A Touch of Vernon
The audio recording you are about to listen is grainy and garbled. It is, however, to my ears, an extraordinary record.
It is a session between Ross Bertram, Bill Cambridge, Harry Smith and Dai Vernon at Ross’ home. Ross recorded it on a reel-to-reel tape machine. He often recorded his sessions. A reel-to-reel tape machine was the digital camcorder of the time.
I believe this session took place in the late 1940s, just after Vernon conducted his inaugural series of lectures under the Stars of Magic banner. Vernon’s mother lived in Toronto, as did his brother Arthur, and Vernon used to visit them from time to time. It was on these visits that he would occasionally perform and lecture at the local magic club and, of course, visit his friend, Ross Bertram.
There are several things that make this recording worth listening to. First, you will hear the sound of Vernon’s voice in mid-career. Today, magicians parody the high-pitched squawk of Vernon from the late-Castle period and believe, erroneously, that he must have had this sort of voice and delivery his entire life.
Helen Bertram, Ross’ wife, always mentioned to me how much she loved Vernon’s voice. It was a rich and cultured sound. You will hear that voice, one to match his movie-star good looks, on this recording.
Second, Vernon performs—or rather walks through—several pieces for the assembly, each should be of interest to magic historians.
You hear Vernon demonstrating Slow-Motion Aces. You can tell from the reaction of the audience that they had not yet seen this particular piece. It would eventually be published in 1950 in the Stars of Magic. Imagine, if you will, that you were at this session, and seeing this piece performed for the very first time.
After discussing a routine inspired by T. Nelson Downs, Vernon performs The Jumping Jack. Lewis Ganson would detail Vernon’s handling of this routine several years later his seminal work, The Dai Vernon Book of Magic.
Next, Vernon performs his famous Cups and Balls. Although he had performed this feat in the early 1930s, his handling would not see print until the previously mentioned The Dai Vernon Book of Magic.
The recording closes out with a friendly discussion about a young magician whose star was clearly on the rise—the great Jay Marshall.
I would like to thank Dr. Gene Matsuura for permitting us to digitize this recording, and to share it with those interested in magic history, and the work of Dai Vernon.