Show Business: The Magic Boom: New Sorcery

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Dorothy: "You're a very bad man."

Oz: "Oh, no. I'm a very good man. I'm just a very bad wizard."

—The Wizard of Oz

Oz was born a century too soon. Today he would have bought himself an act, taken lessons from experts and played the Emerald City to standees. Across the country, magic is enjoying unprecedented fortune. Says Dai Vernon, 80-year-old dean of American magic: "I've been conjuring for six decades; I don't know when the field has been so fertile." James Randi, a prestidigitator who tours with the Alice Cooper show, agrees: "Magic has had red-letter days. But this is a red-letter year." The prediction is no illusion.

> On Broadway, The Magic Show is a smash, the first such full-length production in Manhattan in 35 years. Says the star, Doug Henning, "It's not just me; every magician I know is working."

> In San Francisco, the Magic Cellar has an answer to Dai Vernon: "Paris," a five-year-old magician with an ageless routine.

> In Los Angeles, the Magic Castle, an eleven-year-old theater-restaurant devoted to the art and craft of legerdemain, is enjoying its most successful year. Says Resident Card Wizard Charles Miller, "Magic is surging; the rewards are better both financially and what you might call soul filling. Even the oldtimers are better." In North Hollywood, Magician Mark Wilson employs a full-time staff of 20 to devise and build special effects to astound audiences at conventions and trade shows.

> In Boston this month, the Society of American Magicians doubled the attendance of previous meetings and announced its greatest membership growth. Says Tad Ware, part-time magician and full-time manager of creative services for the Pillsbury Co.: "People are baking bread again, buying pianos for their parlors, and doing card tricks. It's a sort of back-to-basics thing."

> In New York, the basics—plus a bewildering range of electronic paraphernalia—are sold at Lou Tannen's, the largest magic shop in the world. "Our business has never been better," says Co-Owner Tony Spina. "We gross $500,000 a year, and many days we have no room or time for all our customers."

It was not always this lively, in Tannen's or at any other stop along the sorcery circuit. Just a few years ago, conjurers met at the bottom of nightclub bills and bemoaned the state of their business. All were afflicted with the magician's disease: ancestor worship. Gone was the golden age, they sighed. Television had consumed their best acts; film had taken the magic out of life. They spoke in the jargon of the trade: there were no tricks, only "effects"; a disappearing object was a "vanish"; a suddenly appearing object was a "production"; a nimble-handed move was a "sleight." The masters of all these effects and sleights had vanished. Houdini, who could get out of a steel coffin, could not escape from his wooden one; Cardini, who commanded the attention of a jammed theater with nothing but a deck of cards and a pack of cigarettes; Thurston, Dunninger, Blackstone, Dante: all, all were gone or retired. People wanted facts, not illusions; it was the age of the scientist, not the alchemist.

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