Thursday, March 12, 2009 | 2 a.m.
The Masked Magician
- What: “Breaking the Magician’s Code: Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed”
- When: 9 p.m. Mondays
- Where: KVMY, Channel 12
The Las Vegas entertainer is universally despised by magicians who recoil in disgust from the man who wears a mask to protect his identity so that he will not be burned at the stake for his betrayal of the profession.
Actually it isn’t all that bad, but it makes for great marketing.
The Masked Magician has been revealing the secrets of the trade for more than a decade now and is still alive — and happy — to talk about it.
His name is Val Valentino, a 52-year-old native of Los Angeles who was tapped by the Fox Network in 1998 to portray a character called the Masked Magician for a series of specials called “Breaking the Magician’s Code.”
The specials were such a hit Valentino has been breaking the code with regularity ever since.
“The ratings for the shows went through the roof, with 26-point-something million viewers,” Valentino says. “Since then I haven’t stopped. I’ve been continually working, touring the world.
“I especially struck a nerve in Brazil. No one can explain it. It must be something in the psyche of the Latin American people. After the specials aired I spent two years in Brazil performing in large arenas with 15,000 seats — and we were turning away thousands. Then I went to Japan for a couple of years and did several TV specials there.”
The Masked Magician returned to television this week with a 13-episode syndicated series of “Breaking the Magician’s Code: Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed.” The hourlong episodes are being shown worldwide.
“We reveal how 120 different illusions are achieved,” Valentino says.
Among the illusions are the death saw, passing through a steel wall, levitation, dismemberment and making an elephant disappear.
Valentino, who began performing magic at birthday parties at age 12, became a stoolie when Fox hired him to do the specials.
“Magicians were turning down the show,” he says. “I turned them down several times, but then some of the elder magicians started thinking that it would be much better to have magicians on the inside — but nobody was willing to do that.”
Valentino took the gig and ran with it.
“I went in to work for the magicians, to look after the art, knowing that my career could have ended then and there,” Valentino says. “But at the time it was the best solution to help out magicians.”
He says initially there was some controversy because magicians didn’t know what was going to happen.
“Some thought magic was going to be ruined forever,” he says. “But that wasn’t the case. It’s flourishing.”
Valentino reveals there are several ways to do any given trick.
“When you know a magic trick, you don’t know all of it,” he says. “The real magic is in the artistry of the magician, the performers themselves. You can make a coin disappear 20 different ways. The more people understand magic the more it helps the magicians because the fans go to see if they can catch them — usually they can’t.”
Valentino says what he did was broaden the interest in magic, help create a whole new generation of young magicians and to challenge established magicians to be even better at their craft.
“By revealing the older secrets it forced magicians to create new ideas, new concepts and to move the art forward,” he says.
He doesn’t feel the least guilty about revealing the secrets. “The Internet has created a whole new generation of cyber-magicians who show the tricks on YouTube.”
Since filming of the TV series is finished, Valentino is concentrating on several other projects, including a school for the new generation of magicians, called The Masked Magician’s Academy of Mystical Arts, in Las Vegas.
And he’s consulting on a Masked Magician graphic novel, which could become a film or TV series.
Valentino’s big break in magic came in 1986 when he appeared on “The Merv Griffin Show.”
The producers of “Playboy’s Girls of Rock ’n’ Roll” saw the performance and invited him to join their cast in Las Vegas.
“I’ve been here ever since,” he says.