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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Finger/stage manipulation » » Levent on the "Multiplying Billiard Balls" (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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Levent
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A number of months ago, I posted my performance of the “Sympathetic Silks” on YouTube from the “Masters of Illusion” TV show and accompanied it with a short essay on the trick, which I posted on The Magic Café.  After receiving many positive comments about the essay, I made a mental note to write a similar piece about the “Multiplying Billiard Balls” and my experience with the trick.

So here I go…

 “Levent on the Multiplying Billiard Balls”

I remember the first time I saw Billiard Balls used in a magical context.  I was about ten years old and a local (New York area) TV station was doing a report about a teenage magician and they showed a quick scene of the boy practicing the billiards in front of a mirror.  The sight of the deep red enameled, large wooden balls between each of his fingers seems so unnatural.  I mean, who in their right mind would hold four slippery balls like that?  Wouldn’t they fall?

The fact that they didn’t fall seem odd and in a way, magical and skillful at the same time. Not long after that TV news program, I happened to be at the Kaybee Toy & Hobby Shop at the Kings Plaza Mall on Flatbush Ave. in my native Brooklyn. Opposite the cashier was a rotating black wire rack with a sign on top that read:  “S.S. Adams – Tricks, Jokes & Gags.” To my amazement on that rack there was a cardboard and plastic blister pack that read “Magic Billiard Balls.” On the side of the pack was an illustration that showed that with the contents, you could multiply one ball to four between your fingers just like the older boy I saw on television! And the price was only $1.75! I could not take my money out fast enough and I bought the trick and rushed out of the store and found a place to sit down. Using a combination of hand strength and sharp teeth I tore open the package.

After a few moments I got a feeling that I have had, countless times as a child magician.  It is a disappointed feeling that I called the “What the Hell?” moment, which comes from discovering that theatrical magic is not what it seems. For what I was left with were only three 1-inch diameter red wooden painted balls and a matching stamped metal shell accompanied by a tiny cheaply printed instruction sheet.  On the S.S. Adams packaging there clearly was a drawing of four balls, but all it contained were three balls, “What the Hell?” But as I read the instructions, it became clear that this was not a packaging error and that if I had followed the procedure closely, I too would be able to produce and hold aloft four wooden balls just like the boy on TV.
So as it would turn out that on a concrete bench in a shopping mall in Brooklyn, I took my first steps on becoming a manipulator.

In the subsequent months I carried the tiny billiard balls set everywhere and performed them constantly for anyone who would care to watch. When I say that I did the trick constantly, I am not kidding!  For instance I remember going to our dentist on 86th street with my mother and while she was getting her teeth cleaned, I did the billiard balls for all the patients in the crowded waiting room, taking a deep bow to my audience at the end.  Without a doubt the dentist was puzzled by the applause coming from the waiting room. But you can be certain that my mother knew exactly what was happening.

It’s funny, but at the time I did not know that there was a branch of magic known as manipulation, nor did I know that there was any other way to do the trick other than what was printed on the S.S. Adams instruction sheet (which itself was based on the original instructions for the effect when it was first sold by August Roterberg in 1902 as the “Excelsior Ball Trick”).

A short while later I bought a book called “Now You See It, Now You Don’t” by Bill Tarr.  With that purchase, I learned that what I was doing was the art of manipulation and with billiards there were many moves other that just flipping the ball out of the shell.  The other thing I learned from that book was that more than anything I wanted to be a manipulator and that was the kind of magic I was going to devote my teen years.

From the illustrations in Bill Tarr’s book I noticed that a “real” manipulator used larger balls than the tiny ones that came with my S.S. Adams set.

Later, I found a local magic shop, “The House of Hocus Pocus” near the corner of Coney Island Avenue and Avenue J (incidentally I would later spend many years working there as a demonstrator). At that shop they sold a large German made wooden set of billiards that consisted of three balls and a shell for the princely sum of $15.  But they also sold a set of hand crocheted balls manufactured in Canada by Herb Morrissey.  The Morrissey set consisted of four red balls (about 1 ¾ inch diameter), plus the set came with two shells and a one green ball for color changes and the price was only $8.  How could I resist? I bought the Morrissey set and with the Bill Tarr book in hand I began to practice in earnest. 

