by Mike Rogers
I only saw him twice, both times occurred
in the same day, but how different each time was.
It happened during a combined IBM-SAM convention
in New York City. I believe the year was 1964.
New York City also hosted a Worldís Fair during
that year. I had never been to NYC, never been
to a Worldís Fair, never ridden on a subway train,
and had never seen most of the famous names in
magic. So there was something to see and do no
matter which direction I turned. At that point
in my life magic ruled, and though I did see the
many attractions, seeing the magic came first.
If that were not enough I was also on one of the
evening shows as well as working the close up
show. So I kept busy.
Iím rambling. I started to tell of seeing
a certain magician only twice. The convention
was loaded with famous magicians, and I naturally
tried to see them all. I canít begin to say who
impressed me most, for there were too many to
remember. However, there was one who left his
mark in my memory that will never be erased.
I had heard lots about him, we all had.
Anyone having Stars of Magic knew of him. He was
one of the Ten Card Stars. Those in the know frequently
alluded to him as being the one magician more
ready for the TV industry than any other back
when TV was in its infancy. Had his life gone
in a different direction it may have happened.
It was said that both his performing style and
material were the most baffling and entertaining
of any magician. Alas, a career in TV was never
At the time he was living in Greenwich
Village, and most insiders at the convention didnít
feel heíd make an appearance. He wasnít booked
for any of the shows or lectures. His life style
was such that a magic convention was low priority.
The insiders were wrong. He showed up.
It was rather early in the day, probably
mid morning. There was not much going on in the
way of organized activities. Most attendees were
mingling between the dealerís room and the lobby,
or still lingering over a final cup of coffee.
Times like this become extremely social at conventions
and itís a time to renew friendships. Magicians
were everywhere, with no one doing much of anything.
There wasnít much of anything to do. You have
been to conventions and know the scene.
Then it started. A circle of eager magicians
simply appeared in one section of the hotel lobby.
Something big was about to happen. It was electrifying.
Someone of importance was about to do some magic.
Everyone wanted to see, and the crowd grew bigger.
The circle became larger as the eager rank and
file squeezed in for a better viewing position.
There he was, in the center of the crowd, in the
spotlight so to speak, wanting to perform, and
willing to perform. He had a deck of cards and
a few coins. We were in for a treat. We live for
moments like this, or so it seems.
It didnít happen. Things werenít right.
The magic didnít occur. No matter how he tried
he couldnít pull it off. He was a small man, in
need of grooming, and rumpled. His hands shook
and he complained of not being able to see well.
He asked others for the loan of their eyeglasses
in order that he might better see the magic he
wanted to perform. He tried a few pair of glasses,
none solved the problem, and he became frustrated.
He mumbled, making little sense. He was a man
on the edge, and not the good edge. He accomplished
no magic, but instead stormed out of the hotel,
a man having lost all dignity and pride. He was
a man beaten down by his own hand. He was, in
fact, exactly what some described him to be. We
had heard about his life.
We didnít see the magic that morning,
but we did hear the stories. We were assured that
he was indeed one of the greatest. We assumed
that was history. But wait, Iím not finished.
About ten hours later, during the evening,
the little man returned. Again, the large circle
formed in the lobby. Though he was small in stature
he was big in style. He was not rumpled and unkept.
His hands didnít shake, and he was wearing his
own eyeglasses. This was a man in total control,
he knew it, and he was ready to perform some magic.
He was the same man we saw earlier in the day,
but then not the same man. Using borrowed quarters
he did coin magic beyond what you can imagine.
His methods were not complex, nor were the effects
new. His presentations were direct, entertaining,
and he fooled many. Even telling us in advance
what he was going to do he fooled hell out of
everyone with the strongest presentation of the
Han Ping Chien Coin trick ever observed. The magic
just happened. You never saw any hand flexing,
any hand positioning, or any other visible motion
to suggest sleight of hand. This man was on. It
was his night. He treated all of us to an experience
of truly real magic. It was a delight and he was
everything we wanted him to be. On this night
he was not a beaten man; he was instead a man
who had beaten the odds, at least for the evening.
Sadly, not forever.
I will never forget having seen this
little man and the wonders he offered. His name
was Francis Xavier Finneran. In magic he was known
as Francis Carlyle.