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When does Osterlind sleep?
By Bobby Warren
When Richard Osterlind wrapped up production on "Corinda's 13 Steps to Mentalism" DVD set for L&L Publishing, the veteran performer of the magical arts thought it would be his last. However, that self-imposed ban did not last long.
Osterlind has returned with another L&L project: "Live Without a Net," in which the mentalist and magician performs in front of a real audience at a casino in Reno, Nev.
With the release of the new, three DVD set, the I.B.M. portal is updating a 2008 feature story about Osterlind, which was the cover story for the February edition of The Linking Ring that year. An edited version of the story appears below, along with some of Osterlind's accomplishments since 2008 and his goals for the upcoming year:
Richard Osterlind's roots in mentalism go as deep as his roots in magic. Ask him when he made the transition from magician to mentalist, and you'll discover he had an impression clipboard as a seven-year-old. Other Osterlind mental mysteries from his childhood repertoire included color and die divinations. With the effects from a couple of magic kits, one of which was his Sneaky Pete's Magic Show, a young Osterlind performed the Linking Rings and sawed in half a lady (never mind it looked a lot like a plastic doll). (READ MORE)
From those early years in Connecticut (he lived in Bridgeport and Ansonia) to his move to Kentucky, Osterlind's career has run the gamut: Magician, mentalist and hypnotist. His career path even included a stint playing drums in a band called Merlin. During the rock spectacular, he would do some large stage illusions, making people appear and levitate. So, add percussionist and illusionist to the list, too.
While mainly thought of as mentalist today, longtime friend and business partner, Jim Sisti, said Osterlind never lost his love of magic. Sisti, himself an accomplished magician who once published “The Magic Menu,” said Osterlind can do a flawless version of Dai Vernon's Cups and Balls. And he should. When Osterlind was preparing for his initiation show to gain entry into I.B.M. Frederick Eugene Powell Ring 59 in New Haven, Conn., he took it very seriously. Or, has he put it, “I went crazy with Vernon's Cups and Balls.” He practiced and polished the Professor's performance in a pursuit for perfection for more than six months.
Once competent with the routine, Osterlind said he really felt like a magician. However, he still was unsure if he would make the grade with Ring 59's members. “I thought it would be so hard to pass the test. I did it, and everyone was stunned,” he said. In 1974 he became part of the I.B.M., the only magic organization to which the Order of Merlin member belongs.
These days, Osterlind's schedule is filled primarily with corporate shows, but it hasn't always been this way. He has performed in various venues over the more than four decades he has been in the business. The first shows were in his basement, where he would craft tickets out of orange-colored paper and sell them for 25 cents. Osterlind also did mentalism routines at bachelor parties, when the hosts preferred an alternative – and cleaner – form of entertainment. “It was not a dirty show. I did a straight show,” Osterlind said.
Then there was the time he was hired to do a hypnotism show for a motorcycle club. When Osterlind showed up for the gig, nothing but Harley-Davidsons and pick-up trucks lined the parking lot. The first show went so well, the club booked Osterlind for a second one. “I use to worry about that show,” he said. He's done his share of family shows (though he never was a children's performer), and, when asked, he will do some magic at his church in Kentucky.
When you combine Osterlind's background in magic, mentalism, hypnotism, music and illusion, you end up with someone well-versed in the magical and performing arts who is quite flexible and can adapt his performance to fit the needs of the audience.
Osterlind has been successful as a performer, author, inventor and teacher, as noted by the sales of his videos and DVDs from L & L Publishing. The first offering from the publishing company was the four-volume “Mind Mysteries” DVD.
“I've fallen on my face so many times, and I learned the hard way,” Osterlind said. On his DVDs, he tries to teach others about performance so that they might avoid his mistakes.
The DVDs came about at a time when Osterlind was looking to publish a big book of magic and mentalism in which he would hold nothing back. He contacted his friend Sisti to discuss the possibilities of such a project. Sisti had sold the rights from his magazine to L & L, and he approached President Louis Falanga about Osterlind's book proposal. Falanga suggested shooting videos instead, Sisti said.
Initially, “Mind Mysteries” was to be a three-volume set. But, the crew filmed so much material because Osterlind developed so much material that a fourth volume was added, Sisti said.
When William Rauscher's “The Mind Readers: Masters of Deception,” a history of mentalism and mentalists, came out in 2002, it did not feature a profile of Osterlind. With his contributions to the art, Sisti thought his friend would be worthy of a mention in the book.
“Even though he developed a ton of effects over the years, his legacy was passing him by,” Sisti said. But the initial “Mind Mysteries” offering helped reintroduce Osterlind – and his contributions to mentalism – to the mainstream magic community.
The first disc essentially contained Osterlind's full, corporate act right down to the jokes, which was unprecedented, Sisti said. The only change was replacing Osterlind's Card Calling routine with the Radar Deck in order to keep all of his Breakthrough Card System work on a single disc.
