Sunday, October 23, 2011

Jerry Andrus

Jerry Andrus – A Personal Tribute

By Anthony Darkstone Brook
SAM International Deputy

Now that his mortal remains have been laid to rest and the magic media have paid their tributes it is time for me to share my recent meeting with Jerry.

Jerry Andrus and Anthony Darkstone
It took place at his home in May 2007. Thanks to my good friend Michael Roth, President of SAM Assembly 59, I was invited to Oregon to perform and to lecture there and in Canada. Prior to my performance Michael had asked me if I would like to meet and visit with some living legends of magic, namely Stan Greer, Duane Duvall, Jose Zialcita and Jerry Andrus. Naturally, I accepted their individual invitations.

Michael kindly drove me over to Jerry’s home. I knew that Jerry had been ill for some time and during the drive, Michael explained the nature of Jerry’s illnesses. Although I am now at an age when I have learnt to accept the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that Life tends to offer, I still have a singular lack of understanding as to why such great minds have to endure such great hardship.                                                         

Michael had visited Jerry before and knew the route to his home. We arrived and Michael parked the car. Together we walked up a small drive, climbed two steps and knocked on the door. I was expecting a small, wizened and frail old man that had gone a few hundred rounds with Life but to my amazement the man that greeted us and invited us in was an erect, tall, bright and alert - Jerry Andrus. The face had aged somewhat but the distinct features were still there including a full head of hair. Age whitened but full and lustrous nevertheless.
The front door led immediately into a room some four by six feet. I could tell it was at one time larger but years of clutter and strange looking objects had shrunk its size. It housed, in a manner of speaking, a cacophony of objects that had seen better days and it was cluttered, quite literally, from floor to ceiling with a collection of some very odd and strange looking contraptions that created further dissonance. It exuded an ambience of antique shop meets Heath Robinson in a garage sale next to a junk yard. I am not being in the slightest disrespectful, but merely trying to describe and convey in the best way possible the sight that greeted us. Those who knew Jerry and have visited him will know exactly what I mean and to those who did not it doesn’t matter.

I have, over the years been very fortunate to meet and spend quality time with some of the greatest magicians of the world, real old-timers (I use this word with respect and admiration) who had earned their accolades the hard way. All true gentlemen and ladies of the Art. Walter Blaney, Mark Wilson, Nani Darnell, Bill Palmer, Jerry Grey, MarcoM, Bob Blau, Celeste Evans, Jon Racherbaumer, Ali Bongo, Pat Page are just some of the names that spring to mind. How fortunate that the fates decreed that I was able to include Jerry Andrus to the list. 

I had, in common with those of us who value and respect our Art, spent some time studying the life and work of this remarkable magician. Despite his illness, his mind was sharp and he conducted himself with great dignity. I was overwhelmed by his courtesy and gentleness. There was, and I’m sure those who knew him will also testify to this, an aura about Jerry that made him instantly likable. There was very definitely something of the William Blake’s  Ancient of Days like image about him. Kind, benevolent, humorous and all-knowing are adjectives that spring to mind. Of course, it is totally and completely ironic that those words spring to mind because Jerry was a confirmed atheist. 

 Nevertheless, we had a wonderful and delightful debate about the existence of God. I felt totally honored and privileged to have the opportunity to discuss so vast and controversial topic with so great a mind. Although he would stop occasionally during our conversation and tell me that he had a stroke, and that his mind was ageing. Nevertheless, there was no evidence that it had effected him in the slightest.
We talked about Magic briefly and the topic of my forthcoming show in Oregon came up. He told me that I was taking on way too much to give a 90 minute show on Mentalism.

Some twenty minutes later after we had waxed lyrical on the topic he made some very complimentary remarks and then announced that he would like to attend my show. I happily told him it would be a great honor for me. Michael quickly intervened and said he would arrange all the logistics of transportation to & from Jerry’s home. To the best of my knowledge, it was, most likely the last full live magic show he saw. Tom Waldrop and Bill Beach opened. Robert Neary kindly videoed.

Right then, the door opened and a very elderly gentleman walked in carrying an egg. The conversation stopped momentarily. The elderly gentleman nodded in our direction and said, “You want the egg?”

