David Frederick Wingfield Verner
June 11, 1894
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
|Died||August 21, 1992 (aged 98)|
|Alma mater||Royal Military College of Canada|
|Spouse(s)||Eugenie "Jeanne" Hayes (1924-1992)|
Dai Vernon (pronounced alternatively as "DIE" or as "DAY" as in David) (June 11, 1894 – August 21, 1992), a.k.a. The Professor, was a Canadian magician. His sleight of hand technique and knowledge, particularly with card tricks and close-up magic, garnered him respect among fellow magicians, and he was a mentor to other magicians. He lived out his last years at Magic Castle, a nightclub in Hollywood, California.
Vernon was born in Ottawa as David Frederick Wingfield Verner. While performing, he often mentioned that he had learned his first trick from his father at age seven, adding wryly that he had "wasted the first 6 years" of his life. His father was a government worker and an amateur magician. Vernon studied mechanical engineering at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario, but by World War I he had moved to New York City.
Vernon first fell in love with magic when he was seven years old after his father took him to see a magic show. The first real magic book he owned was an early edition of The Expert at the Card Table, by S. W. Erdnase. By the time he was 13 he had memorized the contents of the book. He also had an encounter with another up-and-coming young magician from his town, Cliff Green, who asked Vernon, "What kind of magic do you do?" Vernon responded by asking the boy to name a card. Upon pulling a pack of cards from his pocket, Vernon turned over the top card of the deck to reveal the named card and replied to Green "That's the kind of magic I do. What kind of magic do you do?"
As a young man, Vernon moved to New York where, in the back room of Clyde Powers' magic shop, he found favor among other magicians of the era, including Dr. James William Elliott, Nate Leipzig, and Harry Kellar.
He began to use the first name "Dai" after a newspaper used the name in place of "David"; the paper actually was using the Welsh nickname for David. When Verner first moved to the United States, the male member of a popular ice-skating pair had the surname Vernon; Americans continually mistook Verner's last name to be the same as the popular ice skater, and eventually the magician became fed up with correcting people and simply adopted "Vernon" as well.
Owing to his knowledge of, and skill at, sleight of hand, Vernon has long been affectionately known as The Professor. Harry Houdini (who in his early years billed himself as "The King of Kards") often boasted that if he saw a card trick performed three times in a row he would be able to figure it out. Vernon then showed Houdini a trick where he removed the top card of the deck and placed it second from the top, then turned over the top card to again reveal the original card. Houdini watched Vernon do the trick seven times (some versions of the story say five times), each time insisting that Vernon "do it again." Finally, Houdini's wife and Vernon's friends said, "Face it, Houdini, you're fooled." For years afterward, Vernon used the title The Man Who Fooled Houdini in his advertisements.
Though respected by professional magicians nationwide due in part to publicity via the magazine The Sphinx, Vernon was essentially a gifted amateur until his 40s. Before the Magic Castle, Vernon never held a steady full-time job for more than a few months. He occasionally performed magic at nightclubs or on cruise ships to South America and back, and also toured the Philippines as an entertainer during WW2 with the United Service Organizations. His engineering degree was put to use as a sometime blueprint reader. However, Vernon's main source of income was cutting custom silhouette portraits, a talent that paid 25 to 50 cents per silhouette for about two minutes work during the 1920s and '30s. He had a friendly relationship with fellow Coney Island silhouettist E. J. Perry. A few hours a week cutting silhouettes was generally enough to support his family and finance his sleight of hand hobby (compare his silhouette fee with the first US minimum wage of 25 cents per hour in 1938). Vernon spent most of his early life traveling all over the United States of America looking for card cheats, and anyone who might know anything about sleight-of-hand with cards. He was famously under-credited for much of the work published in Jean Hugard and Frederick Braue's Expert Card Technique, though a later edition included an extra chapter which acknowledges Vernon's contributions. In fact, a huge portion of the sleight-of-hand had been discovered by Vernon over years of searching.
Among magicians, he is credited with inventing or improving many standard close-up effects with cards, coins, and other small items. The "standard" Cups and balls routine is his, and his 6-ring "Symphony of the Rings" remains one of the most popular Chinese linking rings routines in use to this day.
Vernon spent the last thirty years of his life as Magician-in-Residence and star attraction at The Magic Castle in Los Angeles, California. There he mentored the magicians Ricky Jay, Persi Diaconis, Doug Henning, Larry Jennings, Bruce Cervon, Michael Ammar, John Carney and Richard Turner.
In 1924, Vernon married Eugenie "Jeanne" Hayes, a magician's assistant. They had two sons, Theodore and Derek. The two lived separately by the 1950s, though they never formally divorced.
Dai Vernon died on August 21, 1992, in Ramona, County of San Diego, California. His body was cremated and the ashes were interred on a shelf, with magic memorabilia at the Magic Castle. The Findagrave website states that his cremains were returned to his family after the Magic Castle was renovated.
In November 2005, Karl Johnson wrote The Magician And The Cardsharp about Vernon's early days of tracking down a specific yet unknown cardsharp, who developed an undetectable false deal.
In June 2006, the first in-depth biography of Vernon was released by Squash Publishing entitled Dai Vernon: A Biography, *Artist * Magician * Muse (Vol. 1: 1894-1941) (first of planned two volumes) written by Canadian magician David Ben.
A 1999 documentary was released entitled Dai Vernon: The Spirit Of Magic.
The character of "The Professor" (played by Hal Holbrook) from the movie Shade was based on Dai Vernon, and the character Vernon (Stuart Townsend) was named after him.
Dai Vernon, a sleight of hand artist who was a mentor to many of the most accomplished magicians of the last half-century, died Aug. 21 at the home of a son, Edward Wingfield Verner, in Ramona, Calif., where he had lived for the last two years. He was 98 years old.
He was cremated and after the box with his ashes was brought to the Magic Castle, it was placed for display on a ledge at the top of a wall filled with photos and other memorabilia from his long life in magic. The ledge was so high that the box was almost out of sight.He was a founding member of SBM ring 363 in Cork, Ireland.