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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Food for thought » » Who was Harlan Tarbell....? (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

Huw Collingbourne
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I had assumed that the author of the Tarbell Course in Magic (or The Tarbell System as it was called originally) must have been one of the great stage magicians of his day.

In fact, according to the two prefaces to Tarbell volume 7, he was actually a magazine illustrator with what sounds like a pretty amateur interest in magic.

The course was originally to have been written by a stage magician called James C. Sherman. That deal fell through, so another magician, Walter Baker, was approached. Tarbell was taken on as the illustrator. The deal with Baker fell through so Houdini was approached. When that deal also fell through, as a last resort, the illustrator (Tarbell) was hired to write the entire course...

It doesn't sound like a very good basis for what has become, in many people's opinions, the definitive course in magic. Apparently it was only after the course appeared that Tarbell capitalised on his fame by doing stage shows and lectures.

Does anyone here know more of the history of Harlan Tarbell. I am intrigued that such a high quality course could have been thrown together in what sounds like a haphazard way! How did Tarbell manage to accumulate enough magical knowledge to write it?

best wishes
Huw
Peter Marucci
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Sort of.
Tarbell, indeed, was not originally a stage magician primarily.
But to dismiss him because of that is to dismiss other magicians who did magic but had other occupations: Dai Vernon, Al Goshman, Persi Diaconis, Gene Poinc, the list goes on and on.
Tarbell might be equated with J.B. Bobo ('Modern Coin Magic'); Bobo did, basically, school-assembly shows in a fairly restricted area of the southwest.
But that doesn't take anything away from his magnum opus.
Same with Tarbell, only maybe on a larger scale.
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Peter Marucci
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Bretigan
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Hi,

I never really asked my mother about the history of the books (I am the grandson of Harlan Tarbell). I do know that my grandfather was awesome at teaching, and he was great at illistrations. Did you know he came up with the slogans, "finger looking good" and "when it rains, it pours?" I will start digging through his stuff to see what secrets I can uncover. But, I am pretty sure my grandfather passed away before volume 7 was published, and I know that my mother and uncle (Harlan's son) sold the rights to the set back around 1970. I also know Harlan was working on other projects that I don't think was ever published, like how to look at a person and knows things about that person through the face, the lips, the cheecks, etc. I only have seen about 5 pages of it, but some of the drawings broke the whole face apart, with numbers. One page listed what you can learn from I think the lips. Well, I guess I am going to have to do some research pretty soon. Smile

Bret
Huw Collingbourne
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Thanks for the extra info, Bretigan. I've become fascinated by Harlan Tarbell ever since I started reading his books. Obviously, after the course became famous, his professional career in magic really started to 'take off'. But I can find very little about his early life in magic (other than the few intriguing hints in the book prefaces that I mentioned in my first message). I'd love to know more about him - how did a magazine illustrator become the greatest ever teacher of magic (and invent world famous slogans as a sideline!) ? There must be a great story there...

Quote:
On 2002-07-12 20:23, Bretigan wrote:
I also know Harlan was working on other projects that I don't think was ever published, like how to look at a person and knows things about that person through the face, the lips, the cheecks, etc. I only have seen about 5 pages of it, but some of the drawings broke the whole face apart, with numbers. One page listed what you can learn from I think the lips. Well, I guess I am going to have to do some research pretty soon. Smile

Bret

That kind of thing is now quite a trendy 'new' area of research among modern mentalists! Your granddad was clearly well ahead of the game. Maybe a Tarbell volume #9 might be called for... ?

If you can find out more, please keep us all informed.

best wishes
Huw
christopher carter
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Call Magic Inc. in Chicago, Illinois. Tarbell was a Chicagoan and known to Fran Marshall, I think. It is possible that Jay may know something about him, and if not, almost certain that Jay would know who does.

--Christopher Carter
Matt Graves
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Dai Vernon wasn't a magician mainly? That's interesting. I've tried to find web sites about him, but there sure aren't many. I've tried to order his Book of Magic and Inner Card Trilogy, but nobody seems to really have them in stock (whether they're advertised on the site or not) . . . Dai Vernon is an elusive man these days . . . Smile
Peter Marucci
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Vernon only spent a short time doing magic for a living -- his Harlequin act in New York (only a couple of performances) and as a "society magician" booked by Frances Rockefeller.
The rest of his "working life" -- about 95 per cent of it -- he was a Coney Island silhouette artist (he cut out silhouettes "while you wait" and sold them).
Magic was, essentially, an avocation with him; he and Charlie Miller would go just about anywhere at any time to learn a new card sleight.
His latter years, of course, were spent at the Magic Castle, courtesy of the Larsens.
cheers,
Peter Marucci
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Huw Collingbourne
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Quote:
On 2002-07-16 21:56, Peter Marucci wrote:
Vernon only spent a short time doing magic for a living -- his Harlequin act in New York (only a couple of performances) and as a "society magician" booked by Frances Rockefeller.

It seems that quite a few of the magicians who are considered great by other magicians have had relatively little impact on the public at large. I've been reading Milbourne Christopher's Illustrated History of Magic and I think I'm right in saying that neither Tarbell nor Bobo nor Dai Vernon even get a mention...!

Huw
Scott F. Guinn
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You're right! They didn't have much of an impact on the public at large--directly. But they taught and inspired generations of magicians that did!

The reason you can't find the Vernon books is because most of them sold out and are currently out of print. I believe there is a biography of Tarbell--"Creator of Magic and Magicians" or something like that--that gives his life story in great detail. Try Richard Hatch at H&R Magic Books.
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christopher carter
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As I understand it, Tarbell did go on to a pretty successul career as a lecturer/entertainer, much in the same manner as John Mulholland. I know he peformed his "Eyeless Vision" routine on the television show "You Asked For It." He talks about his experiences on the lecture circuit in some sections of the bound version of the course. I assume that his success came somewhere in between the original course and the compilation into a bound set of books. In the fact that he apparently had a lengthy professional career that in some way informed the development of his course, I think that makes him different from most of the other great 'teachers' in magic, save possibly Slydini, who also did professional performing for a decent stretch of time.

--Christopher Carter
Huw Collingbourne
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Quote:
On 2002-07-26 09:58, christopher carter wrote:
I know he peformed his "Eyeless Vision" routine on the television show "You Asked For It."

I recently chanced upon a whole load of old posters, newspaper adverts and other fascinating stuff about Tarbell at the Library of Congress 'American Memory' site:

http://memory.loc.gov/

This includes photographs and PDF (Adobe Acrobat) documents including a couple on Tarbell's 'eyeless vision'. It really is an excellent resource. Just search for 'Tarbell'.

There are lots of similar documents on other famous magicians such as (of course) Houdini. If you don't know this site - and until a few days ago I didn't - it is definitely worth a look.

best wishes
Huw
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