Blog with Paul Gertner

This Is “The End”

This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend
The end

Jim Morrison “The End”

In magic, it’s all about “The End”. That is what the people remember—the End of the Trick, the Climax, the Big Finish, the Killer Ending, the Finale, the Magical Ending.

Having grown up watching and learning from magicians like Don Alan, Albert Goshman and Del Ray I learned how important “The End” of a magic trick was.  Perfect examples are the moment Don Alan lifted the hat and the large chrome plated nut appeared underneath, or the moment Albert Goshman had the spectator lift up the saltshaker and there was a half dollar under it.  Albert’s act was a constant stream of endings, one building upon the other, leaving the audience gasping every time that saltshaker was lifted.  Or my favorite magical ending…the moment Del Ray had the spectator s-l-o-w-l-y lift up the dice cup with the four dice stacked inside it… in the exact numerical order the spectators had just called out“Careful… lift it up straight up… don’t knock em over… took me a lot of work!” only to discover…”Nothing!

Welcome to Paul Gertner's BlogWhen I was creating the routine that would eventually become my trademark routine among magicians, “The Cups and Steel Balls” I knew I wanted a killer ending and I found one… but I had a little help.  This is the story.

Meeting Dai Vernon, a.k.a. “The Professor”

I first met “The Professor”, Dai Vernon, when I was 21 years old.  I had just turned 21, and to a young magician that did not mean you were old enough to drink…. that meant you were old enough to get into The Magic Castle in Hollywood.  So as soon as I was of “legal age” I made arrangements to take that trip to Mecca…  The Magic Castle.  I drove across the country from Pittsburgh to California the summer of ‘74 with my Uncle Joe and his family who were going back home after a summer visit to Pittsburgh.  My uncle offered me a seat in the car and we made a 7-day trek across the country.  Along the way, we stopped in Las Vegas, visited the Grand Canyon and watched Nixon resign on a black and white TV at a KOA Campground.  One week later I was pulling up in front of the Magic Castle in my Uncle’s old Chevy station wagon for my first trip to the most amazing place on earth, The Magic Castle.

I had some heavyweight introductions in the form of Eddie Fechter from Buffalo New York, who had called Michael Skinner, now living in Hollywood, who had called Dai Vernon himself to say: “There is a kid named Gertner who is doing an interesting Cups and Balls routine… you should meet with him.”

The End…To the 1st End

On my first night at The Magic Castle I met The Professor, and later that evening he said: “Mike Skinner said you do a good Cups and Balls routine, I’d like to see it.”  And in the downstairs bar at the table Dai Vernon would play cards with Kuda Bux at, I performed my then current version of The Cups and Steel Balls for The Professor.

At that time I had a different ending. I produced the two large steel balls from the end cups, and then as I lifted the center cup I said:  “And under the middle cup is the biggest one of all.” When I lifted the middle cup there was an even larger steel ball under it.  I quickly said:  That’s not the biggest one… this is the biggest one.” And when I lifted up the center cup a second time there was a 3D numeral 1 made out of steel under the cup on a small round stand.  I produced a number 1 made of steel… “The biggest one of all!”

Vernon watched the routine and he had two comments.  There was one part in the routine where I “mimed” the actions of removing two invisible balls from the end cups and I pretend to place them on the center cup.  The Professor said that when I had the invisible balls between my finger and thumb I was holding my finger and thumb too far apart.  “You held your fingers like this” he said demonstrating with his fingers 1″ apart.  “THAT’S TOO BIG!”  The balls are not this big… They are this big!” he moved his thumb and fingers 1/4 inch closer to each other, which mimed the actual size of the steel ball bearings I was using in the trick.

I remember thinking… “Wow, this guy is a stickler for details.”  I was holding my finger and thumb one quarter of an inch too far apart for an invisible ball and I just got called on it.

And then he said:  “It’s a beautiful routine, it’s beautiful, but that’s a terrible ending! You ruined a beautiful routine with a cheap gag at the end!  Get rid of that ending!  What you need to do is get a steel ball… get a steel ball that’s just a little bigger than mouth of the cup, just a little bigger than the cup. At the end you palm the big ball and make it look like it drops out of the cup. That’s the ending… that’s the ending you need.”

My mind was spinning.  I had just been told by The Professor that the ending to my best trick was “terrible… a cheap gag!”  Those words ring in my ears to this day.

Needless to say, the very next day I did not go back to the Magic Castle, but instead I drove around southern California looking for a big steel ball.   I was not going to be seen by Vernon again until I corrected the problem. (This whole encounter with Dai Vernon is possibly THE REASON I believe it is always possible to make my best even better.) While finding steel balls in Pittsburgh is easy… but finding a 3″ steel ball bearing in Hollywood, California was not an easy task.   The best I could come up with was a shot put from a sport store selling track and field supplies.  But of course a shot put is about 4 ¼ in diameter and I needed a steel ball 3” in diameter like The Professor suggested… but it was the best I could do at the moment.

The New “End” to My “Cups and Steel Balls” Routine

I spent the next three days in my uncle’s garage grinding down the 4 1/2″ shot put by hand with a metal file by hand.  AfterPaul Gertner performing Cups and Steel Balls three days of solid work I only managed to file it down about one inch… It was now 3 ½ diameter but it was shiny and kind of looked like a steel ball.  It was way too big and too heavy but at least it was not a number one and most importantly it was not a “Cheap Gag.”

I drove back to Magic Castle the next day and mentioned to The Professor that I found a new steel ball for the ending.  He asked to see the routine again.  I performed it using the ground down shot put and the ending he suggested.  He watched and at the end he paused and took the cigar out of his mouth and said.  “That’s much better… but that last ball… IT’S TOO BIG!… IT’S A HALF INCH TOO BIG!  But… that’s much better, much better!”

