Ross Bertram: Master Magician


It wasn’t long before Ross made his first contribution to a major magic magazine. It was the Exhibition Poker Deal published in The Linking Ring.2 Ross was seventeen years old when he contributed this routine. His performing style was a blend of improvised sleight-of -hand, a quick wit and his uncanny ability as a mimic. He had a light touch and everything he performed was embedded with rhythm and grace. The magic just “happened.” Ross cultivated this style by applying a musical count when learning or practicing sleights. The count measured the smoothness of the sleight. It would flag any inconsistency or hesitation in the execution of a sleight.3

PreviewRoss Bertram

During the Depression, when work was difficult to come by, Ross and his mother moved from Toronto to Hamilton, a town famous for manufacturing steel. His mother opened a tea-room. Ross performed close up magic at the tables. In 1938, John Booth—who was also living in Hamilton—organized the first Canadian conference on magic. Ross was one of the original attendees.

PreviewBooth Gathering c1931
John Booth’s Gathering of Magicians (ca. 1938). Ross Bertram, back row, far left. 

In the mid-1940s, the executive of the Hat & Rabbit Club sent Ross to Buffalo to try and persuade Dai Vernon, who was giving a rare lecture under the auspices of Bob Weill, to present one of his lectures in Toronto. Ross spoke with Vernon at length and suggested that since Vernon’s mother and brother both lived in Toronto, Vernon should come up for a visit.  After the lecture, Ross was invited to dinner with Vernon, Bob Weill and several others. They stayed up most of the night performing magic for each other. Ross’ coin work dazzled Vernon.​​​​​​​

Like his friend, Sid Lorraine, Ross was an early-adopter of new technologies, and he often made reel-to-reel audio recordings. Here is one from Ross’ audio archive from the 1940s of Vernon, who is describing, alongside other effects, Slow-Motion Aces.

Finally, in the early morning hours, Ross and Vernon boarded a train bound for Toronto. Vernon visited his mother, delivered a stunning lecture in Toronto and took time during the lecture to single out Ross Bertram and his magic. Vernon joked, of course, that Ross’ plea to visit Toronto was in vain because he had planned to visit his mother and brother anyway. One routine that Ross showed Vernon was The Money-Changer. This routine was Ross’ version of the colour changing coin, commonly referred to today as Spellbound as popularized by Vernon in the Stars of Magic. Ross’ handling was created independently from Vernon and published in The Linking Ring.4 Coincidentally, both routines had four phases.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Ross and many other members of the Toronto Hat & Rabbit Club performed in a short, fifteen-minute weekly series, produced by Canada's National Film Board called, “On the Spot.” Here, in this 1954 clip, Ross performs one of his best known routines.

Ross Bertram Presents The Benson Bowl



Visit the Audio Archive to hear Vernon 


2The Linking Ring, Vol. 10, No. 5, page 636.

3—Ross describes the application of the “Rhythm Count” in Magic and Methods of Ross Bertram, page 159.

4—“The Money-Changer,” The Linking Ring, Vol. 28, No. 6, page 48.