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Blog with Paul Gertner

The Future of Magic

The 2017 FFFF Convention

I just returned from the FFFF Convention. Now magicians around the world knPaul Gertner performs at the FFFF Convention 2017ow exactly what that stands for… but for any muggles who might be reading this blog, let me explain.

FFFF stands for Fechter’s Finger Flicking Frolic. It is recognized as the Original Close-Up Magic Convention, an exclusive gathering of magicians dedicated to the art of sleight-of-hand magic. It is an invitation only event and is organized each year by founder, magician Obie O’Brien. The gathering was originally held at a bar in Buffalo, NY called The Forks Hotel and for the last 47 years, on the last weekend in April, the FFFF is held in the honor of the late Eddie Fechter. The FFFF Convention brings together some of the best performers, creators, and inventors from around the world. That, and the chance to see old friends and meet new ones, is the main reason I attend whenever I can. I was there this last weekend, and I’m glad I made the trip.

Magicians and Paul Gertner performing card tricks at FFFF Convention 2017This year’s convention was exceptional… mainly due to some of the new younger performers from around the world who quite simply blew us all away. The creativity and the innovation of the young magicians who were on the shows this year was amazing to see. Young magicians like Ed Kwon from South Korea (look him up on Google) will be the future of magic in the years to come. And as I sat there watching them step into the spotlight to perform before their peers, I remembered how nerve wracking it was doing that for the very first time. I could not help remembering my first visit to The Forks to meet the man who would become one of my mentors in magic: Mr. Eddie Fechter.

My First Magician’s Convention

I attended my very first national magician’s convention in 1972 in Buffalo, New York. I was 18 years old. One day a number of the well-known magicians said: “Tonight we are going over to the Forks Hotel, you should come along.” I did… and from that moment on my life was never the same.

The Forks Hotel was the name of a shot and beer bar at the intersection of Broadway and Union Road in Cheektowaga, New York. It was owned by Eddie and Evelyn Fechter. The bar was on the first floor and Eddie and Evelyn lived on the second floor. The second floor also had a long hall with a number of rooms that were probably hotel or boarding rooms in the 30’s and 40’s hence the name The Forks Hotel.

The main room downstairs featured a large horseshoe shaped bar, and in the back there were three smaller dining rooms where patrons would sit for a fish sandwich and a beer after a hard day’s work. If they were lucky sometime that evening Eddie might join them at their table with a few quarters and a pack of cards, and they would see something they would remember for the rest of their lives.

The Great Eddie Fechter

Eddie Fetcher performing a card trickEddie Fechter was a close-up magician… one of the best in the world. He was a big man with large hands and sausage like fingers, yet he could handle a deck of cards with the precision of a surgeon using a scalpel. He was a like a life-sized teddy bear who did the most amazing close-up magic you will ever see. His card work was flawless, his performance endearing, you could tell he loved and valued his audiences and they loved him back. Watching Eddie perform was like taking a Master Class in Magic, and I took that class every chance I got.

On that first visit to his bar, I along with all the other magicians from the convention, would move table to table each time Eddie sat down to entertain. We would lean on the shoulders of understanding strangers just to get a view, or stand on chairs to see over the heads of the crowd to watch the master at work. And every few moments the entire table would erupt in laughter at a raised eyebrow, a shocked facial expression, or a funny line tossed their way. Eddie was a consummate actor. His performance, his character and his through line were so well developed, it was like watching George Burns or Jack Benny entertain with a pack of cards. And at the end of every trick, the table would explode in amazement again as he pulled the spectator’s card from his pocket or found the four aces and left them with a memory they would never forget.

When I was at Eddie’s bar that night in 1972 I heard there would be a magic convention strictly for Close-Up magicians there the next year, and I decided right then and there, I would be there one way or another. One year later I made that trip, but I had to get there “another” way. My old Chevy Impala had broken down three days before my planned trip, and with no money to fix it I had to come up with another plan to attend.

My First FFFF Convention

So, I hitch-hiked from Pittsburgh to Buffalo, walked the last two or so miles in the rain and clutching a small suitcase and my magic briefcase, I walked into the Forks Hotel looking like a drowned rat. I had no hotel and no money, but it did not matter—I was there and these were my people. And they took care of me. They found me a room, paid for my meals, showed me their magic, and they introduced me to Eddie.

What followed the next four days were some of the most memorable days of my life. I ended up performing in front of Eddie, who was impressed with my magic and gave me his ultimate stamp of approval—he told all the Paul Gertner performing Steel Cups and Balls at FFFF Convention 2017other magicians he was going to “take the kid out back and break fingers.” It was the first time I had done magic for magicians outside of my hometown of Pittsburgh, and I had no idea that what I created was original or unique. I ended up being invited to be the closing act on the final night of the convention, and I closed the show with a new trick I had been working on using the cups and balls with steel ball bearings. The reaction, encouragement, and validation of Eddie and all the other magicians at my first FFFF Convention had my head spinning and made me think this crazy dream of becoming a professional magician just might be possible after all.

