Herb Zarrow: Shuffling Through A Magical Life

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The following article about Herb Zarrow is being reprinted, with permission, from the April, 2001 issue of The Linking Ring. Mr. Zarrow is the Guest Of Honor at the annual F.F.F.F. (Fechter’s Finger Flicking Frolic) Convention held in Batavia, NY on Apr. 25-28, 2001.

Herb Zarrow is perhaps best known for the shuffle that bears his name. Since the creation of the Zarrow Shuffle, Mr. Zarrow’s name has been used in magic books in the strangest ways: as a noun “…after losing the Aces do a Zarrow,” as an adjective “…do a Zarrow full-deck false shuffle,” even as a verb, “…now Zarrow under two cards.” The shuffle however is just the tip of the iceberg as far as describing this very unique gentleman whose love of magic and magicians has spanned a lifetime.

Mr. Zarrow and his wife Phyllis, who will be celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, are the kindest people you could meet. They have always opened their hearts and home to magic and magicians. Over the past 50 years, hundreds of magicians have been their house guests when traveling through the New York area. A month doesn’t go by without at least one magic gathering at their home. Dai Vernon, Charlie Miller, Slydini, Ricky Jay, Johnny Thompson, Fred Robinson, Alex Elmsley, Juan Tamariz, Cardini, Michael Skinner, Ed Balducci and Arturo Ascanio are just a few of the many magicians who have spent time at the Zarrow’s performing, practicing, and enjoying their hospitality.

Born on November 4, 1925 in Paterson, New Jersey, like many future magicians, Herb Zarrow became interested in magic through magic sets and magic books. Later, he credited Dai Vernon for changing his outlook on magic and described the event in the Vernon Chronicles. “During the period surrounding 1946 and 1947, my very close friend, Dr. Lewis Leeson, and I attended Vernon’s two lectures in New York. We were young and not long in magic. These were the beginnings of lectures as we now know them and they were the best lectures I’ve ever witnessed.” Mr. Zarrow wrote, adding “Our eyes almost popped out as we watched miracle after miracle.”

So afterward, Mr. Vernon and Mr. Zarrow became very close friends with Vernon performing many of Zarrow’s routines during his many appearances around the world — and on occasion these routines and sleights became so popular that they were inadvertently published with the credit going to either Vernon who showed it to the writer or a third party who saw Vernon do the routine and decided to take credit. Several of the sleights and routines have been given proper credit since their original appearance; among them the now renamed “Zarrow’s Revolving Aces” and the “Zarrow Block Addition.”

Mr. Zarrow’s kindness and unselfish desire to help anyone who shows a sincere interest in magic has allowed many of his ideas to leave him and appear in other people’s routines and books. Despite that, Mr. Zarrow continues to hold back from publishing the massive amount of original magic which he has shown to very few close friends who have been using his ideas for many years. But that is not to say that he has not published — there are dozens of original routines and sleights by Mr. Zarrow throughout the magic literature — including the Tarbell CourseModern Coin Magic, and the award-winning routine “Matched Revolvers” which appeared in the July 1977 issue of The Linking Ring.

Of course Mr. Zarrow is best known for what has come to be known as the Zarrow Shuffle, which he originally called “Full Deck False Shuffle.” This sleight has been called one of the best card discoveries of the 20th century — done well it is without a doubt the most natural looking false shuffle ever creat­ed. It is so deceptive that it’s one of the very few card sleights which have crossed from magic to the world of card cheating where it is commonly used.

Johnny Thompson enjoys telling the story of the first time he saw the Zarrow Shuffle performed. “Harry Riser, at my request, asked Herb to demonstrate his false shuffle. Herb said he would, but prefaced his reply by saying he needed to warm up first. He opened his car door and began to riffle shuffle a pack of cards on the front seat. After some nine or ten shuffles I turned to Harry and said; ‘He seems warmed up to me, when is he going to do the shuffle?’ Harry smiled and said ‘He is — that’s the Zarrow Shuffle you’re watching!’ Well I truly couldn’t believe my eyes. Up until that moment I had never been fooled by a false shuffle and I was fooled! I honestly believed he was really shuffling the cards. “Witnessing Herb flawlessly execute the Zarrow Shuffle that day will always remain one of my fondest magical recollections.”

Many other magicians have published similar stories about the first time they saw the shuffle performed — so the next time you see Mr. Zarrow demonstrate his shuffle be warned that his “warm­up” is what you should be looking at — and he will still fool you. He will make excuses about not having practiced lately, arthritis, swollen fingers (all these things are true — the man never lies) but be prepared, he still does this flawlessly.

A second card sleight which is also revolutionary in its application is the “Zarrow Block Addition” where you can secretly and cleanly add or switch cards while displaying them. Other sleights and routines he has created are also standouts. For example, everyone who does magic with a small packet of cards should read Mr. Zarrow’s “Universal Count Grip” which appeared in the September 1995 issue of M.U.M. And I bet you did not know that Mr. Zarrow was the first to create a Double and Multiple Buckle. When asked to perform for lay people Mr. Zarrow will more likely do magic with ropes, rubber bands or coins before doing any card magic. His published work with these props is also worth your trouble to search out and study. His one-handed rope knot used to confound Slydini and Vernon, with them having contests to see who could do more of them in a row. What few can duplicate is how Mr. Zarrow gets the knot to appear near the top of the rope. His coin work can best be appreciated with his brilliant coin switches which occur at the tip of your fingers. Check out “Switch Change” in Tarbell Seven and “Starfish Copper/Silver” in Coin Magic by Richard Kaufman.

Of course his handling of the linking and unlinking rubber bands is something to behold — his technique eliminates the need for jerky hand movements and makes the entire effect happen under the spectator’s nose.

Phyllis and Herb Zarrow

The generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Zarrow toward magicians cannot be equaled. They regularly support magicians by attending many of their shows and lectures, putting them in contact with people that could help them, investing in their projects, driving them to shows, feeding them and Mr. Zarrow’s accounting firm files income tax returns for dozens of magicians while giving them invaluable financial advice throughout the year.

The magic world has also been very kind to Mr. Zarrow. Over the years he has received many honors: being named a Member Of The Inner Magic Circle, receiving a Louie Award, voted an Honorary Life Member of the Society Of American Magicians and having the Academy of Magical Arts give him a Creative Fellowship. He has been featured on the cover of the M.U.M. and was named an Honorary Life Member of the Magic Castle.

Most recently he was named the guest of honor at this year’s Fechter’s Finger flicking Frolic (F.F.F.F.), the by invitation-only convention, where most of the best close-up magicians in the world gather every year to show their latest creations and honor one of their own. In conjunction with that honor is this special cover feature in The Linking Ring, which should come as a complete sur­prise.

On a personal note I would like to thank both Herb and Phyllis Zarrow for their support and friendship of more than 20 years. They truly helped shape the way I think about magic and more importantly — my outlook on life.

—Meir Yedid

To Join the International Brotherhood of Magicians and receive The Linking Ring for free click: HERE.

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