So when it comes to magical endings I feel honored that it was The Professor, Dai Vernon that personally gave me the ending to my Cups and Steel Balls Routine—an ending that I that I still use to this day.

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


Posted in Magical Thinking, Magicians Only, Memorable Meetings on May 17, 2017 by Paul Gertner.

23 Responses to This Is “The End”

  1. Mark Yeager: May 18, 2017 at 2:53 am

    Thank you very much Paul for sharing your magical memories

  2. Paul Gertner: May 18, 2017 at 11:44 am

    Glad you enjoyed the story Mark.

  3. Roy Eidem: May 18, 2017 at 7:32 am

    What a wonderful story & memory! 🙂

  4. Paul Gertner: May 18, 2017 at 11:45 am

    Thanks Roy, I think it good that we all write these things down.

  5. John: May 18, 2017 at 7:43 am

    I thought you had a very endearing ending of your performance at 4F recently.

  6. Paul Gertner: May 18, 2017 at 11:46 am

    There is quite a story behind that. One for the future.

  7. Marc DeSouza: May 18, 2017 at 9:13 am

    I wonder how The Professor would feel about the new ending you did at 4F? I think he would be quite proud of you!

  8. Paul Gertner: May 18, 2017 at 11:47 am

    I hope he would like it too. Thanks Marc.

  9. Eddie Goldstein: May 18, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    Not only is it a routine that you still do 30 years later, it is a routine that I still remember seeing 30 years later! That’s the real magic. Nice job, Paul. (Eddie Goldstein)

  10. Paul Gertner: May 20, 2017 at 5:23 am

    Thanks Eddie! I too love it when I have a layman come up after a show and describe a trick they saw decades ago. It’s even more fun to be able to tell them… “You were watching my friend Eddie Fechter or Albert Goshman” based on the trick they detailed. Like you said that’s the real magic.

  11. Renzi: May 18, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    Great story. When I was working in magic shops. I used to demo the cup and balls with the little plastic cups. At the end I would explain everything they would learn. Then I would say,” the only thing you don’t learn is how to make money.” Then I would produce a 3″ coin out of the cup.

  12. Paul Gertner: May 20, 2017 at 5:25 am

    And then you sold them the 3″ coin too! Thanks Renzi… glad you like the Cups and Balls story.

  13. Aaron Fasel: May 18, 2017 at 5:38 pm


    I saw you do that act on TV when I was a kid. You are probably the first magician I ever saw! There was no steel “1” in that one, and I can vividly remember obsessing over how you had gotten such a large ball to come out of the small cup. I didn’t know the word gimmick, but that was what I’d come up with. Not bad for a 5-year-old if I do say so myself.

    That appearance is a crystal clear memory, and one that comes back to me often, over the last 40-ish years; but the part that’s so profound to me was how much I reflected upon that moment.

    You were a good influence!


  14. Paul Gertner: May 20, 2017 at 5:29 am

    Aaron, No the Steel #1 came out pretty early on. The only magicians that saw that were the ones at the first FFFF I attended in 1974 and then 4 months later I took it out after I met The Professor. Sounds like you are talking about either my performance on World’s Greatest Magic or even Mister Rogers and by then I had Vernon’s new ending. Happy to be a good magical influence. Thanks!

  15. Raymond Rivera: May 19, 2017 at 3:04 am

    I’ve seen your “Cups and Steel Ball” Routine several times and each and every time I am impressed. It’s simply Awesome. Your words and experience are an encouragement. Thank you for sharing your story.

  16. Paul Gertner: May 20, 2017 at 5:32 am

    Many thanks for the kind words Raymond. Glad you enjoyed the Cups and Steel Balls.

  17. Steve Hunsberger: May 19, 2017 at 7:05 am

    I love to read your stories. They are absolutely fascinating. When I was a young fellow sitting at home watching TV one day you made one of the greatest impressions on me that I still cherish to this day. That was your appearance on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood TV show. You did a flipstick routine while reciting a wonderful little poem. Is there a video of that appearance anywhere? I was unable to find it. Keep up the great stories.

  18. Paul Gertner: May 20, 2017 at 5:40 am

    Steve, Ive had many magicians come up and tell me they saw me on that show. What was so interesting is that they invited me to be on the show, which was a “Kids TV Program” and I made it very clear to them I was not a “Kid Show Magician” But they said they wanted me to do my “Best” magic so I did the Cups, a sponge ball routine and the Flip Stick and they loved the set. I always found it interesting that I went on the show and essentially did close up magic for kids and it worked. Very interesting story about my appearance on that show that I’ll have to post a Blog on in the future. I did get permission from the company to include a video of that performance on my Steel & Silver Live DVD:
    I’ve never posted it on YouTube because I did not have permission to do that, but it is available on that DVD on my website.
    Thanks, Paul

  19. Lou Johnson: May 19, 2017 at 1:58 pm

    It’s all in the details!

  20. Paul Gertner: May 20, 2017 at 5:44 am

    If magicians focused on the “details” as much as Jugglers do (they have no choice) the magic bar would be raised a good deal higher.

  21. Steve Hunsberger: May 20, 2017 at 5:41 am

    Paul, I remember vividly sitting at home watching TV one day as a young lad. And suddenly there you are appearing on Mr Rogers Neighborhood doing a fantastic flip stick routine. It was so awesome I still remember it to this day. I’ve tried to find a video of it but no luck. Does one exist? Keep up the great stories I find them very inspiring.

  22. Steve Hunsberger: May 20, 2017 at 5:45 am

    Thanks Paul I didn’t realize my first post went through. Brand new to posting stuff.

  23. Paul Gertner: May 20, 2017 at 5:48 am

    came through loud and clear. Thanks!

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