Dave Elman 1900-1967

Here are the notes from the speech by Dave Elman's son, Colonel H.L. Elman at the National Guild of Hypnotists Convention 8 August 2009.



A Short Biographic Summary


            Dave Elman  (May 6,  1900 � December 5,  1967)  grew up in North Dakota.  At age 6,  he saw his father attempt (unsuccessfully) to treat a stutterer using hypnosis.  At age 8,  he witnessed a hypnotist supply his father with enough pain relief for his father to play with the children.   This was the last time Dave saw his father,  who died of cancer shortly afterwards on a business trip.   That incident inspired a life-long interest in hypnosis,  with particular interest in its medical applications.   As a young teenager,  Dave experimented with hypnosis on his classmates,  an action which did not endear him to the parents of some of the more proper young ladies in his school.


            Dave next ran away to join��. Vaudeville!   In vaudeville,  Dave performed in many different capacities,  including musician,  comedian,  bit player,  and several others.   The one which got him the best billing,  however,  was as The World�s Youngest and Fastest Hypnotist.  It was while performing under this billing that he realized that there were three important requirements for stage hypnosis:  1.)  Speed of induction;   2.)  Reliability  of method of induction  (i.e.,  90% or more of all subjects);  and  3.) Sufficient depth for commands to reliably  �take.�  His research on these requirements and the techniques to achieve them would later apply to more than stage hypnotism.   The better billings obtained with this skill often did not fit the theater marquee,  so Dave�s name was shortened from David Kopelman to Dave Elman.


            The early 1920�s found Dave in New York as a song writer employed by the legendary W.C. Handy.   At this point,  he was also playing sax in jazz bands.  As the new media of radio developed in New York,  Dave and many other former vaudeville personalities began writing and producing radio shows.  Dave remained at this work from the early 1920�s to the mid 1930�s.   In 1936,  his eldest son,  Jackie,  died from pneumonia.   To overcome his severe mourning,   he was advised to develop a totally new kind of radio show;  one whose originality and unusual problems of development would keep his mind occupied.   The result was HOBBY LOBBY  in 1937.   This program,  and others developed by Dave Elman,  continued in various formats for over 20 years.   During World War II,  Dave Elman raised huge sums of money for the war effort through war bond sales (War Bond Auction,  later renamed Victory Auction) becoming almost as popular a show as Hobby Lobby).   While continuing to write,  produce,  direct,  and MC these two shows,  Dave Elman also assisted in counter-intelligence work.  


            Dave Elman continued his studies of hypnosis during the almost 30 years from his last appearance as a vaudeville hypnotist until 1949,  when he began teaching medical hypnosis to physicians and dentists.   In medical hypnosis,  the physician,  pressed for time in most office visits,  faces the same requirements as those discussed above for the stage hypnotist.   The doctor also needs additional tools, but rapid,  reliable induction and reliability of the suggestions given are the doctor�s first concerns.  The rapidity and reliability of the Elman induction methods rapidly spread the use of hypnosis among physicians.  However,  many additional subjects were included in the  Elman course,  such as regression,  treatments for phobias and allergies,  hypnotherapy,  preparation for surgery using hypnotic anesthesia,  and many other topics.  Dave Elman continued actively teaching these courses  (six or seven days per week) until his heart attack in 1962.   While recovering from the heart attack,  he wrote Findings in Hypnosis,  currently still in print as Hypnotherapy.  He had recorded many of his classes,  and those recordings,  combined with his added commentaries,  became the several sets of  Dave Elman audio recordings still available to the student.


            Among the many accomplishments of physicians trained by Dave Elman were the first open heart surgery performed with only hypnosis for anesthesia,  the first delivery of a baby with hypnosis being both the only anesthetic and also a measure for improving the mother�s efforts in the birth,   and many thousands of less dramatic procedures.


Items Discussed by Col Elman in His Talk at the NGH Convention,

But Not Included in the Preceding Handout.


When my eldest brother, Jackie,  died about two years before my birth,  my parents went into an even more severe depression than one might expect the death of a child to cause.   My father  was advised to develop a totally new kind of radio show;  one whose originality and unusual problems of development would keep his mind occupied.   Dad took that advice.


