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Practical Mental Magic
By Theodore Annemann, John J. Crimmins Jr., Nelson Hahne
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1993 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
effects with billets and pellets
BERT REESE SECRETS
Down through the ages have come but few noted billet readers, and invariably such men have been able to fool Kings, Premiers, Presidents, and scientists. Dr. Lynn, and Foster, the medium, were two of renown, but in the past 30 years one man stood out as a charlatan par excellence at the business of reading the folded slip. The man was Berthold Riess, born in 1841 in Posen, which was then in Prussia. Later he became known universally as Bert Reese and before his death in 1928 had crossed the ocean over 50 times to humbug such people as Charles M. Schwab, Ignace Jan Paderewski, Premiere Mussolini, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding and Thomas Edison.
As I look through my file of articles, clips and stories about the doings of Bert Reese, I marvel at the constantly appearing statements that he never touched the written-on paper. This is a psychological point of importance to all performers who do anything of this nature. Only a trained observer can give an accurate account of every move, even though they may not know the method of trickery. What, to the ordinary spectator, may be the most natural of movements, can be the one detail that would solve the problem in recounting the experience.
Thus Reese's actions, being psychologically different in their entirety from the technique of magic, may seem brazen and bare-faced to a magician not acquainted with this type of deception. These very same actions, blended into a routine by Reese that lead up to a startling revelation, were looked upon by his audiences as phenomena far removed from the realm of sleight-of-hand or trickery. It is important to remember, therefore, that an audience is in a different frame of mind at the time it watches a billet reading exhibition , and that all traditional magical gestures of sleeve rolling or of showing the hands empty are ridiculous, not to mention ruinous. Also keep in mind that the really successful humbugs in this line do not demonstrate from the theatrical stage. Rather they confine their activities to the lecture platform and to the semi-privacy of the home and drawing rooms where theatrical atmosphere is not present, and their demonstrations are cloaked with a scientific or almost religious demeanor.
Reese did not care whether his subjects called it telepathy or spiritism, being content to let people credit him with whatever solution of power they deemed most fitting. Here was a good point as he did not antagonize any particular group but left it to their own individual credulity and gullibility.
He ever was ready to demonstrate at any moment or place, another point which emphasized his benign sincerity of purpose in making use of his apparently strange faculty.
Routine with Three Sitters:
Illustrated is one of his routines using three sitters. Reese is sitting at the left. Borrowing a piece of writing paper, he tore it into slips about two by three inches. He would be standing at the time, and did the tearing while the others were sitting down and making ready. Five slips were put on the table, the rest of the sheet being crumpled up and tossed away. However, Reese really would make six slips and retain one, folded once in each direction, as a dummy for his own use. A detail here was that afterwards, the sitters would relate that he had used their own private tinted or watermarked paper rather than any of his own. Now he walked around the room while questions were being written to dead people on the slips and folded once each way. The folded papers were mixed together on the table and Reese would take his seat, the dummy billet being finger-palmed in the right hand.
He then said,"Give one to this lady to hold," pointing to the one farthest away, and the sitter opposite him (a man in this case) would hand her one paper. Reese had not touched it but the pointing was being done to accustom all to the gesture."Give one to this lady," he'd say next, pointing as before but to the lady next to him. The gesture was once more planted, and moreso when he repeated it again by having another paper given to the first lady. Now he would tell the gentleman to keep the remaining two, but as an after thought would say,"Perhaps we'd better let this lady have another." This time he would casually take the slip being passed over to the lady next to him, complete the six or eight-inch journey, but in that space make the switch for the dummy which she would get to hold. The stolen slip was dropped into his lap and opened with the left hand while, with his right, he'd make marks on a sheet of paper on the table. He apparently got his answer from these, and his scribbling served to attract the attention of the sitters while he glimpsed and then refolded the slip with his left hand under the table.
Now he would extend his left hand, with finger-palmed billet, towards the lady next to him, and say,"Give me that paper," pointing not to the dummy but the other one. Taking this it was apparently opened and spread on the table. In reality the one taken was drawn back into the finger palm by the thumb, while the paper in hand was pushed out by the fingers from where the right fingers took hold and opened it up. Thus the one opened on the table was the one just glimpsed, and the one finger palmed was a fresh one. Again the "business" would be gone through and new marks made and a new answer given. This time a slip from the second lady would be requested and apparently opened. Following this, the man's paper would be taken, then back to the second lady, and lastly the lady next to him again which would bring the dummy back to him in return for the final slip.
