The Complete Ganson Magic Teach-in Series by Lewis Ganson
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii September, 2010)
Sometimes the best magic book you can read is one—or ones—you've read before. That's certainly true this month, with the publication of a bound collection of the "Magic Teach-in Series" which Lewis Ganson wrote and produced for Supreme Magic from 1977 through 1983. As Andrew Pinard writes in the "Production Note" (which might have been more appropriately dubbed an introduction), the series "was the first set of booklets since Stars of Magic to tackle individual plots in magic in a coordinated collection of publications." Now L&L Publishing has gathered all 17 of these fine instructional texts in one handy volume, and the result is a superb teaching textbook of conjuring that close-up and standup magicians, amateur and professional alike, will return to time and time again.
Lewis Ganson was one of the most prolific authors and editors of his time, not only editing the seminal British magic journal, The Gen, throughout its 12-year run, but also producing the Routined Manipulation trilogy, and most famously for penning a bookshelf of Dai Vernon works, including the Inner Secrets of Card Magic series , Dai Vernon's Tribute to Nate Leipzig, Malini and His Magic, and arguably the single most important 20th-century book about close-up magic, The Dai Vernon Book of Magic. All this, and yet there are easily another 50 or more titles that Ganson was a part of. The "Magic Teach-in Series" is a significant piece in that expansive puzzle.
Originally the series was produced as small individual pamphlets, saddle stitched with glossy card stock covers, photographically illustrated, containing anywhere between 20 to 40 pages. At least half of them still grace my shelves, and I learned a great deal from my original editions of titles like (Bobby) Bernard's Lesson on Coin Magic (1977), The Floating and Dancing Cane (1977), Bernard's Lesson on Dice Stacking (1979), and The Hindu Thread Trick (1980), among others.
Although L&L Publishing has not always taken the most thoughtful path in their approach to reissues—combining and reprinting the Vernon Inner Secrets series without any new master table of contents, index, or pagination, for example—they have certainly produced a useful and smartly conceived volume with the Teach-in series. As Andrew Pinard explains, the first thought was to typeset the rather primitive original text from scratch; a later plan was to reproduce the booklets in facsimile, "retaining the flavor of the originals," and clean up the photographs digitally. However, a marvelous discovery was made among L&L's materials that had been purchased along with the publishing rights: a box of the original negatives for most of the photographs, accompanied by the actual mechanical paste-ups from which the booklets were originally shot.
Better still, the quality of photographs was stellar—much better than the reproduction in the original booklets—and the size of the paste-ups was larger than that of the original booklets. This presented an interesting opportunity, and so it was determined that the photos would be reproduced at their original size (rather than the reduced size in the original publications); the pages would be scanned from the original booklets (which I presume produced cleaner text than the aged paste-ups) and then enlarged, in order to maintain the text in relation to the now larger photos; and the booklets would be organized by subject rather than by date of publication.
The result is that the pages of the new book are essentially enlarged facsimiles, remaining true to the original publications, but at the same time providing photographic clarity that is vastly improved over the originals. More than 700 photos were scanned for the new collection, and where a few photos from each volume were missing (because they had been removed from the paste-ups in order to be re-shot for the covers), the photos were scanned from the original booklets and cleaned up digitally. I am also particularly pleased with the approach to the pagination, in which the original pagination is retained for handy use within each "booklet," but a new, overall pagination is added (and readily distinguishable from the original) for use with the new table of contents. Students will be grateful for this effort.
The material is now organized into six chapters, consisting of Card, Coins, Close-Up, Manipulation, Stage, and concluding with a sixth chapter of "Bonus Material." (This extra chapter includes a reproduction of the marked-up manuscript for the Hindu Thread booklet, an interesting historical inclusion; plus two tricks that failed to make it into the final editions of, respectively, the booklets devoted to Matching the Cards and The Okito Box.) The three card entries include a thorough treatise on "Matching The Cards," a classic of the "magician makes good plot." Although at the time the full history of the trick was not widely known, in fact the trick was the creation of Arthur Finley, an early Vernon mentor. Vernon in turn used the trick to gain the attention of another admired elder, no less than Nate Leipzig, who prevailed upon the young Vernon to tip the work. The trick would remain a favorite with Leipzig, although it would eventually cost Vernon the disapproval of Finley for having tipped.
None of this history was included by Ganson—although Vernon does not explicitly claim credit for the trick, he probably avoided telling the story at the time—but Vernon had told Ganson that the trick was among the best he knew for laymen, and this was doubtless true, as Vernon used it throughout his life, including in his now little-known act in the Close-Up Gallery of The Magic Castle. The Ganson booklet provides a number of variations—there are count-less versions littered throughout the literature—as the plot can be accomplished many ways, relying on techniques from basic to expert.
The card section also includes an assortment of material contributed to a single collected manuscript featuring the work of Rovi; and another excellent entry is devoted entirely to the Three-Card Monte.
Of the two entries on coins, one concerns itself with the Okito Coin Box. The other, the aforementioned lessons in coin magic by Bobby Bernard, is a fine piece of instructional work courtesy of this expert British sleight-of-hand man. In addition to various techniques of palming and other skills, this segment includes thorough instruction in Mr. Bernard's variant of the Downs Coin Star, which includes frame-captures of the famous silent film of Downs performing his version. If you want to learn the Coin Star, you need this.
Four segments comprise the chapter of general close-up magic, including Colombini's Cups and Balls; Two in the Hand, One in the Pocket; Bernard's Lesson on Dice Stacking; and The Hindu Thread often referred to as The Gypsy Thread. The Cups and Balls entry ostensibly devotes itself to a routine of the then quite young Aldo Colombini, but like the other booklets, actually represents a compendium of ideas from the likes of Nick Trost, Dai Vernon, Charlie Miller, Pete Biro, and Larry Jennings. The remaining three segments comprise thorough instructional manuals that include many useful variants on each respective theme.
This is, simply but not easily, how you actually learn to become a magician: Build a foundation, study what many others have done, then seek to add that which makes it your own. The Gypsy Thread booklet was where I first learned, courtesy of Ali Bongo, the technique of placing the pieces of broken thread on your sleeve, and how well they can show in this configuration (against a background of dark material), even for large audiences. In fact, I recall sharing this tip with longtime friend and colleague Peter Samelson at the time, who has used it for 30 years since as part of his signature and influential version of the routine. And so it goes.
Speeding along, the chapter on "Manipulation" includes entries on card fans; thimbles; and cigarettes. "Stage Magic" considers Linking Rings (with three rings); The Floating and Dancing Cane; The Sympathetic Silks; Zombie: The Floating Ball; and Rings Supreme: Aldo Colombia's Presentation for the Linking Rings. Look at these plots and props! These are the genuine classics of magic, explained in Ganson's clear, systematic, albeit work-manlike prose. Ganson was never much of a stylist—not for him the conversational, lean-over-the-bar-stool-and-talk-in-your-ear prose that Harry Lorayne would explode onto the page with in 1962, and descriptive magic text would never be the same—but Ganson was consistent in his approach and results; in most cases understood the material (albeit perhaps not always in the most challenging of Vernon's work); and had himself been a performing close-up magician, so he knew what the student required in order to fully grasp it. Ganson clearly wanted the reader to learn the material, and this earnest intention flows as a current through every page, as Ganson all but wills the student to persevere. Conjuring texts of this breadth and caliber are few and far between, and this one might as well be subtitled: Learn To Be A Real Magician.