Gene Wilder left us on August 29, 2016. He was not only a brilliant actor and comedic genius, he was also a fine human being — a ‘mensch’. For the last three years, he kept his Alzheimer’s disease private so that his young fans, seeing or meeting ‘Willy Wonka’ in person, wouldn’t be worried or confused if their parents talked about his illness. He couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.
In the wonderfully zany 1974 Mel Brooks comedy Blazing Saddles, Wilder played ‘The Waco Kid’, the fastest gunslinger in the West. Of the many hilarious bits in the movie, the one that starts at 1:20 in the clip below is perhaps my favourite (but do watch the whole clip if you haven’t seen the movie):
Inspired by this scene, Tony Econ published ‘Blazing Saddles’ in Obie O’Brien’s 1982 booklet, Fork Full of Appetizers. This in turn inspired my own trick ‘The Gunslinger’, published in my 1996 book Card Stories. In honour of Gene Wilder, I’m releasing it online, slightly edited and with a new title. Alternative handlings and variations are described in the notes at the end.
Note: Since this is an excerpt from a printed book, please respect the copyright and do not reproduce this page online or in print, except for your own, personal use. Please feel free, however, to publish or pass on the link to this page: https://isawthat.com/magic/waco-kid/.
The Waco Kid
This trick has everything: humour, drama, suspense, audience participation, and a theatrical feel. If that’s not enough to make you want to try it, I’ll throw in that it’s a reputation-maker as well. Use it!
The magician describes a scene from Mel Brooks’ movie, Blazing Saddles. The Waco Kid (Gene Wilder) claims that he can get a chess piece before the Sheriff (Cleavon Little) can grab it, even though he’s several steps away from the Sheriff and the chess board. The Sheriff grabs the piece, smiles, and opens his hands — they’re empty. The Waco Kid, who didn’t move a muscle, reaches into his holster and pulls out the piece.
To recreate the scene, a card is selected and replaced in the deck. The spectator holds one hand above the deck and the magician stands a few feet away from the table, arms crossed. At the signal from another spectator, the first spectator is to slap one hand onto the deck before the magician can reach it. When that’s done, the performer opens both hands: they’re empty. But suddenly, a folded card appears between the magician’s teeth: it’s the selected card.
- Marlo’s Convincing Control
- Mercury Card Fold
Have a ball-point pen handy and a handkerchief in your left pocket. Any deck can be used.
Have a card selected, signed, and replaced. Control it to the bottom using the version of the Convincing Control that leaves an indifferent card projecting from the front of the deck. With the side of the right second finger, kick the card so that it’s angled to the left, which allows you to hold the deck with the right hand from above, but instead of holding the near end with the tip of the thumb, hold it higher up, near the thumb crotch.
As you explain the scene in the movie, square the deck and do the Mercury Card Fold. If you run your left thumb against the left side of the deck during the fold, the illusion of squaring the deck is very good.
You’re still explaining the scene in the movie. Gesture with your right hand just enough for it to be seen empty, then reach into your right pocket as if looking for something; you don’t find it, so you transfer the deck to the right hand and reach into the left pocket, taking the folded card with you. Keep talking about the movie as you pull out the handkerchief and leave the card behind. Put the deck on the table between you and the spectator, wipe your hands, then ball up the handkerchief and put it back into your pocket. Very cleanly, push the card flush into the deck, slide the deck closer to the spectator and show your hands empty.
Explain that you’ve always wanted to try to do what the gunslinger did, but since your weapon of choice is a deck of cards, you’ll use it instead of a chess piece. Have the spectator hold a hand above the deck and ask another spectator to give the signal. When you nod, the second spectator is to count to three, the first spectator is to slap the deck so that you can’t get at it, and you’re to try to get the card before the spectator reaches it. And if you fail… well, you’ll just have to talk your way out of it.
Stand away from the table and take out the handkerchief, holding the card against it with your thumb. Ask the audience to make sure that you don’t come near the deck at any time while wiping your hands with the handkerchief. Now you’re going to appear to study the position of the spectator and the deck from several angles, including looking at the edge of the deck from tabletop level. Just before you move up or down, bring the top of your left fist against your lips, as if deep in thought. Slide the card into your mouth and move your hand away as you change positions and appear to observe the setup one last time. Walk a few feet away from the table and face the audience. Wipe your hands once more, put the handkerchief away and show your hands empty. If you like, you can gently blow on your right fingertips, the way the Waco Kid does in the movie. Cross your arms, turn your head to the second spectator and nod, then look intently at the deck.
At the count of three, the first spectator slaps the deck while you’re still staring at it. All heads will turn toward you. Slowly bring out one hand, look at it, and open it: empty. Do the same with the other hand: also empty. Frown, as if trying to understand what happened. The audience will laugh; let the suspense build. At its height, raise your eyebrows, open your lips and push the card out between your teeth. Take the handkerchief out of your pocket, use it to cleanly take the card out of your mouth and open it. Have the signature verified and take your bow.
- To keep with the story, you can use just about any version of ‘card to impossible location’ in which the impossible location is on or near your person. The card can thus appear in your pocket or wallet, or even on your forehead. For the latter, the spectator spreads the deck face up and everybody helps find it while you maintain your distance from the proceedings.
- You can also have the card appear in another location. You claim that not only did you steal the card so quickly that nobody saw you doing it, you even darted to the other side of the room (house, whatever) faster than the eye can see.
- There are other controls that leave the selection on the bottom of the deck and an indifferent card outjogged in the middle. You can also use a control in which you appear to place the selection on the table and drop the deck on top, e.g.: have the spectator shuffle the deck, take it back, do a double turnover and have the card signed. Turn the double face down and deal the top card to the table. Turn the deck face up and briefly spread it, pointing out, for example, that any card could’ve been chosen. Square the deck and do the fold. As you go for the handkerchief (without going to the right-hand pocket first), put the deck face down on top of the card on the table. Since the selection is folded face inward, you get an added moment of suspense as you unfold it later.
- Make sure you use a ball-point pen or other writing implement that uses non-water-soluble ink so that it won’t run. It’s unsightly and probably unhealthy too. If you use the handling described in the point above, the signature will be on the inside of the fold, and thus never in contact with your mouth.
Thank you, Mr. Wilder, for sharing with us your own brand of magic. Requiescat in pace.
Copyright © 1996, 2016 Ariel Frailich. All rights reserved.