And The Professor had a nickname for me: Spill, short for my real last name, Spillman. He affectionately said he dropped the “man” because I was a boy magician. Spill. Vernon called me that, boy and man, all his life. The nickname stuck and eventually became my legal name. Funny, when Vernon first called me a boy magician, I felt like a man. Now, at nearly 70, I feel like a boy.
I’ve never seen anybody more comfortable in his own skin, living on his own terms. His gravitas was unquestioned and unquestionable. He was a man who had always lived his life by his wits, and made friends everywhere and in all social climates—a very skilled raconteur with a vast repertoire of interesting anecdotes. I spent many enjoyable hours sitting with Vernon listening to him relate countless stories about the legendary magicians he had known. He would speak with the freshness one has for yesterday morning’s happenings of celebrities he encountered like Billy Rose and various Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Astors, and Roosevelts—stories about actors, crooked gamblers, circus folk, pickpockets, vaudevillians, and carnival grifters. I didn’t know about any of those people; they were all new to me.
Vernon was the ultimate authority on sleight-of-hand with cards. Since it’s his birthday, I’ll let The Professor have the last word with one of my favorite quotes from him on the topic: “Cards are like living, breathing beings and should be treated as such.”