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Steel and Silver by Richard Kaufman

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii June, 1994)


I consider it my very good fortune to be able to begin my task as book reviewer with a work of such outstanding quality. Without doubt, this extraordinary volume of the work of Paul Gertner will, by year's end, be regarded as one of the best of the year's releases; so important, in fact, that I will devote my first—unusually long—column entirely to this book.

Paul Gertner should require little if any introduction to most magicians. His achievements are sufficient to rivet the attention of any conjuror, regardless of interest or specialty. A "magician's magician," as the saying goes, he has won some of the most prestigious magic contests in the United States and Europe. His television credits are equally renown. And all of these credentials may well pale when compared to the fact that Paul Gertner is one of the most successful trade show and corporate magicians of his generation. (For further details of Mr. Gertner's extensive and varied career, see the recent feature in the April issue of Genii .) I would also be remiss if I failed to mention that in toting around such a hefty resume, Mr. Gertner is bogged down by little if any additional baggage. He is not only widely respected, but also well-liked. Along with his success as a family man—always a challenge when magic is your sole source of income—this is no mean feat in the back alleys of the magic community's sometimes mean streets.

I have had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Gertner perform many times over the years, at conventions and lectures, as well as in the trade show booth. (I even have a copy of his 1970's television appearance, swathed in the stylish polyester of the era, on the Mr. Rogers show!) Yet despite my familiarity with his repertoire and record, and the resulting anticipation with which I approached this book, it has in fact fully exceeded my expectations.

The book is well produced, in the style which Kaufman and Greenberg largely established but have often drifted from of late, namely hard binding with a full color film laminated dust jacket. (This is a design which I consider far preferable to the laminated board format that Kaufman and Greenberg have been increasing resorting to in recent years.) The line drawings by Ton Onosaka are superb; I think it not unreasonable to suggest that Mr. Onosaka has indeed surpassed even the landmark work of his publisher in this regard. Mr. Onosaka seems to have achieved a perfect balance between the infinitely conflicting interests of extraneous detail and full comprehension, three-dimensional life and flatland depiction. As well, he eschews the use of heavy outlines which often obscure detail and lend magic illustrations a weighty, frozen appearance.

The written descriptions are rendered in Mr. Kaufman's typical workmanlike manner; light on style and heavy on content. Occasionally terse, the author's traditional avoidance of in-depth theoretical discussion is off-set by segments appended to many of the routines in the form of what might be deemed, um, afterthoughts. These appear in fact to be representative, more or less, of Mr. Gertner's own (invaluable) words, with the repeated introductory identification, "Paul Adds." More on this subject shortly.

Following a Foreword by Johnny Carson (not a bad trick in itself) and an Introduction by David Williamson (in which, oddly enough, both contributors provide a number of flattering statements about Mr. Gertner), the book contains 48 close-up items, including 20 coin routines, 16 card routines, and a number of general close-up magic routines including Mr. Gertner's entire prize-winning act, with which he captured his Las Vegas Seminar and FISM prizes. Included are all of the routines (save perhaps his rhyming presentation for Flip Hallema's Flip Stick) that have become a part of Mr. Gertner's well-deserved reputation amongst magicians, to wit: Unshuffled, The Reverse (coin) Assembly, That's Ridiculous, the Steel Balls and Cups, Triple Die-lemma, and the Ring on Hourglass. Also included is another routine that has been a staple of Mr. Gertner's trade show work for many years, yet may be less well-known amongst magicians, namely his excellent $100 Card in Wallet. Some of these items have appeared previously in other books, journals, and/or lecture notes. But anyone who already owns any of those previous descriptions should in no way be dissuaded from purchasing this complete and newly detailed collection. Although many readers will be attracted by the inclusion of Mr. Gertner's signature routines, I daresay the greatest value of this book may lie elsewhere in its contents. That is by no means a critique or even an expression of any disappointment with the best known material. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there were a few noteworthy lessons to be gleaned from studying material that I would hardly consider doing, such as his contest act material. Despite the fact that I find it hard to imagine myself or any magician, especially one working the corporate market, attempting to utilize material such as the Steel Balls and Cups that is so strongly identified with Mr. Gertner, or the Ring on Hourglass which requires extreme measures of both preparation and performance context in order to achieve the desired result, nevertheless the commentary that "Paul Adds" to this material is extremely revealing and thought-provoking, when one considers the degree of planning and psychology that was crucial to the success of this act. One is left without a shred of doubt—not that there ever was any to begin with—that Mr. Gertner's contest victories were not in any way the result of an all too common fluke of politics or impaired judgement, but rather that he is one of the most deserving of such winners in the history of magic competition.

