Chester Morris

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Chester Morris

Cover of Genii (1938)
BornJohn Chester Brooks Morris
February 16, 1901
New York City, New York
DiedSeptember 11, 1970 (age 69)

John Chester Brooks Morris (February 16, 1901 - September 11, 1970) was an American actor and noted amateur magician, perhaps most famous for his role in the Boston Blackie detective series of the 1940s.

In one of the Boston Blackie shows, Blackie gives a magic show at a prison, where Morris did his own magic tricks.[1]

He was a charter member of IBM Ring 21 in Hollywood and contributed "The Fate of the Fabric" to The Jinx No. 58.[2]

Exposure controversy

In 1947, the Columbia publicity department suggested that a good tie-in to promote the release of an upcoming film would be an article in Popular Mechanics magazine with Chester explaining several tricks. [3]

Morris was featured in the October, 1947 issue with the article "THERE'S MAGIC UP YOUR SLEEVE" which exposed the principles of the Square Circle, the Center Tear, and some others. In a bit of irony, the article includes near the end "Let me suggest that you never give away the secret of any trick that you perform sucessfully. All of us like to be fooled."[4]

The reception of his article was wide spread and mainly unfavorable in the magic magazines at the time.

One of the magicians that came to his defense and wrote an article in Conjurors'_Magazine (November 1947) was Julien J. Proskauer (a past president of the SAM and one time outspoken critic of exposures in magazines). He wrote "I state definitely the Chester Morris article is not going to harm magic. It may help it." ..." Will Chester Morris go down in magic history as the Moses who led the blind out of darkness into light, or will he be labeled "exposer" by those he would help?"

A few months later Morris himself responded in Conjurors'_Magazine (December 1947) to some of the questions magicians kept asking about the exposure in an article entitled "Restrained Revealing Helps Magic" and concluded with "I certainly would not hurt magic in any way and I want to repeat again that I hope my 'Popular Mechanics' article did plant a seed from which the great magicians of tomorrow will grow"

Both the IBM and the SAM ethics committee ruled on the complaints brought by magicians. The Linking Ring for July 1948 reported on the "FINDING AND JUDGMENT OF THE ETHIC AND GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE" which "...finds and gives judgment as follows:"..."That brother Chester Morris is and was guilty of a violation of his oath as a member"... "Chester Morris has pledged himself not to repeat any similar action and has apologize"..."This committee therefore waives the constitution penalty of expelling said brother member, but in the best interest, both of said member and this Brotherhood, limits the penalty for said violation to a suspension of said brother member from the rights and privileges of membership for a period of six months, effective June 24, 1948."

The, Southern California Assembly No. 22, of which Morris had many friends, took on the job for the SAM exposure committee and submitted this report in MUM (as insert in the Sphinx) as "National Ethics Committee Report on Chester Morris Expose" in which they ruled "It is the consensus of opinion of our membership [Assembly No. 22] that the article in question did represent a violation of The Society of American Magicians' Code of Ethics regarding exposures"..."We quickly learned that there was no willful disregard of the Society's principles"..."that no pecuniary gain was realized by the author; nor has he a record of being an habitual exposer..." This was followed by a letter from the exposure board which stated that "The conclusion drawn by this Board on behalf of Assembly No. 22 is that their censure of Compeer Morris' action will effectively correct this particular situation, and deter any other members from committing similar infringements of our"..."In this instance the act was not one of willful disregard of the interests of the membership; rather it was a hasty, ill-advised and thoughtless act."

Chester Morris remained active in magic, even making a tour of English variety theaters with his magic act in 1948.

Years later in the Linking Ring (December 1959), Robert Parrish in writing about another exposure brought up the Morris incident and stated Morris said: "It's a funny thing, I got kicked out of the IBM because an article In Popular Mechanics appeared under my name. I didn't even know anything about the article until the publicity department sent me down to pose for some pictures. It was supposed to be good for me and it should have been good for magic. Since then I've shied away from societies."[5]

References

  1. Cover Genii 1938 January
  2. http://www.ibmring21.org/famous.html
  3. Chester Morris Movie’s Maestro – Magic’s Martyr by David Charvet, Magic Magazine, March 1995
  4. THERE'S MAGIC UP YOUR SLEEVE Popular Mechanics October 1947
  5. http://askalexander.org/displaypdf.cgi?pid=575890&pw=Popular%20Mechanics
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