Abbotts Halloween Special

SPOOKSTERS OF MAGIC PAST AND PRESENT

The Great Dunninger

by Karrell Fox

The world's greatest mentalist, JOSEPH DUNNINGER, died recently. Anyone who has switched a billet, picked up a slate, or gone "one-ahead" has certainly been influenced by the GREAT DUNNINGER. I was fortunate to meet him when I was very young...16 years old to be exact. And the story of that meeting was told by Frances Marshall in her excellent book "You Don't have to be Crazy". For the benefit of the new­comers to magic, I'll relate it again.

Dunninger came into the Sterling Magic Shop in Detroit where I was working as box packer, demonstrator and janitor. I recognized him of course, but pretending that I didn't, I handed him a piece of paper and requested his autograph. After he graciously signed the paper, I looked at it, then tore it up, threw the pieces into the air and said, "Aw Heck, I thought you were Harry Blackstone!" For an instant, his face flushed and his expression became very stern, then (happily for me) realizing it was a "gag", he burst into laughter. After I had expressed my true admiration for him, he gave me another autograph, this time on his photograph which I still treasure to this day.

The autograph read - To young Mr. Fox who really "FOOLED" me. Sincerely, Joseph (Harry Blackstone) Dunninger.

After that we became good friends, and every time he worked in the Detroit area, he would stop in to see us at the shop. Several times he invited me to go along with him on his shows, and we would sit backstage and have long conversations about magic and mentalism.

As I look back on these visits, I realize how lucky I was. In those days, Mr. Dunninger was not that fond of magicians, and rightly so, as many so called magicians were writing articles exposing his methods and screaming to press and public that his powers were not for real, and that he was just a magician. Why they did this I will never know, as Dunninger made this very same disclaimer part of his opening speech. None the less, they plagued him constantly, much in the same manner that my friend Kreskin is plagued today by the same kind of jealousy.

Quite a few years after our first meeting, he was working a full week in the Detroit area. By this time I was managing the ABBOTT store in Detroit, and he used to drop in every day. One day I told him I had a new original trick which I had named "Dunninger-Outdone" and that I would like to show it to him.

I spread a deck of cards on the counter and had him select one, then I asked him to call my mother at home and ask her in his own words to name his card. It worked, and since it obviously WAS NOT a force, he became intrigued by it.

I showed him this effect once a day for his entire stay in Detroit, and each day he would leave the store shaking his head in wonder.

On his last day in town I asked if he would like to see how I fooled him.

"Of course" he said, "I thought you would never ask!"

I then explained the "super swindle" of the ages.

I had used three assistants to help me fool him. Charlie Worpell stood beside him at the counter. Mickey Ostaski (now O'Malley) stood in the doorway the shop, and Roy Kissell was across the street from the shop in a telephone booth near the window where he had my mother on the telephone.

As Joe selected the card, Charlie would see it also, and hold up fingers so Mickey (in the doorway) would know what it was. Mickey would then mark the value and suit of the card with a big black crayon on a piece of showcard and hold it up so Roy (across the street in the phone booth) could see it. Roy would then tell mom what it was and hang up. This left the line free so that when Joe called mom, she would answer the phone and name his card.

I thought he was going to kill me when he found how he had been "had"! These are just a couple of the personal memories I have of the man Joseph Dunninger. A pioneer performer who was the first to bring big time mentalism to radio, television, and thru his performances, to the general public. You'll be greatly missed Mr. Dunninger, by your public, your profession, and your friends, of which I feel privileged to have been one...



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