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When Magic’s Gone, What’s Left? TV Plays Dirty Trick On Magicians

Wed., March 5, 1997, midnight

Beyond the rubberized Severed Finger on a Slice of Pizza, past the glow-in-the-dark Space Mucus and down a narrow aisle from the Fart Powder (“not recommended for children under eight”), three Manhattan magicians convened a sad little news conference Tuesday.

It was about innocence lost. It was about little boys who do magic tricks to make friends. It was about immortal entertainers, stars such as Steve Martin, Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett who as timorous children got a start in show business after amazing friends and family with sleight of hand.

Now all that was shot to hell, complained the magicians, who were shuffling cards and plucking silver dollars out of each other’s ears in the backroom of the Abracadabra magic shop in Greenwich Village.

TV talk show host Maury Povich had invited a guest on his show last Friday who gave away the tricks behind sawing a women in half, operating a guillotine, linking metal rings and passing a sword through the neck.

“After the show I get a call. It was from one of my 8-year-old customers. He was crying,” said I.V. Gonzalez, a magic instructor at the New School for Social Research and resident magician at Abracadabra.

“I had sold him linking rings for $20. The kid saved up for it, you know, that was a lot of money for him, and now he’s crying because everybody knows how it works. I tried to tell him that it’s not the secret so much as the way it’s performed. But, of course, to an 8-year-old those words ring hollow,” said Gonzalez.

What particularly galled Gonzalez - who together with 10 or so other New York City magicians is trying to mount some kind of boycott or petition-writing drive against the Povich show - was the manner in which magic secrets were revealed.

“It was much too casual. You should not be able to see these things while channel surfing. It is harmful to children, and what about people who are trying to make their living doing magic at parties? How would you like to be the magician whose main trick last Saturday night was sawing a woman in half? What he’s going to do now? He’s out at least $3,500 for the hardware that goes with the trick!” said Gonzalez, growing agitated.

Maury Povich was traveling Tuesday and not available to discuss the effect of his program on little boys or adult magicians. A spokesman for the show, however, read this comment: “While we respect the magicians’ right to speak out, the program’s content featured an author whose book and CD-ROM are readily available to the public. Additionally, several of the tricks had already been broadcast on prime-time television.”

The magicians at Abracadabra demanded Tuesday that the offending Povich show not be rebroadcast. A spokesman for the show said no decision has been made.

The guest who revealed the magic secrets is Herbert L. Becker, who, while performing as the “Great Kardeen,” made the 1977 Guinness Book of World Records for getting out of a straightjacket in 24 seconds. His 1994 hardback, “All the Secrets of Magic Revealed,” is just coming out in paperback.

Becker could not be reached Tuesday. Indeed, the senior editor at Lifetime Books in Hollywood, Fla., which publishes Becker’s book, said the author can never be reached. “He is very mysterious. He never answers when we call his service,” explained Brian Feinblum.

Meanwhile, at Abracadabra, the assembled magicians were struggling for analogies to explain the depth of their betrayal.

“Who’s next?” asked Gonzalez. “Santa? The tooth fairy? It is just a question of moral responsibility.”

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