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Magic And Methods Of Ross Bertram by Ross Bertram

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii March, 2005)


Ross Bertram was a legend in his own lifetime. Once Dai Vernon encountered him in the 1940s, which led to the inclusion of some of Mr. Bertram's material in the famed Stars of Magic series of that era, his reputation spread slowly but inexorably throughout the world of magic. A full-time professional who performed at trade shows, in night clubs, on television (both in front of and behind the cameras), and who also did astounding close-up work with cards and coins including gambling demonstrations, Mr. Bertram nevertheless always remained a somewhat mysterious presence in the magic community. If you mentioned coin magic, Vernon would always speak of Bertram as amongst the cream of that crop, but his work was more heard of and talked about than seen, as his professional career kept him busy for the most part in his home country of Canada. Upon his retirement his health restricted his ability to travel, and so unlike some other masters of his time he was never seen widely on the convention or lecture circuit.

Fortunately, many of his home magic movies have recently been collected and released on video, which one hopes will create a revival of duly deserved interest in his work. Mr. Bertram also produced two major volumes of magic, of which this was the first, originally published in 1978. Lee Jacobs has recently re-released this modern classic. I always thought well of this book, but was pleasantly reminded of what a delight it is upon reconsidering it for review.

The only changes from the original are that the dustjacket is now nicely laminated, and the book has been reprinted on heavy recycled paper. The photos seem to have suffered just a bit in this process, appearing slightly less sharp than in the original, but otherwise these changes qualify as improvements. After introductions by Dai Vernon and Faucett Ross—hey, with company like that, you know this guy had to be good— and a good biography by David Drake, there follow ten chapters of material including coins, cards, close-up, stand-up, a chapter on sleeving, and much interesting historical material and anecdotes. Mr. Bertram knew many of the greats of his era, and his chapters and stories about both the magic and the personalities of the likes of Francis Carlyle, Paul Fox, Dai Vernon, Emil Jarrow, Danny Dew, and T. Nelson Downs make for entertaining and enlightening reading, and are worth the price of the book in my estimation. However, if you're looking for magic, there is a great deal of it here. There are two chapters of the coin work for which Mr. Bertram was most renowned, including his work on the coin assembly which was later refined and popularized by Derek Dingle. Some of this material will severely test a student's technical prowess, but the recently released films are testimony to the fact that Mr. Bertram was more than adept at executing such difficult material flawlessly. There are two chapters of card magic; noteworthy among this material is the original description of the Kennedy Center Deal, accompanied by photos of Dai Vernon's hands demonstrating this difficult technique.

Some of the material under the heading of "General Magic" includes a detailed handling of the long salt pour, along with a thorough historical accounting of the evolution of the Paul Fox gimmick for the trick made famous by Ade Duval, Roy Benson, Fred Kaps, and others. There are several methods for the torn and restored cigarette, a bill in cigarette routine, a finger ring in box routine, and a very good routine for the Tarbell Egg Bag, which draws on the important work of Senor Mardo.

The chapter about Francis Carlyle includes his blindfold routine, and the handling of chicks as final loads for the cups and balls (a la Galli-Galli), along with such bizarre effects as splitting a chick into two (perhaps I should clarify that as the multiplying chicks), hypnotizing a duck, and so forth. (This chapter will not get you a special award from the local animal rights groups, but it might win you a FISM award if the judges are unaware of this text and also hard of hearing.) The Paul Fox chapter includes Fox's method for the thumb tie and the rising cards, among other items. Another chapter includes a handling of the Egg on Fan, the most thorough description extant of Emil Jarrow's version of the two coin transposition in a spectator's hand (which Jarrow, perhaps the most successful comic magician of the vaudeville era, regularly used in front of audiences numbering in the thousands!), and more.

All in all, this valuable tome includes a wealth of material for almost any enthusiast regardless of specialty, along with much in the way of entertaining historical material and personal anecdotes from one of the legends of this century.

8-3/4" x 11-3/4" hardcover with laminated dust jacket; 163 pages on recycled paper; over 400 photos by Ross Bertram; 1994 reprint; Publisher: Lee Jacobs Productions