Billy Mccomb – The Ultimate Identification

Columnist:
Billy McComb

As far as any lay audience is concerned, a magician is a man who takes a rabbit from a hat … the ultimate identification. Now, how would you like to walk onto a stage with a newspaper in your hand and a top hat on your head, go straight to a thin-topped table, show the hat empty, open the newspaper and place it over the hat … remove it and a rabbit pops its head over the brim. And, having done that, what are you going to follow it with ? ? ? That’s your problem. I’m going to give you the first part. With a female assistant to bring the newspaper on-stage to you, it is possible to use this item as a finish.

For a start, you get a small rabbit — a Netherlands Dwarf is the best for magical purposes. Don’t start trying this with a great huge raging New Zealand White weighing about a ton because you’ll never make it. I was talking to Alan Shaxon on this very point. Every magic book makes out that rabbits are all the same size. Of course, they’re not. They vary from 3 1/2 lb. babies to enormous dog-like creatures. My “Ferguson” weighed about 25 lbs. and scared the hell out of a miniature poodle we had. He used to sit on his back-side and “pedal” at the dog with claws about an inch and a half long.

Anyhow, you’ve got yourself a small, and I do mean SMALL, rabbit. You have to make a holder for it. Take a square of hard-wearing cloth and put the rabbit in the middle. Then lift the four corners and put them together so that the bun can stick his head out of one of the “sides” but NOT get his wee paws out. If he can get his paws out, he will be able to claw his way out.

The idea basically is to be able to keep his paws in but not make the thing too tight around his neck or you’ll strangle the poor beast. It all depends on the size of your rabbit. By dint of cutting the square to the correct size you get the thing comfortable and the right size. Now you hem it.

At each of three corners you sew with strong thread a 1″ inside diameter ring. To the remaining corner you sew a loop of shoe-lace. Put the bun in the middle, thread the shoe-lace through the three rings and hold the thing up in the air by the shoe-lace loop.

Check and double-check that the situation for the rabbit is the same as it was when you held the square by the four corners. The “take-up” in sewing on the rings will compensate for the extra slackness due to the shoe-lace loop going through the rings. Remember, the comfort of the bun is your number one concern.

Transfer your attentions to the newspaper. Take a large newspaper, not a tabloid, and fold it into four. Of the several people I’ve shown this idea to, they’ve all at this point gone their own ways. The best was Clive Hawthorne.

You’ve got to put inside it an upright with a peg on it which will allow you to hang the bag onto it. Clive put a bit of aluminum which was about 1/4″ thick, bored a hole through it around 1″ distance from the top edge and then shoved a thin bolt through and ran the nut down the bolt to hold it steady to the ally plate. The plate was only 2 1/2″ wide. He bent the bolt upwards so that the bag wouldn’t fall off.

I suggested filing off the threads so that the shoe-lace loop would detach itself easily but he said it wasn’t necessary. I’d used a metal slat which had pegs on it for hanging kitchen utensils and sim- ply snapped off the other pegs. This is glued inside the paper. Holding the paper at the bottom as one does, half under the left arm, Ieaves you with a good grip on the metal strip through the paper. The bun in his bag is nestling behind the paper and against your left chest.

Walking out onstage with your left side to the audience, you remove your top hat and demonstrate it is empty. If you can throw it up so that it does a somersault, AND if you can be SURE of catching it again — do so. As you turn to show the newspaper, you scoop the rabbit bag into the hat off the peg.

Turning back to the table, place the hat on it and cover the hat with the paper. You can unfold one crease of the paper if you wish … it makes it seem more unprepared … and lay it over the hat. Inside the hat, the rabbit will find itself settled quietly after the storm and proceed to take an interest in its surroundings. It will feel the constrictions of the bag have relaxed and it can move its fore-paws. It will also discover it can stretch its back legs. As soon as you remove the paper and it sees the light shining into the hat, its natural curiosity will lead it to raise itself and look over the brim. From there you can bring it out into full view. Make sure when you do this that it doesn’t get one of its little claws hooked through the cloth bag, otherwise you will make the spectacular production of a rabbit complete with cloth-holder dragging after it!

If your girl assistant brings the newspaper on to you, get her to hand it to you with her grip on the top from sufficient height that it appears natural for you to grasp it from underneath and place it under your arm. You can then give her your opera hat and she opens it and closes it and hands it to you. Naturally, to do this she comes from the stage-right to approach you coming from stage- left.

ANOTHER WAY:

About 10 years ago, I played with an idea which appeared to work, although I never did it in public because it would require me to have a new tail-coat made and I didn’t feel it was worth the expense. In my earliest days, I had a tail-coat of my father’s which had been altered to (more or less) fit me. There was a pochette in the left tail. The coat had cuffs on the sleeves.

I got a large opera hat and fixed a hook on the brim at the spot where it was widest in the front. A rabbit was in the pochette. Showing a hat to myself in the mirror (madness becomes all magicians), I placed it from my right hand into the left. What actually happened was, I hooked it onto the sleeve cuff and steadied it with my left hand outspread till I had brought it down to my side, right next to the pochette.

Turning to the left, I picked up the tripod table with my right hand. The left hand went into the pochette and removed the rabbit. It then twisted around so that I could put the rabbit into the hat, although, I still held it in case it dropped out.

Replacing the table on its legs, I turned and took the hat from the coat cuff. This gave the impression I was actually taking it from my left hand. Holding it high, I placed it on the table, when the rabbit popped its head out.

Hartz, when doing his famous “Devil of a Hat” production, used a very over-sized hat. It is quite feasible to use a hat on the stage which is quite a bit over-sized, provided of course, you don’t attempt to pat it on your head when it will go over it, down to your neck. The over-size gives you a greater capacity. The average hat used by magicians just about contains a rabbit and no more. Your greatest problem is to PREVENT the rabbit showing before its time, unless you use a very small rabbit.

When, about 1956, everyone was going mad on the Pollock dove-producing kick, I tried out an opening stunt which seemed to work quite well. I made a little white holder to take a small rabbit. With a length of black nylon line, I attached it to a white silk scarf. Placing the scarf around my neck, I held the rabbit-holder inside my coat with arm pressure. When the scarf was taken in both hands at either side of the body and gently wafted, it appeared to be a normal scarf. Reaching just above where the load was, the scarf could be pulled from around the neck and bunched up with the rabbit container being pulled out and hidden among the folds. Opening the holder revealed the rabbit.