But my father,  being very solicitous of my mother,  asked the person who suggested this,  �But what about Pauline?�  �Ah � she�s only a woman � just get her pregnant.�  The 1930�s were an era of Male Chauvinist Pig run rampant!


The result of the advice to concentrate on the new show resulted in HOBBY LOBBY.

The pregnancy resulted in me.


My parents,  with much love,  told me I was the �replacement child� for Jackie.  NEVER tell a child he is a �replacement baby� � the parent may think they are saying this with love,  but that is not the child�s perception.  I mention this in part because my father devoted a great deal of his teaching to emphasizing to physicians the importance of semantics � think of what the other person HEARD not about what you think you said.  Dad�s emphasis on this point is extremely valid for hypnotherapists because of the heightened awareness and suggestibility of the subject.


Dad was  much aware that before Hobby Lobby he was a much respected man in radio but a total unknown outside that field,  He was also aware that before Hobby Lobby he was struggling financially.  When I was born,  Hobby Lobby had made him a major celebrity nationally,  and also made him a millionaire.  Considering all this,  he determined to name me HOBBY LOBBY ELMAN.  My mother with (I�m happy to say) much greater wisdom,  gave Dad an ultimatum that I would NOT be named that way.  The resulting compromise is reflected in my initials � HLE � Hobby Lobby Elman,  but my name is H. Larry Elman.   (I have not used my full first name since age 7 � it took me about 6 months to train Mom to call me Larry � it took longer to train Dad,  who while brilliant,  could be a �slow learner� if something irked him.)


I will not cover them in detail here,  but there are several stories about my father�s role in counter-espionage in World War II which can be found on the Internet.  Many of these irk me because they often repeat two errors which (to me) defy all logic.  The first is the time Dad and Mom spotted spies signaling from a nearby building and informed the FBI.  The story is true but the incident happened about 11PM at night.  At the 3 or 4 PM in the afternoon (often claimed on the Internet)  one could not have spotted the signals.  And why was my father�s call to the FBI answered when several dozen,  perhaps hundreds,  of others were treated as false alarms?  Well,  Dad was quite proud of having been in the first Boy Scout Troop in North Dakota and was able to provide details of the signals which alerted the FBI that this was not another crank call false alarm.   The second one that bothers me is the tale of Dad being worried about an assassination attempt and treating my mother rather gruffly when she searched for her house keys.  What is omitted on that one in most cases on the Internet is the fact that a bullet struck the door frame as Dad and Mom were trying to unlock the door � I saw the bullet hole many times � whenever I used that door.  Omitting the bullet hole makes my father appear mean-tempered to Mom,  which he never was.

When I was about 10 or 11 and Dad had begun teaching medical hypnosis,  I asked him to teach me.   (I had already seen several hypnosis stage shows and heard our normal dinner table conversation.)   He handed me a book on Mesmer � a 19th Century translation of Mesmer and his contemporaries.  He insisted that I not only read it,  but that I report to him what was true,  what was false,  and what has been learned since Mesmer�s day.  When I finished that task,  he handed me another of his books on hypnosis with the same assignment.  I went through 5 or 6 such books,  in some cases with only a chapter or three to read.   It was only AFTER that introduction that Dad allowed me to attend his course.  I took it three times over the next several years.


Part way through his course my first time,  he urged me to do stage hypnosis among local high school clubs and things.  He even insisted I use his old vaudeville billing �



While I did adequately and performed for a number of years,  I never lived up to Dad�s billing.  The billing may have been true � after all,  at 11 or so,  WORLD�S YOUNGEST is a valid claim.   FASTEST?  I wasn�t bad � after all, I was using my father�s techniques of rapid induction � but I still feel the billing belongs much more to Dad as a youngster than it ever did to me.


Many of you will remember the quote in Dad�s book that hypnosis should not be used as a parlor game,  but should be primarily employed in medicine and related fields.   So why did he encourage me to do stage hypnosis?   His position on this subject was complex.  He always insisted to his students that they should never forget that his methods were developed in vaudeville � never demean the research done by some stage hypnotists.  Yet he also insisted (as I just mentioned) that hypnosis belongs in medicine.   His urging that I perform stage hypnosis was primarily because he felt strongly that EVERY student in his course needed to practice rather than just attend lectures,  for without experiencing the varied situations a hypnotist may meet,  how could one understand the reasoning behind the next lesson?  So stage hypnosis was my �homework� in his classes.


