Magician makes self appear on a wintry night in Baltimore


January 28, 1992|By Kim Clark

There were about three dozen of them in the audience, and many had names like The Great Josini, Kenzo, or Nomlas the Magnificent.

But Darwin Ortiz, just plain Darwin Ortiz, wasn't daunted when he stood up before them in the tiny theater above a magic shop on South Charles Street.

Mr. Ortiz, author of one of the standard books on card tricks and adviser to casinos worldwide, had come to Baltimore to reveal his secrets to a group of local magicians.

Before the show began, the trim dark-haired man with a thin, black mustache and a skull-shaped tie pin revealed his first secret: a truly professional magician doesn't need to dress up his name with a title like "The Mysterious" or "The Wizard."

Then, as Mr. Ortiz stood behind the red-draped card table, he rolled up the sleeves of his black suit and revealed another secret: Always, always roll up your sleeves before doing card tricks.

People always think magicians stuff extra cards up their sleeves, but they don't. So you may as well prove your wrists are clean, he said.

As the snow shimmered downward Saturday night, Mr. Ortiz, a Washington, D.C.-based card trickster, dazzled and taught the men, women and children sitting and standing on red bridge chairs. Some fiddled with decks of cards trying to follow Mr. Ortiz's movements. Others scribbled notes in note pads.

Once each month, Ken Horsman (who performs as Kenzo) brings a working magician into the theater above his Kenzo's Magic Studio, and invites customers and local magicians to learn the mysteries of the art.

The magicians in the audience said they attend the monthly lectures because there aren't many places the devotees of magic can see each other or their art any more.

A few clubs and restaurants have magicians perform occasionally, but the full-time magic clubs in the area have disappeared.

It's actually easier to get lecture bookings than club dates these days, Mr. Ortiz said.

But many in the audience are confident that magic will return to popularity.

Cy Keller, a 64-year-old banker for First National Bank in Baltimore who uses his real name when he performs, took in the lecture because he is preparing to retire from banking and take his magic show on the road.

"I have to keep up with things," he said. "Magic is coming back," he predicted.

Though Mr. Ortiz had been delayed an hour by the snow, members of the audience were not annoyed. They had made balloon animals for each other and practiced pulling cards from thin air.

Mr. Horsman showed off a picture of him and his wife in clown gear flanking Tom Selleck.

"That's me in the middle," he said, testing the audience's gullibility.

When Mr. Ortiz finally arrived, he spent the first hour working to approving "Ahs" as he turned twos of clubs into nines of diamonds, made a four of hearts vanish and reappear in a zippered wallet, and reincarnated a torn-up four of diamonds.

During the intermission, Mr. Ortiz pitched copies of his books on card tricks, and audience members shouted out praise of them. "A great book," one man yelled.

"Unsolicited endorsements. What a crowd," Mr. Ortiz said.

Han Oh, a senior at the University of Maryland at College Park who does magic tricks for his friends, explained that those interested in magic make up a family.

"Everybody knows who is the very best. And the very best al know each other," he said.

After the break, Mr. Ortiz spent the next hour on the stuf everyone had paid to learn: the secrets.

Though there were a couple of children in the audience, th lecture was clearly designed for initiates.

"You do a wrist kill and then a cover pass," Mr. Ortiz said, adding that one particular trick needs a Himber wallet and a gaff card.

For one trick, the magician must make sure that one particular card shows up eighth from the top in the shuffle.

How do you do that, someone from the audience asked.

"Two fours," Mr. Ortiz explained.


And when you play three card monte (a game common to street gamblers in which two black cards and one red card are mixed up in order to confuse a bettor) always bend then straighten each of the four corners of the three cards, Mr. Ortiz said.

That way, you can tell the victim you'll do him a favor by folding up a corner on the red card, then fool him by using sleight of hand to bend the red card's corner down and bending up a corner on a black card.

Mr. Ortiz said he didn't mind giving up his secrets, because no matter how well he explains them, it will still take beginners at least a year of work to develop the sleight of hand technique to fool an audience.

"The secret is me, and that is something nobody can steal," he said.

After it was all over, Joe Smith, who performs as The Great Josini, shook his head in wonder.

Mr. Smith has been working as a magician for 17 years and has scraped a living together by passing hats at bars, doing a warm-up act at strip joints on The Block, and performing for parties.

Though he's worked his way up to gigs of $300 an hour, even he left with a few new tricks. From now on, he'll roll up his sleeves, he said.

Mr. Horsman says he keeps the lecturers coming even though the events are a break-even proposition for him. It brings magicians into his shop, and they often leave with a new $30 coin trick, or a $45 how-to video.

Besides, he uses the pointers himself. Mr. Horsman, a native of Locust Point who was voted "Class Clown" by Southern High School, retired three years ago from the clown crew of Barnum & Bailey, Ringling Bros. Circus and now performs regularly besides running his magic and party stores.

"There is a need for magic," in Baltimore, Mr. Horsman said.

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