Posts made in December, 2014

Magic Monday 12-22-14

This week is #9 from my 10 Top Ten List. The Great Johnny Thompson

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Top 10 Best Magicians Part 2

Greetings all! I hope last week you liked part 1 if you haven’t checked it out yet be sure to. Let’s get right in to it with #’s 5 to 1.

Penn & Teller5. Penn & Teller: So full disclosure, Penn & Teller are my favorite act. P&T are the ultimate modern magic act. They have been working together since the late 70’s and interestingly enough neither of them are sure how exactly they met. Penn, the larger and louder half, was street performing juggler and Teller, the silent one, a magic geek who was teaching high school. Today, they are one of the top magic acts in Las Vegas with their own theater at the Rio.

The Penn & Teller show is one of the most interesting shows around. P&T got their reputation as the magicians that exposed the tricks. What most people don’t know is that they created their own tricks and Illusions to expose only to fool the crap out of the audience moments later. They also took some great classics of magic, updated and personalized them. A great example is their Flag Burning routine. What makes P&T really special is the way they give the magic they do context. The show is probably the most cerebral magic show ever. There is often a message and point to the routines they do that makes the magic all the bit more powerful.

Where Penn & Teller also excel is their huge crossover appeal. Penn & Teller have a number of TV magic specials but also have appeared so many other shows to would take forever to list them. Their Showtime show “Penn & Teller: Bullshit” lasted for 8 seasons and was an important show for the Skeptics movement. Penn has his own weekly podcast on Sundays, and before that was on the radio and had regular internet video blogs. Teller has branched off as a theatrical director adding magic to Shakespeare’s Macbeth and The Tempest. Even with all this Penn & Teller are always thought of as Magicians first.


FredKapsPhoto4. Fred Kaps: Another name that might not be a house hold one in the America, never the less, Fred Kaps is the gold standard that many magicians hold themselves to. Not only was Kaps one of the best sleight of hand performers of the 20th century he was also one of the best showman.

His magic chops are backed up by 3 FISM Grand Prix wins, so far the only magician to do so. He was, and still is, a house hold name in his native Netherlands. He was one of the most sought after acts in all of Europe. He even used that reputation to get on the Ed Sullivan Show. This was the very same episode where The Beatles made their US debut

If this is one thing that is the biggest part of the Kaps legacy is was the he showed magician how it was done. Not to be copied but to be studied and learned from. There are so many magicians who have used Kaps as the model to compare themselves to. Kaps died of cancer in 1980 at the age of 53. Even so many years removed from his death, Kaps still well known at the standard of excellence among magicians


David-devant-magic-poster3. David Devant: David Devant is wildly considered the greatest magician the United Kingdom has ever produced. Even to this day he and his work are held in very high regard. He was the first President of the Magic Circle, England’s top magic club and co-author, along with John Neville Masklyene, of “Our Magic” one of the greatest books ever written on stage magic.

Devant was also one of the first big time “Bad Boys” of magic. After he was forced to retire early in 1920 due to health issues he continued to write books on magic for the public. This lead to accusations of exposé by the Magic Circle and caused him to get kicked out of the Circle, twice! This guy was kicked out of the organization he started…..TWICE!

Devant’s signature illusion is the “Mascot Moth” and the reason why I bring is up is that the legend is no one is really sure how he pulled it off. Other magicians know how it is done, and have replicated using modern methods, but no one’s really sure how he did back in 1905 since exact mock ups fail. So we know how he did is but we don’t know how he did it.

Perhaps my favorite legacy of David Devant’s is the great story of him talking to a young amateur magician. The story goes that the youngster boosted to Devant that he knew over 100 card tricks, and then asked how many Devant knew. Devant replied that he only knew a dozen…but did all of them really well. BOSS!


Howard Thurston

2.Howard Thurston: This was the man who did it all before it was cool. Thurston ran away from home and joined the circus, yep, that’s where this starts. He would become America’s Greatest stage Illusionist of the late 19th and early 20th century.

In a time when vaudeville acts ruled, Thurston broke free and toured with his very own show. On his terms. Back then most acts where about 10-15 minutes long and most shows were variety shows with a number of different acts. Thurston was one of the few on his own, and he was big time! The story was that it took eight rail cars to move the road show.

Not only was the show huge but Thurston was a grinder. He toured with his show for nearly 30 years. It took a stroke to final force him to stop touring. Interest in Thurston’s career gained renewed interest in 2011 after the publication of the book “The Last Greatest Magician in the World” by Jim Steinmyer.


