Paul LePaul is a historic figure in magic for many reasons. The creator of the LePaul spread, LePaul bluff pass and author of “The Card Magic of LePaul” is respected and admired for his love of performance and his precision manipulations. When we look for magic quotes to publish on our Facebook and Twitter pages, we visit his work often.
“Much of the charm and beauty of card magic lies in the skillful and adroit handling of the pasteboards. Flourishes, therefore, are a very essential part of the stock-in-trade of every manipulator. Do not underestimate their value; they play a very important role in arousing interest and have a terrific appeal to the imagination of an audience.”
A couple of people were quick to point out that LePaul was talking about basic flourishes, such as fans, cascades, spreads. That kind of thing. The point being that LePaul wouldn’t dive into the world of non-magical flourishing, what with all those crazy cuts, throws and such.
That got us thinking: Would he?
If LePaul were alive today, would he be a flourisher?
Man, do we wish there was performance footage available today. We’d love to be able to watch him perform. Judging from research by the Conjuring Arts Research Center, LePaul was a polished performer who prioritized precision and panache, all with an eye on pleasing his audiences. He didn’t talk much, and didn’t use complicated displays.
In “Card Magic,” published in 1949, Robert Parrish writes that he could play to a small room or a large room with equal aplomb, because he had enough showmanship to make a small card trick play big. When writing about LePaul’s version of a Ten Card Trick, he wrote that “…When three cards disappear from a packet held by a spectator and are found among ten cards of differently colored backs, to the accompaniment of fine comedy, the effect is as impressive as that of a major stage illusion.”
LePaul was also known for his manipulations. From the vaudeville circuit to the hotels and nightclubs he filled, his act was based on his manipulation routines.
Whenever we get chances to dive into card magic history, we see two major paths that magicians can follow. One is that of Dai Vernon, who is a self-assigned protege of S.W. Erdnase and who brought casual, non-flashy, efficient yet subdued moves to the card magician. The other is LePaul, who showed that expert manipulation, which clearly pointed to practice and skill, could indeed be magical. (These two paths are very close together, have plenty of spots where they intersect and both lead to the same place, so we don’t advocate choosing one over the other.)
The most revealing passage of Parrish’s preface to “Card Magic” deals with how much importance LePaul gave to practicing:
“LePaul was a successful professional magician from the beginning of his career because he found a medium and style which suited his personality and because he spent a great deal of time practicing his manipulation. He realize that even to layemen who could not appreciate technical accomplishments, his work would appear the most magical if his sleights were executed with absolute precision.”
Parrish also noted that his two main idols were Nate Leipzig and Howard Thurston — Thurston is significant because, like Jim Steinmeyer, we believe that he bested Houdini for the claim of greatest magician in the world.
And that gets us back to the main question: Would LePaul flourish non-magically? What would he do with Sybil, or an Anaconda Dribble, or Daniel Madison’s Cardistry?
We think he would embrace those moves. And perform then magically.
We don’t think LePaul would ever abandon magical presentations. LePaul was a brilliant magician because he was a brilliant performer. His innovations were based on simplicity, and he carefully chose his material for each audience. So if he were alive today, we’d like to think that a handful of flourishing’s modern moves might appear in some of his routines. But never at the expense of his love for precision and performing.
It’s worth your time to research him. The Conjuring Arts Research Society has recently opened up a display of LePaul’s personal notebook. And if you haven’t read “Card Magic” yet, do so.