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A Sneak Peek at Gene Nielsen's

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From the "Footprints In The Mind" chapter of THE LEGACY NOTEBOOK:

"Sometimes the silliest things go over with the greatest effect, and the stuff we think is the greatest falls flat.

I'm 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 its importance.

Back 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.

I 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.

I 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.

He 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.

Later, 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.

The 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.

Several 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 it!'

By then I'd pretty much forgotten about the show and it took me a minute to figure out what he was talking about.

'You do?'

'Yeah. You used a cold deck!'

Well, 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.

I 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'.

Soon 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 cents!

These 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.

What more could you ask for?"

 

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