Mike Rogers – Only Twice

Columnist:
Mike Rogers
ONLY TWICE 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 to be.

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.