Dariel Fitzkee authored one of the best trilogies on magic theory. This volume, book one in the trilogy, primarily deals with theoretical aspects of a magic performance. This book has been cited numerous times and is one of the standard works every serious magician should read. Fitzkee has a very analytical mind and describes his thoughts clearly. As with any theory not everyone will agree with every detail and every suggestion. Regardless of if you fully subscribe to Fitzkee's thinking or not, there is plenty to learn from his writings.
Several years ago, Dariel Fitzkee wrote a little book called Misdirection for Magicians, in which he purported to present the "real secret" of magic, which had to do with making magic deceptive. He now turns up with a much larger volume, Showmanship for Magicians, and another "real secret" of magic - that of making magic entertaining. We may anticipate a very natural question - "To what extent do the two books overlap?" - by saying at once that there seems to be no duplication whatsoever. Indeed, the author, in Showmanship for Magicians, makes a special point of playing down "tricks as tricks" (apparently assuming that his reader knows, or may be depended upon to learn, how to mystify an audience), and stresses what he regards as vastly more important - methods of presentation by means of which a magician may give his audience the maximum of enjoyment to be had from a program of magic. Everything in the book, as Mr. Fitzkee says in the next to last chapter, "is directed at making your act - the very act you are now doing - more pleasing to your audiences."
This is a worthy ambition, and we know of no book more likely than Showmanship for Magicians to contribute to the attainment of this goal. That there is room for improvement in the pleasure-giving capacity of most programs of magic appears to us to be beyond dispute. We have seen the stage work of most of America's best magicians of the past forty years, and consequently have witnessed some magnificent performances that combined both mystery and delightful entertainment; but we have also spent many weary hours at exhibitions in which self-styled "magicians" were clearly fooling no one at all and quite as obviously were entertaining only themselves. So we can understand Mr. Fitzkee's impatience with the quotation that Dr. Wilson used to print so often in The Sphinx: "Magic is an art that sometimes instructs, often amuses, and always entertains." This, no doubt, is what magic should be; but we are inclined to think that Mr. Fitzkee is not exaggerating when he says of magic today that "fully seventy-five per cent of the performances are poor according to modern entertainment standards."
This situation arises, in large part, from the fact that most magicians are amateurs, and many are young amateurs who are necessarily inexperienced. Since we know no remedy for inexperience save experience, and no way for the budding magician to gain it except through frequent appearances before spectators, we assume that there will always be performers of magic whose work at the moment is neither very artistic nor very entertaining. This is, indeed, a price the public must pay for the development of practitioners in all fields of art. The late John Drew, who became one of the greatest of dramatic stars, was in his youth such an atrociously bad performer that his mother despaired of making an actor of him; and we could name magicians who started out as very clumsy tricksters and yet wound up as brilliant performers. Unless we have a steady stream of beginners in magic, as well as others in varying stages of development, it is hard to see where we are to get, year after year, our supply of Kellars, Devants, Powells, Germains, Laurants, Cardinis, Rosinis, Dantes, Dunningers, and Blackstones.
Nevertheless, we fear that Mr. Fitzkee is correct in charging that "of the thousands of performers-of-tricks who daily exhibit their wares throughout the world, but a minute percentage has given any thought to presentation or showmanship"; just as he is unquestionably on safe ground when he says that the "tyro" has no right to face an audience, large or small, "without some intelligent preparation in selling entertainment to an audience," though "preparation" may take any of many forms. The problem, it would seem, is the existence of too many magicians, young and old, amateur and professional, who regard magic purely as a means of puzzling an audience, whereas if it is only that and not a medium of entertainment as well it will soon cease even to get a hearing-for, in general, only magicians are interested in magic as mystery, but practically everyone is interested, actually or potentially, in magic as entertainment. In this book Mr. Fitzkee emphasizes the necessity of making magic, above all else, genuinely entertaining; and then proceeds, with great industry and much skill, to tell how it may be done.
It can scarcely be charged that the author has not covered sufficient ground, and an examination of the book reveals that he has succeeded, in 187 pages of text, in treating with a surprising degree of thoroughness each of the many phases of his subject. Writing a book of this kind is a formidable undertaking, but Mr. Fitzkee tackles the job with courage and enthusiasm and sees it through with unflagging determination. No one who reads the book will doubt that the author has given much thought to the problem of showmanship. He has clearly been watching and analyzing magical programs for a long time, and several years ago was the producer and a leading performer of a full evening of magic, "International Magicians in Action." Unfortunately, we had no opportunity to see this production, and not all of the reports that reached us were favorable; but this at least may be said for it -that it gave Mr. Fitzkee a chance to put many of his theories into practice, and a wealth of illustrations upon which to draw in writing his book. This practical experience has led him to analyze showmanship from the point of view of a producer who has nightly watched the reactions of admission-paying spectators, and not merely as a lover of magic who has decided, in the remote security of his study, the sort of performance an audience ought to like.