Not long after, I bought a 45 RPM single of a tune called “A Fifth of Beethoven” which was basically a Disco reworking by “Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band” of the main theme from Ludwig Von Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony”. And to that song I created and choreographed a routine and when my elementary school had a talent show I signed up.

The talent show was held in June 1976 at P.S. 177 and consisted of the kids playing instruments and some girls tap dancing and me with my magic act. This was literally the very first time I had ever performed magic on a real stage.

In the show, I opened with several patter tricks such as What’s Next and Sidewalk Shuffle and for the finale I gave a signal to a boy at the edge of the stage who put my record on the turntable, dropped the needle and played my song. For the next few minutes I displayed my billiard ball skills and at the very end I quickly lit a dove pan on fire and produced a single dove to the last beat of the song.  The place erupted with applause.

As I was packing up, I was approached by a woman name Miss Barlow, who had owned and operated a dance studio in the area.  She had attended my talent show because several of her students were performing on the bill and she wanted to book me for a recital the following month and pay me $25. Wow my first professional booking after my first show on a real stage! I couldn’t be happier! 

Miss Barlow told me that she wanted me to do a solo spot, second to closing as the girls would all need time to do a costume change for the grand finale which consisted of all her students. She would also tell me that her parents were performers in vaudeville and that she appreciated my skills with balls and that in a way I was a vaudevillian too. This was the first time I had heard of vaudeville and it was a lesson to me that sometimes people do appreciate skillful magic!

I worked extra hard on the act and I am glad I did, because when I got to the show it was at the Gershwin Theater in Brooklyn College, a professional 500-seat venue, which was a far cry from my little public school auditorium.  It was nerve wracking to enter that big stage, but the practice paid off and I was a hit.

As my early teen years progressed I would not get a chance to work on a real stage very often, as most of my shows would really be comedy based kid-shows.  But when given the opportunity, I would usually do a billiard ball routine within my act. 

At one point, I decided to upgrade my props.  I tried the silver Vernet balls (which were a new product at the time) and then one day I was at Tannens magic shop and I purchased a set of white Fakini golf balls for about $25.  I thought the way the silicone handled and the way they stuck to my fingers and palm was fantastic.  At that point I learned my lesson that the kind of balls you use matter a lot, and to this day I think there is nothing better that Fakini’s.

When I was about 14 years old, I went to “The Incredible World of Magic & Illusion” starring the illusionist Richiardi Jr. at The Village Gate in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. Opening the show was the young Dutch manipulator Ger Copper (at the time I could not imagine that only 4 years later it would be me performing as the opening act for the great Richiardi!).  Mr. Copper did some fantastic magic with lit candles and rhinestone covered balls.  When he did double finger rolls with the balls, he blew me away!  However as I sat in front row center, I could not only clearly see the secret pockets inside his tails. but I also saw him continually steal and dump balls and other objects into his tails.

It was around this time I was studying the video of Cardini (at the Museum of Broadcasting) and the first few times I saw nothing suspicious. Later as I truly analyzed Cardini’s act I became fully aware that when it came to body loads, steals were not a simple matter. The lesson I learned was that to make a body steal invisible, it took a lot of work and thought. Good manipulation is serious business and you must have everything (technique, motivation, misdirection, angles, etc.) all figured out before you attempt any steal or move.

By the time I left school, I was a professional manipulator. Although, I experimented and performed with many different ball tricks and gimmicks such as my “fire to ball”, “flash ball to silk to cards” and the amazing gadget from Ron Macmillan which shot a ball from the inside of the coat into your hands, ultimately I ended up doing a single ball trick (which I invented) in which a single lit candle visibly changes into a bouncing ball. My candle to ball trick was so popular with audiences that it was mentioned by “Variety” magazine when they reviewed my act in Atlantic City in July 6, 1983. The review said,

 “Highlight is the exceptional talent of a young illusionist, Levent, who at 18 can change lit tapers into bouncing ping pong balls, pull fluttering doves out of the ozone and handle cards in such a way that he would be escorted from the casino floor. His stay on stage is all too short.”

By the end of 1985, I decided to take advantage of the explosion of comedy clubs in the nation and decided to transition to from a manipulator to a verbal comedy magician and my work with billiards was done or so I thought.