Routine for Single Sitters:
For single sitters Reese had a slightly different routine, although practically everything he ever did was based on the one-ahead idea. Four or five slips would be given a man to write questions on and fold. They would be thrown onto the table as written and Reese would mix them a little with his finger, but in doing so would switch the dummy slip he had palmed for one of the papers. As the gentleman was writing his last paper, Reese would walk away, and in his wandering would open and read the stolen paper. The single fold each way of these papers made them very easy to open with one hand. As the person finished the last question, Reese would return to the table and ask him to put one paper in his left coat pocket, another in his right coat pocket, one in his left shoe, one in his right shoe, and the other perhaps inside his watch. Reese only watched to be certain into which spot went the dummy slip of the five. Knowing the contents of the finger palmed slip in his left hand, he would walk back and forth around the room and give the answer. Then he would point to one of the locations on the spectator's person and ask for that paper. Taking it, he would open and read it aloud, actually reading what was on the slip he knew and memorizing what he now saw. Folding this paper he would finger palm it in the right hand, and left hand would toss the other onto the table. Reese invariably smoked a cigar and the action of taking it from his mouth with thumb and finger of either hand served as an admirable mask for the finger palmed paper.
He would proceed by answering the next question and so on until the last, always leaving the dummy in its resting place until that time. It was a regular procedure of his to have the papers placed about the person in odd places, such as the watch case, for instance, and my theory for this is that such places, being unusual in character, were always remembered by the sitter in preference to the more common spots. Afterwards, in telling about the ordeal, the sitter could be depended upon to swear that he had put the paper there and that Reese had answered it without being near the sitter or having touched the slips.
Another angle that Reese brought into play often was in asking people to write the name of their favorite school teacher when a child; the name of the town or city where they were born; their auto license number; their telephone; their mother's maiden name; and any number of odd but personal bits of information to which he could have no access but which would be vividly personal enough to be remembered and talked about by the sitter. Such items are far better than merely having any number or any word written.
Routine for Telephone Test:
In many cases when Reese was going to work for someone he knew, it was a simple matter to check up on the person's telephone number before starting. In such a case, he would sandwich the request for a telephone number in among the other slips as they were being written. A steal was made of one of the others and read as already described. Watching the telephone number slip on the table and also the dummy, he would have them pocket or conceal the slips as usual. However, when they picked up the telephone slip he would have it placed in a pocketbook, between the pages of a notebook or in some other difficult spot. The rest of the slips would be read as usual but the telephone slip apparently forgotten. Then he would recall that there was another slip out, and merely taking the article which contained the slip and holding it to his forehead he would answer the question and hand it back. The sitter had been told so many things no one else could know that the idea of Reese getting his number would never occur to him.
Not alone can the telephone number be used, but there are many little bits of information about a person that are dropped by others, and of these most anything can be used. Much information about doctors, for instance can be secured from a medical directory and it is possible to have the name of their college on one slip and the name of a professor at that college on another. The first you know, and the second request makes it logical to have the other.
Routine for Groups:
Reese, when before a group of people, also had slips written, folded and collected. He would absently pick them up again, hand them to another person and ask him to put the papers under objects around the room. Of course, the switch had been made, Reese would light his cigar and read the slip in his cupped hands. He would then walk around the room to the various spots, pick up the paper concealed at each point and apparently read it, always leaving the dummy until the last. In all of these variations, it is to be noticed that the effect was what counted. The stories that are told about these happenings afterwards are unbelievable. Like the famed Dr. Hooker's Rising Cards, there were so many variations of the same thing that afterwards, one had difficulty to remember exactly the procedure on each test, and not get them confused with each other.
Some Final Remarks:
And now I want to give a bit of information which I doubt has ever seen print. Much has been said about soft paper that will not crackle as it is furtively opened. Invariably it has been left to the reader to search out a soft quality and experiment. Reese used a soft paper but he took it from a most natural spot. At his home, especially, when giving a test for visitors, he would pick up a book, and tear out the blank page at the back. Pulp paper books give you this perfect soft paper, and right in front of people, too, without the necessity of bringing out prepared sheets. This detail alone was one of his most potent secrets.
