Thursday, January 23, 2014

Max Malini's Chicken (or Turkey) Trick

[This is my rough transcription of a reviving-bird story, as related by magician Dai Vernon on the talk show “Canada After Dark” that aired on the CBC on 27 December 1978. The clip appears at the 49-minute mark of the 2012 documentary Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay. The most magical thing of all about the anecdote is how a chicken is transformed into a turkey – and nobody notices.]

Dai Vernon: You know, people don’t know what lengths a magician will go to to create an effect. Now I don’t know how many people in the audience know, but if you take a chicken, and you bend its head under its wing, and you rock it in your hand like this, it puts the chicken into a hypnotic state, and for eight or ten minutes the chicken is absolutely knocked out, it’s in a hypnotic state. You put the head under the arm -- I mean you put the chicken’s head under the wing -- and you shake it like this, and the chicken goes sound asleep, into a somnambulistic state. But this famous magician, Max Malini, one time he took a chicken and he plucked it alive, he plucked this chicken alive. He took all the feathers out, and he put the head under the --, and he rocked it like this and put it asleep. Now he put it on a big platter. He put a lot of potatoes and garnishing around and they put it on the table at a very fashionable dinner party in England, with a lot of lords and dukes. They put it on the table, and all these very stiff people were sitting there waiting for somebody to carve the turkey and somebody said, “Well, you do the carving,” and he stuck the fork in the turkey and the damn turkey jumped up out of the dish and ran the length of the table!

Ricky Jay, Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women (NY: Warner Books, 1986), pp. 91-2.

[Malini] was fond of relating the stunt he supposedly performed for a well-known English duke. Invited to an elegant dinner party, Max managed to sneak into the kitchen with a live chicken which had had all its feathers plucked. Rocking the fowl under his arm, he hypnotized it, laid it on a platter, and covered it with a paste that made it appear roasted. He also garnished the plate with potatoes, vegetables, and fruit. He then returned to the table and waited for the bird to be served.

Just before the duke was to carve the chicken Malini said, “Meestaire Duke, I show you a leetle trick.” He gestured mysteriously at the chicken just as the duke poked the bird with his fork. The chicken woke up, jumped off the plate, and ran squawking down the table. That this story, under the title “The Droll Trick of a Cambridge Scholar,” had appeared in many eighteenth-century conjuring books did not bother Malini.