Where do we even begin?
Dai Vernon was, without a doubt, the most important magician of the 20th century.
Stories about his life are legendary, and in this post, I want to share a few tales about Vernon that there’s a very good chance you’ve never heard…
(I’ll also share a Vernon quote you may not have heard)
1. Larry Jennings and Vernon
DISCLAIMER: The following account has been passed down many times before it got to me. Please take these historical events with a ‘grain of salt.’
Larry Jennings was an old-school card man with some of the finest sleight-of-hand work of the 20th century. One day he had this idea for a plot called ‘The Searchers’.
It’s a sandwich trick, but not your usual sandwich trick. No sir. This is a ‘slow motion’ sandwich routine.
The spectator picks a card, Jennings removes the two kings, and the kings slowly move closer and closer to the chosen card…eventually trapping it between them.
It’s beautiful, elegant…and completely unrealistic.
That’s because the routine relies on an insane combination of switches, culls, passes and even a multiple-side-steal (just to place the proverbial cherry on top.)
You see, Jennings was a master sleight-of-hand artist, so this stuff barely bothered him. But for 90% of magicians, this would have been a nightmare to perform.
So when Jennings showed this effect to Dai Vernon, his close friend and mentor, Vernon points out that fact in no uncertain terms.
Jennings gets pretty offended by this, and storms off.
Eventually, he comes back around and realises Vernon was probably right.
A ‘slow motion’ sandwich routine with that many passes simply couldn’t be constructed easily enough to actually work for most magicians.
Or could it?
You see, that right there would have been the end of the story….if it weren’t for a young up and coming card guy from Baltimore.
Enter Aaron Fisher, a student of Jennings.
Aaron saw the potential of this ‘slow motion’ sandwich effect, and managed to devise a diabolically simple way to perform it where all the ‘dirty work’ happens right in the audiences hands.
This solution is truly ingenious, and it’s a real ‘worker’ that any magician can master in a few simple steps.
You can watch Aaron perform this wonderful effect right here:
2. The trick that fooled Houdini – the REAL story
Here’s a fascinating story I first heard from Michael Ammar:
Every magician worth their salt knows about the ‘man who fooled Houdini’, Dai Vernon.
Here’s the ‘tl;dr’ version: Vernon fooled Houdini not once but three times in a row, by placing a signed card second from the top in the deck, then making the card appear at the top of the deck.
Thing is, most magicians (myself included) don’t perform this the same way Vernon actually did it.
Most people replicating this effect start with the chosen card face down on the deck, then they place it second from top, execute a DL (if you know, you know) and smoothly ditch the DB (again…if you know, you know) to show that it really is just one card. They then repeat this process a few times and take their applause.
But in truth, this is NOT how The Professor handled it.
According to Ammar, when he chatted to Vernon (what a badass line) about this effect, Vernon clarified a very important point:
He began the routine with the chosen card FACE UP on the deck—so when he turned it over he could execute the DL, which meant it was actually the DB card that he placed second from the top. As a result, he could very cleanly turn over the top card or even have a spectator themselves turn it over. He repeated it this way a couple of times, and then just as people were getting suspicious of whether the card being placed in the deck was really their card, he switched methods and used the more common variation, meaning he could display the card as it went in.
In effect, by switching between methods like this, he was able to ‘cancel out’ each one in Houdini’s mind.
I don’t know about you, but that was a pretty cool revelation when I heard it.
3. The songbirds and the pigs
Here’s a story about Dai Vernon that shocked me when I first heard it told:
Let’s set the scene for a moment…
It’s the early 80s. Perms are in, and so are magic contests.
At one of these competitions (Desert Magic Seminar), there’s a bunch of the ‘top’ sleight of hand guys battling it out for first prize. One of these magicians (who will remain nameless), considered by many to be the greatest around at the time, ended up missing out on the top spot. In fact, he didn’t even place.
So this guy is, naturally, upset.
He goes to Vernon and tells him how upset he is about this whole thing. Here’s what Vernon tells him (paraphrased and passed down):
“There’s a songbird on a branch, singing a beautiful song. A crow comes along and starts cawing and creaking away.
The songbird turns to the crow and asks what he’s doing. The crow says ‘I sing too. In fact, I sing better than you.’
Affronted, the songbird turns away. As he does, he happens to spot a group of pigs walking down the road.
So the songbird and the crow decide that—in order to settle the matter—they’ll have a contest, and the pigs can judge.
The songbird goes first and sings a beautiful song. The crow follows, with his not-so-beautiful cawing.
The pigs huddle together and, after a moment’s deliberation, announce the winner…
The pigs leave, and the crow flies away.
The songbird stays behind, crying.
Another bird lands by the songbird.
‘Don’t cry because you lost the contest,’ the second bird says.
‘I’m not,’ the first bird replies…
…‘I’m crying because the judges were pigs.”
So there you have it. Do with that insight what you will…
Now that storytime is over, you might be wondering:
“How do you know all this? Where you in the room or what??”
…but Michael Ammar was.
I first heard this particular story while watching Michael’s live event with Conjuror Community (recorded way back in 2017).
Folks, there are literally hundreds of secrets like this tucked away in the Conjuror Community ‘backroom’, accessible ONLY by paying members.
Usually, membership is around 40 bucks a month.
Using the affiliate link below, you can get an entire 30 days for just ONE dollar.
I hope you enjoyed this collection of stories and quotes. There’s much more to say about Dai Vernon than this, but this makes for a pretty strong start.
If you have any stories or tales you’ve heard that you’d like to see in here, feel free to leave me a comment in the comment section below!