Paul Curry's Worlds Beyond by Paul Curry
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii November, 2001)
Paul Curry, it must be said, was one of the inventive geniuses of 20th century magic. Not unlike Alex Elmsley, Curry's capacity to create a prolific array of unique material is matched by few others. Indeed, publisher/editor Stephen Minch begins his introduction to his stellar volume by drawing this very comparison, noting that "Both men developed sleights that guarantee their names will endure in the world of card magic. Elmsley has his count, Curry his turnover change. Both created tricks that will probably be performed as long as playing cards are coerced into doing amazing things. Both men appeared on the magic scene with an explosive inventiveness, fell away from magic for years to tend to careers and family matters, then returned late in life with a matured and brilliant second creative coming." Now, at last, the opportunity is here for magicians to discover, and consider, the remarkable body of work with which Paul Curry presented us.
In a time of videotapes that demonstrate flying, jumping, and spinning cards, with little thought to what it means to create a sensation of magic; in a time when so many who know Elmsley by little more than a packet trick method and have yet to consult books filled with his astounding output; in a time when little boys sit in Las Vegas flipping flourishes in an act of wanton masturbatory perversion, without effect or humanity, embraced by a sullen and inarticulate television star; in such times, it may be difficult to step our into the oncoming path of noisome traffic and declare a truce, create a respite that some may think before breathing, breathe before speaking, speak before acting. It is no small feat that Curry created the single greatest card trick of the 20th century—and for all we know of the next century as well—but if you know little more than that about the man and his inspired ingenuity, then please, do yourself a favor, do magic a favor, take a breath and sit down and consider the masterworks of Paul Curry.
Curry published a considerable amount of material in his life, but many magicians, even of Curry's time and generation, may well have missed much of it, as there has never been a major collected volume before. In 1937, Max Holden marketed Curry's trick, "Touch," an effect that has seen almost as wide circulation as "Out of This World," but is less well-known to have originated with Curry, since the plot and method are frequently recycled and reinvented while rarely being credited to him. In this impenetrable miracle, described in this volume, you write a prediction on the face of a playing card that you place aside on the table, face down. The deck is ribbon spread face up and a spectator touches any card—he may change his mind at will. That card is removed and openly placed face-up atop the previously tabled card. The identical procedure is repeated for a second spectator, including the writing of the prediction and the tabling of this along with a second selection. All is completely fair, nothing is suspicious, there is nothing to see much less to suspect. Yet when the cards are turned over, the name of the freely touched card has been written upon the face of the previous prediction. This is impenetrable, inexplicable magic.
"Touch" was just the beginning. Starting in the 1930s, Curry's name was attached to frequent contributions in the likes of The Jinx, Hugard's Annual, Hilliard's Greater Magic (another publication of "Touch"), The Phoenix, Hugard's Magic Monthly, and so on. In the 1960s he was contributing to Pallbearer's Review; in the '70s he was publishing remarkable manuscripts like Paul Curry Presents (1974) and Special Effects (1977), bursting with clever work that was far from what others were doing; in the '80s he was seen in Genii repeatedly, along with other outlets. Yet many likely missed much if not most of this material. But fortunately, it's not too late. Stephen Minch, with the assistance of Kirk Charles, have pored through Curry's entire body of work, including books, journals, and marketed items, and selected the best—and that means a lot of it—to include in this volume. Curry's greatest interests were in card magic and mentalism (often but not always done with cards), and as Mr. Minch points out in his introduction, he seemed to have a particular knack with coincidence and synchronicity effects. But there are other delights to be found here as well. And with very few exceptions, all of the material has been written by Mr. Curry himself, the better that one may extract his voice, penetrate his thinking, and come to appreciate the mind behind the material. Hermetic Press has assembled the material, then very lightly edited and organized it in sensible ways to make it more manageable and accessible, although utilizing a travel theme for titles that seems contrived and rather cutesy for my tastes. They have done a lot by trying to do little, and their care and restraint is palpable.
Following a positively delightful introduction by Oscar Weigle, who knew Curry well, along with Mr. Minch's opening remarks, the initial section begins with the original description, by Jean Hugard, of his famed Turnover Change, which was first published in Hugard's More Card Manipulations. No. 2, in 1939. Many magicians of my generation (myself included) were later introduced to the move in Harry's Lorayne's landmark Close-up Card Magic. In this, the hand holding the deck turns a card on the table over—it can be face up or face down—secretly exchanging it for another card in the process. Although not addressed anywhere here, the move was likely adapted from (or at least duplicates in essence work from) the card table, in which the dealer, taking or holding cards with his free hand, uses the deck hand to switch a card on the table. While this is unacceptable in casinos, the action can go by in social games. It has long been pointed out that the move is in essence only effective if the other hand is at least busy or preferably in motion, but with this consideration in mind, the move can be effective. (I have always thought that a different approach to the same idea by Tom Mullica in Best of Friends by Harry Lorayne is a superb alternative.) The move is a utility move, and can (as I recall was pointed out by Lorayne in Close-up Card Magic) also be done on a spectator's hand.
