On this day in 1886, the poet Joyce Kilmer was born. You know him because of his very famous and oft parodied poem “Trees.” You know: I think that I shall never see… By the time he was sent to fight in World War I, he was considered the leading American Catholic poet. And then, like millions others he was killed in that senseless war.
George Nelson (Real name: Lester Joseph Gillis.) was born in 1908. He is better known as “Baby Face” Nelson, a moniker that was given to him because of his youth. It was in reference to the song “Baby Face.” It was meant to be an insult and Nelson hated it. It made him angry. And you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. This is largely because he was a psychopath. Most people in his line of work were more desperate than evil. I don’t think you can say the same thing about him. Just the same, as he traveled across the nation robbing banks and murdering people, he maintained a rather normal life for his wife and child. Of course, that’s along the lines of, “Hitler was kind to his dogs.” But still, he was a fascinating guy.
Dave Brubeck was born in 1920. Alright, I admit it: he was great. It is just that Paul Desmond was greater. And, of course, he was no Bill Evans. Here is “Blue Rondo a la Turk”:
Comedian Steven Wright is 58. I really like his work. Below is a 49 second clip of a couple of his jokes. I just want to point out that the question about what would happen if you were traveling at the speed of light and you turned on your lights is exactly the question that Einstein asked. Let me answer Mr. Wright’s question. First, you could not travel at the speed of light, so let’s assume you are traveling just under the speed of light. If you turned on your lights, from your perspective, the light would stream out at the speed of light. That is the theory of relativity.
Other birthdays: astronomer Niccolo Zucchi (1586); painter Frederic Bazille (1841); poet Evelyn Underhill (1875); lyricist Ira Gershwin (1896); comedian David Ossman (77); actor JoBeth Williams (retired); actor Tom Hulce (60); musician Peter Buck (57); animator Nick Park (55); and film director Judd Apatow (46).
The day, however, belongs to one of the greatest magicians of all time, Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin, who was born on this day in 1805. He is widely considered the father of modern magic. Indeed, magic has not changed a great deal since then. In fact, up through Mark Wilson, it looked very much the same—in style and substance. Robert-Houdin was born to be a watch maker. There is a very famous story about how he got into magic. He went to a book seller and bought a two-volume set on clock construction but was accidentally given a two volume set on conjuring, Scientific Amusements. He became fascinated with the art of magic and the rest is history. Of course, it mightn’t have ever happened. Pretty much everything we know about Robert-Houdin comes from his own Memoirs of Robert-Houdin. And magicians are known to be liars.
I find it interesting to see people’s reactions to modern magic. The truth is that basically, nothing ever changes. The Tarbell Course in Magic, published in 1928 contains basically all the collected knowledge that magicians have today. But each generation dusts off the old tricks and makes them their own. This isn’t to say that there are no innovations. But it is marginal stuff. Consider the Ambitious Card routine. This is a card trick that has been around for a couple hundred years. The magician puts a card in the middle of a deck and it keeps coming back to the top of the deck. Pretty much every card magician has a version of it that suits their style. But check out Daryl doing his version. Everything he does is quite standard, except the very end where he uses a device that Robert-Houdin would have been proud of:
Other than style and some marginal changes, that’s Robert-Houdin. And that is not to put down Daryl at all. I think that’s a really clever, entertaining routine. But it owes a great deal to Robert-Houdin. Magic is history.
Happy birthday Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin!