04 Jun 2016

The Professor Speaks. Dai Vernon’s Thoughts on Magic

Dai Vernon aka the Professor, was a complex man who could philosophize for days on the subject of magic.  He lived for nearly a century.   In that time he changed the way magicians think.  For the professor, magic was not some easy way to pass time.  No.  Being a magician was an ongoing journey.  It meant looking at the art of magic through the eyes of a student; always learning, always asking questions. Never satisfied with the obvious, his study of magic was a constant search for perfection.  If the Professor saw his beloved art trivialized by dilettantes, he took it to heart.       

From 1968 To 1990 he wrote a monthly column in Genii Magazine called The Vernon Touch.  Finally, here was place where the Professor could set down guidelines for aspiring and seasoned magicians alike.  It was a place where the rest of us could go and learn from a master.  The Vernon Touch stands today as a document of one man’s war against the potential trivialization of Magic.


The Vernon Touch

Excerpts from The Vernon Touch

The Professor On Sleight of Hand

“A beginner should learn the basics of magic first.  One or two moves well learned are better than a passing knowledge of all the subtleties in magic.  One good coin move with a palm or a transfer is better than twenty badly done.”

“When you come to the crucial sleight in any trick there should be absolutely no suspicion attached to it.  If you tighten up and feel guilty your audience will sense it.  They may not actually see what you do but they will know that you did something and you have killed the entire effect.  You shouldn’t be conscious of the fact that you are doing the sleight.  It should blend in with your overall presentation and flow right by.”

The Professor On the Magic Effect

“The first line of this month’s column refers to “intrigue tricks”, a Charlie Miller expression.  This is a very good choice of words because too many of us become intrigued with our handling of cards and overlook the effect we are trying to create for the audience.  We are intrigued because we know the subtleties involved but they don’t mean a darn thing as far as the effect is concerned.”

“The great difference between the professional magician and the amateur is that the professional magician knows what the effect is.   He knows what the audience sees.  It doesn’t matter how crude the method is, as long as the effect is good he will use it.  The amateur is more interested in the method.  If the method is very subtle and fine he loves the trick, regardless of what people think.”

The Professor On Practice and Technique


Vernon Lecture

“Timing and rhythm are the most important things in a trick.”

“Some people just practice blindly over and over.  Now, by constant trial and error and perhaps years of practice, they will eventually come to the right method.  But another person approaching it from a different angle uses his head and he will take days or weeks, whereas the other person will take years.  Keep this in mind when you are practicing any magic.”

“Painstaking care and practice and preparation pay off.  You can never be too careful.  You must consider every little detail.”

“Pick the best method/trick for you and master it.  Do it with consummate skill.”


“You cannot buy magic.  It is an art you must acquire through persistence and practice.  You must constantly strive with each attempt to do better than before.” 

“If you are interested in really acquiring skill it takes hours of intensive study.  And if it is not a pleasure you shouldn’t do it.  If it is irksome or troublesome, forget it.”

On Etiquette


“Unfortunately there are many magicians who don’t give magic the dignity and proper respect it should receive… This is very simple to do. Don’t force tricks on people.  Be gracious when you do tricks.  Try to please people with tricks.  Don’t annoy them.  Don’t get them in a corner and sit them down and say, watch this one or here’s another one.  This is what annoys people about magic.”

“Showing superiority or flaunting ability is deadly for a magician.  You must be a likable person.”

“Nate Leipzig often remarked, “if they like you as a person they will thoroughly enjoy what you do.”  


“The ideal way for a magician to perform is to always be a gentleman.  Not brash or impudent or fresh.  It took thousands of years to build up natural graces and rules of etiquette and yet today (1973) so many people are trying to tear them down.  In this country there’s a false assumption that gentleness is a form of effeminacy.  There is no connection.  But certain people will try to appear gruff and use foul language because they think they are proving their manliness.  This is truly a fallacy.”

On Presentation and Performance


“Any trick can become a masterpiece, but it has to have a presentation that holds people enthralled and fascinated.”

“When you walk on stage you must love the audience and they should love you.  Even if it’s a rough drinking crowd, still you must love them.”

“Keep magic free from tawdry, cheap and objectionable presentations and it will long continue to survive.”

“All the cleverness of execution and skillful handling count for naught if the presentation is lacking.”


“When that certain mysterious something occurs during the course of an effect, refrain from any remark.  Allow the mysterious to register in the onlookers minds.”

On “What’s New?”

“The average beginner makes a great mistake.  He goes to the magic store and asks, “What’s new?”  They always want to know what’s new.  They don’t know how to do some of the elementary tricks that they should know how to do.  They’re not ready for “what’s new.”

On Displays of Skill

“Some magicians will do all kinds of clever things with a deck of cards such as causing them to swivel out of the deck etc. and they act in a strange and bewildering way.  Now this denotes great skill and people will say, “Boy I’d hate play cards with you.”  A true artist conceals that skill, using it “undercover,” you might say.  This is a true artist and he gets much more effect out of magic.”

“Nate Leipzig never fanned a pack of cards;  making a pressure fan and the like.  He spread the cards out in a normal manner when he wanted one selected.  He said he didn’t believe in making even a fan because it showed skill.  I’m a great believer in that type of magic.”

“If you want to show how skillful you are be a juggler.  Juggling takes hours and hours of incessant practice, something many magicians shun.”

The Professor On Himself

“I often criticize others but I am severest when it comes to myself.  I thoroughly realize my failings.”




“Magic has been cheapened by too many performers doing bad magic… Try to give some dignity to our beloved art.  Don’t downgrade it.”


The Vernon Touch, published by the Genii Corporation

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