20 Questions with Harry Lorayne

Harry Lorayne Products available at L&L:

Harry Lorayne’s Best Ever Collection
– 4 Volume DVD set $120.00

Harry Lorayne’s Best of Friends V1 – $59.95
Harry Lorayne’s Best of Friends V2 – $77.00
Special Effects By Harry Lorayne – $84.95
The Magic Book by Harry Lorayne - Collector’s Edition – $65.00
Harry Loryane’s Apocalypse Volumes 6 – 10 (Collector’s Edition) – $150.00
Harry Lorayne’s Apocalypse Volumes 11 – 15 (Collector’s Edition) – $150.00
Harry Loryane’s Apocalypse Volumes 16 – 20 – $79.95
Lorayne: The Classic Collection V1 – $89.95
Lorayne: The Classic Collection V2 – $89.95
Lorayne: The Classic Collection V3 – $89.95

Harry LorayneThanks for taking some time for L & L Presents, Harry. I guess the best place to begin is at the beginning. Where did your interest in magic begin?

I was a terribly shy kid (yeah, I overcompensated!), really; never made eye-to-eye contact, spoke only when spoken to, and even then— not always. I wrote about this in The Magic Book. I was about seven or eight years old when I saw my first card trick. Pitt Street Park on the lower east side of Manhattan was the “hangout.” One rainy day, a park counselor took the kids indoors. He did one card trick. That was it for me. It changed my life—saved my life!

Since you’ve authored so many now-classic books on magic, which books by others influenced you early on?

I come from a strange background. My parents were immigrants interested only in surviving (I’m a “depression kid”). Nowadays, if a boy is interested in magic, his parents take him to a magic shop, to magic shows, buy him a magic set. That would have been mind-boggling for my parents; never entered their minds. So I didn’t know about magic shops or magic sets until I was, perhaps, about fourteen or fifteen years old.

I searched in a library (across the street from Pitt Street Park—the Hamilton Fish Library). I rarely found a book on magic, but when I did, to quote myself—”I don’t think I’ve been that thrilled since! I’d breathlessly check it out and run all the way home with it (clutching it to my chest).”

The problem was that—well—I would have killed for a book by Ed Marlo, Dai Vernon, Ted Annemann, Jean Hugard, Fred Braue, et al., but I’d never heard of them at that time of my life. The magic books I found were full of tricks done with springs and clocks and magnets. Not for me.

When I did find out about “real” (close-up) magic books, the above-mentioned were my “influences.”

Some readers may not know that you won an award from the Academy of Magical Arts (The Magic Castle) for your contributions to the literature of magic. What, in your opinion, are the qualities of a good magic book?

Creativity, selectivity, writing, teaching. Those four have to mesh. We all know the cliché—if you find one item in a magic book that you can use, you’ve received your money’s worth. Well, hogwash! There’s where selectivity comes in. Select the proper items (of those you’ve created) to include in the book and the reader should find most of the items useful.

I read some current magic books and the little bit of hair I have left stands on end! Some of these people can’t write their way out of a milk pitcher. I personally know excellent close-up guys who simply can’t write. And that leads me to teaching. You may create and select okay, and you may write well enough, but if you can’t teach—what’s the point?

Let’s go back almost fifty years. I read every book on close-up magic I could afford—not many in those days. Most of them angered me; they were too ambiguous, confused me as to—Which finger? Where? Face up or face down? Which do I do first, this or the other? They weren’t clear. I thought—I think I can do this better! That, really, led to my first book on magic—Close- Up Card Magic.

Harry, you make no secret of the fact that you have no formal education— one year of high school. To what, then, do you attribute your writing and Harry Lorayneteaching ability?

Well, I can’t really answer the “writing ability” except that, it seems, I can write just as I speak and, fortunately, it also seems that the way I speak “finds favor” with most. And I can hold my own when it comes to grammar, syntax, and so on. I’m self- learned in that area.

