Dai Vernon: The Man Who Fooled Houdini

Dai Vernon

Dai Vernon’s birth name was David Frederick Wingfield Verner.  He was born on June 11th, 1894 in Ottawa, Canada. Vernon was known for his sleight of hand technique especially with card tricks and close-up magic.  His extensive knowledge of magic gave him the ability to mentor other magicians and earned him the nickname “The Professor”. Vernon died on August 21st, 1992 in Ramona, California at the age of 98.

Early Life

Dai Vernon became interested in magic at the age of seven after his father took him to a magic show. He learned his first trick from his father who was an amateur magician. He soon began learning on his own from books like Expert at the Card Table, by S. W. Erdnase. Vernon mastered the contents of this book by the time he was 13.

Vernon attended the Royal Military College of Canada where he studied Mechanical Engineering. It was while in college he decided he wanted to be a professional magician. So, after completing college he moved to New York City.

Early Career

To pay the bills Vernon worked as a silhouettist, cutting custom silhouette portraits, at Coney Island in New Jersey. This allowed him to earn enough to pursue magic as a hobby in the 1920s and ’30s.

In New York City, Dai Vernon met with other magicians in a back room at Clyde Powers’ Magic Shop. The magic circle in New York included magicians Nate Leipzig, Dr. James Elliot, and Harry Kellar. It was through his work with others that he became respected among magicians.

Vernon spent several years traveling the United States looking for card cheats and card mechanics who could teach him more about sleight of hand. This led him to become innovative and knowledgeable in the area of advanced card handling techniques.

Fooling Houdini

Dai Vernon developed an Ambitious Card routine that was second to none. Vernon showed the trick to Harry Houdini who immediately asked him to do it again. Houdini watched the trick seven times, each time asking that it be repeated. Finally, Houdini’s wife interjected, “Face it, Houdini, you’re fooled!” Vernon capitalized on the moment by later billing himself as The Man Who Fooled Houdini.

Magical Innovator

Vernon is credited with creating many close-up effects that have become “standards” in magic. He developed the popular Cups and Balls routine still used by magicians today. Also, the “Symphony of the Rings” which he created using six steel rings is the most popular Chinese Linking Ring routine to this day.

Dai Vernon toured the Philippines as an entertainer during World War II as a member of the United Service Organization. He also performed in nightclubs and on cruise ships. But his most memorable performances were at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, California.  He spent the last 30 years of his life there as a Magician-in-Residence.

Awards and Honors

On May 14th, 1976 Vernon received the key to the city of Worcester. In March 1986, he was recognized by Siegfried & Roy at the Desert Magic Seminar for his lifetime achievements in magic.  After his death in 1992, Dai Vernon’s cremated ashes were placed on display in the Magic Castle along with photos and memorabilia from his life in magic.

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