Monday, December 22, 2008

Dai Vernon

Dai Vernon was born on June 11, 1894 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. His real name is David Frederick Wingfield Verner. He got the nickname of "Dai" when a typo in a newspaper gave him Dai instead of David. His last name "Vernon" came from the dancer, Vernon Castle, who with his wife was a dancer in the 1920's. While in New York, his name Vernon was carried over since most New Yorkers could not pronounce it correctly. Vernon is the most influential conjuror of the 20th century.

Magicians know him affectionately as ‘The Professor’ because of his apparently endless fountain of magical knowledge and also regarded as 'The Man Who Fooled Houdini.' Harry Houdini boasted that no one could fool him if he saw a trick performed three times in a row. In 1919, in Chicago, Vernon took up his challenge. He performed an old version of 'The Ambitious Card' eight times in a row, and Houdini had no idea how it was done. He also known as the man who "fooled" Houdini.

At the age of 12, Vernon learned and mastered all the sleights of hand tricks in the classic book on card handling - The Expert at the Card Table. Vernon fell in love in magic and he spent his rest of his life baffling everyone with his great ability. He spent the last 30 years of his life in Hollywood, as a mentor for many great close-up magicians.

Conjurors, amateur or professional will immediately have their undivided attention if you mention his name. Vernon improved known tricks and created new ones such as Twisting the Aces. He knew old magicians like Max Malini and Harry Houdini. He had friendship with magicians such as T. Nelson Downs, Allan Shaw, Manuel, and Welch Miller just to name a few.

In 1963, Dai Vernon visited the Magic Castle for the first time to see Jay Ose. Vernon is probably the most notable resident magician of the Magic Castle. Magicians from all over the world came to the Magic Castle to learn from the him. His clinical mind was responsible for many modern classic routines adopted by numerous magicians today. He set new standards, and elevated the art of conjuring more than almost any predecessor.

He is probably the greatest contributor to the art of close-up magic. However, he was a modest person blessed with indescribable charm. He was a true gentleman and everyone loved him. It was very rare to hear Vernon say anything unkind about anybody. Even if the person deserved it, he would always find something positive to say about them. He had the rare ability to fill anyone in his company with renewed enthusiasm for their art, magic. There was only one conjuror that he spoke of negatively, and that was Harry Houdini.

Many of today's great magicians such as Michael Ammar, Bruce Cervon, John Carney, Larry Jennings, Ricky Jay, just to name a few came to learn from Dai Vernon and many of their ideas are came from Dai Vernon. In October 1965, journalist, and amateur conjuror Richard Buffum recorded a series of interviews with Vernon.

This amounted to seven miles of tape. An edited transcript of these interviews appeared in the book, The Vernon Chronicles - Dai Vernon a Magical Life, published in 1992, and edited by Bruce Cervon and Keith Burns, both very close friends of Vernon. It is sad that ‘The Professor’ passed over shortly after the publication of the book. He died at the age of 98, in Hollywood, California in 1992.

Andrew Loh

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