Harry Houdini 18991.Harry Houdini: Of all the Magicians on this list Houdini is the one that all magicians are measured against. I think there wasn’t really any doubt here. Even today, almost 100 years since his death no one man is so connected to Magic in American and the world then Harry Houdini. Born Erick Weisz in Budapest, he moved to the USA in the 1870’s. He started his career in the early 1890’s as a card magic performer. Even billing himself as the “King of Cards” although as we all know this did not stick for long

It was Houdini’s escapes that became his trademark and made is legend. He became so good at escaping from handcuffs and jails that he challenge police to hold him. One of Houdini’s great lines was “I define the jails of the world to hold me” or something to that effect. This had a profound impact. The symbolism was not lost on America’s fast growing immigrant population, many of who live through and survived oppressive governments to come to America.

Houdini also did much to start the modern skeptic movement. After his mother died he was so heartbroken that he when to a Medium, someone that talks to the dead, or rather someone that dead talks to. When the Medium start channeling Houdini mother she called him Harry and spoke English, neither of which his mother did in life. After that Houdini began a second career exposing those who lie about their abilities and take advantage of people emotion and money.

Houdini was the ultimate crossover start. You didn’t need to know a lot about magic to know the name Houdini. He was the master of mass marketing. His public stunts became the thing of legend. Imagines of Houdini in a straight jacket dangling upside down form a crane are burned in the minds of the general public.

He was the model of the magician: a great showman, crossover star and an incurable taste to do the impossible.

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Magic Mondays for 12-15-14

Hello all, today is Magic Monday and for this Monday I thought it would be a great idea to link this weekly feature with my Tuesday Blog post  on my Top Ten Best Magician. I have already posted number 10 to 6 and I should have 5 to 1 up tomorrow. So what I thought I would do it for each Monday post a Video of a Magician  who is in my Top Ten list.

So this week is the great comedy magician Roy Benson. Sadly, there isn’t much video of Benson on the internet but I was happy to find this one. Enjoy.

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10 Top Greatest Magicians Part 1

So a website that I’ve never heard of called came up with a list of the 10 Best Magicians in the world. Here is their list:

10: Dynamo

9:  Dante

8: The Pendragons

7: Penn & Teller

6: Apollo Robbins

5: “Magic Babe” Ning

4: David Blaine

3: Criss Angle

2: Harry Houdini

1: David Copperfield

So first thing I notice was the stunning amount of modern performers on this list (actually the first thing I noticed was this was a bad list). It seems like the whole of the mid 20th century was almost totally forgotten. I looked up the author, Melanie Erbar, and didn’t find a bio on her, not even a brief one on the site. But taking a look at her archive on the site it looks like all she does is come up with lists for them. So that’s a thing I guess, a job title, something you put on a desk. List Maker!

So this got me thinking. Who are the top 10 best magicians to me?  First I wondered, am I really the right person to come up with a list like this? The above list was done, presumably, by a member of the general public, and as such, the above list is mostly filled with modern acts the general public would know about. Generally speaking, those are the people magicians care the most about, that’s our audience.

I, on the other hand, a Magician who has been at it for 6 years and one who enjoys magic history could write a list, but at a the same time I would have a different bias and point of view then someone in the general public. Weather that makes for a better list or not I can’t be sure.

But since it’s my site, what the heck, here is the first 10 best Magician list by Joseph De Paul.  *NOTE* I will say, this list will only include those magicians in the Modern era of magic, that is to say, post the career of Robert Houdin the father of modern magic.

Roy Benson

10.  Roy Benson: Starting off this list is a magician whose name you may not be totally familiar with, however, Roy Benson has left a powerful mark on magic since his time as a working pro and is a name worth knowing. Born in Courbevoie, France, Benson spent his whole life in show business. He studied under the great vaudeville magician Nate Leipzig, and began his magic career in the 1930’s.

By the 1950’s Roy Benson had become the archetype for modern comedy magic that perfectly blended comedy with skillful sleight of hand magic and manipulation. I would recommend the biography on Benson by Levent and Todd Carr to really get a feel for how good Benson was. What I liked the most about Benson was how far ahead of his time Roy Benson was as an act.

Even though Benson never published a book on his magic, (two were in fact written) his mark on magic is still felt to this day. Among other things, the Benson Bowl routine that bears his name is still a favorite of magicians, his additional touches and gags for the Chinese Sticks are now cannon, and in the DNA of anyone who performs with Billiard Balls, there is some code from Roy Benson.


Johnny Thompson

9. Johnny Thompson: Perhaps magic’s last great General Practitioner and the world’s greatest living mind on magic and magic history. Johnny Thompson career spans nearly 60 years, and there is no way I can do it justice in just a few paragraphs. What you should know is that Johnny Thompson knows pretty much everything about magic. He’s one of those guys that have forgotten more about magic than I will ever know.

