Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I don't see the Genius of the Professor

I read "Dai Vernon's Inner Secrets of Card Magic", "Dai Vernon's More Inner Secrets of Card Magic" and "Dai Vernon's Further Inner Secrets of Card Magic" by Lewis Ganson back to back. And I just don't get it.

When magicians speak of "the Professor", Dai Vernon they most often do it in a very bumsucking driveling way, as if that man was the Messiah of magic. A prime example of that is Roberto Giobbi.

What do those people get from those books what I don't get? Yes, they are interesting to read. Yes, I do get to know a lot of secrets, mostly about and from gamblers. In terms of history these are fascinating books. In terms of effects I get pretty much nothing from the books. Most routines revolve around gambling themes and those which don't are boring. It might just be me, but I also feel that a few of the effects are needlessly complicated both in method and structure. Overall the books are very dry.

I got serious buyer's remorse.


Trickster said...

I'm right there with you Roland, all the Vernon stuff I have read and all the videos I have seen of him have left me far from impressed. I don't understand why this guy is hailed as some sort of magic hero/master, except that his attitude made him seem so and many chose to believe the hype.

Be careful though, magicians tend to get upset when you speak ill of Vernon and point out the failure of his work living up to what it is hyped to be.

To top it all off, he was by all accounts far from even being a nice bloke.

Justin said...

I'm not offended, but I do wholeheartedly disagree with you, Roland. I just went through the table of contents of the Inner Secrets books and I found very few items that I don't like. That being said, I prefer The Dai Vernon Book of Magic, and if you don't own that I recommend it. Also, the three Chronicles books compile some of the best Vernon material.

It may just be a matter of taste, but...

Emotional Reaction
Bent Corner Prediction
Four of a Kind
The color change chapter
Look Up
Twisting the Aces
Cards to Pocket
His thoughts on the classic force
The Trick That Cannot Be Explained
Blindfold Poker Deal
Larry Grey's Cards Across
More Novel Knowledge chapter
The palming chapter
The Card Puzzle
His thoughts on the top change

That is all really fucking good material. Sorry for the obnoxiously long Cafe-style list, but I was going through the table of contents and couldn't resist.

Trickster, he's considered a master because he was the progenitor of an entire new paradigm in magic, one which has stuck around and become the modern model for what a magician should be. Sure, he was a dick. But so was Kubrick.

The Smiling Mule said...

If you "don't see the genius of the professor" then you need to keep looking.

Simple as.

Trickster said...

Maybe it's my nearly complete disinterest in cards that makes me miss it, or perhaps others see more than there actually is.

There is also the whole, "look natural" thing, yet I've seen videos of Vernon and generally think his moves look decidedly dodgy and far from anything a normal person would do naturally (cards excluded generally, but there are examples there too)
Examples that jump to mind are his little red balls routine with the net, which uses the lamest ball vanish I have ever seen, you know the one surely "I'll put this ball on my clenched hand and then let it drop into my hand as I bring another ball over in my other hand).
Also his obviously choreographed to the hilt card vanish video that is on line that no self respecting magician would ever perform unless they wanted to look stupid. Apparently the magic is in not being able to see the card and the weird unnatural hand movements are supposed to be ignored.

You card guys can harp on about his genius all you want, but some of us judge on what we see and read and not what others tell us we should think. We are entitled to our opinions just like you, and I'm not alone in thinking that Vernon is the most over rated magician in history.

truthseekr said...

You're talking about a man who devoted his life to sleight of hand. The books that were written about his magic, like the card series, were written by Lewis Ganson. He and other authors did fine work, but they invariably missed a lot of fine points. The Professor himself wrote very little. I would suggest that much of what made Dai Vernon a legend was not captured in print, and video of him was made when he was quite elderly.

The Smiling Mule said...

No you are not alone with that line of thinking.

Neither am I alone in thinking that Vernon is the most underrated figure in the history of magic. So what?

There will be no cafe style protracted back and forth here. Either you get it or you don't. If you don't get it, you can not be persuaded by someone else.

I can assure you that my opinions on Vernon are certainly not the result of being told what to think.


Justin said...

Trickster, 99.9% of Vernon performance is not captured on film. At least not any film that the general public (ie us) will ever see. And most known footage was shot when he was well into his years.

I fucking love his magic, and not because I was told to.

