Big Friday sale

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 of beer!

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!

8 - 1/2" X 11-1/2" hardcover with laminated two-color dustjacket; 126 pages; illustrated with 400 line drawings, 1996; Publisher: Kaufman & Greenberg