Review: Dai Vernon, Genii Magazine

Dai Vernon: A Biography


Genii Magazine | July 2006

By Jamy Ian Swiss 


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“A detailed, humanizing portrait of a genius and the age that hailed him as its conquering hero.”


Excerpt from Genii Magazine

In DAI VERNON: A BIOGRAPHY, author David Ben introduces us to a new Vernon, one with whom virtually no reader will be more than superficially familiar with. In fact, within the pages of this volume, only three witnesses to the story are mentioned who are still alive today. Two of them are Vernon’s sons, Ted and Derek. For the moment, I will leave it to the readers to ponder the riddle of who the third might be.
How could there be a “new Vernon” in light of the fact that Dai vernon was the most influential and universally acclaimed sleight-oh-hand artist of the 20th century? How could there be a “new Vernon” when main retain among us who knew “The Professor” personally, some for decades?

The story described in this first of two planned volumes from Mr. Ben concludes in 1941, with the then 47-year old Vernon lying in the hospital, and doctors asking him for permission to amputate his gangrenous right arm. Two weeks before, Vernon had taken a job on a construction site, where an accident had plunged him six stories into the East River, thereby landing him in a hospital bed.

Vernon ended up keeping his arms – it is chilling to think of the alternative – and went on to live to the age of 98. Thanks to that longevity, most magicians alive today who knew Vernon personally did not in fact meet him until after 1941, and many didn’t meet him until decades later. Some met Vernon in New York while still in their youth. Many others came to know him when he moved to Los Angeles in 1963. And there are those who never met Vernon but know him from the writings of Lewis Ganson and Stephen Minch, or from video recordings including the Revelations series. But none of these people knew the Vernon who readers will discover in the pages of this book.

And so, the “new Vernon” to whom David Ben introduces us is, in fact, the historical Vernon – a new figure in the story of conjuring’s history. Some readers may find their first encounters with this figure comforting, others may find it challenging, as they compare him with the Vernon they know or think they know. And that comparison, will doubtless serve as fodder for much conversation in the months and perhaps years to come.