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Magicians Wish Fox Special Would Vanish

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It may be tricky, but a coalition of angry magicians is trying to make Fox’s latest magic special disappear.

More than 1,000 magicians--including the Society of American Magicians, the International Brotherhood of Magicians and the Hollywood Magic Castle and Academy of Magical Arts--claim that Fox and its series of magic-explaining specials have turned the art of illusion into disillusion for magic practitioners and fans while threatening the careers of some magicians by revealing secrets behind their magic tricks.

In anticipation of Tuesday’s “Breaking the Magician’s Code: Magic’s Biggest Secrets Revealed No. 3,” in which a series of new tricks will be exposed, the coalition is taking on the network, filing legal action, urging a viewer boycott and criticizing the reputation of the program’s host, dubbed the Masked Magician, who exposes the secrets behind magic tricks while wearing a costume that hides his face.

In a grass-roots effort to combat the specials, the coalition is organizing free magic shows at schools, hospitals or other public venues around the country on Tuesday at 8 p.m. to lure viewers from their television sets when the program airs.

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They are also becoming more vocal in denouncing the Masked Magician, whom they identify as Valentino, a Las Vegas-based magician. Valentino has neither confirmed nor denied that he is the Masked Magician.

Since the high-rated specials started airing last November, coalition leaders said, some magicians have lost jobs or have had to eliminate some of their more elaborate illusions. And younger magicians who perform tricks that have appeared on the specials have been ridiculed by friends, they maintain.

Fox, in the meantime, continues to defend the specials, which are preceded by a warning telling viewers that they should not watch if they do not want to know how tricks are performed.

Although many higher-level magicians downplay the influence of the programs and say magic is as popular as ever, others contend that the Fox shows will have a potentially catastrophic effect on the future of magic by ruining the sense of wonder and mystery that surrounds magic.

“This has been devastating to many magicians,” said Erika Larsen, editor of Genii, a magazine for magicians. “It is destroying their livelihood.”

Added Fran Willard, a magician who is also part of a mind-reading act: “It’s incomprehensible that Fox is doing this in the name of greed. TV and magic are all part of entertainment, but now the entertainment industry is turning on its own. They’re trying to destroy us.”

Magician Andre Cole, a designer of major illusions, went to court in Los Angeles this week seeking to prevent Fox from broadcasting the secret behind his patented Table of Death. His request for a temporary restraining order was denied Wednesday, but Cole is appealing the decision.

On Wednesday night, at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, several performers ridiculed the Fox programs.

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In the main performing arena, Jonathan Pendragon of the magic duo called the Pendragons asked the audience how many had seen the specials. There was a smattering of applause.

“Those specials mislead you,” Pendragon said. “They make you assume that all you care about is secrets.” Secrets are important, he explained, but what’s more important is the complete performance--creating an air of mystery. He then performed a trick with linking rings, one of the feats revealed on the first “Breaking the Magician’s Code.”

After his performance, Pendragon said in an interview, “Where this really hurts is with young people, when the secret is all they’ve got. It’s like destroying Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. I find these specials pathetic. It’s easy to destroy. It’s not that easy to create.”

Glenn J. Falkenstein, a member of the board of directors for the Magic Castle, a private club that features dining and magic performances, said that attendance remains as high as ever and that audiences are still largely appreciative. But he still denounced the specials.

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“Many of the major magicians have said, ‘Leave it alone, they will go away.’ But I see it as being like the Titanic. They said it was unsinkable.”

Veteran magician Chuck Jones added, “This has not affected me personally. But I worry about the amateur magicians who spend $1,000 or so on one prop, and then it’s exposed on these specials. Now they can’t use it anymore.”

But some audience members who had watched the specials said they remain enchanted by magic.

“It’s still amazing to me,” said Rameil Babanejad, 32, of Burbank, who was at the Castle for the first time. “I watched the first special, then I thought I really don’t want to know how it’s done. What matters is the beauty of how they do it.”

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