Lou Gallo, The Underground Man by Richard Kaufman and Mark Phillips
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii July, 1996)
Lou Gallo's many fans have been waiting for this volume for a long time. Now the day
has come, and his name will, at long last, become known among the magic community
for something more than his Gallo Pitch—which, as it happens, is not a bad thing to be
known for at all.
Lou Gallo is from Buffalo, New York, and for many years was a friend and cohort of the
legendary Eddie Fechter of Forks Hotel fame, the original home of the Fechter's Finger
Flicking Frolic (FFFF) convention. Like Fechter, Mr. Gallo uses his affable personality
and a disarming blue-collar demeanor, combined with substantial sleight-of-hand
abilities, to produce a unique brand of close-up magic, particularly with cards and coins.
Lou also brings one more critical ingredient to this special brew of his: an ability to
think about methods and trick construction in ways that are not only impenetrable to
lay audiences, but diabolically counter-intuitive for magicians. I doubt there's a
magician who's ever seen Lou Gallo perform a selection of his material who hasn't been
badly fooled in the process—and probably more than once.
It's a good thing that Mr. Gallo is a nice guy, because otherwise, to see him do some of
this stuff would be to pretty much hate him. That is, he brings a certain kind of ruthlessness to his pursuit of fooling his fellow magi, and seems to take a kind of
pleasure—the phrase "sadistic glee" comes to mind—in the course of fulfilling this habit.
Lou Gallo can be, quite simply, a pain in the neck. Fortunately, he's likable enough; in
between the gasps, there are always plenty of laughs with Mr. Gallo, but as with his
friend, the late and great Mr. Fechter, they are born more often of personality than of
particular jokes and clever lines.
Mr. Gallo is not a professional performer, and didn't like magic-for-pay the few times he
tried it. He prefers to be a dedicated amateur, and an amateur in the best sense: one
who pursues his art purely for the love of it. Mr. Gallo delights in fooling his colleagues,
and makes deliberate efforts to do so. But because his methods are so eminently
practical, because his plots are so clear and unencumbered, this material is not merely
useful for the laiety; much of it can easily serve double duty in this manner. For me, that
is quite an accomplishment. Much magic-for-magicians is solely for magicians, and that
is quite a different story—and a far less interesting one at that.
The book begins, appropriately, with the most thorough description of the Gallo Pitch
extant. While previous descriptions have been accurate and useful, none have been as
detailed as this—much less combined with copious quantities of Joseph K. Schmidt's
illustrations—which enables the reader to extract every nuance of precisely how Mr.
Gallo executes his brilliant stratagem. If you were previously unfamiliar with the "pitch,"
there is now no excuse not to master this natural, casual-looking, completely deceptive
alternate to the venerable Han Ping Chien technique. In many applications, either
sleight can be utilized, depending entirely upon the performer's preference; the pitch
appears unhurried and unimportant when conditions and plot recommend a casual
approach, or perhaps fail to provide adequate motivation for the more deliberate and
contrived actions of the Han Ping Chien. Hence both of these sleights belong in the
arsenal of the contemporary coin worker, and the choices between them may depend on
subjective or objective factors, or perhaps a combination of the two. In the past there
have been some myths perpetrated about this sleight; I once heard the comment that
the pitch only works well with multiple coins, being less effective than the Han Ping
Chien in cases of displaying a single coin in each hand. Such claims are completely
unfounded, as the excellent description herein will attest.
Mr. Gallo's applications offer a remarkable catalog of effects, including transpositions,
multiple transformations-even repeat vanishes and progressive productions. Mr. Gallo
did not simply create a sleight with the Gallo Pitch, he created a whole sub-genre of coin
work, and while a bit of this has leaked out intermittently in the past, a much larger
sampling is now provided here. The book's opening section of coin magic contains a
dozen items, and most of them can incorporate some form of the pitch. I am fond, for
example, of A Pitch for a Change, wherein two silver dollars change into two halves and
four quarters; no laps, topits, sleeves or gaffs required here, folks. It is perhaps worth
mentioning that one routine in this opening section that does not depend on the pitch—
the aptly titled Incredible Cards and Coins-provides an effect wherein eight half dollars
are produced from beneath four Aces, and without gaffs. Admittedly, this is not a
routine that many will find themselves doing any time soon, but it can be fun to read the
achievements of others that lie beyond our own limited reach; keeps you humble, donchaknow. Keep in mind that part of the fun and beauty of Mr. Gallo's material is that
while a few items may tax your finger flinging skills, most will simply tug at your
thinking skills—and in thoroughly enjoyable ways.
