David Frederick Wingfield Verner (June 11, 1894 – August 21, 1992), better known by his stage names Dai Vernon (pronounced alternatively as "DIE" or as "DAY" as in David) or The Professor, was a Canadian magician.[2][3]

Dai Vernon
Vernon using the pressure fan[1]
David Frederick Wingfield Verner

(1894-06-11)June 11, 1894
DiedAugust 21, 1992(1992-08-21) (aged 98)
Other namesThe Professor
Alma materRoyal Military College of Canada
Occupation(s)Magician, author, silhouettist
EmployerMagic Castle
Eugenie "Jeanne" Hayes
(m. 1924)

Vernon's sleight of hand technique and knowledge, particularly with card tricks and close-up magic, garnered him respect among fellow magicians, and he was a mentor to them.

From 1963, he worked at and lived out his last decades at the Magic Castle, an exclusive specialty nightclub in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California. Vernon retired officially from performing in 1990 at the age of 96.[3]

Biography edit

Early years edit

Vernon was born in Ottawa, Canada, as David Frederick Wingfield Verner. While performing, he often mentioned that he had learned his first trick from his father at age seven, adding wryly that he had "wasted the first six years" of his life. His father was a government worker and an amateur magician.

Vernon studied mechanical engineering at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario, but by World War I he had moved to New York City.[3]

Vernon first fell in love with magic when he was seven years old after his father took him to see a magic show. The first real magic book Vernon owned was an early edition of The Expert at the Card Table, by S. W. Erdnase.[4] By the time he was 13, Vernon had memorized the contents of the book. He also had an encounter with another up-and-coming young magician from his town, Cliff Green, who asked Vernon, "What kind of magic do you do?" Vernon responded by asking Green to name a card. Upon pulling a pack of cards from his pocket, Vernon turned over the top card of the deck to reveal the named card and replied to Green "That's the kind of magic I do. What kind of magic do you do?"

As a young man, Vernon moved to New York City where, in the back room of Clyde Powers' magic shop, he found favor among other magicians of the era, including Dr. James William Elliott, Nate Leipzig, and Harry Kellar.

He began to use the first name "Dai" after a newspaper used the abbreviation in place of "David"; the paper was using the Welsh nickname for David. When Verner first moved to the United States, the male member of a popular ice-skating pair had the surname Vernon;[who?] Americans continually mistook Verner's last name to be the same as the popular ice skater, and eventually, the magician became fed up with correcting people and simply adopted "Vernon" as well.[citation needed]

Magic career edit

Owing to his knowledge of, and skill at, sleight of hand, Vernon has long been affectionately known as The Professor. Harry Houdini (who in his early years billed himself as "The King of Kards") often boasted that if he saw a card trick performed three times in a row he would be able to figure it out. Vernon then showed Houdini a trick (later known as the Ambitious Card) where he removed the top card of the deck and placed it second from the top, then turned over the top card to again reveal the original card. Houdini watched Vernon do the trick seven times (some versions of the story say five times), each time insisting that Vernon "do it again." Finally, Houdini's wife and Vernon's friends said, "Face it, Houdini, you're fooled." For years afterward, Vernon used the title The Man Who Fooled Houdini in his advertisements.

Vernon sought out crooked gamblers and card cheaters for close-up magic ideas.[5][6]

Though respected by professional magicians nationwide due in part to publicity via the magazine The Sphinx, Vernon was essentially a gifted amateur until his 40s. Before the Magic Castle, Vernon never held a steady full-time job for more than a few months. He occasionally performed magic at nightclubs or on cruise ships to South America and back, and also toured the Philippines as an entertainer during World War II with the United Service Organizations (USO). His engineering degree was put to use as a sometime blueprint reader.

Vernon's main source of income was cutting custom silhouette portraits, a talent that paid 25 to 50 cents per silhouette for about two minutes of work during the 1920s and the 1930s—compare with the first U.S. minimum wage of 25 cents per hour in 1938 ($5.20 in 2022). He had a friendly relationship with fellow Coney Island silhouettist E. J. Perry.[6] A few hours a week cutting silhouettes was generally enough to support his family and finance his sleight of hand hobby. Vernon spent most of his early life traveling all over the United States looking for card cheats, and anyone who might know anything about sleight-of-hand with cards. He was famously under-credited for much of the work published in Jean Hugard and Frederick Braue's Expert Card Technique,[7] though a later edition included an extra chapter that acknowledges Vernon's contributions. A huge portion of the sleight-of-hand had been discovered by Vernon over years of searching.

