Bruce Cervon

(June 20, 1941 – May 24, 2007)

Bruce Cervon, one of the world’s most respected practitioners of sleight-of-hand card magic and expert entertainer, has died in Ventura, California at the age of 65.

Born Andrew Bruce Cernava in Akron, Ohio, on June 20, 1941, Bruce became interested in magic at the age of seven, when his father brought home an armload of used books, among them a volume on magic which fascinated the boy. As he grew older, he began performing professionally at fairs and outdoor shows throughout Ohio and for various civic clubs throughout the Midwest. He appeared on WOSU-TV, the PBS affiliate in Columbus, in a series of shows on the history of magic.

Once the Magic Castle opened in Hollywood in 1963, Bruce was at the forefront of a wave of talented performers who migrated west to study with the legendary magician known among magic insiders as “the Professor,” Dai Vernon. The result of the concentration of magical artists at the Magic Castle in the early 1960s was the birth of a new style of magical performance which combined gambler’s sleight-of-hand methods with classic misdirection and conjuring plots, today known as “close-up magic.” Bruce meticulously recorded the recollections and methodology of Vernon, workshopping the techniques with his fellow magicians. He later distilled these sessions into a four-volume study of Vernon and his magic, written with Stephen Minch, called “The Vernon Chronicles.” His other published works for magicians include “The Cervon Files,” “Ultra Cervon” and “Bruce Cervon’s Hard-Boiled Mysteries.”

After moving to California, Bruce became an in-demand entertainer for top corporations and high profile celebrity parties, where his outgoing personality and flawless technique continually baffled his superstar audiences. He performed frequently for such notables as Cary Grant, Orson Welles, Jack Benny, Bette Davis, Rosalind Russell, Gregory Peck, Jimmy Stewart and Elvis Presley. He was Johnny Carson’s personal selection for the annual “Tonight Show” party, and entertained so many stars over the years that he became known as the “Beverly Hills Magician.” Bruce also appeared on every major talk show on television during the 1960s and 70s, and consulted or performed in countless commercials.

Creator of hundreds of magic tricks and author of more than thirty books and articles on the art of card conjuring, Bruce was the recipient of the Performing Fellowship from the Academy of Magical Arts, Inc. (The Magic Castle) in 1999. His fellow magicians also awarded him “Lecturer of the Year” in 1970 and “Close-Up Magician of the Year” awards in 1972 and 1975, along with 21 other award nominations. Dai Vernon himself praised Bruce by saying, “I would place him right at the top with the other ‘greats’ in magic.”

Bruce Cervon was a member of the Board of Directors of the Academy of Magical Arts from 1976 to 2004 and also served the Academy as Chairman of the Board of Trustees. He was also a member of the Screen Actors Guild, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the American Guild of Variety Artists, the U.K.’s Magic Circle and the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels.

He is survived by his wife of 33 years, Linda, and daughters Kellee, Marcella, and granddaughter Eloise, sister Joyce, brother Gary, his 90-year-old mother Helen, and thousands of friends and conjuring comrades at the Magic Castle and throughout the world.

No funeral services are planned. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Dai Vernon Fund, c/o The Magic Castle, 7001 Franklin Avenue, Hollywood, California 90028 and to The American Cancer Society.

Video of Bruce at "The Ron Bauer" web site

There are a few videos of Bruce on YouTube

From Magician Rich Cowley (April 2008):

If you're going to the Academy of Magical Arts Banquet this week, I hope you like Bruce's section of the "Aloha" video I built.
If you're not going to the banquet, you can see a low-resolution edition of the video at: Google Video (Link no longer available)

Article from Linking Ring Magazine:

Bruce Cervon: The King of Cool.
by Nick Lewin, June 1, 2007

Magic has suffered a huge loss with the death of Bruce Cervon: not just the loss of one of our finest and most influential performer/thinkers but a great deal more. His intense love of magic was so deeply ingrained in his performance that even a lay audience knew they were seeing something very special.