Teaching ability? The best way for me to answer that is to paraphrase myself (from Apocalypse). As early as grade school I realized that it was more difficult for me than for my classmates to understand the teachers’ instructions. What I didn’t realize is that I’m dyslexic. There was no such word (nor was it recognized) then. Of course, again, I had no choice but to overcompensate—as I did over the years.

The way I teach is the way I myself would understand. I simply, automatically, assume that everyone else is just like me! I gear my teaching toward my own abilities, my own levels of understanding. I touched on it in my answer to your preceding question. There are no ambiguities when I teach, no decisions for you to make. The only decision you need to make is after you’ve read my teaching/explanation.

That is, whether the effect or routine is one you want to learn, practice, perform. It’s not a conscious thing—it’s the only way I can write and teach.

I’ve been told (and you can’t possibly realize how gratifying [unbelievable!] it is to me) that I’m one of the best expository, instructional, writers. If there’s any validity to that there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s because I was (am) bad at understanding. It was a matter of turning a liability (dyslexia) into an asset.

I’m glad you asked this question, Jim. Maybe my discussing “bad leading to good” will be of some help to someone, somewhere, sometime!

Realizing that this is like asking someone to pick out their favorite child, which of your books is your favorite?

My next one! This has to be one of the most difficult questions for me to answer. Usually, when I’m asked, I answer as I just did, or I’ll say the name of my last book. And I really feel that way at the time the question is asked. Through the years, literally thousands of times, people have told me that Close-Up Card Magic is the best book on card magic ever. Harry Anderson told me that his dog-eared, worn-out copy is on his night table—it’s like his bible in magic.

Well, that’s nice. But I gotta tell you—I’ve written much better books since then (since 1962; don’t believe the copyright date in current issues— it’s a lie). I didn’t write very well then (I wrote the book in 1958/59), my grammar was not the best (I used “amount” for “number,” for example; it still bothers me). Reputation Makers, Rim Shots, Quantum Leaps, and so on, are really better books (so is The Magic Book).

Truthfully, there’s no way to really answer your question. The “good stuff” is spread throughout my books. There are things that have become “standards” in each and every one of them. Ask one hundred magicians which is their favorite Harry Lorayne book and I’ll bet you get at least nine or ten different titles! So I can only tell you that I’m not ashamed of any of my books—they’re all favorites.

Your journal, Apocalypse, just recently ended an astounding twenty-year run. Just so the record is clear, what led to its creation?

The credit, or blame, goes to Richard Kaufman. He was sixteen/seventeen years old and he talked me into it. At that time of my life, I wasn’t about to do the physical work involved. Richard would do all that. He’d lay out the issues, he’d deal with the printers, handle the mailing; he’d also write, select, help me in all areas. He did a good job. Then, after the first year, he wanted to go on to bigger and better things. I guess he thought he’d learned all he could from me. I wished him well, and thought I’d try my hand at doing it all by myself for, perhaps, another year or two. As you know, it became a “tiger by the tail” situation; I couldn’t let go. People literally begged me to continue, and it became quite successful. Each year I’d say to myself (and to my family) that I’d stop. Well, as I wrote in the magazine—finally I felt that twenty years was an “elegant sufficiency.”

Harry, you’re considered by magicians all over the world to be one of the great cardmen of our time, certainly one of the greatest alive today. Do you agree?

Do I agree? That’s a tough one to answer. It’s difficult to draw the line between truth and legend, modesty and immodesty. You see, it’s according to exactly what’s meant by “cardman.” If a cardman has to do good seconds, bottoms and centers then I’m definitely not one of…, etc. Because—I can’t, and don’t, do any of those. There are many things that other cardmen do that I can’t. And, of course, there are things I do that nobody else does better.

If entertaining with a deck of cards is considered, then okay, I’ll enter the competition. It boils down to this—I do the kind of stuff I know I do well. I know which effects and routines to perform. I have the knowledge and, somehow, the instinct to know what to do for different audiences. And, I have perfect knowledge of my limitations.

I’ll also enter that elite competition if factored into “cardman” is what I’ve created and/or contributed to the magic fraternity in the card magic area. And if writing and teaching ability is part and parcel of “cardman,” I’ll definitely compete! I’m probably making a mistake answering your question this way. If I’m already thought of as one of the greatest cardmen, that’s nice and I should leave it alone and let that thought remain!

