Last weekend I picked up the Thurston Scrapbook that was put out by Phil Temple. This book is Grace Thurston’s autobiography of life with Howard Thurston. I started reading it and there’s a lot going on that doesn’t hold up to modern standards. I’m only about 30 pages into it and it’s really changed my view of Howard Thurston.
It begins when a 29 year old Howard meets a 15 year old Grace at a train station and convinces her to go on the road with him. He then takes her shopping for clothes and says that they can deduct the cost from her wages. In modern times this is human trafficing behavior. He took her from her family to a different state and now she owes him money, so she’s stuck with him. Then he gets her to lie about her age so that they can get married.
On the first few pages she casually mentions he beat her, so there’s that. I think that men hitting women was more common an accepted by society in 1898 than it is now almost 125 years later.
At the time that they met Thurston was working as a sideshow barker and much of his troupe performed in brownface. Once again, this was more acceptable in late 1800’s than it is now. These are things that aren’t really brought up in the stories that old magicians would recite about him.
A common story about Howard Thurston that older magician would tell me when I was a kid was about his preshow ritual. Howard would stand in the wings and say, “I love my audience” to himself before he stepped onstage. In the book Grace mentions several times that he refers to his audience as “suckers”. I figure I should mention this is early in his career while he’s still working in carnivals, so that may change later.
I’m curious if more of what I was told or assumed about Howard Thurston will change as I continue reading this book.
Over the long President’s Day weekend my family went on a trip to Oregon. One of the places we stopped was Powell’s Books in Portland. Powell’s is one of the largest independent bookstores in the USA and has a nice mix of new and used books.
It took a bit of hunting to find their magic trick section!
They had a bunch of magic books, lots of newer ones and some older ones. I found the Thurston Scrapbook that Phil Temple put out in the 1980’s.
Sometimes the universe hands you a project you never knew you’d be working on. Last week I got a tip about an estate sale that had some magic stuff in it. The magician was named Carroll Wood, and was active in the first half of the 1930’s and was a founding member of IBM ring 59 (Seattle Magic Club). I’ll write another post about Carroll in the future.
One of the things I found for sale was the book My Life of Magic by Howard Thurston. I’ve never read this book so I picked it up.
I just picked up the book to read and noticed something inside the book:
It was signed by Howard Thurston!
This is really cool to me, when I was a kid starting in magic in the 1990’s learning from old library books, there was soo much written about him. The Rising Cards, the Five Card Vanish, the Floating Ball…soo much stuff that really got my imagination going. This was long before YouTube and all I had was pics in books and my imagination.
In the research I did about Carroll Wood and I found out exactly when this book was signed by Thurston, and it’s an interesting story that I’ll write about in the future!
There’s an old piece of advice that (usually older) magicians give newer magicians. That is, “you only need to know 8 tricks” and that you should know those tricks inside and out. While that advice may have be relevant over 100 years ago when it was originally given. I think the story was a kid said to Thurston that he knew over 100 tricks and Thurston replied, “I only know seven” or something like that.
Here’s the problem with that advice, look at every modern successful magician, they all know and do more than seven or eight tricks.
Now let’s apply that to the average magician. Yesterday I performed at a company party for people in healthcare. I was hired for an hour of roving magic, and normally I’ll do the same 5ish minute set over and over for the hour. However, this party spanned several hours and the worker came to it when they were free. When I was there the first 30 mins was busy, but the final 30 mins was just about 8 people (who had seen my set in the first 30 minutes of the party). If I only knew seven or eight tricks, I’d be screwed. However, I have a big toolbox of sleights and tricks, I was able to pull out some things I don’t normally do and to improvise.
In the picture above I’m doing Jack Carpenter’s Mysterious from the book Modus Operandi. This is a trick I’ve done since I was a teenager, but it’s not in my roving set because it uses a table, and some specific cards. When I do roving magic, my deck loses cards very quickly, so I can’t always guarantee that I have the needed cards.
The moral of the story is to fill your tool box, if all you have is a 3/8 inch wrench and a hammer in it, you’re in trouble if you need a phillips screwdriver!