Whatever benefit a reader may elicit from the description of this signature material—or of such seminal routines as Mr. Gertner's original Reverse Assembly, for which there are now superior methods extant, yet the original is well worth reading when one considers the historical context in which it first appeared—I was particularly enthused by the material with which I was least familiar. The coin section features (but is not limited to) a wide variety of applications for the Flick, also known in some circles as the Kick Move, a technique which a number of magicians independently devised, and which was extremely popular as session fodder in the 1970s and early '80s. Mr. Gertner also provides some applications for this technique as used with playing cards, along with some equally thoughtful ideas on "propelled lapping" which will certainly intrigue any fan of the late Rick Johnsson's book, Practical Impossibilities. While much of this material is constraining in its conditions— you must be seated, for example, which is often impractical in commercial settings—nevertheless Mr. Gertner provides a host of variations and applications which offer considerable food for thought and experimentation. Some of this material is downright hard to do; you may find yourself with the sense that you have run out of places in which to simultaneously palm coins. But this should also not deter any potential reader, because while some of Mr. Gertner's material is quite demanding technically, there is also much that depends far more upon sound management, construction, and misdirection, than it does upon knuckle-busting sleights. There's something here for most everyone.

Which in fact brings me to two of my favorite features of this book. The first is that Mr. Gertner never plays coy with the reader as to the practicality of the material. I, for one, have absolutely no objection to including "magic for magicians" in a book of conjuring material. While I might not be personally inclined to use much of such material, it can often be thought provoking, and can lead to other, wider applications. But while a seasoned professional might possess a sufficiently developed personal sieve with which to sift the practical wheat from the "sessioner's" chaff, a less experienced student might well be confused and less capable of making those judgments. It is to Messrs. Gertner and Kaufman's credit that they are willing to provide the reader with much sound advice in this regard, quite useful in a book that contains such a wealth of material; some of which will appeal more to the public, some of which will appeal more to magicians, and much of which will appeal to both—no small accomplishment in itself.

My other favorite feature of this book is the wealth of practical advice, the kind of advice that can only come from decades of professional experience. For example, in the course of a terrific Coins Across routine entitled A Familiar Ring, a routine with great audience (dare I say, commercial) appeal, sound handling and an intriguing plot innovation, Mr. Gertner offers advice concerning the need to borrow a woman's finger ring. Cautioning that you should be careful not to embarrass someone who may have difficulty removing a ring, the author advises you to "Look for, preferably, a woman with thin fingers who is wearing some sort of decorative ring other than an engagement or wedding ring." He adds that if, even with these precautions, the spectator begins to have difficult removing the ring, "Paul immediately creates a sympathetic situation by twisting his ring and saying, 'Mine's a little tight, too, but I think I can get it off. Okay—let's use my ring." This is truly priceless information from a master professional, and there are many similar examples throughout the book.

Other material of note—and this is by no means a complete list—includes a dice stacking routine with a novel plot addition; a different approach to an impromptu Card Stab (that could easily be combined with some of John Carney's excellent cocktail napkin trilogy from Carneycopia by Stephen Minch); a cup and ball routine using a ceramic mug and a tea bag (previously published in an old set of Mr. Gertner's lecture notes), in which a mound of loose tea is produced at the climax; a pair of excellent versions of the noted Fred Kaps trick wherein a signed, folded card appears in an impossible location (in these instances, the card appears in a small gift box of chocolate, and in an aspirin tin; this latter version involves a transposition of the aspirin tablets between the tin and the card box, related to some of Scotty York's well-known work, as well as variants by John Bannon and others); and a wonderful opening card sequence, prosaically entitled "Paul's Opener," which could well become a staple in the repertoire of any working magician capable of handling the technical requirements.

Throughout, Mr. Gertner's attention to detail is sublime and inspirational; as when, for example, he uses a folded blankfaced card as a duplicate in the aforementioned Kaps variations, to prevent any chance of the spectator catching a glimpse of a conflicting face color. Such relentless focus, coupled with an unerring grip on the goal of surprising and impenetrable final effects, makes for a potent and impactful combination. And while on the subject of details, Mr. Kaufman's attention to credits are, as ever, of interest to any student of the historical record. The crediting (first noted by John Moehring) of the Spider Grip Vanish to Walter Gibson is a noteworthy footnote to the published record. Equally fascinating, if perhaps for different reasons, is that while Mr. Kaufman has previously reported an accurate account of the evolution of the Dick Washington/Paul LePaul Wallet (see his Uncanny Scott, 1987), he seems to have now returned to the interesting nomenclature of the "LePaul/Jennings Wallet." I eagerly anticipate the next installment in this continuing credit adventure.

I haven't a single complaint sufficient to prevent me from encouraging anyone with the slightest interest in close-up magic to purchase and study this book. There is the occasional error; for example, on page 98 the reader is instructed to contact the "outer right corner" of the card, while the accompanying illustration clarifies that this should in fact have read the "outer left corner." Nevertheless, it seems that this manuscript was reasonably well proofread, an effort that is certainly appreciated by this reader. The one caution I would offer is that this is not a book for the beginner. I do believe that any magician will gain valuable insight and inspiration from this book, and so I would not discourage a relatively inexperienced student from purchasing it—this is not merely high-tech sleight of hand that is of interest solely to the devotedly obscure. Rather, the book assumes, as Mr. Carson points out in the Foreword, that the reader already has knowledge of a number of common but not unsophisticated techniques, such as the Side Steal, the Vernon Double Under-Cut, the Classic Pass (never required but referred to in several places), the Mercury Card Fold and the One-Hand Top Palm. Please note that this is a caution, but not a complaint. Although I realize that we always seem to hear protests from those who complain when every sleight is not detailed in full, I, for one, have no desire for my library to contain fifty (perhaps inferior) descriptions of the same sleight. So while I think Mr. Kaufman's choices in this regard are reasonable, I think it might have also been useful to have included a somewhat more complete set of references, either in footnote form, or in an appendix. That is, it is perfectly acceptable to choose not to re-describe such sleights, but considering that younger, inexperienced magicians, who not only do not know these sleights but may not even know where to find them, may well buy this book, it might have been considerate to have provided them with at least one standard source for each sleight mentioned. In this way, they may have been better able to avoid having to drag a list of sleights down to the local magic club or retailer in a frustrating attempt to locate original descriptions.

