IN the summer, Ralph Greenwood does magic in Maine, and in the winter he takes it to Floridy. He can handle all ages, but loves to mystify the youngsters and accordingly does a lot of small-fry birthday parties. I'd known about him for years, but we hadn't met. Then, Paul Albert retained him for the annual Albert family reunion, and as we are woodpile nodders with the Albert, we attended, and I successfully selected the seven of spades to mystify everybody and thus served as assistant magician. By the way, pronounce that al-bare rather than al-burt, because these are the descendants of Armand and Marie Albert of the Acadian valley of the St. John River along Maine's northern boundary. Likewise, don't make a plural of les Albert. Oui.
After I selected the seven of spades, Magician Greenwood handed me a document certifying that I am a member in good standing of the International Society of Magicians' Assistants. I cherish it and have placed it in the archives to edify my heirs.
What Ralph Greenwood didn't know as he bamboozled me into selecting his seven of spades is that I was already a magician's assistant going-on 50 years ago - back when our son used to go to bed after doing his homework and would lie in bed in the dark and practice manipulating his pool balls. Now and then he would miscue, and a pool ball would drop to the floor and bounce-bounce-bounce to the wall and whop the mopboard. Below, Marm and I would be sitting in our living room with a couple of books and when a ball dropped we would look at each other and smile. This went on for months, and then he mastered the muscles in his fingers until there came a time he would fall off to sleep and not drop a single ball. Our son, while I was fall guy for his magic for years, never thought to give me an assistant's certificate.
In those times, now brought into fond focus by meeting Ralph Greenwood at last, there was a magic shop in Boston that I would visit. As I recall, the owner was Max Holden, a magician of note, and the shop was managed by a Mr. Hanson, who was also a merlin. Mr. Hanson got so he greeted me by name and would have a trick ready for me to buy and take home to the lad.
Over the years I spent considerable money with Mr. Hanson and Mr. Holden, and we came to have a magic closet that was full of illusions and deceptions. The linking rings, the wonderful Chinese rice bowl, the die in a box, and all manner of things that appeared and disappeared. The lad began to do his magic about town, with a top hat, frock coat with pockets in the tail for his pool balls, the customary black-top tables, and a wand that changed into a snake. I was amused that after his long and patient practice not to drop pool balls, he had now mastered the ability to drop one on purpose to show the audience he was using the real thing.
When Mr. Hanson took my money for a new illusion, he would show me how it worked. This didn't mean I could do the trick. All magic is simple and I suppose easy to do - but facility comes with patient practice and thoughtful showmanship. I can tell you how to palm pool balls, but if I tried to show you, they'll all hit the mopboard. Consequently, I was hep to magic but never did any.
There was one dandy trick I made for him. I figured I could save money. After a playing card had been selected by an ``assistant,'' a corner would be torn off to identify it, and then the card would be ripped to shreds and burned. Then, upon command, that card would appear as if, say, by magic between the glass and the picture inside a frame on a stand. The assistant would take the frame apart to get the card out, and lo! the torn corner matched. The rest was hocus-pocus, palaver, waving of the wand, and a bit of legerdemain. It took me about three weeks to make the picture frame, and I saved some four dollars at Mr. Hanson's magic shop.
When I was in Germany in 1953, I came upon a magic shop by The Alster in Hamburg, and through the doorway I could see it was arranged much like that of Mr. Hanson's. I stepped in, and in English I called, ``Anybody here know Max Holden?'' It was as good as any secret password. Three clerks stepped forward, shook hand in turn, and began plying me with tricks. One, a girl, pulled yards of ribbon from her ear. I bought three tricks there to take home, and demurred that the instructions were written in German. The girl said, ``Everybody has a German friend.''
It turned out to be so, I guess, because the lad was shortly doing three German tricks with a fake Hamburg accent to his patter. ``Ach!'' he would say, ``Was ist los?'' So at the Albert reunion, after the magic, Ralph Greenwood and I had some time together, and it is good to be a magician's assistant.