Dad�s initial classes were at the request of the medical community.   But when his methods proved very effective,  a physician � in Newark,  New Jersey if memory serves � found that Dad�s success was cutting into the income of his hypnosis school.  He began complaining to fellow doctors and to state medical authorities that Dave Elman was practicing medicine without a license.  Dad was not doing that;  in fact Dad�s stand on the ethics of hypnotherapy and the dividing line between physicians and hypnotists is an important pillar of the current codes of the hypnotherapy profession.  However,  in the hopes of entrapping the unwary,  the Newark doctor phoned constantly with fictitious scenarios that he wanted Dad to respond to.  The problem was that I was a �latch-key kid� and got home from school several hours before my parents.  I was the recipient of dozens of such calls and for an 11 or 12 year old such a call is very traumatic � police sirens in the background and someone yelling that if you don�t send your father to where they say,  someone will die.  �But Dad doesn�t treat patients.�  �What sort of kid are you � trying to kill someone?�   If I ever meet that scoundrel I will dismember him.


That greedy disturbed fool was followed,  several years later,  by a very famous member of the hypnotic community who many of you can identify but I will,  as a gentleman,   not name.  The motive again was jealousy and greed because Dad was more effective.  The man�s weapon?  Blackmail.  Not of Dad,  but of physicians who signed up for Dad�s course.  He would threaten the physician with a complaint to have his license revoked on the premise that paying for Dave Elman�s course was �assisting someone to practice medicine without a license.�  I have spoken with persons who were present when doctors were threatened in this manner.  I have very severe anger at this hypnotist to this day because blackmail and false accusations are the tools of a criminal.   I also have contempt for such a person.


In this posting I will not attempt to cover my entire talk.  However,  some incidents I consider instructive.   Between our New Jersey home and Manhattan,  one had to cross the Jersey Meadowlands,  which in those days was a rather unpleasant swamp with pig farms on the few items of land which stuck above the bull rushes.  There was one seven mile segment with no gas stations or other stops and no shoulder to the road.   And the road was divided so one couldn�t make a U-Turn.  Just as we entered this section,  Dad announced that he had to urinate.  He began to fidget and Mom was remarking about the traffic jam we could see a few miles further on as one approached the Lincoln Tunnel.   From the back seat I asked,  �But Dad,  why don�t you try auto-suggestion like you taught us last week?�   My memory of the shock and surprise on Dad�s face has ever since made me listen to my students.  I�ve taught on several faculties,   and students often teach the teacher.  As for Dad�s problem,  the self-hypnosis worked just fine of course.


Among my father�s many accomplishments,  one that I treasure is the story of the man who was too weak for ANY of the many kinds of anesthesia drugs available in the 1950�s.  This man required open heart surgery immediately.  His surgeon and his anesthesiologist conferred.  At least one,  perhaps both,  was a student of Dad�s.  They called to say their only course would be to use hypnosis,  but could Dad come into the operating room as their �coach?�   He did,  and it was the start of a large number of similar cases. 


I will end with an incident from my parents� wedding.  Dad was a Leftie,  as were all his children.  (Mom claimed to be ambidextrous,  but I suspect she was a Leftie forced by the schools of her time to �write Rightie.�)    Dad was not only left-handed,  he was also left-footed.  In a Jewish wedding,  the bride and groom drink wine from the same cup,  which cup is then to be crushed under the groom�s foot.  The Best Man took the cup,  wrapped it in a napkin as tradition demanded,  and placed it in the traditional place � behind the groom�s right foot.  The Rabbi told Dad to smash the cup and Dad�s left foot came up and slammed down,  missing the cup.   Dad realized what had happened and went to try again,  but with his right foot.  The Best Man simultaneously realized and moved the cup.  Dad spent the first one to two minutes of married life flat on his butt in a broken wine cup.  The family delighted in kidding him about it for 40 years.