Jerry looked up from his chair, “Not right now”. The elderly gentleman nodded again, “ Ok, I’ll come back; but I’ll leave the egg”.  I felt that I was part of a rehearsed surreal comedy sketch.

“That was my brother George” volunteered Jerry, “he takes care of me.”  I have no idea why but the humor of the situation got the better of me and I did my best to suppress a huge laugh and just grinned. To maintain a sense of decorum, more for my sake than Jerry’s, I quickly changed the subject, pointed to a box that was mounted on a strange looking table that housed an electric cooking ring and wires going in and out of it.

Expecting some great explanation about one of his inventions, I asked ,   “Tell me Jerry, what is that?”

“It’s a microwave” replied Jerry.

“What do you use it for?” I asked.

Without missing a beat, he answered, “ Mostly for heating food” !!!! 

Michael and I laughed. Out loud. Jerry smiled joyously.

Fortunately, for us Jerry did show us many of his ‘contraptions’ and illusions, graciously explaining how each one worked. He shared with us his poetry and his book of made up words. I sincerely hope that someone publishes both his poetry and book of made up words. I loved them both. The wonderful thing about the made up words was that each one seemed plausible and somehow made me feel that they did indeed belong in the English vocabulary.

Each time we would attempt to leave for fear that we were overtiring him, he would politely tell us to stay and show us something else.

I will never be able to do his wonderful personality justice with my mere words, expect to say that I am old enough and smart enough to know that I was honored and privileged to be touched by his greatness.

SAM Assembly 59 in Oregon and The Portland Society of Magicians had a commemorative coin struck in Jerry’s honor several months prior to his demise. I proudly own one, which I was presented. 

A few days ago, a public memorial service was held for Jerry. Here is an extract from my friend Michael’s email exactly as he sent it to me:   

.............................................the Andrus Memorial went well, lots of people from all over, magicians, skeptics, writers, movie makers, many stories...most awesome...about Jerry's honesty, willingness to teach, debate and wonder with almost anyone...quotes included Dai Vernon's "he's the most creative magician of the 20th century, and the best close-up magician I've ever seen" or "he probably wouldn't buy an effect if it killed him" of the kindest gentlest people I've ever met"...etc  His brother George read some poetry he'd written.
 Barry Brilliant (web site developer of shared insights into Jerry's engaging him (Barry) to share his (jerry's) accomplishments with the world so that his memory, and what he was trying to teach and communicate, will live on...several of those closest to Jerry confided in me that the best article written after Jerry's passing, to date, was in Magic magazine...lots of displays...Bob Neary, filmmaker talked about the documentary he's now finishing and played a sample 15-20 minutes or so, Steve Norris, who the article in OMNI magazine in 1981 and met Jerry talked about the tremendous impact that had on his own life and how unique Jerry was...the current President of the Corvallis Secular Society spoke, Ray Hyman, long-time friend and associate (he and Jerry were among the original founders of the Mysticians society out of Eugene) spoke about Jerry's research into cognitive and pre-cognitive development (Ray is now retired but was Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon and one of the top experts in his field in the US) and said Jerry was probably 10 years ahead of most of the experts in the field, Jerry lectured to his classes on a regular basis, magicians from New York, Las Vegas, California, several locals from Albany, magicians and skeptics spoke about Jerry's awe at the wonder of life and his living in the present and savoring every single moment...Dwight Vance represented IBM and I represented SAM in performing a modified broken wand ceremony that Jerry had preapproved...through a little miscommunication I broke the wand a little early so I had to do a "restored wand" prior to breaking it at the appointed time to good-natured laughter.  All-in-all a fun, interesting, educational and very memorable time.  There were about 8-10 members of SAM 59 and another 6-8 from Portland at the event.  I drove and took my brother Tom, also a friend of Jerry's, and Duane Duvall (Duane remembered when Jerry joined SAM 59 in 1950).  I took some pictures.  ………………..………………………

However, the story does not end there. In the penultimate weekend in September 2007, I was on the bill with Ali Bongo and Pat Page at Stirling Castle in Scotland at The Castle of Magic Event. We three had some excellent conversations over breakfast each morning. One morning, the conversation got around to Jerry. This is what Pat told me, “ You know he never lied. He never ever said there was nothing in his hand when it contained something and he never said it contained something when it was empty. All his magic and sleights were conducted in pure truth.”