The impact of that decision might explain the results of an informal survey conducted by Dr. Todd Landman, member of I.B.M. Ring 25 in Britain and organizer of the London Mentalism Meetings (Tabula Mentis). Landman set out to learn from self-described mentalists two things: Who are they, and what do they do. One of the questions of that survey, which was posted on several Internet forums catering to mentalists inviting people to participate and operated through the Web site www.monkeysurvey.com, asked respondents who were their influences. They were asked to rate several mentalists, a one meaning a low level of influence and a ten rating being a high level, and they were given a chance to include any others who did not make the list. When the results from the 107 participants were tabulated, Osterlind's average rating of 7.29 came in as the highest, outpacing Tony Corinda (7.18) and Theo Annemann (7.02).
Landman, the Metaphysical Magician, took the results of the survey and worked them into a 23-page essay, which was presented at the last London Mentalism Meeting. He said the responses came mostly from the United States and the United Kingdom, but others were received from India and the Far East.
Sisti believes the Breakthrough Card System will be Osterlind's biggest legacy. “It has a wider appeal,” Sisti said of the system because magicians, as well as mentalists, can use it to perform impossible effects. “It's incredibly clever, and (Richard) is very humble. He says the stack was always there, he just discovered it.”
Another major contribution from Osterlind is his Perfected Center Tear, Sisti said. “His version of the center tear will be used far beyond our lifetime.”
Osterlind has been working on the tear, which allows the performer to divine thoughts written on a slip of paper, for years. Early incarnations of Osterlind's tear appeared in Al Mann's book, “The Purloined Thought.” A later improvement came out in Osterlind's “Slow-Motion, Surrounded Center Tear.”
Sisti said he thinks the biggest testimonial to Osterlind's contributions is how they are discussed on Internet forums, where the Breakthrough Card System, the Perfected Center Tear and the Osterlind Design Duplication System are reduced to initials (BCS, PCT and ODDS, respectively). “They have become part of the vernacular,” Sisti said.
Two years after his first “Mind Mysteries,” Osterlind and Sisti returned to L & L in Lake Tahoe, Nev., to record volumes five-seven of “Mind Mysteries” and volumes one-four of “Easy to Master Mental Mysteries.” In all, more than 80 routines were performed, explained and recorded over a three-day period.
When Osterlind was first approached about doing the “Easy to Master” series, he was somewhat reluctant. “I did not want to do a beginning mentalism course,” Osterlind said. Mentalism requires a lot of presentation. There's no such thing as easy mentalism.”
The project highlighted Osterlind's versions of classic mentalism effects from the masters, like Theo Annemann, Tony Corinda, Al Koran and Al Mann. For those who have studied mentalism for years, the DVDs afforded them an opportunity to see how the effects are performed, instead of merely reading a book and working out the presentation.
“We can't forget what came before,” Osterlind said. “We have to understand what was going on in the heads of the masters.” By not forgetting magic's and mentalism's past, performers can get an idea of the foundation that was laid. “(That is) why I always refer people to the Tarbell Course. They give you the basics. Today, how many newcomers want to skip over the basics?”
Though Osterlind has a passion for the past, he is not content to maintain the status quo, which is why he continues to improve and fine-tune his routine. While his corporate act has remained virtually the same since he recorded “Mind Mysteries,” his presentation has changed, giving it the feel of a different show, Osterlind said. Presentation along with the audience's participation and reaction are important to him. He wanted to capture this experience, which he did on his “No Camera Tricks” DVD set. The three DVDs and a bonus one were recorded like a mock television show. As the title suggests, Osterlind and the production crew employed no camera tricks, just pure presentation and reaction. He used to be ambivalent about the use of creative editing techniques, but now he says it makes him mad. He also rejects the idea utilizing stooges to create wonder and awe in an audience. He much prefers real-time mysteries.
When an effect goes into his act, Osterlind said he is not concerned about whether the piece can be categorized as a mentalism or magic routine. Foremost in his mind is does it create mystery, wonder and a sense that this is just impossible. Rather than crafting lengthy, complicated stories to accompany his effects, Osterlind prefers a straightforward approach.
“In general, one of Richard's biggest contributions is that he has a kind and gentle way of performing mentalism,” Sisti said. “He is a genuine and friendly kind of guy, and even if he were not the performer in the room, people would be attracted to him. He has always been the same guy off-stage and on. One of the things he puts the highest value on is honesty.”
What does the future hold for Osterlind? “I'm just getting started,” he said. “One of the great things about magic and mentalism, it is not something you retire from. The older you get, the better you get.”
So, since the original story appeared in February 2008, what has Osterlind been up to? He has written several books, released new effects, recorded two sets of DVDs and reissued his earliest instructional video in DVD format.
Among the books introduced following publication of the Osterlind feature story was “Mystique.” The book captured who Osterlind is as a performer in that it included new effects, updated version of classic effects and essays, which have become a passion of his. In these books targeted for those who perform in the magical arts, Osterlind's desire is not to merely teach them how to do new effects. Rather, he wants to teach them, challenge them to think about why they are performing a certain way and to think about magic and mentalism as art forms.
