Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The One That Didn't, Part 2 -- The Castle

So I got this amazing book for twelve dollars, the copy of Hofzinser given by Faucett Ross to Dai Vernon back in 1932. And I actually KNOW Vernon, not well, but I see him all the time at the Castle and I've hung out with him on a few occasions. He's even seen my act in the Close-Up Room; he said, "Very nice!" on the way out and I have to believe it was more than courtesy that he said it.

It's 1990, Vernon's 96 years old, and here's this book he signed in 1932, when he was already 38, and I realize, "Jesus, he's been around for a helluva' long time!"

So when I get back to L.A. I call up my buddy T.A. Waters, the brilliant mentalist who wrote "Mind, Myth, and Magic," one of the, oh, ten best books ever written on mentalism. T.A.'s one of those remarkable people who know quite a bit about a wide range of subjects, with a specialty in the subterrenean side of things, the occult, the strange, the magical, and the dark. But he's not a dark guy; he's a lot of fun to hang out with. And I'm pretty sure he likes me, because I'm smart.

He taught me a lot, particularly that you could be very smart and very knowledgeable (about magic and other things) and believe, based on the evidence you have seen and the people you know, that the world is stranger than any of us really think. Yes, T.A. was definitely one of the more influential people in my life.

So I tell T.A. about this amazing find, this book given to the Professor (as Vernon was known to the magical community) back in 1932. And I tell him it must be worth a pretty penny. And he says, "Well it would have been worth more a few years ago, but the book's been reissued so it's not as rare anymore." I remember being surprised at how non-savvy he was about collectibles. It seemed obvious to me that the main value in the book was in its extraordinary provenance, not the rarity of the book itself.

But my question to T.A. was, "Should I return it to him? I only paid twelve bucks for it and I think it might be cool for him to get it back."

T.A.'s answer was classic. "Well, he gave away everything he ever owned so I doubt he'd want it back. But if you do give it to him, you should definitely wait until Larry Jennings and Bruce Cervon [well-known "inner circle" close-up magicians who frequented the Castle for years in order to hang around and learn from Vernon] and a few others are there with him and see you do it. You don't need to be excessively honorable."

The truth was, I didn't really want to give it back to Vernon, since I knew it was valuable, both dollarwise and as a fascinating, unique collectible. But I thought it would be noble to try. So I went to the Professor the next time I was at the Castle and told him about the book. "Do you want it back, Professor?"

"No, I don't want that back!" he said dismissively and without further interest. So I had it free and clear.

The next time I went to the Castle, which was a few days later, I brought the book. I showed it to John Carney, who had studied with Faucett Ross while growing up in Iowa (Carney had the best line ever about Iowa: "When I tell people I'm from Iowa they always say, 'Oh Iowa! I've been to Columbus...[pause]...and I love potatoes!'")

So I showed it to Carney and he took one look and said, "That's Faucett's handwriting," which really made it more "real," somehow.

And on that night, Larry Jennings offered me $500 for it, and Jim Patton (the Magical Bartender) sighed when he saw it and then snorted when I told him what I'd paid for it. And up in the library (it was still "up" in those days, before it moved to the basement), I showed it to some guy I didn't really know who said he was a collector. He offered me $500 for it, too.

That was fifteen years ago. Vernon is long gone, Jennings is gone, T.A. is gone, Bill Larsen, the magical owner of the Magic Castle, is long gone...

But I've still got my book.


jb said...

I'll give you $500 for it. Heck, make it an even $600. :)

Truly a nice used bookstore find, I'm jealous.

PeaceLove said...

So was everyone I showed it to fifteen years ago...except Vernon himself.

jb said...

At the ripe old age of whatever age he was, I doubt if he was going to get much more value from the book. I also think Vernon was a bit more evolved than I, in that he no longer derived pleasure from material goods (well, perhaps scotch). I on the other hand, should minimize, reduce, and work towards simplicity in my life.

PeaceLove said...

I'd love to be of service to you in that regard. I'll back up a truck and haul away your collection of magic books for you. Then you can be as evolved as the Professor.

Jeff said...

My best find is an autographed copy of "The Unmasking of Robert Houdin." I got it for $7.50 in 1982.

PeaceLove said...

Holy Shit! That sounds like a much better find even than mine!

Get out the digital camera and send pics and I'll post them up and write about your find, anonymously if you prefer.

Rick Carruth said...

You were right.. this is an interesting two parter! I would love to know if Vernon actually read it, or if he accepted the book as a gift and dismissed the material. If he read it.. what did he think of it? Did it, in some way, shape the magic of Vernon? We'll never know..

PeaceLove said...

Vernon was apparently extremely deeply affected by Hofzinser's work, including but not limited to the "Be natural!" dictum. I don't have a deep enough scholarly knowledge of card magic to track those links, but from my brief reading of Hofzinser when I got the book years ago, there's a definite elegance that feels "Vernonesque" -- or, more acurately, vice versa. Hofzinser's presentations have a gentlemanly, upper-society grace and courtesy to them, something Vernon seemed to bring into his close-up work as well.

Of course, maybe I'm just imagining this. Is there anyone else out there who knows more about the influence of Hofzinser on Vernon?

PeaceLove said...

BTW, for any non-magicians reading these comments, the book Jeff refers to above was a smear book written by Houdini -- who originally took his name from the French "Father of Modern Magic" Robert Houdin. Presumably, a "signed copy" bears Houdini's signature, which makes it extremely valuable.

Gus said...

Your blog is excellent. It's a pleasure to read someone who is literate, erudit and interesting.

PeaceLove said...

Thanks, Gus! And it's a pleasure to receive comments from a reader as iintelligent and discriminating as you!