Monday, August 05, 2019

Malini's Forgotten Card Trick

Max Malini made his reputation by performing seemingly impromptu miracles. One of these involved making a card disappear and reappear elsewhere.

It’s described many times in reports of Malini performing. Eric de la Mare, who knew Malini well during the 1930s, said it was his third most performed trick. And yet it’s not mentioned in the one book devoted to Malini, Dai Vernon’s book Malini and his Magic (1962).

Here is a description from a 1902 newspaper, the year Malini came to public attention:

‘Select a card from this pack said, Malini, offering a deck of cards to Senator Hawley. The gentleman from Connecticut did so.

‘Now tear it up,’ commanded the wizard. The card was torn into shreds.

‘Give me all but one piece,’ said Malini.

He folded the shreds of torn card in a newspaper: opened the newspaper: nothing there. Seemingly all that remained of the destroyed card was the torn piece, about one inch square, held by Senator Hawley.

‘Go into the next room,’ said the wizard to Senator Dubois. ‘Climb on the bookcase and on the top shelf of all you will find a volume, number ten in the row. Open the book and turn to page 108. Then bring in the card you find there.’

Senator Dubois departed, amid breathless interest. In a few minutes he returned, bearing the six of hearts, intact, except for a ragged piece torn from one corner. Senator Hawley, amazed, recognised it as the card he selected and torn into shreds.

‘Fit the torn piece to it,’ ordered Malini.

The card was complete when the shred of pasteboard held by Senator Hawley had been fitted in the corner. The ragged edges fitted perfectly.

The trick was not new when Malini performed it. It’s described in Sachs’ Sleight of Hand (1877) under the title of The Missing Link:

This is another very telling card trick, and one that  has  made  the  fame  of  more than  one  amateur conjuror.  A card is chosen from the pack and torn into shreds.  The pieces, with the exception of a single one, which  is given  into  the  custody of  a  spectator, are  then put into a little box, piece of paper, &c., and made to disappear.  The card is then found restored in some part of  the  audience, but  it is noticed that a small portion  of  it  is  missing.  The single piece, which  was  given  to a spectator to hold, will be found  to  be  of  the very size and  shape  required, thus proving that the performer restored the actual card that was destroyed.

Sachs performed the trick himself and gave some advice on reproducing the torn card:

This mutilated card must then be secreted in some out-of-the-way place in the auditorium, or, what is still better, in the pocket of one of the audience, of course some time before the performance begins. I once had it sewn up in  the  lining  of  a  coat,  and  on  another  occasion inserted in the sole of  a boot;  but, in such  instances  as these, care  must be taken that the article containing the card  is to be worn  on the evening of  the  performance  or  a  fiasco will result.

Today we have devices like Gaetan Bloom’s Intercessor or ruses like Daniel Madison’s Angle Zero to make the effect possible. But it still takes guts and preparation to turn a trick into a miracle the way Malini did. I can’t recall where I read it but someone suggested that wherever Malini went he hid corners of playing cards, in books, behind clocks and picture frames. Anywhere they wouldn’t be discovered until he visited again to give a performance. Should you ever find an old corner of a playing card in a place it should not be, it’d be nice to think that maybe Malini was there.

Michal Kociolek alerted me to a new device that will also facilitate the Malini effect. I haven't tried it but it looks promising and you can see demo online. It's Juan Pablo's Torn Corner Machine. Take a look: