Noreen on Magicians:
Magicians are really useless aren't they. Showmen, they call themselves which just about sums up how pointless they are. A show, which is a man. Hoo fucking rah. Anyway, you have to cut them the slack, they do not pretend that they are of any use to mankind at all, they just put people in boxes and cut them with knives, or they get in a straightjacket and then escape, which are skills they could very well use in real life, but choose not to, no, they show us these great feats as an act of entertainment.
Perhaps they're just trying too hard...
THE WORST MAGICIAN IN THE WORLD
Name: Ephraim Geuconical Smythe (born Fred Murray, of the Widgee Murrays).
Birthplace: Moulamein, NSW, Australia
Profession: THE WORST MAGICIAN IN THE WORLD
The man who was later to become the unfamous Ephraim Geuconical Smythe, Magician, was born one evening in the late nineteenth century in the small town of Moulamein as Frederick James Murray. He was later to claim that his birth was the result of a union between the chief of a lost Kazakh tribe (who had somehow travelled from the Ural mountains to the Simpson desert) and a camel, but his origins are not quite so exotic. What little we know are as follows:
His father was a travelling mud salesman from Ballarat who was down on his luck, while his mother was a brothel owner in the town of Widgee, a small country town with a population of two-and-a-half people. (Only one of these people - Smythe’s mother - was actually a human being.)
All his life, Ephraim was to strive to live up to his parents reputation for mediocrity and nonsuccess. He would fail.
During his formative years, Smythe moved around from country town to country town with his parents, experiencing the joys of the Gulgong Mud Markets and the Leadville Dust Fair. This rich but now forgotten period of Australian history has been written about in Professor Gary Gamonicle's history, The Dirt Rush.
We are fortunate to have a school report from that period:
Euston Public School
Report for student: Fred Murray
English, Grammar and Composition
"Ugly as well"
"The most singularly cretinous student it has ever been my misfortune to tutor"
"A talented cook. It is such a pity that we have never been able to afford to give him any FOOD to cook with. He does such wonders with the dirt..."
In his early teens, Fred became interest in the magic arts. He procured himself a ventriloquist's doll and began practicing to throw his voice. Unfortunately, he never mastered the art, and usually ended up sounding like a kangaroo on heat. It is at this time that he began arranging small shows amongst friends. They were so horrified by the results that they began paying him not to perform. With this unlikely encouragement, young Fred decided to become a magician.
Some months later, during 1913, Fred had put together a show of 'Jugglery & Illusion; an Entertaining Dyversion from the Current Troubles of the World. He travelled to several towns with his show, including Balranald, Ivanhoe, and Woolongong. In the show, he attempted to juggle two swords, four flaming brands, several pots of acid, and one red-bellied black snake.
He was, as one critic put it, "Unpractised, untrained, unsuitable, untalented, and under severe danger of serious injury or even death. Should not the authorities stop this sort of thing from happening?"
During his shows, Fred narrowly averted being bitten, burnt, decapitated, and skewered repeatedly. Nevertheless, he did once manage to perform a haircut with the flaming brands, and on another occasion, cut his toenails with the flying sword. Naturally, his shows were an outrageous success, and the people flocked to the theatres in their ones and twos. Refusing to be disheartened by this reception, Freddy changed his name to Ephraim Geuconical Smythe, and continued to tour around, travelling once to Sydney, once to Newcastle, and twice to Melbourne. It was when he was at Melbourne the second time that he met cockney magician Arthur Frazer.
Frazer made a great impression on Smythe. His celebrated act never changed. He would ask an unsuspecting gentlemen on to the stage. He would then take the gentleman’s tie and cut it. Then he would look the gentlemen in the eye, say, "Wipe that smile off yer face, yer cunt!", and pat him on the cheek before pushing him back into the audience. Then the stage-hands would point guns at the audience, and move around, assisting themselves to any coins, notes, or pieces of jewellery that they liked.
Smythe requested to become Frazer's assistant. According to eyewitness reports, here's how the meeting went:
Frazer: Fuck off!
Smythe: But Artie ...
Frazer: Fuck off, yer cunt, or I'll show yer what I'll do to yer ...!
Nevertheless, Smythe continued to be impressed by Artie, and shortly afterwards, he travelled to England with a new magic show he had been preparing.
I wish that I could say that London, the thriving metropolis, and free-trade capital of the world, taught Smythe a little more about magic, but it didn't. He continued to put on dreadful shows to ever-dwindling audiences. His audience average fell from two to one, then from one to none, and it probably continued into the negative figures as well, if that is possible. If anybody could have achieved it, Smythe would have.
