A Little Chicago Close-Up Magic for Halloween

The great close-up magician Ed Marlo, one of the pioneers of Chicago’s legendary bar magician scene—and the trick that makes one of his many, many sleights of hand possible.

One of the things I learned about the city when I interviewed the great Ricky Jay—not just one of the world’s finest sleight-of-hand magicians but a student and scholar of magic in its many forms—is that Chicago, during the 20th century, was one of the world’s finest towns for magic. And its specialty was a form that Jay, given his proclivities, admires: bar magic. It’s an economical, efficient, modest sort of magic that can be done at a restaurant table (as it often was), placing a premium on sophisticated, subtle tricks with minimum of props or flash.

Another term for it is close-up magic (or micromagic), as Kevin Pang wrote for the Tribune in 2009. Given few props, it made up for it with methods, a surprising number of approaches to seemingly simple tricks:

One thing Muriel and Ed Marlo’s students would agree on: He was never without a deck of cards. At movie theaters, he’d practice on his lap. When he could sneak a break from his job at a tool and dye factory, Marlo would fuss with cards, jotting ideas on the back of time cards. He kept cards under his pillow for when ideas struck at 3 a.m.

[snip]

What astonished Malone was that Marlo never ran out of new material to demonstrate. One famous trick in card magic is called “Spectator Cuts the Aces.” Marlo had at least 70 published methods of accomplishing this effect.

“Eddie could give you five methods of doing [a trick] at the second you asked him,” Malone said.

Here’s Marlo in action:

A tutorial for one of Marlo’s many tricks, Instant Mental Sandwich, gives an example of how this sort of trickery is done. Broken down, it looks like it would never work:

But at full speed, in the hands of a talented magician, it’s fantastic:

And here’s Marlo in his habitat:

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