CHICAGO (CelebrityAccess) CelebrityAccess recently talked to one of the magicians at the Houdini magic shop at New York, New York in Las Vegas, who spoke of all the big fans of magic, and many of the people who work in the music biz who either perform for family and friends or who began their careers as magicians.
The reader might be surprised: they might be sitting right beside you in your office. We literally spoke to people who never knew their co-workers led secret lives as prestidigitators. One thing led to another, and we wound up with five voices – too many to put into one article.
As for artists, some of the big names are apparently Willie Nelson, Rodney Atkins and Barry Gibb from the Bee Gees. Nelson is known to perform the complicated card trick “Sam The Bellhop” on his famous tour bus and Gibb is said to be a big fan of performers like magician’s magician Paul Harris. Nelson’s camp entertained the possibility of getting an interview with the Red-Headed Stranger but his busy summer schedule is about to start; Gibb responded and respectfully declined.
Still, many in the industry have more than a passing interest in the art form. Some began as stage performers; others have absorbed magicians into their clientele.
This is a five-part series and it begins with Arny Granat, co-founder of Chicago promotion company Jam Productions and a busy Broadway producer. Granat is reticent to do interviews unless, of course, it has to do with magic, which he has been doing since the age of 12.
He is currently CEO of Grand Slam Productions, a touring event company he launched in 2012. The company has since produced touring attractions such as the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame traveling exhibit, and Bodies: The Exhibition.
Note: This interview has lots of “inside” terms but they are SO inside it should go right over the head of the layman.
I’m doing a story about people in the industry who are very much into magic.
What are you best at?
Yeah, I am too. I’ve been doing it for 50 some odd years. I was going to be a professional but I knew you couldn’t make any money so I decided not to.
Right, so you decided to work with Lance Burton on his career, is that correct?
Lance. I also worked very closely with Jeff McBride out of Vegas. I’m friends with him. You should go to his Magic School. If you want to go, let me know. I worked with my dear friend, Eugene Burger. I was with him about three weeks before his death, in his apartment. He showed me something I did not know. I said, “You gotta show me,” and he showed me something that I’ve added and it’s really amazing. I can now basically have somebody cut to any card I want, with any deck, without crimping.
Yeah, without bending anything, Without anything more than one thing. Anyway, would love to get together with you one day. So what do you want to know?
I want to know about people who are in the business who love this magic stuff. I understand Rodney Atkins is big into this, and Willie Nelson does Sam The Bellhop.
Ha, the Bellhop. Yeah. I don’t like stacked decks. But it’s a good routine.
I don’t like that either. One regular deck here, a stacked deck there, an Invisible Deck over there – I have to wear cargo pants.
I understand! I understand! I got it down pretty much though.
So, as magician to magician, what do you carry with you?
I can start with any regular deck. Let’s start with that. But like with anybody else, I learned at 12 from the Expert Card Technique and everybody learns about 200 sleights and you wind up using five or six, maybe add one a year, if you feel lucky. But you go back to riding a bicycle. I learn about 10 new tricks a year minimum but I look at about 100 new tricks a year.
So, to answer your question, give me a regular deck. Does that limit me? No, I can do a whole routine. Otherwise I don’t use any cards except for a couple of routines where I can’t hand out anything. I’m very big on being able to hand out anything, even if I substitute cards. But when I hand them out I give them the real cards so that if you put a royal flush out there, you put out a real hand out there.
Otherwise, I can pretty much use a regular deck. I do the Invisible Deck but it drives me nuts. I hate doing it.
No, I hate doing it because I don’t get how people freak the fuck out about it. And it’s about the easiest trick to do. It drives me nuts but everybody loves it. I always close with the ring on the key chain.
A Himber ring?
Sort of. It jumps into my pocket, onto my back key chain.
So you carry a bunch of stuff with you?
Yeah, I can go anywhere easily from seven or 10 tricks for somebody’s house/dinner or I have three or four, right away, just in-and-out. You ever do “Around The World?” Black/Red separation?
Basically, I do more “modern” stuff like Ambitious Card, even though that’s 100 years old. I don’t do “Out Of This World.”
I don’t do “Out Of This World,” but I do this one trick but, regarding the Ambitious Card, I now end with that, when you show the ambitious card at the end, I’ve taken a rubber band, wrapped it around the deck and it sits on the table with a rubber band and you touch the top of the pack and the ambitious card pops up to the top, face up.
It doesn’t involve a pass?
No, not at all. It’s how you wrap the band around. I’ll show it to you. It’s amazing. I don’t do threads anymore.
Yeah, it’s amazing the reaction that gets but …
Oh, yeah, yeah.
But I use loops.
Yes, I use loops.
But I can’t ever find it.
Ha! Yeah, it’s hard! I put one on each wrist so I know. One thing I’ve learned recently, one new trick – but you name any card at any number and you count down to that number and your card is there.