The many layers of Bruce Cervon wrapped up truly unique person. The term ‘A scholar and a gentleman’ is tossed around a great deal and often used in a joking manner but with Bruce it comes close to getting to the heart of this surprisingly shy man.

When I first met Bruce Cervon, in the 70’s I found him just a little intimidating. For a start there was his act; which was about as perfect as any close-up I had ever seen. Then there was the classic Cervon cool. He pretty much made Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry look like an awkward high school kid. I was therefore pleased when I was booked to perform with him at a promotional event in a Los Angeles saving and loan bank. It seemed to be a splendid chance to get to know him a little bit.

When I arrived at the gig I was surprised to discover that Bruce was not performing close up magic at the show but was hosting and performing in the stage show. The opening of the show featured two dancing assistants who flourished silks that turned into canes as they shouted, “Here’s Bruce Cervon” and there he was.

To my surprise Bruce was a superb stand up performer. Not only did he perform a couple of illusions, but he also floored me with one of the most commercial comedic stand up routines I had ever seen. The effect he performed was a slick blend of the 6 Card Repeat/Cards to Pocket. I consider his hybrid of these two classic tricks to be a gem of contemporary magic.

His performance also featured a variation on the Kapps notes that seemed totally impossible to me-- and I had learned the trick from Fred Kapps himself. The changing of the paper to bills was instantaneous and totally impossible. It just blew my mind. To be honest I still have no idea how he did that trick but that’s Bruce Cervon for you, as close to perfection as any magician ever needed to be.

During the course of the afternoon Bruce and I began to chat and we discovered that we had a mutual interest in music and our rather extensive record collections. Bruce suggested I drop by one afternoon to explore the gems in his collection. I happily agreed.

I ended up spending quite a few afternoons at Bruce’s home and enjoyed listening to his erudite and entertaining run down of American popular music. One thing the two of us never did was talk about magic. I guess many people lucky enough to spend time with Bruce would dream of coming away with a new double lift. I was overjoyed to leave his home having discovered Mose Allison. The album of Mose that Bruce gave me is still in my collection along with many others I have acquired over the years.

A few months later I was booked on another ‘Savings & Loan’ show with Bruce but this time we were joined by Scottish master magician Ron Wilson. I told Ron about the mysterious manner in which Bruce could perform the Blank Paper to Dollar Bills without any of the usual folding or covering of the paper. I was determined to discover how it was accomplished this time.

When Bruce performed the trick Ron and I were both watching intently. He fooled us both completely. There were six more shows and Ron and I managed to watch the trick six more times from six different angles and positions. We went up to the second floor of the bank building and watched, we stayed backstage and watched from behind. However by the end of the engagement we were no wiser to Bruce’s methods.

Much of my previous words are taken from an article I wrote last year for my weekly column ‘Meetings With Remarkable Magicians’ in the Magic New Zealand ezine. I usually get a lively email response from my pieces and I always look forward to reading the notes I receive. I often learn a great deal from them.

I was particularly pleased at a note I received from Bruce in which he said he always read my pieces and had enjoyed my column about him. Other emails filled my Earthlink inbox and were something of an eye opener to me.

Magicians from all over the world wanted to share their stories about Bruce. Most of the people writing were not the high flying and famous magicians we see on the covers of magic magazines. These were the magic lovers who fly low enough in the magic world that they escape the radar. In fact some of them flew so low under the fame radar that they probably stopped at traffic lights.

These emails had a great deal in common. They were all from true lovers of magic and they all seemed to tell the same story.

They came from people who had been truly touched by the sincere way that Bruce had interacted with them. These magical enthusiasts and hobbyists spoke of times when Bruce had taken the time to share his time and knowledge with them. To their amazement this legitimate superstar of magic had gone out of his way to make himself available to them.

Each story was a little different. Sometimes it was when Bruce would sit down and take the time to really teach them a routine or a move. Some people had stories that touched on the other facets of Bruce such as his love of music. Each person had been lifted to a new height by the way Bruce had generously shared his time.

