Developing Daley: Chapter 1

TOC | Back | Next: Chapter 2

 History of the Plot

GIVEN its name, you may be surprised to learn that the plot didn't originate with Dr Jacob Daley. In 1946, Arthur Buckley published a trick called “Color Memory”. The routine has the same plot as Daley's Last Trick but uses a different method; this was more than ten years before “The Last Trick of Dr. Jacob Daley” saw print. Many other magicians also released versions of the trick before 1957, including such magical luminaries as Milbourne Christopher, Al Leech and Ed Marlo.

The effect of the two black Aces transposing with the two red Aces didn’t appear overnight; it came about over several years. One of the earliest precursors to Dr Daley’s Last Trick is an anonymous contribution to Floyd Thayer’s The Magical Bulletin, Vol. 5 No.11 (Nov. 1917). The trick uses two Kings and Queens rather than the four Aces. Significantly, only two of the four cards change places. The magician takes a King and a Queen, leaving the other King and Queen on the table. After a magical moment, the performer reveals that he holds both Kings—the Queens are found on the table. While this is a two-card transposition at heart, the use of two pairs makes it feel very similar in effect to Dr Daley’s Last Trick.

In 1925, Willie Johnson included the red and black transposition in a multi-phase routine called “The Changing Aces” (The Sphinx, Vol. 24 No. 3, May 1925, p. 96). His approach was less direct than later handlings: the Aces start in alternating order (red, black, red, black). Then, after the magical moment, they are in black, red, black, red order. Clarity was added to the transposition when Eugene Parshall physically separated the two pairs (in this case, the red Tens from the black ones). However, the method was convoluted, utilising two duplicates and two handkerchiefs to effect the transposition. See “Easy Transposition” in The Sphinx (Vol. 27 No. 12, Feb. 1929, p. 571).

R. W. Hull appears to be the first magician to publish a transposition of the red and Black Aces using a Double Lift and a Glide, albeit in the context of another trick (the Jack of Spades, previously lost in the pack, ends up sandwiched between two of the Aces). See “Diamond Thieves and Blackmailers” in More Eye-Openers (1933, p. 5).

Finally, H. Adrian Smith published a version of the transposition without the supplementary sandwich effect. His method uses two Double Lifts, which is how the trick is most commonly performed nowadays. See “The ‘Four’ Ace Trick” in The Sphinx (Vol. 36 No. 2, Apr. 1937, p. 41).

In 1948, Milbourne Christopher’s handling of the plot, using a single Double Lift and the Glide, was published as “Christopher’s Red and Black Aces” in the Tarbell Course in Magic (Vol. 5, 1948, p. 129). This version inspired Ed Marlo to devise a variety of handlings that avoided using the Glide. See “No Glide Aces”, “No Glide Aces; Second Method”, and “No Glide Aces; Bluff Method” in The Cardician (1953, p. 106).

“The Last Trick of Dr. Jacob Daley” was published posthumously in The Dai Vernon Book of Magic in 1957. The book mentions that fellow magician Bill Simon suggested the theme for the trick that Daley apparently perfected during the last few weeks of his life. However, it has been suggested that he was performing this trick as far back as the early 1950s. Either way, it is clear that Daley was late to the table regarding this particular effect. So, if Jacob Daley wasn't the first to publish the trick, why is the plot synonymous with his name? This is due to a popular myth that spread like wildfire after his unexpected death.

On the 17th of February in 1954, Dr Daley finished a performance at the Art Directors Club in New York City. He was booked to perform alongside other well-known magicians of the time. Unfortunately, as the Doctor took his seat amid the applause for his performance, he collapsed. Even though he received medical attention immediately, Dr Jacob Daley died. Later, it was revealed that he had been suffering from a heart condition for several years.

Many magicians will tell you that this was the last trick he performed before he died. This is not true. It's an urban myth—a product of Chinese whispers propagated by ill-informed magicians. Before he died, the last trick he performed was not a simple transposition of the red and black Aces. Instead, it was “The Cavorting Aces” or, more likely, a personal version of Dai Vernon's “The Travellers” plot. (Nobody seems sure which of these was his last. I would hazard a guess that it was “The Travellers”. Producing the Aces from four separate pockets appears to be a more suitable way to finish.)

