Literature of Magic
of Pomona alumnus and magician Richard Buffum '43
When Richard Buffum 43 was fifteen years old, he began
to watch magic card shows outside of a small gift shop on Catalina Island
that sold cacti, clocks, and candles. Jose Riojas, the magician who owned
the store, noticed the curious young man who seemed so intrigued by the
different faces of the red and black cards. He began to teach Buffum the
swift moves of card tricks and illusions.
Buffum sits in his office surrounded by photographs and memoirs from prominent
magicians and influential figures that he has encountered throughout his
lifeletters from Harry Houdini and Edgar Bergen; a thank you letter
from Orson Welles, who purchased some trick coins from Richard; tape-recorded
interviews with Dai Vernon, one of the most famous magicians of natural
movement, stretched into seven miles of tape.
Soon after Buffums first magic lessons, he bought his first magic
trick at Thayers Studio of Magic, now Owens Magic Supreme,
and became fascinated with the styles and forms of magic. While Buffum
performed at small venues, he also became interested in the history and
biographies of well-known magicians. He began to self-publish monographs
about the lives and stories of magicians and conjurers on his own letterpress
to sell them at local conventions. In his first project, for which he
wrote the introduction, he edited and printed Stuart Cramers Germain
the Wizard and his Legerdemain (1966), telling the story of the famous
magician Carl Germain. Buffum has now written over a dozen monographs
and three books, including Brema Brasses and Keep the Wheels
In his career, Buffum was elevated in the magic circle in London and became
a Gold Star member of the Inner Magic Circle, the highest honor of the
organization. He is also a member of the International Brotherhood of
Magicians. This April, 65 years after those first card tricks on Catalina
Island, Buffum received the Literary Fellowship Award at the 33rd Academy
of Magical Arts Awards show at the Wishire-Ebell Theater in Los Angeles.
"It was a very big honor for me to receive that award, I was very
pleased. I had no idea I was going to get anything like that."
When asked what attracts him to the arena of magic, Buffum pauses for
a moment. "Its hard to say really. I find it challenging and
interesting to not only invent tricks, but to perform and learn them,
to make and manufacture them. Its a matter of skill and maybe I
like the limelight. Its like an actor doing a show. Robert-Houdin
once said, The good magician is an actor playing the part of a magician."
In addition to his contributions to magic, Buffum has always been recognized
as a gifted writer. He attributes his strong foundation in writing to
his years at Pomona College, where he majored in English and acted in
various plays, such as the Gentle People and Our Town.
"I did a lot of studying and memorizing of lines and, of course,
I was doing magic at this point, mostly small shows at parties,"
Buffum laughs. "I feel very proud to have graduated from Pomona,
I made a lot of good friends there."
Although Buffum was part of the class of 1943 at Pomona College, he graduated
early in 1942 to join the Coast Guard in Long Beach as a combat correspondent
during World War II. Richards ability to draw creativity from the
midst of everyday life led him to interview and write short stories on
fellow members of the Coast Guard.
"Thats how I spent most of the war," Buffum remembers.
"Interviewing and writing."
He worked with Los Angeles Times photographer, Coy Watson, who
took pictures of every person Buffum interviewed. After the war, Buffum
worked for the Long Beach Independent as a crime reporter. In 1968,
he went to work for the Los Angeles Times as a general feature
writer, later retiring from the Orange County edition in 1987, where he
wrote three to four columns a week.
Aside from the mysterious and highly renowned world of magic, Buffum holds
a fondness for boats and the ebbs and flows of the ocean. He recently
donated his boat that he owned for twenty-eight years, the Herald Bird,
to the sailing center of Orange Coast College. He spends a great deal
of his free time researching the history behind the harbors of Santa Catalina
Island, a place with which he identifies closely from his childhood. He
is currently in the final stages of proofreading the printed pages of
his book, Catalina Saga, which he researched and wrote with his
wife, Marjorie Buffum, who was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times.
At eighty-one years old, Buffum still lives near the ocean on Balboa Island
with Marjorie. Though he rarely performs anymore, his work continues to
foster the creativity that flourished in both his career and his avocation.
Jennifer Palmer is a freelance
writer living in Pasadena, California.