"NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON'T"
TORONTO LIFE'S PROFILE OF JOHN GIORDMAINE
(December 1969; author unknown.)
We were seated on John Giordmaine's living room sofa, in his cozy East York bungalow, and hadn't even exchanged names properly, when he said: "Tweak my ear."
Tweak! - and before you could say Jack Robinson, his pink bowtie lit up like neon. Then he cried "Look!" and pulled a foam-rubber rainbow trout from one vest pocket, an enormous pocket watch from another; then dived into his trousers pocket for a tiny change purse from which he extracted - are you ready for this? - a 12-inch knife (which, upon examination, proved to be an instrument of remarkably solid structure). Down into the pocket, and his hand suddenly emerged from the bottom of a trouser leg.
Thus goes a typically intriguing introduction to Toronto's "Merry Magician," John Giordmaine, a dapper Maltese who has delighted children and adults hereabouts for 50 years. Now 70, he can't even begin to count the performances under his belt, but he reckons that by 1932, he had done 2,000 shows - and he's still going strong. Having toured all the major cities of Canada, the U. S. and Europe, and entertained at command performances, children's benefits and the smartest Toronto parties, Giordmaine is content these days to entertain mostly at children's private parties. Children adore him - anyone who has been on Captain Kangeroo 14 times must be special indeed.
A skilled sleight-of-hand artist with a highly developed sense of comedy, Giordmaine specializes in the absurd visual gag, the now you see it now you don't manipulation of props and gadgets, and the colorful metamorphosis of such familar matter as fire, water and paper into exotic silk scarves and cuddly animals - everything executed with the lightning speed and startling unpredictability that only years of study and practice can bring. Although, he used hypnosis and illusion when he was younger, there is nothing of the mystic about John Giordmaine now. "I didn't like that kind of magic," he says with distaste. "It seemed like cheating."
When Giordmaine came to Canada in 1919, magic was simply a fascinating hobby - something that had thrilled him ever since he saw a magician perform in his native Malta when he was a small boy. In Toronto, he continued to pursue a career in electrical engineering and practise his magic on the side. An interest in music gave him the opportunity to display his considerable magical talents; when he was a flute player in an all-flute amateur orchestra, he used to put on magic shows during concert intermissions. "Finally" he says, "the orchestra leader told me I should do magic all the time, because I was certainly better at tricks than at music." Deciding to take this advice, Giordmaine commenced studies with Dr. Harlan Tarbell, a Chicago magician ranking with Houdini and Blackstone, whose fat tome of magic tricks is the Bible of magicians everywhere. To pass the course, Giordmaine had to memorize every one of its thousands of tricks.
In 1930, Eaton's invited him to set up a magic counter in their toy department, and there he worked until 1959, demonstrating and selling his own "Magic Trick Sets" at $1.95 apiece.
As Canada's top magician, and one who has gained admiration from colleagues all over the world, Giordmaine insists there is nothing miraculous about magic - magicians' tricks require careful preparation beforehand if they are to come off successfully. A man who can pluck golf balls out of the air with ease, who can make playing cards double in size or shrink to bits of confetti, who can gallantly turn a $1 bill into a book of matches to light your cigarette, Giordmaine performs all the standards with deft ease. No slouch either when it comes to innovation, he has even contributed one of his own inventions to Dr. Tarbell's book (the method of seemingly transferring an entire stamp collection from one album to another in an instant.)
Try to guess at how the simplest tricks are done, and chances are you'll be disappointed. Even inches away from the little magician's dazzling display, detection is well-nigh impossible. Try to persuade him to part with any of his secrets, and you'll be out of luck. True to the credo of his profession, Giordmaine won't tell you a thing. Reasonably, gently, he explains: "All the other magicians would be annoyed with me if I gave anything away. All the children would be sad too, because knowing how to do something takes all the fun out of it." Maddeningly he adds, "If you only knew how simple some of them are..."