And now returning back to the FFFF Convention forty-five years later after a successful professional career and seeing young magicians with that same dream dancing in their head was amazing and emotional to watch. And based on what I have seen this weekend, the future of magic is in good hands. We even took a few of those “kids” out back and threatened to break their fingers. I’m sure Eddie was smiling.

Paul Gertner is nationally recognized speaker and corporate magician, whose honors include multiple Tonight Show appearances, performing at a presidential inauguration, and winning three international competitions. He can be hired as a trade show magician or keynote presenter. For more information, visit gertner.com.

 

Posted in Magicians Only, Memorable Meetings on May 3, 2017 by Paul Gertner.

18 Responses to The Future of Magic

  1. David Corsaro: May 3, 2017 at 6:14 am

    Well said Paul !! Just the fact that I can say I am friends with you is a testament to the 4F legacy and “family” feel.

  2. Paul Gertner: May 3, 2017 at 8:02 am

    Dave, Your spot with Steve and Rick was one of the highlights. Great writing and great job on that. I’m glad I made it in time for our annual Pizza run.

  3. Joe Hanosek: May 3, 2017 at 6:26 am

    Wonderful story Paul – thank you for sharing it!

  4. Paul Gertner: May 3, 2017 at 8:03 am

    You are welcome Joe, glad you enjoyed it.

  5. Roy Eidem: May 3, 2017 at 9:05 am

    I have watched you since you were on the Johnny Carson Show those many years ago. Your Magic is inspirational & so much fun!

  6. Paul Gertner: May 3, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    Thanks for the nice comments Roy. Good to see you at FFFF and thanks for the copy of your book.

  7. David Neighbors The Coinjurer: May 3, 2017 at 9:26 am

    Hay Man Great seeing you once more! I Remember My 1 St, Time There and Meeting You! 🙂

  8. Paul Gertner: May 3, 2017 at 9:38 am

    Great seeing you too Dave. You sure had everyone going in the hospitality room… you had such a huge crowd around you… amazing!

  9. dawes2015: May 3, 2017 at 11:42 am

    Hi Paul – this is a great post about FFFF. I really appreciate the way you bring a genuine human touch to your magic. It’s always a pleasure to see you.

    I reached this blog though a link that Mike Powers posted on The Magician’s Forum, which is at http://www.themagiciansforum.com … it’s nothing like those other sites – the gentleman who runs it has done a fantastic job of creating an online community where people respect each other and aren’t obsessed with proving how clever they are by attacking other people.

    All the best.

  10. Paul Gertner: May 3, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    Glad you enjoyed the Blog post on the FFFF and the nice comments. I’ll check out The Magician’s Forum.

  11. Seth Kramer: May 3, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    Love your blog! Great memories for me at FFFF. I need to get myself back up there one of these years….

  12. Paul Gertner: May 3, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    Thanks Seth. It would be fun to have you there again. There is always a surprise or two… this year quite a few.

  13. Erich B: May 3, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    What does it take to be invited to such an extraordinary opportunity?

  14. Paul Gertner: May 3, 2017 at 4:17 pm

    Erich, Since it is a close-up convention they limit attendance so people can see the magic… but with 200 attending it is pushing the limits of close-up magic. From what I’m told there is quite a waiting list and to get an invitation… that takes some video of your performance, a letter to Obie O’brien the founder saying you would like to attend, plus two sponsors who already attend the convention to be your sponsors, based on knowledge of your performance ability. Most first timers will be placed on either the Wednesday or Thursday afternoon shows… so anyone attending can be asked to and is expected to be willing to perform for the group. It can be a little intimidating.

  15. Stephen Bargatze: May 3, 2017 at 3:36 pm

    You have taken those steel balls to a new level. Love that you never stopped thinking. Sorry we didn’t get to spend much time together, sure that will happen at FFFF when we are mere spectators that what happens when you are good. LOL

  16. Paul Gertner: May 3, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    Steve, glad you like the new twist. Yes it was a little busy this year at FFFF with everything going on. Your spot to close the Saturday night show with Rick and Dave was a classic. Very funny.

  17. Eric P Meredith: May 4, 2017 at 3:22 am

    I remember going to Fechter’s in the mid 70’s. My trip there was not as eventful as yours, possibly because you were my driver. We huddled in to your VW bug and scooted up I79 from Pittsburgh. I still remember that when I climbed in the back of your car, you had posted a sign on the back of the front seats, “No Magic Allowed.” I can safely say that we did not obey!

    What a blast, the whole trip, seeing Eddie, performing at the tables, watching you, and realizing just how special your brand (and skill) was.

    Imagine if someone had said back then, “You know Paul, you’ll blog about this one day.”

  18. Paul Gertner: May 4, 2017 at 11:26 am

    Eric, If I am correct that was the year Pittsburgh was highly represented in all the shows. I think there was you, Doc, Jon Brunelle, Bob Miller and myself and we all did something on the shows. Those early trips to Fechter’s are still so memorable. I’m so glad you got the chance to actually see and meet Eddie. There are only ha handful of magicians attending the current 4F’s that can make that claim.

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