It's too bad if you've based your opinions on those two videos. Here's some excellent footage to counteract that.


(turn down the audio on that one)



Elegant, deceptive, and natural. Mule's right, I guess. If you don't get it, you don't get it. I'll just be over here slaying folks with Matching the Cards.

By the way, could you point me to where you saw the performance of the balls and net? I don't think I've ever seen that footage.

Trickster said...

Can't find the balls and net, not sure where I saw it either.

As I said, not being a card guy probably excludes me from appreciating a lot of his stuff.

I have the utmost respect for Smiling Mule and his opinions have always been well informed,(I miss your blog more than any blog I've ever read) but I certainly disagree on this point, and I note your condescension Mule with put downs like "If you don't get it, you can not be persuaded by someone else.", but I wouldn't expect anything else, I'm well aware that the Vernon fans tend to circle their wagons and start lobbing insults about not getting it or not being able to appreciate his brilliance, when anyone dares insult or even question the greatness of Vernon. What is there to get? I've read, I've watched (and not all vids are of him as an old man) and I'm not as impressed as many others are.

Vernon was a great magician without doubt, but I don't think he deserves the hero worship so many choose to heap upon him, and too be honest, all too often when his name is mentioned, many of those defending him come across as sycophants (none in this discussion as yet before you choose to take offence)

Justin, I used 2 examples, how ever I'm not stupid enough to have based my opinions on those 2 things alone. Perhaps you just can't accept that some of us have seen the stuff and still aren't hailing him as some sort of Magic god.

As to the Cafe reference, I don't read the Cafe, unlike so many magicians who frequent the green monster and then constantly bitch about how bad it is, I'm able to simply not go there. Once every so often Roland or others will link to a specific post and I'll read it, but that's where it ends. I'm not a masochist like some others seem to be.

Trickster said...


The wand spin vanish, yep good move and he did it well.

3 card monte, no better than half the swindlers I've seen videos of. He was just another guy doing it, sure he did it well, but that's all.

Cups and Balls. That routine has been critiqued many times and it is far from being the best cups and balls routine and you can look up the reviews yourself for a list of what some would consider serious flaws in his routine. Once again, he's just another guy doing an old trick, doing it quite well, but hardly brilliant.

As to the last one, I'm betting I'm not the only one to have watched that and wondered why his fingers curled up in such a strange way. That curling may not even be related to the method (as said, I'm no card man) but it certainly isn't natural or smooth.

As to slaying folks with Matching the Cards, great, good for you, as long as people are happy and entertained when watching you that's all that matters. I'll just keep entertaining people as I do and continue to avoid an over reliance on card tricks. Over the years I've done fewer and fewer card effects, the raised eyebrows, bored looks and general scorn that comes from being a magician that pulls out a deck of cards isn't for me. There's only about 3 card mechanics I actually like, one does nearly esoteric cheating moves (OK, I admit it's Smiling Mule), one seems like such a disaster that it is not only funny but astounding at the end (Lennart Green, seen him live, funniest card guy I've ever watched, that didn't have to sacrifice the amazing card magic for laughs) and the third one is.....hmm maybe there are only 2, cards just don't do it for me.

King Rey said...

i wonder if u gonna list him as a WMF. ask those who have met him to understand why they call him the Professor

Trickster said...

Oh I just remembered, the third one is Glenn Bishop.

OK, that's a joke, albeit a bad one ;)

Lenoir said...

I have to disagree.

No matter what you think of his performances, none of which are really available to see...he was way past his prime when filmed extensively, just ask some of the most prolific performers of our generation.

Michael Vincent, one of the most elegant classical magicians of our generation cities Vernon's influence, moves from the Inner trilogy and book of magic dozens of times over his DVD sets.

Look at some of the "workers", they may not know it, but they are using sequences that were created and published by Vernon.

Triumph...yes, other methods have been created but his elegant sequence is possibly one of the greatest card effects in existence...

David Williamson spent 15 minutes of a lecture I saw a few years back explaining exactly why Vernon was so important to everything magic is today. The list of incredible respectable names who have done more for magic than any one of us combined who have nothing by admiration and respect for Vernon is evidence enough that perhaps you aren't looking hard enough.

The Smiling Mule said...

You can choose to take my comment as a condescending one if you wish. It was not intended as such.

