the silliest things go over with the greatest effect,
and the stuff we think is the greatest falls flat.
sure all of us have had the experience of doing an
effect that we considered to be our absolute masterpiece,
only to have it go over like a lead balloon. An experience
like this can be a profound education in what works
and what doesn't, if we have sense enough to realize
in the 1940s when I was a 'kid magician' in Salinas,
California (with all that that implies), I
had this kind of experience. Once, in the process
of setting up a show before going on, I discovered
I'd left a crucial part of my major miracle at home.
I was at my wit's end as to what to do in its place.
Before I had much of a chance to think things out,
they called my name and I was on.
grabbed a deck of cards out of my kit and walked out
in front of the audience. While nervously toying with
the deck during my opening remarks, I realized that
the deck was stacked in Si Stebbins order.
reached into my coat, found a slightly crumpled letter
envelope and brought it out. Not quite knowing what
I was doing, I gave the deck a few cuts, had a card
selected, but told the spectator not to look at it.
sealed the card, sight unseen, in the envelope. I,
of course, cut the deck at the selection and peeked
at the card above the selection, which told me what
the selection was. Not knowing quite what to do with
this information, I stuck the envelope in an empty
water pitcher on a side table.
near the end of the show, I suddenly remembered the
card and envelope, and said, 'Oh, by the way, the
card in the envelope is the Nine of Spades', which
of course it was.
show went over OK, but the only thing people talked
about afterwards was this card and envelope thing.
Two or three audience members came up to me afterwards,
puzzled as to how I knew what card was in the envelope,
but I thought no more about it at the time.
months later, one of the men who was in the audience
at that show suddenly approached me and said 'That
card in the envelope - I think I know how you did
then I'd pretty much forgotten about the show and
it took me a minute to figure out what he was talking
You used a cold deck!'
he was right, but the fact that he'd apparently been
thinking about it for some time started me thinking
about it, and I started using the effect in my shows.
began using a small manila envelope instead of the
letter one. I also threaded a length of string beneath
the flap after the card was inserted therein, so the
sealed flap held the string horizontally, so to speak,
and then hung the string somewhere so the envelope
was both isolated and in what magic dealers like to
call 'full view'.
I discarded the string for a length of ribbon. I also
began shuffling the deck after the selection and,
since people also began to suspect marked cards, I
left the deck with the spectator after the show. Of
course, I only gave them the deck if I was getting
paid for the show; remember, this was when I was in
what they now call 'middle school' and did a lot of
free shows. Back in the forties, five dollars was
good pay for me then, and Bicycle decks cost fifty
two changes made the effect play better and, despite
the fact that there was no real routine or reason
for the effect's existence, it began to be something
that people talked about and asked to have included
in my show. It was really only sort of a half-assed
puzzle, but it was apparently memorable enough to
catch the imagination of my audiences.
more could you ask for?"