Denis St. Jean
by Roy Cottee
(Reprinted with permission from The Linking Ring, March 1997 Vol. 77 No. 3)
Denis and I met at the “Magic Montreal” Convention in the spring of 1979. He had only been doing some card magic for about a year and this was his first convention – he was 33 years old, definitely some catch-up is in order.
Sometime later, I learned his buddy, Jeff David, had fooled Denis with some card magic the previous year, but wouldn’t tip to Denis’s insistent pleas of “How do you do it?” Jeff finally suggested that Denis buy Bill Tarr’s book, Now you see it, now you don’t. Denis did and was hooked!
My roommate at the convention was Roger Cote who knew both Jeff and Denis. It seems they had all been Martial Arts students and instructors together. Later that day, we met Jeff McBride, also a devotee of Martial arts and ended up at a steakhouse for dinner.
With a common interest of Magic and Martial Arts, there was no lack of conversation and relating of humorous events. It was then that I realized that Denis had quite a gift for telling stories. At one point, he jumped up on the table accompanied with appropriate judo chops in the air and grunts in Japanese to illustrate key points in his side-splitting anecdote. Don’t forget this all took place in a crowded restaurant during dinner. Yes, Denis was definitely someone to watch … or be watched.
Since that time, Denis and I have become close friends and I’ve learned that his father and grandfather were very active in the theatre. His grandfather was a co-founder of the Amateur Theatre in 1905 and five years later founded his own group called the St. Jean Theatre Troupe. Denis‘s father, Jean Paul, followed in his father’s footsteps as a master comedian, particularly as an imitator of famous people. I suspect Denis has inherited his love of people and performing from his father and grandfather.
Denis’s mother, Rita Couture, almost died when he was born by caesarean on October 16, 1946, in Hull, Quebec, next to Canada’s capital, Ottawa, Ontario. Her health was fragile for many years afterwards and she was overprotective of her only child, Denis. Consequently, he had almost no contact with other children until he entered school and he found it difficult to adjust to the sudden change. It was during this time that his father, sometimes working at three jobs to survive, still found time to console Denis by reciting poems and parts of plays to him. Denis fondly remembers these moments with his dad, who passed away in 1975.
As a young teenager, Denis was attracted to the Martial Arts which he pursued with a passion for the next eighteen years, attaining a black belt in judo and a 4th degree black belt in Jiu-Jitsu. He taught self defence for ten years at the College of the Outaouais in Hull, and from 1968 to 1976 owned and operated the Ninja Jiu-Jitsu Dojo. To his martial arts aficionados, he is known as “Sensei”.
During this time, Denis found something else to pursue with passion - namely, vivacious Nicole Leroux, and in 1971 they were married. Their beautiful twenty-one year-old daughter Natalie is currently enrolled at university in Industrial Relations.
Denis is a college graduate and he and his family are fluently bi-lingual in French and English. As well, Denis has a smattering of Japanese and he occasionally mumbles in Spanish. However, I think the latter are probably dirty words. He has been employee as a researcher for the Outaouais Urban Community, Hull, Quebec since 1971.
Since joining Ring 151, The Ottawa Society of Magicians, in 1979, Denis has assembled a large library of books, periodicals and tapes on magic. During the early eighties, five or six keen close-up performers, namely the late Ron Scharf, Paul Lacelle, the late Jack Haynes, Don Candon, myself, and later, Glen Brown, would meet every Tuesday night at the Maple Leaf Tavern, a local watering hole, to spend four solid hours of performing, discussing, teaching and learning close-up magic. These sessions were tailor made for Denis and he came to watch, but very shortly was as involved as everyone else. Denis was a fast learner and today is a skilful sleight-of-hand performer. His preference is Close-up, primarily with cards, coins and bills.
His favourite milieu is working a banquet room, cocktail lounge or bar as a strolling entertainer, kibitzing with the patrons, everyone having fun. He has hundreds of professional shows to his credit and many of them are repeat performances.
At the Ring meetings, he is a tireless worker and has been president three times as well as serving another year as Ring Reporter. He constantly comes up with ideas for improving Ring meetings and sets a fine example to all members by always being ready to perform and entertain.
Denis’s other hobbies include photography, bird-watching, wine making (he makes an excellent red), reading, watching magic videos and movies, and shooting pool. The foregoing list prompted Roger Latour and I to present Denis with an award made of two candles in the shape of a cross – so Denis could burn the candle at four ends instead of two! No one laughed longer or louder than Denis.
The ability to laugh at oneself is Denis’s greatest asset and in a more serious moment he is the first to admit that he occasionally succumbs to an excess of drink and tobacco. Also diplomacy is not his forte. Things are black and white with little grey. He sometimes speaks out when tact suggests silence…but, he speaks truthfully!
Denis’s favourite magic writers are Lorayne, Minch, Garcia and Ouellet and his preference for performers runs to Mullica, Spill, Malone, The Great Tomsoni, Del Ray, Daniels, Lewis and Tamariz.
Denis joined the I.B.M. in 1979 and the Magic Circle in 1990. He has attended nine F.F.F.F.’s in the last ten years and earned his three diplomas from The Great Obie. Although he prefers close-up and parlour magic, he is quite at home working on stage and does some powerful mental effects.
Denis has many stories about magic which unfortunately lose a lot of color when retold by a second person. However, the following may give you an inkling of the man. Denis speaking:
“In a hotel one day, I noticed a sign – “Morticians Convention.” The door of a big room was open and people were enjoying drinks and “nic nacs”, I walked in as if I was part of the convention, I had no tag. I took a free drink and approached some men. One asked, “You are?” and I responded, “My name is Denis and I am a magician”. “A magician?” he said, and I continued, “Yes, I was sent by the management to liven things up around here! Things seem pretty dead.” I took out my deck and proceeded. Within minutes, I was surrounded by a group of about fifty people; I had super fun and made tips also.”
