Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Sterankophile: Magic and Escapes

From yee Wiki:

Jim Steranko, Illusionist and Musician

By Jim Steranko's own account, he learned stage magic using paraphernalia from his father's stage magician act, and in his teens spent several summers working with circuses and carnivals, working his way up to sideshow performer as a fire-eater and in acts involving a bed of nails and sleight-of-hand.

At school, he competed on the gymnastics team, on the rings and parallel bars, and later took up boxing and, under swordmaster Dan Phillips in New York City, fencing.

Up through his early twenties, Steranko performed as an illusionist, escape artist, close-up magician in nightclubs, and also as a musician, having played in drum and bugle corps in his teens before forming his own bands during the early days of rock and roll.

Steranko, whose first band, in 1956, was called The Lancers, did not perform under his own name, claiming he used pseudonyms to help protect himself from enemies. He also claims to have put the first go-go girls on stage.

The seminal rock and roll group Bill Haley and his Comets was based in nearby Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Steranko, who played a Jazzmaster guitar, often performed in the same local venues, sometimes on the same bill, and became friendly with Haley guitarist Frank Beecher, who became a musical influence.

By the early 1970s, Steranko was a member of a New York City magicians' group, the Witchdoctor's Club.

Comics historian Mark Evanier notes that the influential comic-book creator Jack Kirby, who "based some of his characters on people in his life or in the news," was "inspired" to create the escape artist character Mister Miracle "by an earlier career of writer-artist Jim Steranko."

The Witchdoctor's Club

The Witchdoctor's Club was an informal exclusive magic organization in New York City founded by Clayton Rawson in the late 1950s, as a successor to Bruce Elliott's Friday Night Sodality meetings.

Membership was by invitation only and the sole purpose was lunch. Clayton would call around and tell everyone which New York City restaurant to gather, typically on a Thursday at a Spanish restaurant in back of the Palace Theatre on 49th Street.

Members included: Howie Schwarzman, L. Vosburgh Lyons, Bruce Elliott, Del Cartier, John Scarne, Oscar Weigle, Felix Greenfield, Walter Gibson, Ben Braude, Paul Curry, William Lindsay Gresham, Dai Vernon, John Mulholland, Martin Gardner, Bill Simon, Ira Zweifach, Bill Severn, Richard Himber, Sam Schwartz, and Francis Carlyle.

A genuine Witchdoctors membership card, now considered a collector's item, was printed on a blank-faced playing card containing a cryptic image with "WD"s in the corners.

From Jim Stteranko's tweets on the evening of July 7th, 2013:

In the early 1970s, I became a member of The Witch Doctors, a club so elite they sometimes didn’t even know who was in it. And maybe why. It met one Thursday a month in a different Manhattan bistro -- no officers, no rules, no dress code. But there were conditions -- membership requirements strictly stated all new members must be both published authors and accomplished magicians.

Among the members in attendance were Martin Gardner, the Scientific American’s resident mathematical genius; Clayton Rawson, who wordsmithed the perplexing Merlini mysteries of pulp and film; John Dixon Carr aka Carter Dickson, master of the locked room and impossible crime mysteries; and, on this particular day, Orson Welles, Cagliostro of the Black Magic film and the voice of The Shadow on the radio.

The incomparable Walter Gibson aka Maxwell Grant, the creator of The Shadow and who assisted Houdini, was holding court and novelist Bruce Elliott, who wrote The Shadow novels of the 1940s was also in attendance. They were my adopted father and grandfather. It was the latter who was sponsoring me as a Black Widow, perhaps somewhat appropriate because I’d just been assigned to paint the new Shadow paperback series for Pyramid Books. Although it was early afternoon, you could feel his presence there.

We all feasted, then got down to some serious drinking and performing. As their newest member, I was chosen first to open the show. And I dug out my heavy artillery. Magic for magicians is in a class by itself. I borrowed a deck of shuffled cards and did the impossible. Dealing one card at a time off a face-down deck onto the table, never looking at their faces, I separated them into two piles determining the color of each simply by feeling the ink with my fingertips. No cheating. No gimmicks. They would have caught me cold. It was as close to real magic as they’d see that day -- a wild, new principle and they knew it. They were baffled.

Walter said: “I’ll second the nomination—if you show us how you do it." But magicians never tell. Instead, they all toasted their approval.

Then, in a rumble that echoed with Stygian authority, Welles cited the preeminence of the number nine. He spoke of the nine planets, the nine pyramids of the valley of Korfu, the nine mystic mountains of the moon. He demonstrated the number nine through a group of mathematical multiplication and division tricks, then challenged me as their newest member, to make the number nine with three swizzle sticks -- without bending, breaking, or mutilating them. It took me less than nine seconds to configure them into the shape of the Roman numeral IX. Thank you, Mister Welles. Then, I countered with a challenge of my own, asking Welles to play a hand of draw poker with me, one I guaranteed he’d never forget.

"Not after seeing you separate all those red and black cards without looking," he bellowed.
He needed an edge -- and I gave it to him. “Then, I’ll give you the greatest advantage any poker player ever had. We’ll play with all the cards face up —and you can draw last.  We’ll play standard rules, nothing wild—and I’ll bet that I can still beat you. Even Charlie Kane wouldn’t turn that one down."

"I don’t see how he could," Welles said as I ribbon-spread the cards across the table between us.
The big game was about to begin -- I selected five cards while he watched, then, after careful deliberation, he took the four aces and the king of spades. As we played through the hand, he continuously had me beat -- until the final moment when he realized he’d been outmaneuvered. He was stunned -- I tossed the nine of spades to him.

"Nine may have been mystical for the wizards at Korfu," I said, “but today it’s your unlucky number, pal." The Witch Doctors howled their approval.

No comments:

Post a Comment