--not just magic acts on variety shows. To a certain extent I think the novelty of television made up for its lack of sophistication. I tried to watch a DVD set of "Cisco Kid" episodes that I bought, and couldn't really get through them.

There are exceptions. "Rawhide" from the 1960's stands up well today (I watch it on "Encore: Westerns"), as does "Have Gun, Will Travel." But HGWT had the benefit of writers like Gene Roddenberry, who later went on to "Star Trek."

The magicians I remember from "International Showtime" were pretty darned good, too.

----- Amado "Sonny" Narvaez
----- Sonny Narvaez
panlives
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Sturgeon's Law is applicable to all eras.

That is why the really good stuff is so very good, no matter the historical period.
"Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
"The dog did nothing in the night-time."
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.
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