Pete Biro – The Reel Works

Pete Biro

By Pete Biro
Not to be confused with the Real Work.

When I first began writing for magical publications, I lived very close to Lloyd E. Jones, who was the book reviewer for Genii Magazine. Lloyd was a pharmacist and book collector par excellence.

As a matter of fact, Lloyd didnít realize it, but he had the absolutely, indisputably, finest antiquarian book collection on the planet.

When Lloyd was on in years, he told me he was going to donate his library to his alma mater, the University of California, at Berkeley. I said to Lloyd, “No, donít do it, the books will rot in a basement somewhere and be lost forever.”

Lloyd did some checking and found that there were a number of “donated libraries,” of various descriptions that were, indeed, just rotting away.

So Lloyd said, “OK, Pete, then Iíll sell it to you.” I wasnít really into books (then!!) and hesitated. Persi Diaconis heard about Lloydís thought of selling and called, but Lloyd said, “No, I want the library to stay in California.” (Diaconis was in Massachusetts at the time).

Enter my high school mate and magic pal Byron Walker. Byron “was” into books, but didnít have the money at the time. He was, like Lloyd, a pharmacist (later to become pharmaceutical salesman they make more money), and he really wanted the collection.

So, “Unca Lloyd,” as Byron and I called him, decided to let Byron have the collection, on a pay when you can basis.

Byron got the collection, and did pay Lloyd in a timely fashion. Since then, Byron has substantially increased the collection, and it still ranks as the most solid and valuable antiquarian libraries anywhere.

If you ever get to San Leandro and visit Byron, you will realize that Byron is “really into books.” There is only one room in the house without tomes and that is the WC!

Not only does Byron have lots of books (maybe nine rooms with shelving from floor to ceiling, wall to wall), but a huge collection of magazines, posters and props and toys related to magic and its allied arts.

Gee, I got off track, I was going to talk, er write, about The Reel Works.

Many of you know, The Reel Works, was the title to a monthly column I wrote for Genii for many years (I lost track)!

I thought I would revive this column here on GeMiNi, and should explain what the title means.

The Real Work is a phrase used by inner circle close up guys in particular, for the real secret to a particular trick. My title is a play on that.

The Reel. A utility device, most often used to cause a dollar bill to jump from the ground into your hand when a sucker reaches for it. Or, it is a device used to cause a silk handkerchief to “untie” magically, or “penetrate” a mike stand.

When it Works you got mojo. When it doesnít work. You got Nuttiní Honey.


OK. So, I have been booked to lecture at the PCAM in Portland, Oregon later this year. I am really looking forward to it, as the PCAM and the Northwest was the site of one of my favorite moments in my magical life.

I decided to enter the stage competition there in 1968. I wrote a comedy act and worked with the late Emile Clifton, who helped to direct and produce my routine. It was mainly visual sight stuff using a German Helmet (Laugh In was big at the time and Artie Johnsonís German Soldier gag was hot), Berlandís enchanted cigarette holder and John Boothís multiplying billiard balls with the Cannonball finish to open.

To be honest, I canít remember what other effects I did back then (other than the Linking Rings).

There was a 10 minute limit to contest acts, and with Clifton, I had developed a tight 9 minute act. I did not want to risk going too long (as so many often do)!!!

When showtime came, I went on and was working “in one” (ahead of the curtain) because the next act needed a full stage and a lot of time to set.

Well, I was going along very well (if I must say so) and all of a sudden there is a lot of talking going on behind the curtain with the guys setting up the next act, a haunted house routine with lots of threads. I recall it was Merlin Eifertís act. The crew couldnít find a thread and were saying, loudly, as the entire audience could hear them “Where is it?” “Itís over there.” “No, itís there.” Etc. etc.

After a near minute of this disturbance, I stopped, pulled the curtain back and said, “Hey, THERE IT IS.”

Well, that got about a 2 minute laugh. And then, you guessed it, the red light came on (10 minutes was up) and I was overtime. Since I was “dead” I figured, what the heck, and I went on a bit more and, since I had nothing NOW to lose, just had fun on stage.

At the awards presentations at the banquet, I was totally relaxed, no pressure, just sitting there waiting to see who the winner might be.

You guessed it. Me! The MC, Ernie Bryan, came out and said something like, well normally when an act goes overtime it is disqualified, but there was one act that had something happen beyond his control, and we decided to forget the time on his act, and present the Harvey (a rabbit character much like the Academy Awardís Oscar) to yours truly.

So, I am looking forward to going back “up North” and having a great time at the PCAM. (Note: I will only be there on the Thursday, as I have to leave to attend a dear friendís daughterís wedding).