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Best Close-Up Magic Class Los Angeles 2008 

Mark Wilson and Nani Darnell's Magic III

The magazine Magic calls Mark Wilson one of the 10 most influential American magicians of modern times, in the same crowd as Houdini. And The New York Times says he's "probably this nation's leading authority on magic." Yet for the price of a couple of decent tickets to a ball game, you can enroll in a small advanced magic class taught by Wilson himself.

Said to have been the first Western magician allowed into China, Wilson created the first magic series on network TV, 1960-64's The Magic Land of Allakazam, and authored the best-seller Mark Wilson's Complete Course in Magic. He and his wife and longtime onstage assistant, Nani Darnell, are among the premier teachers of the art of close-up magic.

For the ridiculous price of $160, an amateur or pro who has already completed basic Magic I (taught at the Magic Castle by the terrific David Thorsen) and Magic II can take the four-session Magic III offered by Wilson and Darnell through the Academy of Magical Arts and the Magic Castle.

Amateurs love the couple's accessible, hands-on, ultrafriendly teaching style, which Wilson probably honed while teaching his own kid, Greg — now a professional musician — who remembers how his dad "used early video to teach me, which was still three-quarter-inch then." Yet the class is filled with pros, too. "A lot of magicians want to learn directly from Mark," says one magician. The pros take Magic III to pass the Magic Castle's tough entrance exam, which is required before magicians can perform there.

Wilson and Darnell aren't the only great close-up-magic educators in town. There is also the professionals-only Chavez School of Magic in La Verne. But where else can amateurs swap tales with working magicians while they learn from the best? To take this class, you don't have to be a member of the Magic Castle, a private club. But seating is always limited. As one magician explains it, "Call the number, pay the money, sign up, you're in the class."

—N. Jenssen

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