A good story arrives at the most appropriate time. This story arrived in 2015 when I was with Luis de Matos in Portugal working on the latest DVD album in the Essential Magic Collection. The subject was Finn Jon, a performer I’ve admired since I first saw him on television in the 1970s. I still have the notes of his performances in my diaries. And now, here he was, sitting opposite me and telling stories. And one of them was about the card on the wall, a trick very much on my mind.
The story took place at Christian Fechner’s luxury apartment in Paris. Fechner was a magician and movie producer. I’d watched him win the Grand Illusion category at FISM in Brussels in 1979 with a series of technologically advanced illusions all later explained in his lavish 1988 book, Soirees Fantastiques. But what Finn was about to explain was in a way much more baffling and it was performed by a magician in that room who used no technology whatsoever in his act, Slydini.
Slydini handed Finn a deck of playing cards and asked him to go over to the other side of the apartment, take a playing card and place it flat against the wall. And then to take his hand away from the card. To Finn’s astonishment the card did not fall to the floor, it stayed there as if magnetised.
‘Put another one, said Slydini. ‘It also sticks.’ Finn took another card, placed it on the wall and, as Slydini had promised, the card mysterious stuck there.
‘The next one will fall,’ said Slydini. Finn tried a third card and sure enough it didn’t stick, simply falling to the floor.
‘Now go to that wall,’ said Slydini. Finn walked across the room, took another card from the deck and it too adheres to the wall. So did a second card. ‘That card will fall,’ said Slydini pointing to one of the two cards. Weirdly, it did just that. It was one of the most unusual tricks Finn had ever seen.
I was glad to hear this story because this very effect had been on my mind prior to visiting Portugal. I’d read a note in The Magic Circular (Sept, 1941) where the editor was taking a sceptical attitude to a trick that had just been published in February issue of The Sphinx. It was contributed by A. P. Johnson, President of the Reno Magic Circle. He called it Card Hypnotism and it went like this:
Here is a clever effect, as old as the Hills, yet I have discovered that very few magicians have the secret. Spectator is asked to select any card from a deck and stand close to the wall. He is now asked to place the card upon the wall and request the card to remain fastened there. He attempts the feat, but the card falls to the floor. Now the magician states he will hypnotise the spectator so that the card will do his bidding. He steps away from the spectator ten feet or so, and advances towards him, making the usual hypnotic incantations. Upon reaching the spectator he casually takes hold of his hand, and requests spectator to now place the card upon the wall. It sticks! And fast, too. Magician then says he will withdraw from the spectator the mystic power. He walks away, and with more incantations of his own choice, withdraws the power. Now spectator again attempts to stick the card upon the wall, but the power is gone. The card falls.
The secret was static electricity. The magician shuffled his feet on the carpet as he walked towards the spectators, generating a static charge. The charge could be conveyed to the spectator upon touch. Johnson went on to say that other articles such as packs of cigarettes could be stuck against the wall or side of a piano using the same method.
This improbable method generated, if you’ll pardon the pun, some discussion in the magazines. Wilfrid Johnson, writing in The Sphinx said he couldn’t get it to work. Group Captain P. G. Tweedie writing in The Magic Circular said that it worked for him when performing in Canada and that a dry atmosphere might well help the method.
Static electricity was the solution to Slydini’s effect too. The carpet at Fechner’s well-appointed apartment was thick and luxurious. That combined with the leather-soled, not rubber, shoes that Finn was wearing made for the perfect combination. Slydini directed Finn to far walls so electricity would build up and static would keep the cards in place. Slydini knew too how long it would take for the charge to wear off. Another trip across the room would build the charge up again. The demonstration came to an end when Slydini walked over to Finn, taking care to build up a very big static charge as he moved across the thick carpet. By way of a finale he touched the back of Finn’s hand, giving him a surprising electric shock.
One year before The Sphinx published Card Hypnotism The Jinx had published Ralph Read’s Animal Magnetism routine. It is in issue 118 and is worth checking out not only for Read’s use of static in a demonstration with paper strips but for a very clever twist on the magnetic cards trick in which cards stick to the performer’s hand. In Read’s version, the cards hang corner to corner from the ‘magnetised’ hand and the spectators can even pick them off. Have never seen anyone do this but it’s a plot worth reviving.