It was certainly not as obviously condescending as this one:

"but some of us judge on what we see and read and not what others tell us we should think."

I was merely reinforcing your own attitude, albeit with a differing conclusion...

So, I stand by my original "condescending" comment: nobody can ever tell you what to think about the Professor and his work; you'll have to put almost as much effort into studying him as he did into studying magic itself.

Nobody will be able to give you bite-sized bullet points on a blog, detailing where you are wrong.

Need I sign off every sentence with "just my opinion" or are you going to take it in the spirit it is intended when I say: Your opinions and analysis of the Professor are dead wrong. More study needed.

The Smiling Mule said...

P.S. I have purposely avoided the appeal to authority fallacy. For every Jerry Sadowitz there is a Wesley James. That line of argument gets you nowhere.

darkstar said...

Worst post ever! (hehe)

Well. The books aren't written horribly well...but damn. No accounting for taste.

Just depends on the person I guess. Same with your Walton comments. We were in the background chatting the basic "what the hell is he talking about...how can you not see".

To each their own. Far from a personal thing. I mean shit. This morning I got an eye full how sandwich plots sucks......oy.

Trickster said...

You have simply reinforced my comments Mule, it may be condescending, but your comments show just how true it is.

The Smiling Mule said...

That nobody can simply be told of Vernon's genius, absolutely.

Your suggestion that we who revere him do so only because we have been told what to think, not so much.

Having said all that, it is a completely understandable, if short sighted post. The Inner Card Trilogy is certainly not enough to gain an appreciation of his work.

Andrew Musgrave said...

My two cents turned into 2200 words...


Don Bellend said...

Being a trained composer, vocalist, bassoonist and nose-flautist, I am well qualified to comment on "The Professor".

Imagine, if you will, the opening chord of a Wagner opera, (the opening chord, mark you.) Now it may seem to conjure a flavor of Messiaen, or even of Schoenberg. Yet it is our very familiarity, as the musio-magicall cognescenti, with such harmonic titbits that.... zzzzzz zzzzzz zzzzz zzzzzz

The Smiling Mule said...


the Minutemen said...

Roland, if you just mention about those 3 books, yes, we are on the same boat.

It is really hard to read them, especially like me English is not my native language.

I got a strange feeling regard these three books, a must read items and also very boring read.

Do you understand what I say?

Aaron D. said...

"Vernon is the most over rated magician in history.: Ahem... Ever hear of a guy named Harry Houdini... Guess not.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry that this book has received such negative votes.. the first trick is called emotional response and I have performed this several times and just did it for a fellow magician who just bought the book and fooled him badly...I told where the trick was ..he read it and was stunned....yes there is percent of the book that is older magic. even a look thru royal road shows that much of the material is dated. but many are performing poker players picnic.also one of the first tricks..

El Mystico said...

There are plenty of Vernon tricks that I have never done and probably never will do.
But I still hold him in hugely high regard.
In part for his touches. I think his Topping The Deck is possibly the most beautiful move in card magic. His strip-out add-on and variations on it are a staple part of many magicians' repertoire. And he has a handling for cleaning up at the end of a double-faced ace assembly routine that is woefully unknown. That is just three examples.
In part for his understanding of psychology: now, this is a hard one to prove. But, maybe the best example is his explanation of the thinking behind his Ambitious Card routine on the Revelations DVD series. and I would contrast it with Marlo, who, I think, had a poor understanding of psychology.
In part for his willingness to follow any lead to find a gamblers' technique to add to magical technique.
And in part for this: my sister hates all magic. She grew up with three brothers practising crappy tricks on her. But there is one magician she liked. Who? Vernon.

Now, yes, there are faults with the Inner Secrets books. Ganson was a good writer. But Vernon was climbing higher than anyone had before (in my opinion), and was continuing that ascent as Ganson was writing. Ganson's frustrations show through in a few places. I have thought of writing "An Invitation to Vernon" - a book aimed at people like you, who clearly love good magic, but have difficulty with the material. But, these days with piracy so rife, it seems the 'real secrets' are moving back underground.
And maybe that is where they belong.

Joseph Laubach said...

Are you kidding me? You can't understand Vernon's genius? Not into cards? Then study his Cups & Balls and Linking Ring routines. Then come up with better routines. Please let me know when you've done this. I'd be interested in purchasing your ideas.