Later years edit

Vernon spent the last 30 years of his life as Magician-in-Residence and the star attraction at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles, California. There, he mentored magicians including Ricky Jay, Persi Diaconis, Doug Henning, Larry Jennings, Bruce Cervon, Michael Ammar, John Carney and Richard Turner.[citation needed]

Vernon died on August 21, 1992, in Ramona, County of San Diego, California.[3] According to biographer Karl Johnson, he was cremated and a box with his ashes was brought back to the Castle.[6]

Family edit

In 1924, Vernon married Eugenie "Jeanne" Hayes, a magician's assistant. They had two sons, Theodore and Derek. The two lived separately by the 1950s, though they never formally divorced.[citation needed]

Books edit

Most books were edited by Lewis Ganson; some were written by Ganson.

  • Dai Vernon's Book of Magic (1957)
  • The Symphony of the Rings (1958)
  • Inner Secrets of Card Magic (1959)
  • More Inner Secrets of Card Magic (1960)
  • Further Inner Secrets of Card Magic (1961)
  • Malini & His Magic (1962)
  • Early Vernon (1962)
  • Dai Vernon's Tribute to Nate Leipzig (1963)
  • Ultimate Secrets of Card Magic (1967)
  • Dai Vernon's Expanded Lecture Notes (1970)[8][9]
  • Dai Vernon's Revelations (1984)
  • Vernon Touch (2006)
  • The Essential Dai Vernon (2009, collected work)

Legacy edit

Among magicians, Vernon is credited with inventing or improving many standard close-up effects with cards, coins, and other small items. The "standard" cups and balls routine is his, and his 6-ring "Symphony of the Rings" remains one of the most popular Chinese linking rings routines in use to this day.

In June 2006, the first in-depth biography of Vernon was released by Squash Publishing entitled Dai Vernon: A Biography, *Artist * Magician * Muse (Vol. 1: 1894-1941)[10] (first of planned two volumes) written by Canadian magician David Ben.

A 1999 documentary was released entitled Dai Vernon: The Spirit Of Magic.[11]

The character of "The Professor" (played by Hal Holbrook) from the 2003 movie Shade was based on Dai Vernon, and the character Vernon (Stuart Townsend) was named after him.[citation needed]

References edit

  1. ^ Finch, Jon. "Dai Vernon". Jon Finch Magician. Retrieved 12 November 2023.
  2. ^ When asked which way to pronounce his first name, Vernon would say "either, or either," (i.e, EE-ther or EYE-ther) Vernon, Dai. The Vernon Touch: The Writings of Dai Vernon in Genii, The Conjurors' Magazine from 1968 to 1990. Washington, DC: The Genii Corporation, 2006.
  3. ^ a b c d Daniels, Lee A. (August 29, 1992). "Dai Vernon, 98; An Expert Magician Who Taught Others". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-21. Dai Vernon, a sleight of hand artist who was a mentor to many of the most accomplished magicians of the last half-century, died Aug. 21 at the home of a son, Edward Wingfield Verner, in Ramona, Calif., where he had lived for the last two years. He was 98 years old.
  4. ^ Erdnase, S. W (1995). The Expert at the Card Table: The Classic Treatise on Card Manipulation (1st Ed. reprint ed.). Mineola, NY da: Dover Publications. p. 144 pages. ISBN 978-0-486-28597-9.
  5. ^ Wilson, R. Paul (15 January 2022). "When Sleight Of Hand Magicians And Card Cheaters Collide". Blog. Casino.org. Retrieved 12 November 2023.
  6. ^ a b c Johnson, Karl (2005). The Magician and the Cardsharp. p. 282. He was cremated, and after the box with his ashes was brought to the Magic Castle, it was placed for display on a ledge at the top of a wall filled with photos and other memorabilia from his long life in magic. The ledge was so high that the box was almost out of sight.
  7. ^ Hugard, Jean; Braue, Frederick (1974). Expert Card Technique: Close-Up Table Magic (1st Ed. reprint ed.). Mineola, NY: Dover Publications. p. 448 pages. ISBN 978-0-486-21755-0.
  8. ^ Vernon, Dai (1970). "Expanded Lecture Notes". conjuringarchive.com. Retrieved 12 November 2023.
  9. ^ Vernon, Dai (1964). Dai Vernon's Expanded Lecture Notes. Magic. Retrieved 12 November 2023.
  10. ^ Ben, David (2006). Dai Vernon: A Biography--Artist - Magician - Muse (Vol. 1: 1894-1941). Chicago, Illinois: Squash Publishing. p. 366 pages. ISBN 978-0-9744681-5-0.
  11. ^ Toronto: History Television - The Canadians

Further reading edit

External links edit