In the preceding anecdote I think you will detect a touch of George Jason, possibly Senator Crandall, and definitely a smidgen of Max Malini. Now add a soup can of French Canadian accent, lots of Joie-de-Vivre and voila…Denis!
His ambition is to make people laugh and enjoy life and our Ring meetings certainly show Denis is right on track. People get nicknames, usually as a sign of affection from their friends and associates, and Denis is no exception. He is often introduced as “the T.N.T. man of Magic.” To his confreres at the 4-F’s, he answers to “Doctor”, having acquired his Doctorate of Magic at that event. Because he wears a large distinctive ring which is always offered when someone needs a “borrowed” ring, I call Dennis “the Pope”, I sincerely pray you are present sometime when “the Pope” casts his ‘blessing’ on an audience.
IT REALLY HAPPENED
(Reprinted with permission from The Linking Ring, March 1997 Vol. 77 No. 3)
The cover subject for this month is Denis St. Jean. Blessed with an ebullient personality frosted with a French accent (his first language), Denis knows no strangers and attacks life with the zest and fervor of a Martial Arts expert...which he is. These two "It Really Happened" stories will demonstrate the accuracy of the foregoing description. And, we'll let Denis tell the stories in his own words.
One night I was doing walk-around magic for about 200 people at a cocktail party. I was doing the bill switch ($1 to $20). I would keep the one with the blessing of the contributor. At one point, a man came to me with a $20 and said "Magician change me this twenty into a thousand and you can keep the twenty."
"Are you sure of that, sir?" I asked.
"Of course I am."
So, in front of many people, I changed his $20.00 into a $1,000 pesos bill.
"What is that?" the guy said.
"This is a $1,000 bill like you asked, but it is Mexican money," I replied.
He took the $1,000 bill, looked at it, and said, "How much is it worth?"
"About seventeen cents in our money," I replied. "Thank you for the tip, sir," I moved on to another table.
Another night, I was booked for a children's party, I hate kid shows, but it was paying very well. When I arrived ahead of time, the owner (a millionaire, by the way) asked me if I would do a few tricks for the adults after the kid's show, "No problem," I said.
He then asked if I could badly fool his father. "I can try," I said.
"Do you need anything?" he asked
"Yes, I need a $20.00, a $50.00 and a $100.00 bill."
From his pocket he took a roll of money. "Here," he said, "take what you want."
After the children's show I was invited into the kitchen where about ten adults were sitting. I did a few tricks, cards, coins...
Suddenly, I looked at the older man and said, "Mr. Cléroux, do you believe in magic?"
"No", he said, with a few words I cannot repeat.
"Come on", I said, "Lend me $1.00". He did, but with great reluctance.
"Look", I said, "this is your dollar and I have nothing else in my hands. But, sir, if I fold your dollar in a certain way it increases it's value."
"Ya, ya", he said, not buying that a bit.
"Watch this carefully, sir, please and you won't believe your eyes." So I did the standard four folds, unfolded the bill and it had changed into a twenty. He looked at it and could not believe his own eyes.
"I know it's a trick", he said.
"It might be a trick in your head, sir, but it is not in mine. Here, keep the twenty, it's yours." He finally took it, touched it, turned it, looked at it, totally amazed.
"Now sir, do you believe in magic?"
"No", he said. "I don't trust you."
"Well, you should", I said (everybody was laughing and impressed, except the older man). "Look", I said, "give me your twenty and I will do it again for you."
"No way, Jose", he said, "you won't fool me. The twenty is mine, that's what you said, magician." Everybody at the table started pumping him, telling him to take a chance. So, with great, great reluctance, he gave it back to me.
"Watch", I said, "I fold your twenty like this, and this, and this, and when unfolded it is now a fifty dollar bill." His jaw just about broke down. "Mr. Cléroux, here is your fifty dollar bill." and I gave it to him. His eyes had just about popped out. He was in shock.
"Sir, do you believe in Magic?" "No, no and no. It's a trick, you magicians are all alike." (Crooks?)
"Sir", I said, "I will have to do it again, then, for I don't want you to stay with this opinion of us. Lend me your fifty."
Well, I managed to get it from him again, but it was not easy. I did it again and turned his fifty into a hundred dollar bill.
"You are either a con man or the devil himself", he said.
"Sir, I am here to make you happy. This is my task, this is my goal. Take your hundred dollar bill and enjoy it, compliments of me."
The older man looked around in total shock and gave the $100 to his wife and said, "Put this in your purse, close it and don't leave it a minute."
I went on with another card trick, and another, then I looked at Mr. Cléroux. "Sir, do you believe it's magic?" He did not respond, but looked me right in the eyes.
"Sir, would you lend me your hundred dollar bill?" "No and no", was his response.
"Sir, what, in your opinion, comes after a hundred dollar bill?" Someone shouted, "a thousand".
"Damn right", I said, "and, sir, would it not be nice to be on top for a change?"
"Wife", he said, "give him the hundred." He was very nervous and watching me like a hawk.
I did the moves and yes the hundred changed back into a dollar. I could not believe my eyes, I looked at the dollar with amazement, disbelief, as if in a trance, and I gave him back his dollar. The man was blue with rage. The place was crazy with laughter, but not him. He cursed me as the worst crook, cheat, scum bag, etc.
"Something happened, sir, that I can not explain. I am sorry, really sorry!"
Oh, did I mention that besides my fee, I made a hundred dollar tip?
Ottawa Society of Magicians, Roy Cottee Ring 151 of the International Brotherhood of Magicians