A perfect English gentleman

by Ariel Frailich

I first met Alex Elmsley at the Ron McMillan Day of Magic convention in December 1974. With the boldness of youth, I showed him my Point of no return (described in Card Stories). I don’t know whether he liked it or not, but always the gentleman, he nodded approvingly at my effort.

We met again briefly at an Abbott’s Magic Get-Together in Colon, Michigan in August 1975.

After Abbott’s, Elmsley toured the US and Canada with his famous Dazzle lecture. To say that this lecture was fantastic would be an understatement. The Dazzle lecture became the stuff of legends to card handlers everywhere. Even today’s young magicians, who know of it only through what they’ve heard and read, speak of it with awe.

In Toronto, the lecture was hosted by Howard Lyons (of Ibidem fame) and Allan Slaight. Allan was head of Global TV at the time and graciously made the executive boardroom available for the lecture. It was an invitation-only affair, limited to twenty people.

The lecture started. Elmsley was nervous, but it didn’t matter—we were hooked. He amazed us not only with his masterful cardmanship, but also with his insightful theories about misdirection and presentation and his abilities as an entertainer, things one doesn’t usually expect from a card handler.

Two hours later, the lecture ended, but that didn’t stop Elmsley. He politely and graciously answered a few questions, then he spent nearly two hours showing us more tricks! I do believe that the Toronto edition of the Dazzle lecture was unique—we got two lectures for the price of one!

Alex Elmsley stayed a few more days in Toronto, visiting his daughter. Two days after the lecture was club night. Elmsley attended the meeting, then the local ‘nightowls’—Tom Ransom and myself—invited him to the local pub, where we chatted and showed each other a few things.

At one point, Elmsley said he wanted to show us something that required a full deck. We thought we knew what was coming: after all, Elmsley was a mathematician and a computer scientist, plus he did some outstanding work on the mathematics of the faro shuffle. “ONE, Two, three, four….” We waited patiently as he quickly counted the cards. “…forty-nine, fifty, fifty-one, FIFTY-TWO CARDS. If I now take away one, two, three cards….” Tom and I burst out laughing.

The evening ended. I was the first one out of the pub. As I waited for my two companions, I spotted a bush in a concrete planter in front of a neighboring building. In those days, the local magicians teased me by claiming I had “Frailich’s Disease”, a condition that entailed a compulsive need to have people pick a card. True to form and hoping to get a laugh from my friends, I whipped out my deck, fanned it and leaned over the bush, as if waiting for it to take a card. Then I waited.

Tom and Alex emerged from the pub, chatting. Then they spotted me—dead silence. I waited with bated breath. After a short pause, Tom went to my right, got out his deck and fanned it for the bush.

Another short pause. Elmsley approached on my left. I held my breath.

He took out his deck and fanned it for the bush!

We stood motionless for a while, in silence. Then, in a professorial tone, Elmsley said: “Magic for inanimate objects. An interesting concept.”

Truly a perfect English gentleman, complete with understated humour. It was truly a pleasure to have known you, Mr. Elmsley.

(Alex Elmsley was Scottish, in fact, but he lived in England for so long and became so “English to the very core”, as someone put it, that he might as well have been born further south. My apologies for any confusion, and a thank you to those who corrected me.)

Comments are closed.