Harry LorayneYou’re best known among non- magicians as the memory guru and every book you’ve written for the lay public, save one, has been on the subject of memory. How did The Magic Book (recently republished by L & L Publishing) come about?

I needed to get out of a contractual obligation clause with the publisher who had done The Memory Book and Remembering People. I did not want him to publish my next book for reasons that I won’t go into here. The only way was to have him turn down my next book, or for him not to meet an offer made by another publisher. I knew he wouldn’t offer enough for a book on magic. I was right. G.P. Putnam topped his offer, and The Magic Book was born. Of course, I never again allowed the “boiler plate” option clause in any of my contracts. Putnam loved the title since The Memory Book was a tremendous bestseller. I think I may have started that (title) genre — The (So and So) Book. There were/are hundreds of them after The Memory Book.

Are there any plans to reprint your other books?

Yes. L & L wants to re-publish most of my books. I’ve just gotten too lazy to bother myself. I reprinted Best of Friends, Volume I four or five times; I didn’t want to do it anymore. I still get at least two to four calls a week asking for it. I know that clean copies are “going” for as high as $200.00 each! Well, that’s one of the books L & L will reprint/re-publish.

You’ve written several books describing the creations of other magicians, also (notably Ken Krenzel, Meir Yedid, David Regal and last year’s book devoted to the magic of Doug Edwards). How did these projects come about?

I quite simply felt that the kind of magic these people did for me should be made available to other magicians.

On the dustjacket of one of those books I say, “When that kind of excitement hits me, I simply have to let others know about it. I have to purge myself, get it out. For me, that kind of excitement becomes a book!” And, I enjoyed doing them because, I guess, I’m a born teacher. It’s what I most like to do. I have, of course, turned down more than I’ve done—either because I didn’t think the material was good enough (I am a bit careful as to what I attach my name) or I just didn’t have the time at that time.

Are there any new books on the drawing board?

Yes, I’ve already mentioned that elsewhere in this issue. It will contain all the gems I’ve kept for myself over the years; over one hundred items. It will be my last book on my own card stuff. I won’t tell you the title, but the sub-title is The Culmination. It’s all written, but I won’t release it for some time. A couple of those gems are on the current video series.

Let’s talk about some new L & L Publishing projects. What are the origins of The Himber Wallet Book?

Dick Himber was a friend. When he devised the Himber Wallet, he asked me to come up with effects utilizing it. I did. Then, he asked me to put them and his own effects in a book. I did. Dick had done many favors for me. A couple of years later I wrote another book on the wallet. (Both have become collector’s items.) The Himber Wallet, of course, has become a standard weapon in close-up magicians’ arsenals. As the years went by I came up with many other ideas for the wallet, friends contributed their routines, and so forth.

During the last fifteen years of his life, Dick called me almost every middle of the night. Sometimes we’d discuss the wallet, and come up with ideas. The best of those are in the book. I think many magicians will “flip” over my own routines, handling of the wallet’s rear slit, and the effects with paper clips.

The idea for The Himber Wallet Book started to germinate in the late 80’s. I was busy. I’d write some, then put it away, write/put away, and so forth. The book was over ten years “in the making.”

This brings us to the subject of your four new videos for L & L. What led you to return to the video medium?

Louis Falanga talked me into it. He said, “Harry, these videos will be part of your legacy.” How could I resist that? What he didn’t know is that I wanted to do much better videos than those I’d already done. I was aware of the quality of L & L videos.

In what ways do you feel these new videos are superior to your two previous video outings?

Well, that’s what I’m talking about. It’s a “mouse to elephant” comparison. These are professionally done, in every way. My two others weren’t. These were done in front of an audience—that’s important for me. (Not the teaching, of course.) I’ve updated a few things from the first videos and, most importantly, included many new blockbusters. This video series is superior to my first two in every conceivable way, including the Super Learning pieces. There simply is no comparison.