There is hardly a top magic act today that has not had some consulting from Thompson. Everyone from Lance Burton, Penn & Teller, Criss Angel and more has had Johnny Thompson as a consultant in some form. So basically we have him to thank for top of the line modern mainstream magic.

Thompson is an accomplished performer in his own right. He pretty much could do it all, Close up, Stage, Illusions, Escapes, Mentalism, Dove magic and so on. He was known best for his slap stick form of comedy magic. Also one can’t talk about Johnny Thompson without including in the conversation his wife Pam. Her comic timing is what made the act so memorable. Unlike other female assistants Pam was just as integral to the act as Johnny, and was the punch line to his goofy set-ups.  Johnny Thompson is basically Magic’s unofficial grand Poh-bah.

David Copperfield

8. David Copperfield: The name pretty much speaks for itself. With 20 TV specials, a star on the Hollywood walk of fame and an on-going show at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, David Copperfield is the world’s top working Magician today.

David has been a working pro since the age of 18, when he took the stage name David Copperfield. Since then he has been consider one of the top acts in magic. His relentless work ethic and perfectionist mentality catapulted him to a level of super-stardom in the 80’s and 90’s that few have seen.

For my money it is Copperfield sheer volume of work that is almost overwhelming. 20 TV specials is just mind boggling. In each one David would have a brand new act with new Illusions and totally reinvented classic that were cranked up to 11. Today we are lucky to still be able to see him perform at the MGM Grand. So, if you ever find yourself there make the effort to see the show.David-Blaine


7. David Blaine: Perhaps currently magic’s only transformative figure, David Blaine has done much to change the way magic is preserved, and enjoyed in the late 20th and early 21st century. Most obviously and  where he had the most impact is the way magic is enjoyed in TV.

With Blaine’s 1997 TV special Street Magic, Blaine did a number of things that in felt swoop that changed Magic particularly Close Up magic forever. The first was he took it to the streets. Rather than the very staged and artificial feel of a TV set with forced enthusiasm, David showed us everyday people. People we believed. Blaine’s other stroke of genius was that that rather than make the show all about him he moved the camera just enough so that the TV viewer could see the reaction of the people there, the real reaction. And finally, sprinkle in a dash of celebrity face time and Ta-DA!

One also can’t discount his crossover appeal. Following in the footsteps Harry Houdini, Blaine staged these grand public events to showcase himself as an endurance artist. This only added to his persona. Most importantly David did something that really no one has been able to pull off. He made magic cool for Adults again. For far too long, by that point, magic was really seen like cartoons are ( wrongly I might add) as a type of genre for kids. Blaine went a long way in smashing that.

Dai Vernon

6. Dai Vernon: There is hardly a magician worthy of the name that doesn’t know of Dai Vernon, yet he is almost totally unknown to the general public. Described as the Marshal Duchamp of magic by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker Magazine, most magicians know him as “The Professor”. Vernon for the most part is credited with changing the way close up magic was thought of in the 20th century.

Unlike everyone else on this list Vernon really didn’t make his living as a performer of magic, in fact most of his money came from friends and cutting silhouettes. Born in Canada in 1889 he made a huge splash in the New York City magic scene in the 1910’s. Later in the mid 60’s Vernon would move to California and became the resident magician at the Magic Castle where he spent the rest of his life until his death in 1992.

Vernon’s impact on magic was simply called the Vernon Touch. Put even simpler than that, it boiled in to two principles “Be Natural” and “Use your head”. The ideas steam from what Vernon and many others think of as the bible of card work “The Expert at the Card Table”. The book was less about magic and more about cheating in card games. Vernon great contribution was to take the moves from the book and apply them to card magic and also extend principle of total naturalness the gambler uses to evade detection to the magician. His other great contribution was his mentorship of many young magician who would later go on to became highly regarded close up magicians themselves.


Stay tune for Part 2!

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Magic Mondays for 12-8-14

Hey there, I’ve started a weekly video post over on my Facebook page that I wanted to bring over to the blog. Basically I’m going to find videos of great magicians that have had a big impact and me for your enjoyment. Make sure to like me page on Facebook to get the updates regularly.

This week I have a very good quality video of Fred Kaps performing close to the end of his life  but still in his prime. Kaps was a Dutch magician who was the rare blend of great sleight of hand performer and great showman. He is the only magician to win the FISM Grand Prix three times, but more importantly he was a great performer beloved by audiences all over the whole. In fact he was on the very same episode of the Ed Sullivan Show that featured the Beatles US debut. Kaps died in 1980 from cancer at the age of 53.

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