Following this opening coin section, there are 29 card items in four subsequent sections.
Most of the effects are, as mentioned above, clear cut and uncomplicated, but the
methods are consistently interesting and will provide food for thought and further
experimentation, as the best work always does. There are some distinctive Ace routines
which are certain to fry lay audiences and magicians alike. There are the usual variety of
locations, Triumphs, reverses and such, but again, I caution you that these are not the
"usual" approaches. There's a full-dress poker routine and a delightful false dealing
demo that, despite the fact that the presentation invokes seconds, bottoms, and centers,
requires absolutely no ability to do any such thing. This is not a huge book— only 126
pages—not a giant tome of tricks. Rather, this is a carefully selected representation of a
unique mind with a distinctive way of thinking, and if you give this work sufficient
attention, you will perhaps come to understand that thinking in a far deeper manner
than any single trick can reveal. In a recent conversation, Lou modestly claimed that his
approach consists of simply trying to understand a traditional plot and then just looking
to "change the ending," but this is a deep oversimplification of the depth of his distinct
approach, which will gradually be revealed to the thoughtful reader.
The final section of three non-card/non-coin items begins with a bill penetration based
upon Mike Close's Rubik's Dollar Bill; an effective sponge routine created by Eddie
Fechter that was a staple of his repertoire; and a concluding item entitled The Shock.
This fabulous routine begins with a sequence of three cigarette vanishes and
reproductions; the first one is an "oldie" but is finally properly described in the detail it
deserves (note the wiggling fingers!). Following these close-up cigarette manipulations
(inspired by the work of Walter "Moves" Cummings, legendary manipulator and Chavez
School instructor), with sleeves rolled up and without wearing a jacket or any apparatus,
the performer climaxes the routine with the bare-handed production of a genuine bottle
Sound impossible? Well, it certainly does look impossible; I know, because I used this
routine more than a decade ago to great effect in my Magic Bartending days. I will say
that it helps a bit if you have those meaty forearms of Mr. Gallo's, but if you master the
misdirection, you'll be home free, and with an impromptu miracle. That's right, kids: If,
while standing around your favorite barroom, you can quietly cop a beer bottle, then you
can hang your jacket on the back of the barstool, stand back, and do a miracle that
would make old Lou proud. Do it justice, please.
So is there anything wrong with this book? Hell, yes, but fortunately none of the flaws lie
with the content. I have no idea what the heck was going on at Kaufman & Greenberg
the day this book was finally assembled, but the design team was apparently out to
lunch, or worse. The advertisements claim that this volume "...is produced in the same
high quality as all of Richard Kaufman's books," but if that's true, then I'll eat the
dustjacket. The design is little more than a desktop publishing template, a phenomenon
we see all too often in magic publishing today, but that we surely don't expect from a publishing house of this stature and record. The table of contents provides a perfectly
fine organizational approach to the book; unfortunately, the six chapters in three
sections are in no way indicated within the body of the text, be it by title pages, running
headers or footers. The author's dedication and introduction is a single two-sided page
that is inserted in the front cover of the book—if you can believe such a thing. And lest
you think that this is the only unprecedented-but-undesirable design element of the
book, take a glance at the page numbers, which appear in a different location along the
bottom of each page, and are not even level. Rumor has it that this was a deliberate
design experiment that, Frankenstein-like, went bad, but while such accidents are
occasionally understandable, they are inexcusable considering the overall lack of design
care for this particular volume. We have all been waiting many years for this book, so it
is a shame it has arrived with such a lack of concern for the final product. I am
disappointed by this, but I am anything but disappointed by the contents. Lou Gallo is
underground no longer; anticipation gives way to celebration. Rejoice!