I haven't exhausted, by far, the many incidents and stories about Reese situations. However, I have given a practical and working knowledge of how he worked, and the fact that this man traveled the world over for years, and in the highest circles, while being looked upon by many as a competent psychic advisor, proves that such work is worth developing and extremely effective on the audience. As far as I know, and I keep a fairly complete file, nothing has been written about the man for magicians, although reams have been printed in the press about his marvels. Of one thing I'm sure. This type of work is more sought after, better liked, and talked about more than any other phase of the mystery game. And last but far from least, the monetary gain of those successful in this line far outdistances that of those successful in other branches of magic. But watch your presentation, and forget about magical movements, that immediately class you as a manipulator.
There are two essential switches of folded paper slips that everyone doing mental work should learn. The first or simple method is not new and is merely an exchange of folded slips. The second method, or folding switch, is my own and consists of reading a paper slip which is then switched for a palmed dummy as you refold it. The dummy is then handed to someone to hold, while the one just read is finger-palmed and retained in your hand.
The size of the paper should be 2½" × 3½". Hands differ, however, and the individual should try out sizes in proportion with these dimensions until the right size for his own hand is found. A printer will cut up a bunch of these and pad them, about fifty to a pad, for a small sum.
The folding of the slips is important. Fold them once the long way, and then twice the opposite way, i.e.: after the first fold you then fold the left end in to the middle after which the right end is folded over all. This will result in a folded slip a little narrower than the width of your second finger and long enough to be held easily, yet firmly, between the root and first joint of the finger. Thus, with the second finger slightly curled, the slip can be safely held and will be invisible from the front as long as the hand is not turned directly around. It is also invisible from the sides and from the back, too, providing the hand is not held too far (more than eight or ten inches) from your body.
The First Method:
With the slip in your left hand between second finger and thumb, practice pulling it back with the thumb into the finger-palm position, and keep at it until you can push the slip out and get it back easily and quickly. Then practice this with your right hand as well.
After you have mastered this simple move, you are ready to try the first method of switching. Finger-palm one slip in your left hand and, with the same hand, pick up a second slip and hold it at the finger tips between your second finger and thumb. Slide this second slip back with your thumb until it overlaps the one that is finger-palmed. The thumb continues to pull this second slip even further back till the thumb tip rests on about the center of the finger-palmed slip; then with the help of the finger this finger-palmed slip is pushed forward into view. This will be found to work easily and smoothly, and it leaves the originally palmed slip in view at your finger tips while the second slip is now in position to be palmed.
The right fingers can now take the switched slip which is in view and hand it to someone. Simultaneously, the left thumb holds the newly palmed paper in place against the second finger of the left hand until the fingers curl a little and secure the slip in the proper finger- palmed position.
I repeat that this must be practiced until the switch can be done without looking at your hand at all. During such a switch, the hand is not held still and you are not doing a trick to switch papers, remember that! Keep the hand in motion, using it to gesture with and the switch will never be seen.
The Second Method:
The second switch is a little harder but quite useful and perfect. Finger-palm a folded billet (paper slip). Now take another folded billet and open it at the finger tips of both hands, just as you would do normally. Read this open slip and refold it. On the last fold let it come right on top of the palmed slip, and your right thumb and forefinger takes the two slips, as one, and holds them in full view for a second. Do not make any obvious move to show your left hand empty. However, you can act freer than before until you reach the party who is to receive the formerly palmed slip instead of the one just read.
At this point the two slips are again taken by the left thumb and second finger, with the back of your hand towards the audience. The slip nearest you, on which your thumb now rests, is drawn back into your palm as you offer the visible (switched) slip to the person who is to hold it. He may be the person who had written on the original slip, so it is important that your switch be clean and perfectly executed so as not to raise any suspicion in his mind that the slip he gets is anything but his original one.
Now you have two methods of switching folded paper slips, and a third method will be found on page 216 under the heading of the"Dollar Bill" Switch." The rest is routine work and showmanship of presentation which all comes under the same heading. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Practical Mental Magic by Theodore Annemann, John J. Crimmins Jr., Nelson Hahne. Copyright © 1993 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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