Eugene Burger: Final Secrets By Lawrence Hass, Ph.D
Review by Michael Close
I met Eugene Burger in Chicago in the late 1970s/early 1980s. In those days I periodically made trips to Chicago to see Jay Marshall and hear some jazz. Phil Willmarth invited Jay and me to lunch; Phil also invited Eugene. As I recall, Eugene’s beard was substantial, but still brown, and he had the deep, sonorous voice that became such a familiar trademark. I no longer remember what we talked about, but I do know I left that lunch with the conviction Eugene was going to make a mark on the magic world.
In the following years, our paths crossed many times; each encounter was great fun – I enjoyed Eugene’s company. When my family and I moved away from Las Vegas, I seldom saw Eugene in person, but I often saw his name as he lectured and performed around the world.
I never suspected Eugene’s health was declining. Therefore, it was an enormous shock when, on August 8, 2017, I received the news he had died; he had kept the seriousness of his condition a secret from all but a handful of confidants. In 2009, Eugene had expressed to his friend Dr. Ricardo Rosenkranz that, as his health deteriorated, he wanted to be out of the public eye and his death should be “quick, painless, private, and anonymous.”
Having made a plan regarding his eventual demise, Eugene also made a plan concerning the other secrets he held tight – the secrets to the cherished routines he had used to fool magicians (and, of course, laymen) around the world. Larry Hass writes, “In early 2010, Eugene finally came up with a way to ‘have his cake and eat it too.’ That is, to fulfill his long-standing wish to have his entire repertoire in print for future generations without compromising his ability to astonish magicians with his most closely guarded secrets. Eugene’s solution involved asking me to write, oversee, and publish two books after his death that would share all of his unpublished materials – including some of his very finest pieces of magic.”
The first of the two books, Eugene Burger: From Beyond, was published in 2019. This book contains sixteen of Eugene’s unpublished stand-up, stage, and spirit-theater routines, including the work on the Gypsy Thread and Eugene’s spirit slate routine. The second book, Eugene Burger: Final Secrets, contains only card material, including routines you were probably fooled by if you saw Eugene perform live – Influence, Thought Sender, Destiny has a Name, Fishing, and Eugene’s work on Dai Vernon’s The Trick that Can’t Be Explained. Larry Hass describes the process:
“During the remaining years of his life, from 2010-2017, Eugene and I worked diligently on this top-secret project. I flew to Chicago (and other cities) for many sessions – all of which were recorded. I produced several shows so we could get high-quality footage of routines. I collected artifacts, documents, and details, using everything to compose a table of contents for each book, which we discussed and revised many times. I started writing chapters almost immediately, sending them to Eugene for review and correction. In other words, this project was important and deeply meaningful to Eugene; he took great delight in discussing it (when no one else was around), and in imagining magicians receiving these books in the wake of his passing.”
Generally speaking, the contents of Final Secrets can be grouped into three categories: tricks, commentary, and theoretical essays. This system provides the reader with the “how” and the “why” of the routines, while also covering the broader magical principles that can be applied to any routine. Let me briefly discuss each of these categories.
With a few exceptions, the card effects presented here are predictions. The spectator carries out a series of actions; at the conclusion, it is shown the performer has anticipated the spectator’s decisions. What I find interesting is that Eugene does not present these as predictions; a prediction puts the performer as the hero (“I knew this was going to happen.”). Instead, Eugene begins by asking the spectator, “Do you believe in destiny?” This question subtly shifts the power (see my essay “Who Has the Power?” in The Paradigm Shift Volume 2) to the spectator. The spectator, not the magician, is in control of the outcome. As you will discover when you study these routines, the spectator and the audience are about to be profoundly fooled at the climax. Making the spectator the hero alleviates any animosity the spectators may feel toward the magician.
Incidentally, these routines do not require a high level of digital dexterity. Eugene had a toolbox of sleights he felt comfortable with, and which he felt confident would defy detection: a method of card control, a false shuffle and false cut, a palm. This selection was greatly influenced by Matt Schulien’s approach. You will find, especially in the chapters on Equivoque and Vernon’s The Trick that Can’t be Explained, that the challenges you’ll face are mental rather than digital.
Dr. Hass does an exemplary job explaining the nuts and bolts of these routines. He also thoroughly explains the thinking behind each routine – why Eugene made the choices he did. Many times, after the explanation, there is an interview with Eugene in which he discusses the evolution of the routine, including how to handle situations in which the spectator does something unexpected. This is truly valuable information, and I urge you to pay as much attention to it as you do to the “how” of the routines.
In addition to the interviews with Dr. Hass, you’ll also find interviews with Michael Caplan Jeff, McBride, Jim Sisti, and Max Maven.
Final Secrets contains several essays by Eugene, including “The Tyranny of the New,” “Performing Stunts and Performing Magic,” and a complete transcript of the ten lectures from Growing in the Art of Magic, which was sold in audio cassette form in 1992. All of these essays are worth your attention.
As a very useful bonus, the reader is also provided with a link to twenty-seven videos, showing Eugene performing and discussing the effects. (The complete audio files of Growing in the Art of Magic are also included.) These are great; I’m sure you will refer to them often.
One chapter does not fit into the categories I mentioned at the beginning of this review; it is the most poignant chapter in the book. “The Last Lesson” by Dr. Ricardo Rosenkranz chronicles Eugene’s medical condition and his desire to exit the planet on his own terms. For those of us who were unaware of Eugene’s situation, this information helps provide a measure of closure. I’m grateful it was included.
Will everything in the book appeal to you? Probably not. I do not agree with every magical decision Eugene made. But, and this is important, Eugene never stated his approach was the only or the correct approach. He said, "This is what works for me," and he explained why. Keep that in mind as you absorb this material.
Eugene Burger: Final Secrets is a remarkable book – remarkable for the quality of the magic, remarkable for the quality and clarity of the writing, and remarkable for the circumstances under which it was created. It is worth the price of admission just for the information on Equivoque and The Trick that Can’t be Explained. But there is much, much more. I’m saddened I can no longer visit with my friend in person, but as I read this book, I hear Eugene’s voice, and there is comfort in that. Eugene Burger: Final Secrets gets my highest recommendation. ♦