How did you decide what effects to include in this new set from your vast body of work?

Again, I discuss that elsewhere in this issue and I don’t like to be redundant. Basically, there are certain things I know I must include because each is, in my opinion, a “killer” effect or routine. There are, of course, certain things (moves/sleights) of mine that are expected; I have to include them. Then, I go by audience reaction, instinct. Louis kept a list of every trick, every routine, every move I did so that, during the teaching sessions, he could shout it out (not on camera) and I’d teach it.

Despite the technology that exists to smooth over rough spots, you decided to leave the performance segments exactly the way they were recorded. Why?

Part of my magic philosophy is—never, ever, admit to laymen spectators that you’ve made a mistake. Always end the effect, no matter what. For example, I would never admit to a layman (different story with magicians) that I lost his card, “Please take a different one.” Never. I would, for example, say, “Take your card out of the deck. I need you to concentrate on it for another moment.” Then I’d control it again—being sure this time. Or, I’d have him name his card, and it’d end up in my pocket, because once I know it, I can find it and palm it out.

That’s the main reason I left one particular goof as is. I got out of it, I finished the routine. I felt that it was important to show that, make that point. I do discuss it during that video’s teaching session. Another, not quite as important, reason is that repeating something for the same audience tends to “lose a generation” for me. I lose some of my spontaneity and energy. You can’t really do it over in real life, so I didn’t want to do it over on the video.

You’ve had quite a career, Harry. Can you give us a sort of quick chronological rundown?

I’ve been quite lucky, Jim. Let’s see—quick chronological rundown: I pitched Svengali decks (and Multiplying Rabbits) from coast to coast (great way to learn to handle people/audiences). Dennis Marks wrote something like this in an article about me—”If he ever writes a book on how to pitch magic, buy it—even if you’re a priest!” I started to do table magic in a bar/club in Miami, Florida. Back to New York City, where I opened my own pitch joints. Then a magic/novelty store. Graduated to doing table magic at The Little Club in New York City. All this before 1951.

1951/1952—I had my own television show called Professor Magic. I thought that magic would be my livelihood. I’d been interested in memory work for years. (The first memory feat I ever did was to memorize a shuffled deck of cards.) I started to get more work doing that than doing magic. I wrote an act in about ten minutes that I did with my wife, René, for twenty years.

My first book “happened” in the mid-Fifties. A literary agent saw the act, asked if I could teach the memory stuff in a book. I said, “Sure.” (I was young and foolhardy. I said “sure” to anything in those days.) This became How To Develop A Super-Power Memory (1956), which is still out there, and has sold millions of copies, in every major language. That started it for me.

I’ve appeared on just about every major (and minor) television (talk) show here and abroad. Twenty-three times on the Johnny Carson (Tonight) Show, many times on both the Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin Shows, Jack Paar, Ed Sullivan, David Susskind, That’s Incredible, Regis and Kathie Lee, 48 Hours—and so many more. I’ve been on most major talk shows in Europe, and just about every national show in Australia. Been written about in most major magazines, including Reader’s Digest, U.S. Business, Cosmopolitan, Fortune, Nation’s Business, and on and on. And articles about me have appeared in hundreds of newspapers. I’ve lectured on the subject all over the world.

My books have been on the New York Times bestseller list and my recent television infomercials were very successful, #1 in the country, and so forth. So, I’ve been quite lucky, Jim.

Of all the moves, effects and stratagems that you’ve devised over the years (the HaLo Cut, the Ultra Move, Out Of This Universe, your version of Magician vs. Gambler, etc.), what would you most like to be remembered for by future generations of magicians?

Oh boy—how can I answer that? I really think that the only honest answer would be—for my body of work. Had you asked which do I think I’d be most remembered for, well … I once received a letter from someone who said he’d “like to build a cathedral where I walk—for Out Of This Universe!” Obviously, he’ll remember me for that. Two of my favorite sleights are the Ultra Move and the HaLo Cut. Those who can do the Ultra Move well will probably remember me for that. Many more will remember me for the HaLo Cut. (HaLo Aces Again, on one of the new videos, will make people think you’re the best card handler in the world!)