As I read those emails I received I wondered how many other times similar incidents must have occurred. I would guess it was a very large number indeed. Here is someone who truly loved magic and the people who performed it. Cervon not only devoted his time to magic but also to the people who performed it,

Over the years my wife Susan and I were lucky enough to get to know Bruce and Linda Cervon and their daughters Kellee & Marcella a little bit. I never asked Bruce to teach me the ‘work’ on the Kapps Notes. He taught me a lot of other things though such as balancing work and family and not giving short shift to either one; and that is the real ‘real work.’

Bruce also introduced me to Mose Allison and eating a Monte Christo sandwich covered with jelly: for this and more I am very grateful.

by Mark Nelson and Joan Lawton, from MAGIC Magazine, July 2007:

One of the world's most respected practitioners of sleight-of-hand card magic, Bruce Cervon, died May 24 in Ventura, California at the age of 65.

He was born Bruce Cernava in Akron, Ohio, on June 20, 1941, and became interested in magic at the age of seven. As he grew older, he began performing professionally at fairs and outdoor shows throughout Ohio and for various civic clubs throughout the Midwest.

He came to The Magic Castle at the age of 23, following his friend and fellow magician Larry Jennings on a magical pilgrimage after Dal Vernon settled in California. Bruce and Larry had gravitated toward each other earlier at a magic convention and found themselves to be the only two people there who were "serious" about magic. After Larry moved to LA, he wrote these words to Bruce: "Vernon's here and he's in his seventies. He's not going to last much longer."

Bruce said in an interview, "I thought it was true and that I might never get a chance to meet him. I sold everything I owned, packed up the car, and started to drive."

Bruce spent the better part of the next decade tilling fourteen binders (the legendary Castle Notebooks) with everything Dal Vernon had to say about the art of magic. Bruce and Jennings later turned those notebooks into The Vernon Chronicles, a four-volume study of Vernon and his magic, written with Stephen Minch. Bruce's other works included The Black and White Trick, The Cervon Files, Ultra Cervon, and Bruce Cervon's Hard Boiled Mysteries.

Once in California, Bruce became an entertainer for corporations, trade shows, celebrity parties, and royalty. He appeared on major talk shows on television and consulted or performed in commercials.

Nominated 21 times for awards by the Academy of Magical Arts, Bruce was the recipient of the Performing Fellowship in 1999. He was also awarded Lecturer of the Year in 1970 and Close-Up Magician of the Year awards in 1972 and 1975. He was elected to the Academy of Magical Arts Board of Directors in 1976 and served in that capacity until 2004, at which time he became the club's Chief Magical Officer. He was an avid collector and knowledgeable expert on vintage comics, movies, and old time radio.

Vernon once praised Bruce by saying, "I would place him right at the top with the other greats in magic." After suffering with a sore throat for several weeks, Bruce was diagnosed with throat cancer in September of 2006. He is survived by his wife of 33 years, Linda, and daughters Kellee and Marcella, his sister Joyce, his brother Gary, his 90-year-old mother Helen, and granddaughter Eloise.

by Jon Racherbaumer, GENII Magazine, July 2007:

I always believed that Bruce would be the last man (of our generation) standing. He consistently conveyed a stable, cocksure durability, impervious to the ravages of time. Somehow, some way, he kept on ticking, clicking, ticking off, and tap dancing on edges, cutting and otherwise. He was one of the supreme players in our Magic Game and, until recently, even seemed on his way to overcoming his illness. So, needless to say, finding sufficient, summarizing words is difficult. Maybe these snap-shots will suffice?

I met Bruce at the beginning of the '70s when we were about to reach the age when "you could not be trusted." I liked him immediately because he talked the way Steranko looked in his sax-playing, come-hither James-Deany days. Back then, Bruce was an outspoken boundary-crosser, a seventh son, a precocious trickster (as in myth), looking for rubs to rub. First-blush impressions (of him), especially when he performed, were usually wrong. But his magic was never dull, was superbly executed, and was usually deeply deceptive. Because his behavior was so evocative and provocative, interpretations varied, but ultimately you detected his abiding love of magic. Even then he shared it in large and small ways sometimes being as ingratiating as Mister-Rogers-on-a-Monday, other times downright irritating. Will Rogers, had he been around to do so, would have kicked him in the shins.

