The Magic Of Matt Schulien by Philip Reed Willmarth
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii November, 2005)
My favorite magic books are those which capture a creator as completely as possible—
books which interweave the character and person and point of view of their subject,
along with that contributor's tricks and techniques. (Hmm... it seems the preceding also
describes those performances I most enjoy, too.) Unfortunately, there are far too few
such volumes to be found in the literature of conjuring, but this one is certainly high on
that short list. First published in 1959—it was a young Mr. Willmarth's first attempt at
writing a book, and a damn fine attempt it was!— this volume was recently reissued in
an updated and improved version.
Matt Schulien was one of the founders of the Magic Bar scene in Chicago in the 1930s.
(For further information on the history of that subject, see my two-part historical essay
in Genii , November and December, 1993.) Matt was a saloon-keeper even during
Prohibition, and following that bizarre era he established the Schulien's which still exists
today in Chicago, where you can see Matt's son and grandson perform (along with a
number of other Chicago closeup magicians) much as Matt himself did every night at
table side. Although he did not perform behind the bar, he set the style and flavor and
atmosphere of Magic Bar. He also inspired the original Chicago Magic Bartender, Heba
Haba Al (Andrucci), teaching Al a few of his first tricks. As the pages—and especially the
photographs—of this volume dramatically demonstrate, Matt was a unique personality:
It was the man himself who delighted his audiences, and who they unfailingly
remembered. Like all great Magic Bar performers, Matt was truly one of a kind, and the
magic was simply a tool, albeit a potent and effective one.
This book is a fabulous romp through the eminently practical and useable repertoire of a
performer who knew that magic was just a specialized form of adult play. Matt said that
all you needed to do good card magic was "a force and a steal," and with his choice of
tricks, it's hard to disagree. Here you'll find his Card in Matchbook, Card in the Glass,
the incredible Card Under the Tablecloth (a staple of Eugene Burger's repertoire) and, of
course, his legendary Card on the Wall, which a spectator once described to me after
having seen Matt perform it more than 40 years before. That is magic at its most
There is a ton of wonderful material here, delightful photographs, all newly typeset with
a laminated dustjacket, and a new chapter of tricks and recollections added to this
edition by Phil Willmarth. (However, whose idea was it to deface the cover with the
price?) I can't recommend this book highly enough if you want to try to understand how
to perform card and close-up magic that real live audiences will enjoy and remember.
And if you really want to perform this magic, search out a copy of the small but
invaluable manuscript, Eugene Burger on Matt Schulien's Fabulous Card Discoveries,
published by Mr. Willmarth. It's the perfect companion tool.