Right. ACAAN. Thought it would make for a great movie. True story is that a guy was driving along with the magician and asked if he could do it, and the magician, the driver, said “Open the glove box. Take out the deck. Pick a card, pick a number, count down and that will be your card.” And it was.
It sounds like something you want someone to hear but it’s not really how it’s done. Yeah, they skipped a move.
So, yeah I even had a name: Arnac The Magnificent. (laughs). When I was a kid, I would not do shows for kids. I would hate doing shows for kids. Hated it, like Ricky Jay. Hated it.
I was at Ricky Jay’s memorial, I was friends with Ricky. He was the Michael Jordan of cards. David Blaine was there and did something and Steve Martin was there, but there was a story told about Ricky Jay where he goes out – and I’ve been out with him and he’d drink a lot of iced tea. He didn’t ever want the tea refilled by the waiter until it was empty. So if it was half filled, the waiter would come over and fill iced tea into the cup. Well, he didn’t like that. So the waiter would come over and poured a half-full glass of iced tea with more tea. Next time he’d comes over, Ricky puts his hand over it and says, “no no, don’t bother. Wait ’till I’m finished.”
The guy came back a third time and said, “Would you like some more tea,” and Ricky put a napkin in front of the glass and said, “What did you say?”
And the waiter would say, “Do you want more tea, Mr. Jay?” and he’d pick up the napkin and say, “What tea?” and the glass was gone.
But the funniest one, and the one you’ll have to hear: It’s a great story. He was a terrible driver. He was driving and speeding, and the state trooper gets out of the car, the boots, the glasses, he comes over and says, “Sir, you were speeding,” and Ricky goes, “I know I was.”
Trooper asks for the license. Ricky says no. Trooper says, “Are you telling me I can’t have your license?”
Ricky says, “No, sir, I cannot give you my license.”
“Look in your pocket.”
Yup! Great story. I’m not sure if that worked but it’s a great story.
I’ll tell you one thing: before Shin Lim became well known about five years ago, I saw something he did and called his mother in Boston. He was playing in a small place in Indiana. I went there. It was like a garage.
There were 30 people there, all these local terrible magicians. And Shin. I wanted to see if he was real or Memorex. I was thinking of doing a show with him in New York and another local magic show. He was great. And he went on to become huge. Now I’m buying some dates for him in Chicago and some other markets in the fall.
So, go ahead, ask me what you want to ask me.
So, do you have a trunk of crap?
Every magician has a closet full, 80 percent stuff you never use. You end up doing the same five, seven tricks you’re comfortable with. You may add on. I don’t have a trunk but I have about four bags that I keep at the end of my bed and I’ll fill one to go when I’m doing however much I’m doing.
20 minutes ago I threw away a packet trick because I don’t know what it was, originally.
Throw it away! I’m trying to get rid of stuff I don’t even look at anymore. I have a closet-full. I have cards I had shimmed that I don’t do anymore. I had them made by Jay Marshall when he was alive.
Go ahead: what else?
Any magician you’d love to run into, living or dead? Like a Dai Vernon?
Uh .. Shin Lim I saw, I’ve met David Blaine before he became big. Sat on a couch, did some things. He just does regular stuff.
No, there was never one person. I learned a lot from Jay Marshall in Chicago, who had a magic shop on Lincoln. There was never one guy. Eugene Burger would probably be the closest one. I’ve met most of them. I met Copperfield, I met all of them. There was nobody I haven’t met that I really wanted to. Shin Lim was the last one.
Can you tell me how you started?
Yeah, I was 12 years old. I had a major operation. I was in bed with a body cast for over six months and never got out of the bed to pee. There were no videos then, there was none of that, so my uncle gave me the Expert Card Technique book (by Erdnase) and I was up, I never went to sleep because I couldn’t move and there was no rush. I just practiced and practiced. I became really skilled. I was better then than I am now. I could stack a deck easily back then. Now I can but not too often.
I started doing tricks, then a couple of shows. Always for adults, never for kids. So I learned that way when I was 12 and now I’m 70.
It’s funny. Those of us who may spend a lot of time with musicians may be infatuated with people from other industries. For instance, while we are talking, I’m looking at a signed card from Jeff McBride on my wall.
Nice! He wanted me to do a couple of shows with him.
If someone was reading this article and wanted to get into magic, what would you recommend?
Well, today’s market is different than when I started. You can get self-working card tricks that are amazing. Start with self-working card tricks. Try a couple of those. They can be as good as sleight of hand. And I’d get something like the Expert Card Technique and read it. And read it again. And practice it. Try it in front of people or you’ll never know.
The first trick I ever did was Don Alen’s sponge trick. Sponges and, at the end it was a bagel load. I still have the bagel from when I was 12 years old. The bagel is hard as a rock.
A bagel., You load a bagel.
I thought his thing was the Big Peanut.
Same thing. You load a bagel instead. First thing I learned when I was 13, 14.
It was weird to think people couldn’t see me doing this sleight. It’s what I’m always concerned about. It’s amazing. You think how can they not see this? It’s in my mind all the time.