Fifty-two red roses, representing the 52 cards in a deck, sat undisturbed onstage at the Magic Castle in Hollywood on Sunday.
It was as good a proof as any that Dai Vernon really was dead and that Sunday's wake was not another one of his tricks. Had he been alive, the man known as one of the world's greatest sleight-of-hand artists with cards would not have missed an opportunity to make one of the roses disappear or turn black--anything to put one over on his friends one last time.
It would have appealed both to the showmanship and sense of humor of the man known as "The Professor" for his encyclopedic knowledge of his craft and for his tutelage of younger magicians.
"He was the leadership in magic for so long," said Harry Anderson, a comedian and magician who was close to Vernon in the man's later years. Vernon died Aug. 21 at age 98. Sunday's wake, consisting of remarks by members of the Magic Castle board, drew nearly 200 magicians and fans to the castle's Palace of Mystery stage.
Anderson, who starred in the television series "Night Court," said Vernon brought a new style to the performance of magic.
"He brought a naturalness to it," Anderson said. "Before, magicians were more affected. What he once told me was that you've got to be the kind of person the customer would invite home for dinner."
Within the magic community, however, he could be a harsh critic. Jeff Abraham, 32, stood near the bar telling a popular story about the time a young magician, who made up in ego what he lacked in skills, begged Vernon to come and see him perform. Afterward, the young man walked up confidently and demanded: "How was I? How was my execution?"
"I'm in favor of it," Vernon is said to have replied.
Vernon, who was one of the first magicians to perform at the Magic Castle when it opened in 1963, was best known for his skill in what is called close-up magic, which depends on the speed of the magician's hands.
Bruce Cervon, 51, a Vernon protege, said The Professor was so smooth that he was able to stump the famed illusionist Harry Houdini, who bragged that no magician could fool him three times in a row. After Houdini wrote his name on a card, Vernon stuck it inside the deck, then produced it as the top card time after time.
"Houdini was flabbergasted and grabbed the cards," Cervon said. Houdini apparently never admitted to being fooled, but Vernon said Houdini's wife called him the next day and confessed that her husband had been "up all night" trying to figure out the trick.
Milt Larsen, one of the founders of the Magic Castle, said Vernon used to live in an apartment on the grounds. "He was a magnificent character and a wonderful magician," Larsen said.
Vernon was most famous for card tricks such as "The Brain Wave and Triumph," as well as for calling out "too late, too late," at magicians he regarded as incompetent.
Ironically, Vernon's most memorable stunts cast the magician as the patsy, said Larry Jennings, who studied with him for many years. Jennings said Vernon, who was a terrible driver, was driving in the Australian outback when he hit a kangaroo. After Vernon checked the animal and concluded that it was dead, he decided to dress it up in his coat and tie for pictures as a joke.
Midway through the photo session, the marsupial revived and hopped away with Vernon's passport and wallet.