My father accomplished a great deal,  and in many fields.  His biggest legacy is probably in medical hypnosis,  but that is not the only one.  Not only did I love him and Mom very much,  but I always realized that those two were both �hard acts to follow.�

DAVE ELMAN,  Significant Dates, Page  1


Significant Dates:


May 6,  1900                   David Kopelman is born in Park River ,  ND

August 9,  1905              Pauline Reffe is born in The Bronx,  NY

Approx 1906                   Dave witnesses a partially unsuccessful hypnosis attempt.

November 1908             Jacob (Jake) Kopelman (Dave�s father) dies of cancer.  Dave�s

                                                           final memory of his father is of hypnosis being used

                                                           for pain control so that Jake can play with his children.

`Approx 1913-1914        After studying books on hypnosis and watching vaudeville

                                                           hypnotists,  Dave hypnotizes his classmates.

Approx 1914-1921         Dave in vaudeville.  For a portion of this period,  Dave�s billing

is  The World�s Youngest and Fastest Hypnotist.  This was the period in which David Kopelman began to call himself Dave Elman.  This was also the period in which Dave Elman developed his induction technique and his other unique procedures in hypnosis.   However,  it was also the period in which he developed his mastery of show business by working as a musician,  a comic,  a bit player,  and almost any other on-stage position in vaudeville.

Approx 1921-1926         Dave works as a songwriter for the legendary W. C. Handy and

                                                            other music publishers.  One of his best songs is

                                                            purchased by Eddie Cantor,  becoming Eddie

                                                            Cantor�s theme song.

1922                                 Dave Elman meets Pauline Reffe.   They would go together for

                                                           five years before marrying.

1925                                 Dave spends the Summer (possibly more) playing Sax in a Jazz

                                                           Band in the Catskills.

1927                                 Dave & Pauline marry.

1928                                 Birth of son Jacob Kopelman (Jackie Elman).

Nov. 1930                        Birth of son Robert Kopelman(Bob Elman).

1936                                 Jackie Elman dies of pneumonia.

October 1937                  Dave Elman launches Hobby Lobby.

                                                           Hobby Lobby remains on the radio through the 1940�s

                                                           plus some appearances in the 1950�s.

Dec 1938                         Birth of son H Larry Elman (�Hobby Lobby Elman�).

Early (Feb?) 1942          Dave Elman launches  War Bond Auction  later called

                                                            Victory Auction.)

Early (Feb?) 1942                Dave Elman begins assisting in counter-intelligence operations,

                                                           in addition to his normal professional activities.

1949                                 Dave Elman begins teaching medical hypnosis.  The classes

                                                            were at the request of the medical community,  and

                                                            were initially supported by a local chapter of the

                                                            AMA.   Later,  the issue of a layman teaching

                                                            Physicians became controversial in the AMA.

DAVE ELMAN,  Significant Dates, Page  2


Significant Dates:  (Continued)


1951                                 Elman Family moves to 304 Brook Avenue,  Passaic,  NJ.

                                                                            This home was large enough to be used for classes

                                                                            for several years.  {The subsequent move to Clifton,  NJ

                                                                            (Dec 1956) was a move of less than 10 blocks.}

1949-1953                       Classes remained primarily in NJ with only a few classes far

                                                                            enough away to require overnight hotel stays.

1954-1962                       Classes all over the country,  requiring Dave & Pauline Elman

                                                                            to be on the road three months or more at a time.

May or June 1962          Dave Elman suffers a major heart attack while teaching in

                                                                            Los Angeles.

1962-1964                       While recovering from the heart attack,  Dave Elman writes his

                                                                            book Findings in Hypnosis (currently titled


December 5,  1967        Dave Elman dies.

1968-1989                       Pauline Elman continues to answer questions on Dave�s

writings and methods.   This is appropriate because,  except for a

few weeks when recovering from surgery in 1953,  Pauline

attended and assisted at every class Dave Elman taught. The

income from the Elman book and the audio recordings support her.

September 30, 1989      Pauline Reffe Elman dies.





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Also available, the classic book "Hypnotherapy" by Dave Elman