In early 2004, Todd Karr had approached me about writing a book about the magician named Roy Benson.  At the time I had never seen the late Mr. Benson perform before, but I had heard from the old timers in New York that Benson was a great comedy magician and billiard ball manipulator and over the years Johnny Thompson would often tell me that I reminded him of Benson.

Once I committed to the Benson project, I began to gather all that I could about the man.  Also I made the decision to technically learn his repertoire, so that I could include (in the book) photos of me doing Benson’s tricks. Luckily a magic collector (who requested to remain anonymous) gave me films of Benson doing his ball routine on television. When I viewed the video, I was blown away. Benson did the best ball routine I had ever seen.

Now perhaps I should qualify what I mean when I say the "best" ball routine. I have seen a lot of routines in my day. Some ball routines are very simplistic and to the point, which in my opinion is OK, but there are times that I like to see a magician work a bit harder. Sometimes in Art, simplicity is not all that it’s cracked up to be.
That said, a ball routine can become overly complex to the point where they cease to be entertainment for laypeople and seem to be created to impress other magicians (or sometimes the performer himself).

Also, there are some routines in print in which a very large number of balls (more than eight) are produced and in order to stay one or more solid balls ahead of the audience the performer was forced to make contact with his costume in such a way that it appeared very unnatural and disturbing.

Roy Benson on the other hand did a very clean ball routine, which was beautiful and complex in that it also involved some cigarette productions.  Benson’s routine was also relatively easy to do in that the basic set up was to keep a few balls in the trouser pockets and some balls in box on a table.

I performed the Benson Billiard ball routine in public for the first time at the MAGIC Live convention 2004 in Las Vegas as part of my Roy Benson lecture.

Afterwards I decided that since I already had the props and since I knew how to do the routine, that perhaps I should put an adapted version in my stage act. The first thing I did was to remove the cigarettes from the routine as I am a non-smoker and today many places ban smoking indoors. 

As I practiced, I decided to create some original music for the ball routine (the same as Benson had in the 1940s). With the music done, I put the ball routine into the middle of my hour-long show on the cruise ships. Then during rehearsals, I figured out a way to do a Benson style routine with an extra ball production, so that I would produce seven balls as opposed to Benson who produced six balls. This caused me a lot of stress as I was very afraid to risk the production of the seventh ball as it made the routine 10 times harder to do. 

I then remembered a trick that jugglers often do, which is to practice with more balls than you perform with.  In other words, if a juggler wants to juggle seven balls in a show, he will practice with eight or nine balls. I reasoned that if I can add an extra ball (the eighth) into the Benson style production during rehearsal, I would rid myself of the mental block that kept me from attempting seven balls on stage.

During one intense, night long rehearsal session, the muses were smiling at me, as I figured out something that I had thought would be impossible: The production of eight full sized (2 ¼ inch diameter) Fakini billiard balls, with no body loads whatsoever.  As I watched myself in the mirror I was very pleased by the sudden appearance of four balls in each hand and then suddenly a sinking feeling hit me.  At that moment I knew that I could not stop at seven balls and I had to do eight balls in my show no matter what.

So, I rehearsed for weeks and prepared my hands and mind for the eight-billiard ball routine.  As I often do with new routines I put the trick into the middle of my show.  The trick always got a strong hand, but it was a strange routine to put in the middle of a verbal comedy magic act.

One night after my show a close friend named Billy Fellows (who happens to be a veteran comedian/singer/songwriter/impressionist) said to me that I should close my show with the billiard balls.  I knew that Billy was right and a few days later I put the balls into the finale of my act and I got an instant standing ovation from an audience of about 1000 people.

The reason why this happened was obvious to me.  As a verbal comedy performer, I can make people laugh, but at the end of the day, even if the public likes me, they don’t necessarily respect me.  At least not in the way they respect a person with obvious skill like a concert pianist or an opera singer. But after they listen to my jokes and watch my comedy tricks for 55 minutes, they get to see me do some skillful things with the billiards at the finale and they are shocked and impressed by that side of me. 