Daley developed the effect we now identify as his last during the last weeks of his life. He demonstrated it to his close friend and confident Dai Vernon. Vernon included the trick in his book The Dai Vernon Book of Magic. He called it “The Last Trick of Dr. Jacob Daley” as a posthumous tribute to his dear friend. Therefore, the title refers to the fact that this was the last trick he developed, not the last one he performed. So it turns out that this mass misunderstanding is all Vernon's fault! But I'm glad he named the trick as he did; I'm sure it wouldn't be as popular today if it weren't for the associated legend.

So, who was Jacob Daley? He was born on the 26th of March 1897 in Russia. His family emigrated to America when he was three years old. Some early sources dispute this fact and assert that he was born in New York City, not Russia; this seems to have been a mistake because Dr Daley said he was born in Russia during an interview in 1953.

Jacob attended the Fordham University School of Medicine. He graduated in 1920. Daley also joined the Student Army Training Corps and was eventually honourably discharged from his post. After his medical internship, he specialised in ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) and plastic surgery.

Daley had a long and illustrious career as a doctor. He was the founder and former president of the American Otolaryngologic Society for Plastic Surgery and was a diplomate of the American Board of Otolaryngology. He was also a member of the American Academy of Plastic Surgery and the New York County Medical Society.

Before he developed an interest in magic, Daley was involved in the world of theatre. He was the official otolaryngologist for the Theatrical Alliance. He also worked with the National Vaudeville Artists' ward at the French Hospital.

Dr Jacob Daley got his start in magic comparatively late in life when, in 1932, he met Dr Henry K. Falk. Henry was a keen amateur magician who possessed smooth skills with the pasteboards. Daley then met one of the early pioneers of close-up magic with everyday objects—Nate Leipzig. (Mr Leipzig would later become one of Daley's greatest sources of inspiration.) By this point, the magic bug had well and truly bitten the thirty-five-year-old doctor. He set about reading every important book on the subject available at the time, including such classics as Stanyon's Magic, Mahatma, and Sach's Sleight Of Hand. His favourite book was The Expert at the Card Table, written by the mysterious author S.W. Erdnase.

He soon became as accomplished with the magician's wand as he was with the surgeon's scalpel. He chose to specialise in cards, cups and balls, linking rings and pure sleight of hand. He also developed a keen interest in miniature photography.

The Doctor was a serious scholar of magic and a dedicated student of misdirection:

“Sleight of hand without misdirection is like good food prepared without seasoning. A natural mannerism of your own origination, suiting your personality is the best type of misdirection.”

— Dr Jacob Daley

He also had a deep respect for past masters of magic, such as Johann Nepomuk Hofzinser. Daley was a perfectionist. He went so far as to cut a permanent crease into the skin of his left thumb with a scalpel so that he could perform flawless double push-offs! Jacob was only satisfied with an effect when the mechanics were second nature. But he also made sure that the presentation for every one of his tricks was fully developed. In the hands of a skilled performer, Jacob Daley considered magic to be an art form of the highest order, as the following quote demonstrates:

“Magic is essentially an art—not a craft. To be a true artist, a good knowledge and understanding of the basic principles of magic is of paramount importance. Learn from others, listen to what they say. No matter how unimportant you may think they are. Don't be smug and satisfied: and don't be ashamed to admit when you are fooled. And finally, every participant in magic should try to make an original contribution, regardless of how insignificant it may seem.”

— Dr Jacob Daley

In the short span of twenty years, he became admired by his contemporaries the world over. He was friends with many members of the East Coast magic set; this included Dai Vernon, Al Baker, Sam Horowitz, Arthur Finley, Charlie Miller and Paul Fox. Daley also made many significant contributions to the literature of magic. These include his rising card handling in Greater Magic, the chapter on the side steal in the Second Edition of Expert Card Technique, and his tricks in the Stars of Magic series.

Dr Daley also made many original contributions to popular periodicals of the time, including magazines like The Jinx, Genii Magazine and The Sphinx. He also authored an in-depth analysis of Tony Slydini's revolutionary lapping technique. As well as this, he wrote up the instructions for the trick "Royal Monte" by his close friend Dai Vernon. (He took the photographic illustrations that accompanied these two manuscripts as well.)

As already mentioned, some of his best magic can be found in the Stars of Magic series. These include “Cards Up the Sleeve”, “Itinerant Pasteboards”, and the “Cavorting Aces”. Although not easy to learn, they are definitely worth the effort once mastered.

By the time of his death, not only was he a well-respected plastic surgeon, he was also considered one of the world's greatest proponents of pure sleight of hand.

TOC | Back | Next: Chapter 2