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Portrait of a Magic Champion
photo of Johnny Ace Palmer and FISM Grand Prix trophy
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Johnny Ace Palmer, a world champion magician, has, through a lifetime devoted to practicing magic, accomplished what no other magician has been able to do. In the summer of 1988 in the Netherlands, he became the first and only close-up magician in history to capture the World Championship title across all eight categories of the competition (i.e., even against stage magicians).

Every three years, the International Federation of Magic Societies, known as FISM, holds the World Congress of Magic, a gathering of magicians from all over the world. By far the most significant event at the FISM Congress is always the competitions. In 1988, they were held in several categories of magic, including six stage categories and two close-up categories. First, second, and third place prizes were awarded in each category, and from among all the categories, one person was selected to receive the overall Grand Prix award, giving that person claim to the title of World Champion Magician. (Note: Beginning in 2003, separate Grand Prix awards were created for the close-up and stage divisions, so that Johnny's comprehensive win is unmatched and no longer possible.)

Until recently, the winner of the Grand Prix had always been chosen from one of the stage categories, and since the focus of the FISM competition is generally oriented more towards the stage, it was always assumed that there would never be a Grand Prix winner from the close-up category. So it was that Johnny Ace Palmer, a young close-up magician from Warren, Ohio, by combining his winningly warm and appealing personality with a mastery of sleight of hand skills, and by bringing the theatrical elements of the stage up close, turned the magic world upside down in the Hague, Holland, by becoming the only close-up magician in history (and, incidentally, only the second American) to capture the title of "World Champion Magician."

Johnny's quest to be the best has been a lifelong endeavor, beginning with his first interest in magic at the age of four. He spent many years honing and developing his act and his world class abilities, winning a long list of performing awards, both nationally and internationally, along the way.

In preparation for the World Championship competition in 1988, Johnny spent several hours each day rehearsing and perfecting his already near flawless act. The time limit for the competition was ten minutes, and to go over meant instant disqualification. Because of that, most competitors plan their acts far short of the ten minute limit. Johnny, on the other hand, felt that in order to demonstrate as perfect a performance as possible, his act must be as close as humanly possible to the time limit without exceeding it. He honed his act until it was consistently within five seconds of nine minutes and fifty seconds. Even allowing for and learning to carefully control audience response, Johnny's act became incredibly tight, without a single second of wasted time.

When he finally arrived at the World Congress in the Hague, Johnny discovered that because of a mix up in registrations, his performance spot in the competition was the next to last act in the close-up contest, normally a rather weak spot, since the audience tends to be rather sluggish after having sat through so many acts. He decided to make the best of it, however, and make every effort to turn it to his advantage. His confidence told him he could not lose, and word began to spread that Johnny was the contender to watch for.

Even tightly packed, the room in which the close-up competition was held allowed less than two hundred people, so crowds also surrounded the TV monitors that were spread throughout the convention center. From the moment he was introduced and took his place behind the close-up table, Johnny was in complete control. His personality was on, his energy was high, his timing perfect, and his technique flawless. The performance was, even for Johnny. whose act is always incredibly appealing, without a doubt one of the best of his career. When he finished, the applause was deafening. He received an instant standing ovation. The audience began stomping their feet on the bleachers. The tumult continued for so long that the judges, who were seated in the first row, finally turned around and stared at the audience in wonder and disbelief. Johnny was called back for three extended bows before the applause finally subsided, a feat that not even any of the paid featured performers at the Congress was able to duplicate.

At the awards ceremony when the first, second and third place winners in close-up category were announced, and Johnny was not one of them (the Grand Prix winner does not receive a "place" award), many people were surprised and confused. But when the Grand Prix overall World Champion was announced, and fanfare music and fireworks began, Johnny was stunned to hear his name called out. He had done the seemingly impossible. He had become the first World Champion close-up magician!

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