Also not included are Mr. Gertner's insights into the Classic Force, which he released in 1980 in a superb but little-known ten-page manuscript. While he is of course by no means obligated to include such material here, this book seems to cry out for further information, given the dependency of routines such as "Paul's Opener" on the Classic Force, and in light of both his considerable proficiency with this technique along with the fact of his having previously published on the very subject. All of this seems to reflect a desire to maintain brevity in technical explication; similarly as when the reader is repeatedly instructed to quickly obtain breaks under three or four cards, without a so much as a clue as to Mr. Gertner's technique for doing so. One wonders if the phrase "Pinky Count" has been somehow banished from Mr. Kaufman's vocabulary, despite his otherwise apparent affection for the word "pinky" over the perhaps more genteel "fourth finger."

These quibbles aside, my only other complaint is one that I would first pronounce as utterly unfair: namely that the material is so accessible, so tested, so refined and perfected, that the greatest danger to the student is that he or she may be far too tempted to use this material exactly as it is written, instead of as ore from which to mine and polish one's own eventual gems. This is certainly nothing to take Mr. Gertner to task for. Rather it is a caution: that just because Mr. Gertner has worked out all the kinks for you, does not mean that you should not find some kinks of your own to create and eventually work through for yourself. In this way I would encourage students to use this invaluable trove of material as a means to involve themselves in their own creative process, rather than simply resting with the final results of someone else's process. You could not do better by starting with a book such as Steel and Silver, but you could do much worse if you do not go further for yourself. Nevertheless I envy the intermediate student who finds this book at a critical juncture in his or her development as a conjuror. Each of us has a book or two in our personal histories that comes along at just the right moment, as we are developing a true sense of our abilities, of our philosophies, and of our repertoire. The book or books that help crystallize these moments in our personal evolutions forever retain a certain kind of mystique within our emotional and intellectual psyches. On the lives of magicians who find their own creative work reaching the boiling point within the crucible that is this book, Steel and Silver will no doubt leave a truly indelible mark.

This seems the perfect opportunity to briefly correct an historical error for which I am partially responsible, and which unfortunately has been perpetrated (through no fault of Messrs. Gertner and Kaufman) in Steel and Silver. Briefly: In 1988 I wrote a monograph entitled A Rumor in Their Own Time; A close-up collaboration by Scotty York and Jamy Ian Swiss. Included in that booklet, of which only 200 copies were produced, was the first published version of Mr. York's "Signed Card in Pocket Watch." In the course of my rather scrupulous attempt at historical crediting, I recounted therein the story, as related to me by both Mr. York and Bill Wells, of the evolution of the method of the Card in Ring Box as performed and popularized by Fred Kaps; namely that the fundamentals of the method, that is, a duplicate, folded card fixed within the confines of the Ring Box (or other container), was given to Mr. Kaps by the German magician Bruno Hennig, also the creator of the Floating Cork, to which Scotty York contributed the addition of the length of thread, which allows the duplicate freedom of movement prior to the switch. (My apologies if this seems obscure, but this will be clear to those already familiar with the method.)

This history has since been cited by a number of authors, including Mr. Kaufman. However, during a subsequent lecture tour of Europe, I had occasion to meet an associate of Mr. Hennig, who relayed to me that Mr. Hennig firmly denies any claim to this method. Messrs. Wells and York, from whom I obtained the original accounting, have since offered that they distinctly recall that Mr. Kaps did credit another magician of German origin, and that they must have mistakenly assumed this to be Mr. Hennig, given his previous association with Mr. Kaps. Further investigation with other associates of Mr. Kaps has failed to reveal any substantive details. The method must remain identified with Mr. Kaps unless or until further information surfaces. The complete history has now been provided in a recent limited manuscript on Mr. York's "Signed Card/Marked Coin to Pocket Watch," and will soon appear in future editions of his book, For Your Eyes Only. Mea Culpa.*

"I never want to leave an audience merely puzzled when it's possible to leave them stunned and shocked..." Paul Gertner, in Steel and Silver.

*This "corrected" history was my latest information at the time, however it was eventually discredited when I made direct contact with Mr. Hennig who did indeed assume credit for the principle, as I consistently reflected in my later writings. [JIS]

8 - 1/2" X 11" hardcover with color laminated dust jacket; 213 pages; 386 line drawings by Ton Onosaka; 1994. Publisher: Kaufman & Greenberg