In a field of discussion that is as highly controversial as this, the author will hardly expect to win the unanimous approval of his readers. We ourselves, on the basis of a good many years of stage experience, would take issue with him on a number of points, with respect to which we feel that either his judgment is not wholly sound or his conclusions are too sweeping. But in general we regard Showmanship for Magicians as worthy of careful and repeated readings by every magician who has the welfare of magic at heart. Many will not like some things the author says, for he is a crusader who strikes heavy blows and smashes away at venerable traditions in magic which he thinks have outlived their usefulness. Others will dislike the rather pontifical tone, the voice of "authority," with which the author sometimes speaks. However, we believe that on the whole the book will be read with both interest and pleasure (and of course, first and foremost, with profit), for Mr. Fitzkee has a vigorous, colorful, and at times a highly amusing way of expressing himself. We may offer, by way of example, the following description of how not to do, and then how to do, a familiar feat:
"There's a good example of economy in Cardini's entire routine, but one little thing he does illustrates it perfectly. How often have you seen performers doing the untying silk? They laboriously twist it up, blabber about it, horse around with it, yell and beat their chests and run around the stage and generally raise hell all over.
"Consider Cardini. He quietly takes the silk from his pocket. He twists it quickly, with a few deft movements. It unties! Again: He twists it, ties it. It unties itself just a bit more slowly. He shudders and discards the silk:
"Routining" is unquestionably an important phase of showmanship. To this vital subject the author devotes two chapters (40 pages) with several exceptionally fine lessons on building a trick into a really effective "interpretation" - though the patter suggested for the "Mora wands" seems to us to be anything but appropriate. The extensive "check charts" in Chapter 25 are a novel and useful feature of the book, which should find ready application among magicians of all grades. But there are, after all, twenty-five chapters in Showmanship for Magicians, and in each of these there is valuable information for some, if not for all, magicians. We cannot imagine any magical enthusiast reading the book without being goaded into thought, and we are confident that many will be stimulated into action - which would be a most excellent thing, both for the individuals themselves and for magic as an art.
Twenty years ago, the late David Devant, greatest of English magicians, wrote a magazine article on the future of magic, which contained this paragraph:
"The great public of the future will want something more than magic at a magical entertainment. One is made well aware of that fact today. The cry everywhere is for entertainment. Amuse us! Entertain us! Take us out of ourselves for a time! The magician who can do this finds that the public do not care greatly if the tricks are costly or cheap, beautiful or ugly, complicated or simple, as long as the performance is really entertaining. I imagine that the audiences of the future will be even more exacting in their demands in this matter of entertainment than the audiences of today, and that the magician who fails to recognize that fact will go under. Progression in the art of magic there will be - there must be - but I imagine that the improvements will not be purely and solely in magic itself, but in the manner in which the magician presents his mysteries to his audience."
Mr. Devant's prediction - that the public would ask for "more than magic" and insist upon having entertainment - has come true. And to meet this demand, Mr. Fitzkee (who, perhaps, has never even heard of the Devant article) has written a book that sets forth definite, specific measures for doing what Mr. Devant had in mind - that is, for making magic entertaining measures which, if fully comprehended and intelligently put into practice, should give magic a new lease on life.
The length of this review may be taken as evidence that we regard this book as an important contribution to magical literature, and so we do. However, it falls just a little short, we feel, of being a really great book. We claim no special knowledge of psychology, but the reading we have done in that field leads us to think that Mr. Fitzkee's "classifications" might well be more precise, and that his psychological concepts could be more clearly expounded and more appropriately grouped. The book gives the impression, too, of having been somewhat hurriedly written; and certain of Mr. Fitzkee's peculiarities of style (for example, his great fondness for "sentences" that have no verbs) would cause almost any teacher of English to tear his hair. Indeed, such a person might argue that Mr. Fitzkee, in practicing 'the art of writing, should set for himself as high standards as he demands of conjurers in their practice of the art of magic! Perhaps in a later edition - and this is a book that should run into many editions - the author may see fit to give more attention to "selling himself" (to use one of his favorite expressions) as a writer. But, in any event, we find in this book quite enough reason for rejoicing. Not only is it by far the best of the author's books up to the present, and the best treatise on showmanship that we expect to see for many a day; but it is also a well-printed, cloth-bound book, in strong contrast to the mimeographed pamphlets Mr. Fitzkee has been publishing for a number of years. Here, indeed, is progress; and we shall accept it as a good omen for the future!
Here is what others had to say about this book, when it originally was published in the 1940s.