Throw in quite a few votes for my impromptu linking card routine, and recently young cardmen have been telling me that my Universal Reversal (out of Trend Setters) is one of their favorite utility moves. So, again, I’d like to be remembered for my body of work—and for my writing and teaching. My ego leans in that direction. One fan wrote that if his house was on fire, after saving his wife and kids, he’d run in to save all his Harry Lorayne books, magazines, etc. That’s how I’d like to be remembered!

What advice do you have for aspiring close-up magic performers?

Read my books, study these videos! I just mentioned my ego— might as well use it. (People are going to talk about it anyway, right? Right.) I don’t think you want me to go into this too deeply, but I’ve written that without ego nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished. It’s misplaced ego you have to be careful about. Also, modesty is becoming a drag!

In a more serious vein: do read the proper (for you) books and view/study the proper (for you) videos. In other words, if you’re into only, say, rope tricks, you don’t need my books and videos.

Learn not to use a wiseguy attitude—I see too much of that with young performers today.

Don’t try to be funny when you’re not. Difficult, I know. Those that fall into that category think they are funny. You’ve got to learn to really see yourself as others see you. As already mentioned—know/learn your limitations. Don’t try to be what you can’t be. But the other side of the coin is to reach higher than you think you can reach. Perhaps that will enable you to accomplish a bit more than you thought you could. You see, it’s not easy to answer your question.

I’m a great believer in “being yourself.” Don’t try to copy, to imitate. Every time I tried that when I was starting out, it was a waste of time. One example that I wrote in detail in an early Out To Lunch column in Apocalypse, is when I watched a table worker in a “sophisticated” room kiss my wife’s (girlfriend’s at the time) hand all the way up to her elbow. I was there to steal something—anything—a personality, types of tricks to do, etc. Well, if I kissed a girl’s hand that way I’d be punched in the face. At that time, anyway. That’s not who I am. Tricks? The man did all set-up stuff; a different deck for each trick. That’s not who I was (couldn’t afford all those decks— trick or regular).

Don’t give it all up for magic. Complete your education. I used to advise young people to have something to fall back on. Most actors who’ve made it have their college degrees. Most, as a matter of fact, started joining the drama/art classes in college. On the other hand, it’s a different world now.

So “stick to it” is not terrible advice. Look at David Kotkin, who was so thrilled when I included his close-up trick in Tarbell #7. The close-up stuff he was doing became “far-up” stuff and David Kotkin became David Copperfield. Doug Henning opened a large door for magic—and he was into close-up at first. He told me that he used to follow me around mouth agape (his words) when he visited New York.

It’s most important that you understand this: you don’t sing or dance, your medium is magic. If you don’t make people like you, if you don’t entertain, I don’t care how well you do a Diagonal Palm Shift or the Ultra Move—forget it.

And I’m still working on this one myself—try to be at the right place at the right time! And be prepared to take advantage of that lucky break.

For the last question, I guess its appropriate to ask you if you have any . . . well . . . afterthoughts?

Well sure I have some “afterthoughts.” Don’t I always? Problem is they’re mostly negative. I think—no, I know—that magic books and videos are appearing much too frequently. This has hurt magic, a lot. We live in an era in which anyone can “write” a book. Most of the stuff that comes out is not good. (I can’t use the word that came to mind.) Not good, and often by people nobody has every heard of. And quantity diffuses quality.

Sure, I’ve written over twenty magic books but over many years— sparingly—always years apart. Go back to my answer to your third question.

One magic magazine featured columns teaching readers how to book themselves, make more money, how to handle business, and so forth. The mistake the publishers made was putting the “writer’s” pictures on top of their columns. Well, they looked like 14-year olds! Look who’s telling me, us, how to do business. Please! Problem is that some of those same people are the ones spitting out bad books and videos.

Other than that—how can I end this? I can only repeat that I’ve been very lucky. My first love is card magic, my second one is memory work. I’m well known and respected all over the world in both my beloved areas.

How lucky can you get!?