byÂ 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 myÂ Point of no returnÂ (described inÂ Card Stories). I donât know whether he liked it or not, but always the gentleman, he nodded approvingly at my effort.
We met again briefly at an Abbottâs Magic Get-Together in Colon, Michigan in August 1975.
After Abbottâs, Elmsley toured the US and Canada with his famousÂ DazzleÂ lecture. To say that this lecture was fantastic would be an understatement. TheÂ DazzleÂ lecture became the stuff of legends to card handlers everywhere. Even todayâs young magicians, who know of it only through what theyâve heard and read, speak of it with awe.
In Toronto, the lecture was hosted by Howard Lyons (ofÂ IbidemÂ 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 didnât matterâwe 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 doesnât usually expect from a card handler.
Two hours later, the lecture ended, but that didnât 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 theÂ DazzleÂ lecture was uniqueâwe 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 ânightowlsââTom Ransom and myselfâinvited 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. âONE, Two, three, fourâŠ.â We waited patiently as he quickly counted the cards. ââŠforty-nine, fifty, fifty-one, FIFTY-TWO CARDS. If I now take away one, two, three cardsâŠ.â 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 âFrailichâs Diseaseâ, 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 meâdead 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: âMagic for inanimate objects. An interesting concept.â
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.)