The funny thing is that if I were doing my old silent manipulation act and then closed with my billiard routine, it would not have nearly as strong an impact. It is precisely because of the contrast that this works so well theatrically. And the opposite works as well.  For instance if a very serious manipulator or an illusionist were to do a small comedy routine, that routine would probably get huge laughs, way out of proportion to the real comedic content. Contrast is a powerful theatrical element.

Getting back to my eight ball routine, all was not well with my technique.  There were some unstable technical elements that would cause a catastrophic collapse of the routine about 10 percent of the time.  That means balls could fall all over the place in the middle of the routine.  Something had to be done to make the trick work more than 99 percent of the time.

While I was going through these problems, I was booked by John Fisher to perform on one of the Galas at the Magic Circle Centenary in London in the summer of 2005 and he requested that I do the billiard routine. 

I worked real hard to fix my billiard problems and six weeks before the show in London, I found the solution that would solve my stability problems.  The hard part was training my fingers and my brain to use this new technique.  At one point after I figured out a better way with the balls, I had a catastrophic failure... six shows in a row.  Still I knew I was on the right track, persevered and a few weeks before the London show I sorted it all out and everything has been fine ever since.

This situation were I changed my technique reminded me of something that happened to the great golfer Tiger Woods. A number of years ago Mr. Woods corrected his swing and for a while this change made his game a bit worse before it got a lot better.

A year and a half ago, I shot a 5 ½ hour long instructional video in my studio called “Levent’s Ultimate Guide to the Miser’s Dream”.  At the end of each recording day, I posted in this forum a blog of what I shot and how the experience was going. I heard from many people that they enjoyed reading this blog at the Magic Café.
Today I begin shooting a similar instructional video on the billiard balls and in this forum thread I will blog throughout the process.

I look forward to this experience and I hope you will enjoy what I write…

Best regards to all,
Levent
http://www.LeventMagic.com
Michael Baker
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Levent,

That was a true pleasure to read. Thanks!

~michael
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JNeal
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I'm sure the forum members will delight in your daily missives and, perhaps, draw inspiration for their own explorations into other (neglected) areas of manipulation. I know I will and, of course, I look forward to the finished product as well!
Regards-
JNeal
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JamesTong
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Thanks, Levent, for your valuable thoughts on the billiard balls. I will be looking forward to your new DVD on the billiard balls, too.
WagsterMagic
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I will be looking forward to the Billiard Ball DVD!

Thanks, Levent! That was a joy to read!

Best
Brandon
The Wagsters: World Class Magic & Illusion
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Levent
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2PM: Still have not recorded video yet.

It's amazing how long it takes to set-up and adjust cameras, video lights, monitoring software for sound and waveform monitors.

The lights and camera and computers are up and ready to record.

UPS just arrived with the one missing piece: the white pique vest and tie for my recreation of Cardini's full 8 ball routine.

Did the routine about 4 times in a row, and the new vest works like a dream. I probably won't shoot the Cardini routine until the end, as it is perhaps the toughest thing to do.

I have out a lot of old sets of billiards, as well as more than 50 Fakini balls in various colors and sizes. It's like a magic shop here in the studio. Fun stuff.

Now for a bit of lunch, then will get into costume and begin to shoot video.

Levent
http://www.LeventMagic.com
SpellbinderEntertainment
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Levent, this is a gift to magic.
Thanks for taking the enormous amount of time it takes
to gather your thoughts, then write a piece like this,
and the video will be even more icing on the cake!

Magically,
Walt
“Tales of Enchantment: The Art of Magic”
by Walt Anthony
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"spinning tales and weaving enchantment"
Levent
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Thanks, everyone!!

6:40 PM

It was slow setting everything up and getting used to the process of making a video. But once everything is up and running, it all moves pretty fast.

Was in the process of demonstrating the various billiards that were used in the old days, and I can't believe that I have wooden billiards in that many sizes 1", 1 1/2", 1 3/4, 2" and 2 1/8" in my collection. The 2 1/8 inch balls were made and used by the master himself: Cardini.

I heard that bad thunderstorms were coming through my area, so I decided to stop shooting for the night and unplug all the expensive video equipment.

Now that everything is ready to roll, I will have a running start first thing tomorrow morning.

