Big Friday sale

Jean Hugard by James B. Alfredson

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii July, 1997)


Here is an unexpected treat, a compact but refreshing little biography of magic's great teacher, Jean Hugard. Born John Gerard Rodney Boyce in Australia, Hugard worked for a time in banking and then in the meat business. An avid amateur magician since his youth, at an age of somewhere between 22 and 24 years he turned to magic professionally. For the next decade he performed around Australia, during which time he saw William Robinson perform as Chung Ling Soo, which had such a profound effect upon the young Hugard that he promptly copied much of the latter's act, right down to his posters. Hugard eventually, and rather suddenly, departed his native land in 1916— leaving a wife and two sons behind forever—and emigrated to the United States, arriving first in San Francisco.

Making his way soon thereafter to New York City, Hugard struggled throughout his performing career here, eventually working at Luna Park, one of the great Coney Island amusement parks. There, Hugard rented his own little theater where he presented his pseudo-Asian mysteries as (it appears) "Chin Sun Loo." Hugard booked what he could in the Coney Island off-season, working variety and even carnival gigs. There is much detail to be had in this little volume, but the stunning fact is that by 1935, then in his early 60s, Hugard, more by circumstance than by choice, had retired from his less than stellar success as a professional performer. Only then, as it turns out, does he step into the role by which most magicians know him today, as one of the great teachers and authors in the literature of magic! As Mr. Alfredson explains, "...until his death 22 years later, Hugard made his living giving private magic lessons and writing and editing magical literature..."

"It hurts to see a man of whom one had always felt the highest regard fall by the wayside. To link his name with those who have written for the layman. And this book's definitely "slanted" for the layman's trade, "so that those interested in magic can learn to take the places of 'us oldtimers'." Well gentlemen, a few more books for the masses and there will be no places to take. If there was ever a person that I thought would remain true to the ideals of magic, it was the author of this book. But alas, it seems he has run afould of the New York money-changers! It certainly is disheartening."—Eddie Clever, writing in The Tops in response to the publication of Modern Magic Manual by Jean Hugard, and reprinted in Jean Hugard by James B. Alfredson

Hugard began this stage in his life by taking on a roster of students that included some of New York's greatest sleight-of-hand workers, including Dr. Jacob Daley and S. Leo Horowitz. From this auspicious base, Hugard went on to write 27 books plus other assorted manuscripts, and served as ghost-writer for several equally famous works, including Keith Clark's Encyclopedia of Cigarette Tricks, Glenn Gravatt's Encyclopedia of Card Tricks, much of Greater Magic (after the death of Hilliard), Jack Merlin's And A Pack Of Cards, Bill Simon's Effective Card Magic and Al Baker's Mental Magic. Every one of these titles is an important, lasting work—and those are just the ones he didn't even take credit for! The first of those he wrote under his own moniker was Modern Magic Manual, still a superbly useful book today, albeit that it was originally written for the public, which resulted in attacks from some conjuring corners.

Much to Mr. Alfredson's credit, he does not shirk from this and other controversies associated with Hugard over the years. After Hugard and Braue's Expert Card Technique appeared, Dai Vernon later observed that "When [the book] first came out I was quite surprised to find over 20 items, ideas of mine not credited to me." Although Vernon did receive some additional credit in the later expanded edition of the book, he never pursued his claim, choosing instead to graciously maintain his relationship with Hugard, and continuing to endorse the latter's subsequent literary efforts.

Even greater controversy has long been associated with George Kaplan's Fine Art of Magic. An invaluable compendium of top-flight close-up magic, nevertheless there were many charges that Kaplan, who had collected the material and provided it to Hugard who then wrote it up, had lifted much of the contents from circulation in the underground without permission or credit, particularly from S. Leo Horowitz, among others.

Of course, one of Hugard's many substantial literary contributions was Hugard's Magic Monthly [page 128], now in the course of being reprinted by Magico. Mr. Alfredson makes the point that Milbourne Christopher, who appeared notoriously in the pages of the Monthly under the nom de plume of Frank Joglar, became an invaluable contributor in many ways to the continuation of the magazine late in Hugard's life, when he was blind and deaf yet still writing and editing, and even after Hugard's death when, out of love for Hugard, the magazine's printer, Blanca Lopez, along with Christopher and others, kept the magazine going for another six years.

Carefully footnoted, accompanied by some interesting illustrations and photographs, this slender volume is simply written and full of valuable tidbits. The production values are poor, it must be said; on the other and, this is a hardcover for the meager price of twenty dollars. While I would have gladly paid a few dollars more for a better-designed text, which Meyer Books is clearly capable of producing, nevertheless for the asking price this is a fair deal and an edifying if quick read.

6" X 9" hardbound; 72 pages; 14 illustrations; 1997; Publisher: David Meyer Magic Books