Here's the foreword to the book, written by Welles circa 1947:
It is entirely possible that this excellent book should never have been published - not like this; anyway, not for general sale.
There are two kinds of magic books, you know. The kind they give away with the box top off a breakfast cereal, and this kind of book, which tells explicitly and with pictures - so the reader can really get the hang of them - valuable secrets of professional magic. In brief, I'm sorry that this one is so very good but I'd be honestly sorrier if it were bad.
At the outset it should be explained that the author of these prefatory sentiments is one of that dwindling and gloomy body of cranks who wish magic could have been kept a mystery. In his view magic's worst enemies are that spreading section in any audience who know how the trick is done. It should be granted that a puzzle solved before it's shown is just about as publicly attractive as an unmade bed. A real magician's task, it seems clear, is to abolish the solution, the possibility of any solution in the minds of those he seeks to amuse.
And this is certain: He'll fail to amuse if he doesn't amaze.
Removing from magic the element of wonder is no less disastrous than music without the element of pitch.
There are some fine entertainers who use magic props in the sole service of comedy, but they are no more magicians than the clown with the breakaway fiddle is a violinist.
In magic's golden age magicians offered laughter as a part of the show but never permitted disenchantment. For a marvellous hour or two they elevated their most adult audiences to the status of delighted children.
This art has fallen into decadence.
Wizards, deposed from the appropriate gilt and glamour of the playhouse, work their wonders these evenings in the frowzy hubbub of the cabaret, competing with bad whiskey for control of their beholders' minds. The children are all home asleep, and of course the children are magic's source and meaning, magic itself being, after all, no more than a formal and serious approach to the important business of playing with toys.
Comic papers and even magazine advertisements assail the young with diagrams and legends laying bare the most cherished secrets of the wizard's trade. A child is so completely informed today or so completely bored with the whole subject that he finds a magic show no more entrancing than a stale joke.
Unless of course, he wants to do the magic himself.
For in this, the least interesting and least secretive of all the ages of magic, the most interesting and most secretive magician is the amateur. This is a fairly new and immensely important development.
Our world is crowded with eager gentlemen busily begging somebody, anybody, "please take a card," and this is only sad because so small a part of the remaing population has any wish to take a card, or indeed, wants ever again to see another card trick.
Yet each year hundreds of "new" tricks fatten the magic catalogues. Subtleties and sleights beyond possible count or practical usefulness are printed monthly. We are told that never before has there been such an interest in magic; but this, I'm afraid, is simply interest in magic by other magicians - and would-be magicians at that. Not that the would-be's aren't often skillful enough to be the real thing. But you don't get to be a magician by joining a magic club or living in a magic store. You can only be a magician by putting on a magic show, you can only put on a magic show by getting an audience to come to see it. The bad news is that the dealers are selling more tricks while the theatres are selling less and less tickets.
Now, I can't persuade myself that wholesale dissemination of magic's backstage lore hasn't contributed heavily to this present plight. The profession - and with it the art of magic - is most surely done for unless secrets like the ones to be found in this book are more carefully kept from the attention of the merely curious. That's where you come in - you, the serious reader. There is enough in these pages to equip a thoughtful student with half a career of real performances. An idle hour or two with this remarkable work, however, will also fully equip mutton-heads and hecklers to spoil much of the best magical entertainments. The purpose of this foreward is to suggest that this should happen just as seldom as you can possibly help.
For I come not to bury magic but rather to point out that a very high respect is due these following effects; that the reader proceeds at magic's risk. If all he wants to know is how the magician does his stuff, let him shop elsewhere. But the reader's intentions are honorable, we're sure; and here, if he pleases - in spite of years of syndicated exposes - are miracles. Let him learn them carefully and perform them to their credit. Well executed they are sure to astonish and delight.
Magic is starving for a new audience. If astonishment and delight won't bring an audience into a playhouse any more, then of course something is rotten in the state of the Union, and it isn't only magic that is doomed.
And here's a section from the book proper:
We think that you will like this routine that Orson Welles worked out... This trick with its various permutations is, we think, a good example of how one effect can be varied depending on the circumstances or the ultimate result desired.
In Welles' hands the trick can be dubbed Fruit Cup. In order to be able to do the trick you have to borrow a coin and vanish it, and following this effect we will give you a simple, clean method of vanishing any coin.
On a table to his right the wonder-worker has, of all things, a grapefruit! Orson Welles borrows a half dollar from someone in the audience and has it marked. That is, the owner of the coin scratches his name on it with a penknife. That accomplished, the magician vanishes the coin and gestures at the grapefruit.
He says that the vanished coin has made its way into the fruit.
To prove it he cuts open the grapefruit with the penknife and reveals inside it not the coin, but an orange! He cuts open the orange and discovers inside it not the coin, but an egg!
It certainly seems impossible for the coin to have penetrated inside the egg, but the magician cracks the egg over an eggcup and then, using the clothespin so as not to soil his fingers, roots around in the messy egg and comes up with the half dollar. Climax!
The half is wiped off with a handkerchief and returned to the person from whom it was borrowed. He finds the marking on it and tells everyone that it is indeed the coin which was borrowed from him.
I won't type up the solution, especially after Welles' statements in the foreword, but this is a nice portrait of one of the tricks we might have seen if we'd caught the Mercury Wonder Show back in the day.