There is of course a benefit and privilege in knowing and interacting with someone for over three decades, especially if that person was a coeval comrade. Bruce and I were cautious comrades, and we came of age during the same era. We knew the same people. We read the same magic books (practically all of them) and we loved '50s rock-and-roll, identifying with its energy, irreverence, rebelliousness and power to intimidate. We also (as did Jennings) cut our teeth on MarIo's revolutionary card techniques. If we had rocked and rolled in the same towns we would have been chummy cronies. As it turned out over the long haul, our relationship was spared the pitfalls of protracted close encounters. Instead it was progressively forged by what we wrote (mostly in letters) and what we contributed to magazines. We were epistolary partners and played in the same novel, ongoing, creative matrix. Although we lived apart, we connected in peaceable ways, and our collegial relationship comfortably ebbed and flowed like a tide; our essential simpatico never wavered. This was a good thing.

Most magicians by now know Bruce's storied background. In 1964, encouraged by an equally impetuous Larry Jennings, Bruce migrated to the magnetism that was the Castle. Dal Vernon ruled there, along with an amazing retinue of legends-in-the-making, a few vagrants of the Real Work, several renowned folk heroes, three or four aging Stars of Magic, a gaggle of very hip amateurs, and quite a few serious-minded scrubs. Regardless, make no mistake about it. The Professor was the central catalyst -- and for Bruce and Larry, a goading, inspirational mentor-in-the-middle with kibitzers such as Charlie Miller and Jay Ose on the sidelines. Initially, Bruce and Larry were yin-and-yang session-mates. The Professor was Yoda, who, despite having great affection for both, also mischievously recognized that creativity requires tension. So, Bruce and Larry took turns playing Cain and Abel. Yet, despite rifts and tiffs galore, a butting-heads synergy took place. As a result Bruce and Larry devised lots of magic and the hardcore cabal in and around The Castle directly benefited. So did the magic fraternity at large. It was a heady time. There was lots of creativity, lots of arguments, and much progress. Bruce kept me posted over the tears.

David Regal nailed it. He said that Bruce was always close to "the action." If anything significant was happening during the Golden Age of Close-up Magic, Bruce was there, a significant presence. He served on the board of the Castle as treasurer and secretary and his contributions made a difference. He also garnered lots of recognition in the '70s, winning prizes (Best AMA Close-up Magician twice, 1973, 1976, and Lecturer of the Year, 1971.) As a performer he did it all ... technical consultant in the film, television, and advertising industries. He appeared on top variety and interview shows, performed for Fortune 500 companies, and entertained many of the top Hollywood stars. And what always impressed me was the versatility of his expertise. He was not just a card guy. For example, his rendition of the "Linking Finger Rings" would have brought Al Koran to his knees. One minute he could effortlessly execute a daunting technique like the Free-Turn Pass and the next minute knock your socks off with a version of "Card Warp." While visiting me in New Orleans in 1990, he showed me his Cut-and-Restored Rope routine. Based on Bob Ellis's "Vishnu Rope Mystery," Bruce's handling, though pristinely straight-forward, fooled me. Afterward, I said: "That's too good to be tipped." Bruce grinned. "Maybe so," he said, "but it will probably remain buried. But I bet that dedicated students will find it." (See Ultra Cervon, pp.161-176.)

As mentioned earlier, Bruce and I primarily connected via the written word. The magic material generated in the '70s, '80s, and '90s was mind-expanding, and Bruce not only read, studied, and learned from this literature, he regularly contributed to it and influenced it. In short, he was a noisy, high-profile player, filled with pluck, ambition, energy, and hard-edged opinions. He was also fiercely competitive, a rebel of many causes, which explains (to me) his frequent bumptiousness, especially in the early days of The Castle's Golden Era. But consider the nature of that particular arena. Perhaps over-bearing self-assurance and pugnacious swagger were survival tools? Bruce was also a resolute student of our art. When it came to mastering anything, he applied a Slavic tenacity. Like Vernon, he loved to practice andeventually mastered the "work" with flair, certitude, and a slight strut ... like a retired rock-and-roller. It was fun to watch him when his killer-instinct was aroused and fast company edged closer. His chops then were undeniably deadly.

