restricted access 6. Magic, Invention, and Telluride
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185 6 Magic, Invention, and Telluride The early seventies saw the withdrawal of American movie capital from Britain and the beginning of a movement of British directors to the United States, where a new American cinema more attuned to the youth market was slowly emerging, with the old studios collapsing and becoming integrated into new conglomerates. At the end of his fifties, Endfield had felt discouraged by the failure of so many projects after the very successful Zulu. He regained something of his enthusiasm during the production of Universal Soldier, yet getting the film made and properly released was a struggle, and the response of critics and audiences was not encouraging. With the economic crisis in Britain in the first half of the seventies, it was becoming more difficult to put projects and financing together. Filmmaking remained as a strand of his life, but from the seventies onward other overlapping enthusiasms gained equal prominence. Magic was a continued interest, while the director increasingly turned to business ventures in invention, technology, and design.1 Card Magic While mastering card magic inevitably involved many hours of solitary practice, it also had a social dimension. Endfield was always a reluctant performer, but he maintained important links and correspondences with practitioners, young and old—those who shared the same interest in the challenges and debates of the fraternity. His pioneering inventions and published tricks had also earned him a place on the top table, so to speak. One long-term relationship, conducted via letters and occasional visits, was with Persi Diaconis, a man who combined a boyhood passion for card magic and a scholarly interest in mathematical and statistical 186 - Magic, Invention, and Telluride issues of probability and randomness. The two men conducted an occasional correspondence from 1964 until the director’s death, and they met on several occasions, mostly during Endfield’s visits to the United States. At the age of only fifteen Diaconis had dropped out of school and traveled for two years with the revered expert in sleight-of-hand magic Dai Vernon, who was performing magic shows. Endfield was at the time visiting Vernon, in 1959, and it was there, in New York, that he first met the young man, who was a third his age. The forty-year friendship that followed was based on the exchange of ideas on and detailed accounts of tricks, with the younger man keeping the older one abreast of new developments in the American magic scene. Vernon was a Canadian who had moved to New York by the time of the First World War and who became affectionately known as “The Professor” on account of his unrivaled knowledge and skill in the field. Vernon and Endfield had met in the late forties, and the expatriate later described him in print as “my dear friend, the professor, the non-pareil Dai Vernon.” Endfield was also in America in 1982 to help celebrate the master’s eightyeighth birthday.2 Diaconis first wrote to Endfield in 1964, and in the years that followed he dropped back into school with real seriousness, gaining a degree at the City College of New York and in 1974 a PhD from Harvard. He combined his interests in card and coin magic with the study of complex issues of statistical and mathematical probability and randomness, and began his academic career as an instructor at Stanford in the midseventies . A number of his letters (from the late sixties and throughout the seventies) include long and detailed explanations of particular card tricks and seek Endfield’s comments and thoughts. The letters are notable for the relative absence of references to life and times outside the discourse of close-up card magic—its method, narratives, and effects— and the people who use, inspire, or invent it. There are references to card men such as Vernon and the British close-up magician Alex Elmsley, while in one letter from New York in 1968 Diaconis writes of combining “mathematical principles with slight [sic] of hand into non-Math-type tricks,” while also reporting his recent work in tracing the bibliographical history of magic. In another he urged Endfield to catch up on his side of the correspondence, and he asked for examples of the older man’s renowned expertise and cutting-edge invention and skill to record for posterity: “You’re several letters behind, and if nothing else strikes your fancy you might write up your trick with 4 of a kind, placed with 4 Magic, Invention...