Magician Dai Vernon, a master of card tricks who helped found Hollywood's landmark Magic Castle, has died. He was 98.
Vernon, whose role in influencing several generations of magicians earned him the nickname "The Professor," died in his sleep early Friday at the home of his son in Ramona, officials of the Magic Castle said.
"He was to magic what Elvis Presley was to popular music, a true legend," said Peter Pit, secretary of the Academy of Magical Arts, the official name of the private Hollywood dinner club and magic emporium.
Born in Ottawa, Canada, in 1894 as David Frederick Wingfield Verner, Vernon learned his first trick at age 7. Although he studied to become a mechanical engineer, he soon gave it up and began performing as a professional magician after moving to New York in 1913.
In 1920, while performing card tricks for friends in a hotel lobby, he was seen by a talent agent, who soon had him performing at private gatherings of the rich and famous.
Two years later, Vernon's stock rose among colleagues after he performed a card trick for the legendary Harry Houdini--vaunted for his ability to decipher any other magician's work--and Houdini could not figure it out.
Vernon often said Houdini's wife called him the next day and reported: "Harry stayed up all night and you absolutely destroyed him with that thing."
He moved to Los Angeles in 1963, the year he helped make a success of the Magic Castle, a converted turn-of-the century mansion where he often held court for fellow magicians and celebrity enthusiasts such as Cary Grant, Marlene Dietrich, Dick Cavett, Muhammad Ali and Johnny Carson.
"He never, ever considered his magicianship anything but pleasure," said Bruce Cervon, who co-authored Vernon's biography, which was published this year. "Dai once said: 'If you ever give me credit for anything, credit me for never having worked.' "
Vernon continued to entertain at the Magic Castle and shared his secrets with new generations of performers until 1990, when failing health prompted him to move in with a son, Edward Wingfield Verner, in Ramona. He is also survived by a second son, David Derrick Verner, of Tuckahoe, N.Y.
Funeral arrangements are pending. A private memorial event has been scheduled for Sept. 6 at the Magic Castle.