When was the last time a magician fooled you?
That happens. Itís funny about magicians. I like being fooled. I donít really try to figure it out the first time, I just enjoy the entertainment of it. Then, later, Iíll try to figure it out.
Is it usually a new gimmick you havenít seen before?
No. Just the opposite. Itís often an old trick wearing a new dress, with a new twist. It usually comes down to the ability of the performer. Itís not easy to fool a magician, because we know the basics. And most tricks work from the same basics. But a good entertainer can pull it off; a good entertainer can make the most basic trick into a masterpiece.
Does anyone still pull a rabbit out of a hat?
Very, very few magicians of the present day can pull a rabbit out of a hat. I did it for years. But Iím probably one of the very few.
Why is it so rare?
Itís not an easy trick to do. It takes special handling and presentation to pull a rabbit out of a hat.
Plus, youíve got to take care of the rabbit, day after day.
Oh, thatís not unusual for magicians. Iíve owned as many as 18 doves at one time; Iíve had roosters, ducks Ė audiences find ducks very comical. So taking care of animals is part of being a magician.
Whatís more important, the trick or the patter?
Presentation is the most important thing by far. The manner in which you put the trick across Ė by your patter and expression and acting Ė thatís 80 percent of the trick. The technical part requires a lot of practice, but once youíve done that, itís a question of putting it all together into a good presentation. Thatís the biggest problem most young people have. They know the tricks; they want to do one trick after another, but they donít present them very well. The kids come in here, and Iíll say, ďYouíre a trickster, but you arenít an entertainer Ė yet.Ē
Is there something magical about a tuxedo or tails?
Iíve always been a traditionalist. When I walk on stage with a set of tails on, I feel like a magician. If Iíve got everyday dress on, I donít feel the same. But Doug Henning really changed the mode of dress for magicians when he put on a T-shirt. Before that, it was always a set of tails or a nice tuxedo. Today, an awful lot of magicians wear open shirts or T-shirts.
Is Las Vegas the center of the magic world now?
Yes, Itís probably the mecca of magic today. At one time, if an agent approached a Las Vegas show with a magic act, theyíd laugh and say ďGet Ďem out of here, we donít want any magicians.Ē Now there are all sorts of major magic shows in Vegas. There are magicians out in Las Vegas who are making millions of dollars.
I think itís the second golden era of magic. Magic has become very popular in the last five or ten years. You see it on prime-time TV all the time now. And the stage shows have become spectacular, with fantastic lighting and sound, and electronics, and lasers.
That sounds like David Copperfield. Is he the No. 1 magician these days?
Heís turned the magic world around. Heís adjusted to the times. David Copperfield started adapting a Hollywood style. Instead of trying to do everything as a one man show, he hired Hollywood-style lighting people and designers and stage directors. He has really taken it to a new level.
Are kids the toughest audience?
Yes, because theyíre not very polite. If they see something, theyíll let you know about it. An adult tries to be polite: ďI think I see how heís doing that, but Iím not going to say anything about it.Ē Many magicians really canít take performing for kids; Iíve always loved it.
Are they any Harry Houdini tricks that havenít been figured out yet?
No. Theyíve all been figured out. When Houdini died, he left his stuff to his brother, to be destroyed. But his brother didnít do that. Over the years, he sold a lot of Houdiniís equipment to different magicians, and from there much of it has made its way into collections.
Whereís the best place to see magic around Boston?
Street magic has become very popular now, at Faneuil Hall and also in Harvard Square. That gets a lot of exposure. The only real resident magic show now Ė actually, the only one in the country Ė is Le Grand David show, in Beverly. Theyíre very successful; theyíve been going 20 years in one place. Theyíre a wonderful group.
Does street magic take different skills?
Well, you become a barker. In England, they call them buskers. A street performer goes back to medieval days, when the court jester went out and did tricks in the courtyard. Most street workers, to me , are a little cruder than a stage performer. The atmosphere tends to do that. Youíre outdoors, youíre roughing it, so to speak. They have to bark to get peopleís attention, they have to get people into their gathering. But a magician doing a show is introduced, heís brought in there to entertain people, he gets paid. The street magician has to get his money by performing, and then asking for the money. He relies on those tips. Some of them make a very good living, but you have to know how to get the buck, how to influence the people to give money. So itís a whole different thing.
Whatís the oldest trick in the book?
Cups and balls. You have three cups and three balls on top. The balls penetrate through the cups, they all appear under one cup, or they all disappear. Or oranges, lemons, and liquids appear in glasses underneath the cups. Thatís the classic. Some magicians estimate that the trick goes back to 2000 B.C.