SM: That’s an interesting story.
Ray: I have Ed on tape talking. I used to take a cassette recorder with me and I have a bunch of tapes on him. He never got credited for his brains or the stuff he made.
SM: I remember all those wonderful drawings.
Ray: He did a great drawing of me. It’s a picture of me and at the bottom it says: To Entertaining Piatt. I sent it to Mark Stevens. I would like to see Ed mentioned in this piece. I had a lot of respect for the man.
SM: I’ll make sure of it. Another question we had was, what books would you recommend to a beginning inventor of mental effects?
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Ray: Hmmm, I think…I think I would recommend not to read any books. You remember Slydini, Tony Slydini? He taught coin magic. There was a guy that came here – he was an attorney. He studied with Slydini for five years. We had a table in the basement and he asked if I wanted to see a couple of things. Right away, holy mackerel, you would think he was Slydini. He acted like Slydini and his mannerisms were exactly the same. I had to keep from laughing. I told somebody about it and they said that when you have a pupil, they usually end up acting like the teacher, how he would do things, the accent, the whole bit. I was at Nat Lit’s convention one time and I took a prop with me and I showed it to Slydini. He was at a table with six other cronies. I leaned down and asked him if I could show him something. It was a penetration effect. He said he loved penetration effects; it was his favorite kind of trick. You moved a wand across a piece of glass and asked them to say stop. You could pass things through it. I had a yellow silk and I passed that through the glass. He asked me if I could use anything else besides a silk. I said yeah, you could put a pencil or anything. He was smoking a cigarette. I passed the cigarette through and he said it was the most amazing penetration he had ever seen. I asked if he wanted to know how it was done. He said no, no, I never want to know how that was done. I want to keep the mystery alive. Then everybody was saying that I should get him to endorse the trick. I’m not a convention guy. I can’t handle the people who are at a convention. I don’t know what they’re there for.
SM: I don’t go either.
Ray: I asked my father if he wanted to go to a convention. He asked what he would do there. I told him that you watch them do tricks and then they explain them. He said he would like to see that. There was a guy tossing cards and I stayed out of there. I left my father there and he was in the middle, somewhere in front and he was asleep. He was so bored that a bomb could have gone off and he wouldn’t wake up. That was the first and only time he went to a convention.
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SM: Let’s talk about ethics.
Ray: Okay, let’s see… You know, you can’t reinvent somebody else’s things. If you’ve got any kind of conscience whatsoever, and you’ve got your goals set and this and that, you do not touch other people’s gimmick and re-gimmick them or repaint them or whatever. You’ve got to do your own thing. So these things I made-I was proud of them when I made them and I would look at them and ask, what’s magic about them. Maybe if you’re twelve years old or when I was nine I would think they were pretty neat. It wasn’t magic magic, it was stupid box magic. I remember from the old Genie Magazine flyer, I did a thing called Card-In-A-Box. This was slick. But it was stupid. It was good to do for kids. Let three people pick a card and put it back in the deck. The box was just like a card case, the front and sides and top could open up. Close it up and shake it and let all the cards fall out and they would look for their card. I would hold up the flap and their cards were under it. It used a stripper deck. But it was magic. I don’t believe in doing magic. But the real mystery, the real art is where the guy is doing close-up right in your face. Like Al Goshman–those kinds of guys. I was proud of the things I made, then the more I looked at them, the more I thought they were stupid, for kids. I was doing a party for kids one time in Jersey. They were all nine or so years old and I was doing Zombie and needle through the balloon and they would run up and say I know how you did that. If you would ask how you did it they couldn’t say.
SM: I did a lot of kid shows and what I do is get them to say, “I know how you did that.” I make them say it about six times and they get it out of their system. Then they don’t say it anymore. You know they’re going to do it. It’s in your other hand…
SM: That’s the essence of coin magic. Vanish the coin and then pull it from your elbow. You stay ahead of the little mind. I would rather stand and do magic for a bunch of Hell’s Angels than a group of kids at a Bar Mitzvah. They’re rude and spoiled and they think you’re a cartoon and they can just change the channel. You have to control them or they won’t even get the magic. I’ve done a lot of shows and that’s my approach.
Ray: That’s right.
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SM: A science teacher once gave an assignment where we had to come up with an invention. He would pay $50 for a real invention. The catch was that nothing could be invented. He explained that everything was an innovation on something else. You couldn’t invent the hammer or the toaster and anything resembling them was not an invention. You face this every time you go to make a new effect because like you said, you won’t take somebody else’s idea. So this has to be the essential Ray Piatt question. How do you come up with a new effect, knowing that everything has already been done? This has got to be hard.
Ray: It’s not hard. All I do is what I said last night. I think about the finished product, what I want to get to, and I work backwards. I have to start making this, making that, and when it works, it’s great. There is no philosophy other than that. You just work backwards. It’s really simple to me. I don’t know how many wallets I’ve done that never even got produced. I doubt that anybody ever thought of doing these things I’ve made. Then every once in a while Joe Stevens would get one and he’d get excited and say, wow, we’re really going to go with this! How did you come up with it? And I would say I just played around with it and I just did it. There are wallets out there that I’ve made that are strictly Ray Piatt wallets. They’re not a knock-off of other wallets. They’re my wallets.