My personal meetings with Bruce were spaced out over the years and were happily one-on-one. Role-playing was put aside and something warmer and purer took its place. When this happened Bruce's enduring love of magic radiated from his hands and heart. It was heart-rending and magical to see him become the kid he once was, again playing with his Mysto Magic set. Deep down, Bruce was a lover, not a fighter. (Ask his wife and children.) Nevertheless, most of the time, it was hard to imagine him being lovable in the cuddly sense. But think about it! He adored Disney stuff, old-time radio, doo-wop music, golden-age comics, rock-a-billy music, and bad jokes. These things probably tempered and fed his softer side. Bruce was also a dedicated steward and conservator. He cared about preserving and promoting magic, expressing this in his writings. He wrote reams and reams of personal notes (The Castle Notebooks) and produced nine books-The Real Work (1976), The Cervon Monte (1984), The Cervon File (1987), The Black & White Trick and Other Assorted Mysteries (1989), Ultra Cervon (1990). More important, he put out the three volumes of The Vernon Chronic/es (1988-89) and co-edited (with Keith Burns) He Fooled Houdini: Dal Vernon, a Magical Life (1992). These landmark volumes significantly added to the Professor's oeuvre. It may be hard to believe, but more material remains to be unearthed, organized, and memorialized. (Bruce tantalizingly referred to his past productions as being "the tip of an iceberg.") There are apparently over a dozen notebooks of unpublished stuff still lying around, plus personal videotapes. I hope that a responsible, caring person will gather and add this material to Bruce's legacy.

I never met anyone who enjoyed life more than Bruce,and I suspect that his sustained contentment (aided by a loving wife and two daughters) accounted for his mellowing in later years. Old scores had been settled. Bruce became accessible and encouraging, and life, being short, was acknowledged as such. In fact, during a shared dinner at The Castle not long ago, we talked about the recent and distant past. We discussed departed friends and recalled good times and crazy moments. And we agreed that the "past" sometimes seems to gently cover us like a transparent shroud, warming and protecting us. All of the patterns and points that connect us to this glorified "past" now glimmer in the gloaming. At least that's the gist. (We were, after all, sipping wine.) Bruce finally put it this way: "We had fun--lots of it." And then in almost a whisper he acknowledged, "that glitter and glorification eventually passes away; everything does." Perhaps this is the reason he reveled so much in the present.

I'm now remembering Bruce's visit to New Orleans in the '70s. Walking through Jackson Square, fiddling with card moves and smoking cheap cigars, Bruce approached one of the mules that pull tour carriages through the French Quarter. He made a pressure fan under the nose of the mule, turned to me, and asked: "Think it's possible to force a card on a mule?"

Believe it or not, he tried. He came close: the mule licked the fan.

When I first learned that Bruce had lost his battle, I flashed on other "players" we have lost: Dal Vernon, Charlie Miller, Jay Ose, Al Goshman, Lou Derman, Francis Carlyle, Kuda Bux, Slydini, Don Lawton, Senator Crandall, Bill Larsen, Jules Lenier, Michael Skinner, Edward MarIo, Derek Dingle, Larry Jennings. The list is long and now Bruce's name has sadly been added.

My last meeting with Bruce took place near the W.C. Fields bar in The Castle. He was playing with a new trick and showed me three variations. This made me smile. There he sat-like a kid, still ticking, clicking, and tap dancing. This is a far cry from sitting alone in a room with a deck of cards, practicing, devising, cogitating, and feverishly taking notes. This is how I will remember him.

Perhaps now we should be consoled, knowing that the "game" never ends. It is, after all, an infinite game. Players are not. My old, cautious comrade was an incredible, dedicated player for over 60 years. Right now, however I'm seeing his spirit, still inspirited, still "close to the action," still energetically at work, not passing away, but alive within words, between the lines, still part of the infinite game.