The remainder of this first section is filled with sleights of Curry's creation. Since he is so well-known for remarkable sleight-free creations like "Out of This World" and "Touch." many readers may be surprised to learn that he was clearly a superb sleight-of-hand man, likely a master technician from the evidence found here. Note that long before Ernest Earick inadvertently reinvented the idea (written and published, as it happens, by Stephen Minch in the book The Innovative Card Magic of Ernest Earick), Curry was doing a one-handed version of the Erdnase Bottom Palm, turning the deck face-up and casually tossing it to the table by way of cover. This is not lightweight stuff! Other items in this section include Multiple Lifts, changes, and original approaches to the Pass.
The next several sections, organized around thematic points, comprise some 270 pages of card material. It is a veritable wealth, and it is remarkable that so much of it is deeply mystifying and yet not technically over-taxing. Not every Curry item was a commercial gem, but a great deal of this material will suit commercial venues more than admirably, and other items are so intriguing they are worth considering for different conditions. There is far too much to discuss in any meaningful detail, but one of the first entries is one of my favorites: Entitled "Circle of Fire," this is Curry's handling for the older dealer trick in which, relying upon the use of a shell coin, a picture of a card appears on a bit of paper sandwiched between two coins. But Curry has completely re-handled the elements to render the method far more mysterious, and at the same time vastly reworks the presentation and indeed the effect itself. I can readily imagine Eugene Burger putting this into his repertoire as a feature piece (and not merely because it incorporates an effective use of flash paper).
And this is perhaps equally true for the very next item, in which the name of a card, in a mysterious ritual involving fire, appears written on a piece of paper in a bottle. In this same section is a nine-phase routine done with two cards, inspired by a routine of John Scarne's (that I imagine included the latter's famed two-card transposition), that is a lemon in routining and could be used today right out of the box, as it were. This is all strikingly distinctive and undeniably practical material.
Elsewhere in the book are two favorite effects of mine, which I used in the mid-1980s as the magic bartender at the Inn of Magic in Maryland. In "Phantasy Under Glass" and "Under Wraps," Al Baker's The Pack That Cuts Itself," perhaps better known today simply as "The Haunted Pack," is given new dressing to remark-able effect. In the first version, the action occurs under the trans-parent cover of a clear glass bowl of sorts. In the second, and one which I used often, the deck (containing the returned selection) sits on the magician's hand which is enclosed in a transparent plastic sandwich bag. A spectator encircles the performer's wrist with rubber bands, thus sealing the chamber within. Despite this, the deck animates, cutting itself, and revealing the selected card—at which point the spectator is invited to seize all and pull it away from the magician's hand, leaving the spectator with a deck enclosed in a plastic bag, selection still visible, sealed with rubber bands. Just imagine this!
Other notables among the card material—and you will certainly find a dramatically different list of preferences, because there is no material here that lacks value or purpose—include "Teacher's Pet," a great sucker trick for the spectator who wants you to teach him a trick; a complete description of "Out of This World," accompanied by a complete account of how the trick came to be created; the "Open Prediction," one of Curry's most famous plots, especially famous because it is a plot for which no single method has ever been generally agreed upon (much like Stewart James' "51 Faces North"), and to which entire issues of two magic journals, Ibidem and Hierophant, have been devoted; and "Thoughts From Afar," a deeply deceptive method from John Northern Hilliard's classic "wizard" telephone card trick.
As for the non-card material, there is "Out of This Phone Book," a book test that includes the first recognized example of a peek book in the literature; a great Pseudo-Psychometry Tip for coding the information to a blindfolded medium; and a couple of extraordinary rope tricks that, while relying on some demanding preparation, in essence accomplishes the basic effect of the Pavel knots with one major difference: a cut-and-restored rope is performed by way of cutting, knotting, moving the knot, untying the rope in a new location, repeating this remarkable phenomenon ... whereupon the rope is handed back to the spectator to keep. Two versions of this are described in an elaborate 22 pages, and the thinking alone is stunning entertainment to a contemplative reader.
So much of the magic marketplace is filled with ephemera—fly-by-night producers and marketers pressing the flimsiest of conceptions into our hands and heads. Paul Curry, by comparison, was a mountain, a force of nature, whose rock-solid creations have and will continue to withstand the ravages of time and fashion. Paul Curry is gone, but his mind and its output remain for us to savor, enjoy--and use to mystify and devastate laymen, for all time to come, as it was intended. Wield his powers well and kindly.