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Close-Up Magician Review

Official Review

January 28th, 2003 3:08pm
Reviewed by David Acer
“A tip in presentation may serve to transform into a miracle a trick which other magicians have discarded. Such a tip is worth more to the commercially minded magician than the cleverest new method.”
Bert Allerton

While Bert Allerton’s name is often uttered in the same breath as the greatest magic luminaries of his time, including Paul LePaul, Al Baker, Nate Leipzig and John Mullholland, he was the only one among them to have established his reputation working exclusively in the close-up arena. For years, he entertained at the tables in such reputable establishments as the House of Murphy in Hollywood, the Hotel Pierre in New York City, and the now-famous Pump Room at the Ambassador East in Chicago.

In the words of Robert Parrish, “The great initial obstacle in this type of work was to be invited to sit down with a group in the first place. There was a very good leaflet at each table telling about Mr. Allerton and indicating that his services were available for a fee of five dollars. But the real reason that the clientele of these fine restaurants asked for him was that he was immediately recognizable as a gentleman and the kind of person you would like to have join your party.” Indeed, even allowing for widely divergent styles and repertoires, this is the one thing all great close-up performers have in common, from Dai Vernon to Eugene Burger, from J.N. Hofzinser to Matt Schulien, from John Scarne to Don Alan... you get the idea.

But an entertainer does not an innovator make, and the question here is, what does Bert Allerton bring to the publishing table beyond his gentlemanly manner. The answer is, quite a lot. While not prolific with regards to original plots, Allerton was a master of simplifying existing ones, and like many who find themselves performing nightly, he was extremely adept at trimming the fat off his magic (one may of course attribute some of this to necessity, but one must also concede that Mr. Allerton was particularly good at it).

The Close-Up Magician was published in 1958, two years after Bert Allerton’s death, and contains 29 items with cards, cutlery, scissors, sugar cubes, handkerchiefs, envelopes, and other everyday objects. While some of the material was written by Allerton, most was recorded posthumously by Robert Parrish, Don Alan, Don Ward, George Coon, Tommy Edwards, and Joe & Mary Palen. Every trick within these pages (and indeed, in Allerton’s repertoire) has been reduced to its barest elements, both in effect and handling, and the result in many cases is an almost Zen-like beauty. Moreover, it’s interesting to note how many now-standard presentations for classic effects can be traced back to Allerton. Take, for example, his ingenious approach to “Swallowing a Knife” (popularized by Jay Marshall), wherein the knife is picked up, then, just prior to swallowing, replaced on the table and salted. This seemingly minor addition serves two purposes - one, it’s funny, and two, it takes some heat off the second pick-up when the knife is actually lapped. Smart, smart, smart!

Similarly, Bert’s version of “The Glass Through Table” is quite possibly the finest in existence, adding an interactive, tactile element to the climax that enhances the impact enormously.

Among my other favorites are “Surprise Spelling,” an easy, impromptu location of a chosen card with a very Allerton double-climax; “The Vanishing Cigarette,” the real work on how to make this a truly powerful effect; “The Scissors,” now better known as “Cut No-Cut Scissors,” a brilliant and baffling gag that to this day remains one of the finest of its kind; “The Flutist,” a playful stunt with a straw that makes a fun piece when combined with “The Scissors”; and “The Aspirin Box,” an inspired revelation of a chosen card, and perhaps the highlight of the book (Eugene Burger also has some terrific work on this - see The Performance of Close-Up Magic, Burger, 1987).

Admittedly, however, not all the contents would qualify as gems. “Transcendence” and “The Missing Deuce” are fairly uninteresting card tricks; “The Eye Popper” is an inferior Ambitious Card routine with no real ending (though in Mr. Allerton’s defense, we have the benefit of an additional fifty years of published work on the plot to draw from when constructing our own approaches to the routine); and the “Simplified Magic Square,” which, while indeed simplified, is also morbidly dull, and would require a performer of Allerton’s caliber just to elevate it to mediocre.

Regardless, these are anomalous dips in an otherwise very steady collection. The Close-Up Magician is an intriguing look at the repertoire of one of the field’s greatest practitioners, and should be required reading for any restaurant worker.

David Acer

Product info for Close-Up Magician

Author: Allerton, Bert
Publisher: Magic, Inc.
Average Rating:  (1)
Retail Price: $10.00
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Manufacturer's Description:

At the height of his success, Bert Allerton was the most celebrated close-up performer and highest paid cafe entertainer. These are the tricks and routines he made famous. Contents include His Seven Secret Tricks, Eight Favorite Card Tricks, Cutting to Any Card, His Scissors, Little Hindu, the Flutist, The Jumping Flower, Vanishing Birdcage, etc. Also included are rules and advice for close-up magicians and a bibliography.

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