For me, there can be no better tribute about such a great man than from another. Any further words of mine would be superfluous.

Aloha Mr. Andrus.

      This article was first published in October 2007 :  The Magic Web Channel.
Copyright: Anthony Darkstone Brook


In a recent conversation with my pal Jon Racherbaumer , Jerry’s name came up; I thought it might be interesting to include an extract : -

ADB:  I love that remark of yours , “verbal sorcery” – such power … too many of today’s Magicians seem to ignore that … care to comment ….

JR: What is written in the Bible? “in the beginning there was the word…”  for everything to begin, God spoke, uttering an invocation (magic words?) —“let there be light…”

ADB:  Absolutely, the sound ; you and I can spend months talking about “ Ab Ba Ra Cad Da Bra”. I will resist that temptation and also move away from magic for a moment ……. you work out a lot and watch several movies every week. How do you find the time?

JR: There are 24 hours in a day. You, me, everyone Tony … you got to make time. I’m as curious as Jerry Andrus about almost everything. I try to read at least 6 books weekly and watch at least 10 films. I check out at least 20 books every week from the library and I subscribe to 18 non-magic magazines. A few of my long-term interests are body-building, reading literature, book-collecting, martial arts, studying philosophy, poetry, film, theatre (theory), and mathematical recreations.  I go to the gym 3 times a week. Although I’m a bit long in the tooth for heavy lifting, I can still bench-press 225 pounds. Yes, indeed. I have too many interests to list; however, here are a few of my long-term interests: body-building, reading and studying literature, book-collecting, martial arts, philosophy, poetry, film, theatre (theory), astronomy, and mathematical recreations.
ADB:  I subscribe to that  … philosophical , physical and mental …and a fair measure of good-natured mischief ….which brings us neatly to someone we both admired & …. still do ….    Jerry Andrus… now’s there’s a mind … well.. was …  I had the honor of visiting Jerry Andrus in his home back in 2007. I wrote a piece about that visit but cannot truly do him justice .  A truly remarkable mind. Love to hear your thoughts on him …..

JR: I wrote that Jerry Andrus was one of magicdom’s most beloved eccentrics. He did not march to a different drummer. He was a different drummer—perhaps the different drummer of his generation—the drummer who drummed alone in two universes: his and the much larger one. And he was comfortably at home in both universes. The poet, Wallace Stevens, wrote that “it's a tragedy not to live in the physical world.” Well, Jerry did not make that mistake. He deeply inhabited this physical world in all its guts and glory and throughout his life he was never bored or boring, never dull but always interesting.

Jerry also understood what Joseph Campbell knew: “if the path you are on is beaten, it is not your path.” Jerry could have been a path-finder, but he preferred being a path-maker. This is why he did not read many magic books. This is why he never performed tricks by other magicians. He appreciated what others created, but he was not interested in imitation or interpretation. This is also why his creations were idiosyncratic and, at first blush, a bit strange.

When Harry Anderson heard the sad news of Jerry’s passing, he offered an upbeat aside - one that perhaps Jerry would have appreciated: “if you close one eye and stand six feet away, Jerry still looks alive!”

As far as I’m concerned, Jerry’s legacy of books, films, videos, optical illusions, and other artifacts will always be spectacularly alive. They exist as a kind of “composite soul” that even Jerry might have believed in.  One of Jerry’s lines now resonates again: “usually when we’re fooled, the mind hasn't made a mistake. It's come to the wrong conclusion for the right reason.” May we correctly be conclusive for right reasons as magicians everywhere celebrate sweet memories of being fooled while never feeling foolish. May we also be grateful for the abiding gifts, real and illusory, that Jerry left in his stead.

ADB: You just blew me away Jon …. Those are the most magical words I have ever heard … thank you. Let's now get back to card magic for which, you are quoted as saying, " I have a fatal attraction.” This led you to Ed Marlo. Tell me a little about your time with him…………………………………..

For a Full Transcript of my conversation with Jon R go to :    - MAGICAL WORDS