Best regards to all,
Levent
http://www.LeventMagic.com
TheAmbitiousCard
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Love the updates. Keep them coming!
www.theambitiouscard.com Hand Crafted Magic
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Daveandrews
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Levent, really pleased to see that you now have the time to get down to this. Your previous DVD offerings have been something special - collector's pieces, even.

It as also great reading your missive above, and will follow the updates with interest.

Regards,

Dave
http://[URL]www.partymagic.org.uk" target="_blank">www.partymagic.org.uk" target="_blank">http://[URL]www.partymagic.org.uk

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Darkwing
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Levent,

This is so exciting. I cannot wait until the finished product is out. I know it will be as good, if not better, than your manipulation act DVD and your Miser's Dream DVD.

Very exciting.

David Williams
Nashville TN

PS Thank you for the pdf. It went over well at the 252 club meeting.
Dynamike
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Levent, how can we thank you?
Heres Tony
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Wow! I agree with Walt. I received a gift just by reading your post. Thank you for your willingness to share your experiences and taking the time to write it down.
TheAmbitiousCard
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Well, Levent.... we're waiting....

Next update, please? Come on, it's been over 12 hrs.....
I hope you're not going to tell us that you need sleep, etc...
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Levent
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1:30PM

Been shooting for the last few hours.

Finished the intro and the explanation of the different balls (wooden, plastics, sponge, metals, silicone, etc). Covered the kinds of shells, some shell modifications, and how to remove dents from Fakini shells.

One of my favorites was showing how I once made a set of seven 2 inch diameter balls and a shell, quickly for $1.

I just had a snack and will resume filming now.

Next up: various balls holders and how to use them effectively. Especially important is when I show two secret holders that I designed for use with Fakini balls. The first is a simple dropper that will deliver a single Fakini ball with the press of the hand. This holder is easy to make and has only one moving part. The other big one is the other Fakini ball holder that I invented that can be built in less than 10 minutes and cost less than a dollar and can hold a stack of 5 or more large Fakini balls under the coat. The balls are 100% secure, yet can be stolen easily one-at-a-time. I had to invent these devices, otherwise it would have been impossible to do the full Cardini 8 ball routine with silicone Fakini balls.

Starting up the camera, Scopebox software and lights now...Wish me luck...

Levent
http://www.LeventMagic.com
Michael J. Douglas
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Good luck, Levent. It sounds great, and if like your other videos, I'm sure it will be. Interesting to read your updates, also.... Smile
Michael J.
�Believe then, if you please, that I can do strange things.� --from Shakespeare�s �As You Like It�
Donal Chayce
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I've been offline for the past week and am just now catching up on what's doing here at the Café.

What an absolutely wonderful thing to find upon my return!

Thanks, Levent. I am greatly looking forward to seeing and making use of the final product.
Levent
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10:00PM

Ok am done for the night.

So far shot about 3 hours of tape, but that will no doubt be edited down to about a fraction of the time.

Called Fakini to get some info on his products for the video. Frank is a great guy and I couldn't have done any of this without him.

Today, I got through all the secret apparatus, holders and gaffs

Got through the palming technique,

Did a lot of stuff on shell technique from many sources such as Benson, Cardini, Miaco and here's the big surprise: some excellent shell moves from T. Nelson Downs!!

I've shut down the light and am transferring the video from tape to the hard drive for editing.

Good Night Guys.

Levent
http://www.LeventMagic.com
Kent Wong
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Levent,

That was a truly inspiring read. Thank you so much for sharing it. After having the pleasure of hosting your recent lecture here in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, I've come to the easy conclusion that you are one of the HARDEST WORKING magicians out there. I have never met anyone with more passion, perseverance and attention to detail. I loved discussing your thoughts on the Miser's Dream and the Cups and Balls; and I can't wait to see your DVD on the Billiard Balls. Thank you again my friend.

Kent
"Believing is Seeing"
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Oliver Ross
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Levent,

It was very pleasant and interesting to read about your personnal experience with the multiplying billard balls. I always liked reading how people made it through from the beginning to a proessional experience and all the background on it.
Even though there're already a few videos and DVDs out about billard balls, I can't wait to see your final product, because I think there'll be something special about it that others may not have - your love and passion to it.

Good luck.

Oliver.
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