For more than 40 years, Osterlind has been a widely sought after corporate performer. However, in 2010 he found time to release a number of new items, including effects, tools to perform amazing mysteries, a book for the general public, the rerelease of an early instructional magic video on DVD, “Challenge Magic,” and a DVD set, produced by L&L Publishing, that captured the essence of one of the foundational books on mentalism, “Corinda's Thirteen Steps to Mentalism.”
“Challenge Magic” broke new ground when it released. Osterlind said at the time, most instructional videos for the magic community were around one hour and sold for around $50. This one was about two hours and sold at an affordable $20. With the rerelease of the video, Osterlind also found a source to manufacture a quality, industrial-strength spring to be used for Industrial Strength Link, an effect he taught on the video. As Osterlind performs the effect, a strong and sturdy spring is magically linked on and off a coat hanger in what seems like an impossible fashion. So, in conjunction with the DVD, Osterlind also offered Industrial Strength Link as a separate product.
Perhaps one of the most anticipated video projects ever was Osterlind's take on “Corinda's Thirteen Steps to Mentalism.” Tony Corinda's book has a place of importance among mentalists, like the works of Theo Annemann, and there was of wonder, expressed on popular Internet forums where magicians and mentalists congregate, as to what the final product would look like.
However, the project almost did not come to see the light of day. Osterlind had already communicated he was pretty much finished with recording instructional DVDs. Falanga was interested in producing a DVD series and wanted Osterlind to perform them, and he spoke with Sisti about the project. Sisti knew Osterlind had said he was finished with DVDs, but he was delighted to hear his longtime friend and business partner was interested. As with his “Easy to Master Mentalism” DVD series, Osterlind was able to demonstrate to modern performers how classics of mentalism were performed. He also had to update some of the effects. After the project was completed, Corinda sent Osterlind a letter commending him for the work he had done (read an exclusive interview here).
Osterlind also released a new product in conjunction with the Corinda DVD release, the Versatile Blindfold, which is made by Sisti's wife, Sandy Sisti. Osterlind taught the use of blindfolds in an act on the DVDs, and in the marketing material for the Versatile Blindfold, it is pointed out the product can be used for not just one effect, but a wide variety of them.
Two other releases for 2010 were Dynamo Deck and a book for the general public, “Mind Over Matter.” The Dynamo Deck is a utility deck that allows the magician or mentalist to perform any effect one would with a normal deck, but because of some other properties. It creates the opportunity to do a number of mental miracles. This was the deck Osterlind used for years, and it led to his marketed effect, Radar Deck, where four spectators merely think of specific playing cards that are ultimately divined by the performer. “Mind Over Matter” explores how the human mind works, how to develop ESP skills and ways to start reading minds.
Osterlind kept up his uptempo pace of releasing and updating effects in 2011, along with adding a couple of new books. Because of Osterlind's commitment to performing corporate shows for some of the top companies around the world, he had not participated in as many magic conventions or conducted as many magic lectures as he would have liked. So, he made a determined effort to do more of them. Osterlind lectured and performed at the 2011 Blackpool Magic Convention in Blackpool, Lancashire, England and MINDvention 2011 in Las Vegas, Nev.
Osterlind also traveled to France in 2011 for a convention in Dunkerque. In 2010, he had a series of performances in Oslo, Norway; Halmstad, Sweden and Copenhagen, Denmark. He also performed a number of lectures throughout the Midwest, including Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan. For his lectures, Osterlind said he did not have a set of lecture notes, rather his new release, “Principles of Mentalism,” would serve that function.
The 2011 offerings included The Dunninger Portfolio, the Epitome Board and Irresitible Forces, a joint effort with magician Leland Pennington. And, another Osterlind DVD set was released by L&L Publishing, “Live Without a Net.” For years, Osterlind had heard some grumblings within the magic community about how audiences at L & L recording sessions were prompted to respond enthusiastically to performances. Osterlind wanted to show a performance in front of a regular audience, so he and the L & L crew went to a Reno, Nev., casino to capture a live show, along with the audience's reaction. Ironically, this was the approach Osterlind took nearly two decades ago when he originally recorded the “Challenge Magic” videocassette (it was released in VHS format). He recorded the effects with one camera and no edits. He also did not want any magicians in the audience. This passion of his played out again when he recorded the “No Camera Tricks,” a reaction to creative editing that heightened magic on television. Thus, that notion of performing pure magic and mentalism culminated in “Live Without a Net.”
Among the pieces performed on the new DVD set was Alpha-Mental Plus, his expanded version of Alpha-Mental. Osterlind offered it to the magic community as a new product in 2011. It is a newspaper prediction effect with a surprise ending.
Osterlind also wrapped up his seven-volume Mind Mysteries Guidebook series to complement his DVD series of the same name. The guidebooks gave Osterlind the opportunity to expand upon the effects performed and explained in his DVDs.
As 2012 draws closer, Osterlind said he has a few goals in mind. He has enjoyed lecturing, both at conventions and for magic clubs, and plans to schedule more as time permits with his busy corporate performing schedule. Osterlind is also considering doing some television work. “I have never cared about that before, but I may pursue it now,” Osterlind said. “And, of course, Osterlind Mysteries will continue putting out quality products. Jim (Sisti) and I may very well do some video work ourselves and keep it completely in-house.”