Thoughts on Magic
From Abbott’s TOPS Magazine, April 1945; by Mel Melson: ”Just a few rambling thoughts: How many amateur and semi-professional Magicians lose sight of the fact that, after all, Magic should be a means of entertainment, that its mysteries should be entertaining as well as baffling to the spectators!
I have in mind a chap who has mastered the techniques of his profession in a very high degree, and who even goes farther in his baffling procedures and learns to do some of his tricks the hard way in order to amaze and fool his fellow Magicians. The result is a fine technical display, but repetitious to the point where it becomes boring to the average audience, and even to Magicians.
This chap is unusually intelligent but he is so obsessed with producing amazing and apparently miraculous feats that he forgets that fooling people with Magic is not enough to keep them interested. And some folks get really disinterested in Magic generally after they witness the performance of a Magician whose only purpose in appearing before them is fooling them. Some people don’t like to be fooled. They may accept the fooling, however, when it is sugar-coated or disguised by a bit of showmanship, clever patter or a touch of comedy, all of which serve to entertain.
Entertainment is the major function of Magic as it is performed today. Time was when it was used to inspire religious awe or respect for religious leaders. That was long ago. Since, it has progressed along with other elements of intellectuality. To the masses, Magicians no longer are real wonder workers. They are entertainers and are sought as such, for most of their audiences are aware that, regardless of how miraculous this or that effect may appear, “There is a trick to it.” But they demand entertainment.
Inattention to the entertainment functions of his art by the Magician too often makes a Magic performance a boring affair. It is quite true that with Magic, the job of keeping audiences interested is simpler than with other turns, but tricks and their accomplishment are not enough.
Of course there are some tricks in which the mystery of their working is in itself entertainment if properly presented, but these are not too numerous. Certain illusions are in this category. The discerning Magician will gauge all his tricks for their entertaining value and if it is not inherent in the mystery itself, he will amplify it with the necessary showmanship.
The Magician who thinks that the baffling aspects of Magic are sufficient to successful performance is fooling himself. If his performances are not entertaining as well, he is doing harm to other Magicians as well as himself, and, indeed to Magic in general. “Another Magician!” folks who have seen such a Magician, have said, do say, and will say. “Ye gods! Do we have to sit through that again!”
Sure you can do Magic tricks, you can make your audiences’ eyes bug out with wonder as you do them, but do you entertain? Ask yourself this. It is the entertaining factor that brings in repeat dates most of the time.”
Browsing through the old issues of TOPS always has a lesson in history. This edition was in April of 1945 and the war was still going on in both the east and the west. The paper is very cheap quality. The best that could be had at the time. An advertisement for one trick caught my eye.
It was for Abbott’s Victory Poster Trick:
“MAGICIANS: Here’s Your Chance to Help, at the same time you have a new good applause-winning hit for your program.
Performer displays two paper flags, one with the Swastika and other with Rising Sun of Japan. He says: “These symbols and all who follow them will vanish because each of you will do his part. Here is a way in which each of us, young and old can make them vanish forever.” As he says this he tears up the flags, bunches them up and on opening them out they have changed into a Minute Man Poster promoting sale of war bonds and stamps.
You can get into the newspapers working this for the War Bond authorities in your city. ($1.50 a dozen).”