Still, Smythe had now developed several acts.
The Disappearing Woman Act
In this act, Smythe placed his lovely assistant in a box and draped a shroud over box and assistant. Following this, Smythe removed the shroud and opened the box to reveal his assistant still in the box.
The act concluded with loud boos, and rotten tomatoes, dead fish, and bricks being thrown at Smythe.
The Rope Ladder Trick
Smythe would walk on stage with a recorder and attempt to charm a rope-ladder from out of his hat by playing it. When this failed to work, he would fall to screaming and shouting at the rope ladder.
Although some members of the audience derived great satisfaction from seeing Smythe become so infuriated by this, others became infuriated themselves. Things came to a head one night when an Indian fakir came on to the stage ordering Smythe to stand back. He did, indeed, charm the rope out of Smythe’s hat, but for some reason it formed itself into a noose. The fakir gestured at Smythe, pointing from him to the rope, but for some reason, Smythe seemed fairly reluctant to continue on with the act. He rarely performed it after that.
The Pick-a-Card, Any Card Act
In this act, Smythe would invite a member of the audience up on to the stage to shuffle and cut a deck of cards, promising that he would guess the Suite and Number of any card that the audience member wanted to pick. While the audience member shuffled the pack, Smythe would attempt to sneak off the stage. Possibly he did not believe the audience could see him.
Generally, he would be forced back on to the stage by an angry mob before being punched in the face by the original audience member. This act proved quite popular, and helped to revive Smythe's flagging audience numbers.
Smythe travelled from country to country, and state to state, and his unfame passed to a state of infamy. The awfulness of his acts had become a topic of international talk; and it is suggested by some that the socialist policy of erecting rigorous barriers to international trade were made popular because of Smythe's international notoriety.
Indeed, not all of Smythe's acts were harmless. As he expanded his repertoire still further, accidents were known to happen. Take his infamous 'Woman In The Box' act, which he first performed in Italy. In this act, a woman was placed in a box and Smythe would proceed to cut the box in half. For some moments the woman would continue smiling, then the smiles would break into screams and Smythe would adopt a look of grim concentration as the blood spattered upon his face. He went through – literally – several servants this way; and he was banned in several countries.
Nevertheless, the Germans found his act quite amusing, and once, when he was performing his act in the Pacific Islands, the Islanders actually proved quite cooperative, and promised to provide another assistant if he performed the act on the following night.
Sometimes, Smythe even achieved proper magic, but paradoxically, even this was in the context of failure.
On one occasion, Smythe was performing as a Cabaret act in Venice, alongside Fritz Frinkleburger's 102-piece quartet. He promised the audience that he would put 'a rabbit into my hat, and pull out the same rabbit!'
The audience were completely underwhelmed. But their underwhelment quickly turned to terror when, instead of pulling out a rabbit, Smythe pulled out a rhinoceros who, enraged at being caught in the hat, went wild and rampaged through the orchestra, decimating the Frinkleburger quartet. Only two cor-anglais players escaped unscathed, along with Frinkleburger and Smythe. The musicians subsequently got back together as a new minimalist group, the 'Frinkleburger All-star Septet!' The rhino later drowned in the canals.
On another occasion, Smythe was cooking chicken soup for his wife while she lay in the bed, sick with cold. He did not know, until too late, that he had somehow managed to create the elixir of love, and when he fed it to his wife, she became immediately fixated on the first thing she saw – the flugelhorn that hung on the far wall. Indeed, she had fallen deeply in love with it, and the pair eloped first thing in the morning. She hardly ever wrote to Smythe, except to describe in lurid and intimate detail the sexual positions she was trying out with the flugelhorn in bed. And if you've ever been out with a flugelhorn, you'll know there are many.
Despite later attempts to rediscover the formula for the elixir of love, Smythe never succeeded, although he did poison several pets and his Great Aunt Esmerelda in the process.
Smythe had become an international fugitive, and had lost everything – wife and respectability. At the age of fifty he had nothing to live for. He therefore decided, on the the 25th of March 1943, to end it all. He climbed to the top floor of a hotel in New York city and threw himself out the window.
Typically, he did not succeed at this, either. Instead of falling to the ground, some unpredicted and hitherto unknown law of gravity caused him to go rocketing into the sky, narrowly missing a cormorant on the way up. And for all we know, he may be still going on, even now.
 "That's 98 more than in the usual quartet!", as one promotional poster put it. Frinkleburger was quite a musical innovator, and also patented the electronic oboe.
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