Howard Thurston, the Magician Who Disappeared

A woman rose in mid-air. Cards hovered, and a box of candy became a rabbit. A horse and rider vanished, floating away as if in a dream, spangles sparkling in audiences’ eyes. At the magician Howard Thurston’s show, the world flouted nature. Through it all, the audience felt Thurston’s affection. Dale Carnegie included Thurston in his famed self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People, because Thurston had told Carnegie that before every show, he stood behind the curtain, saying over and over, “I love my audience.”

In the 20th century’s first decades, Howard Thurston thrilled people with his own brand of stage magic, a giant production requiring 40 tons of equipment. Today, he’s all but forgotten, eclipsed in history by his contemporary Harry Houdini, even though Houdini was more of an escape artist than a magician. But in his day, Thurston was the best. “It’s sort of like the hype of everybody that wanted to see Hamilton,” says Rory Feldman, a magician with a Thurston collection of more than 65,000 pieces. “Thurston—that’s what it was.”

Born in Ohio, in 1869, Thurston had a rough childhood that included some time riding the rails. While contemporary accounts reported that he’d been training for the ministry when he decided upon magic, biographer Jim Steinmeyer says that the young Thurston was a near-criminal who escaped institutionalization by saying he had found religion. Steinmeyer unearthed correspondence between authorities about the high-school aged Thurston. “It’s kind of jaw-dropping what they write about this kid,” he says. “They say ‘If you don’t take him, he’s at the end of his game.’ And ‘I really think this guy is redeemable, but he’s the roughest case I’ve ever seen.’” Thurston overcame those early trials, hiding his background to become, by the time he reached his early 30s, a stage magician whose success rested in part on his gentlemanly demeanor, what Steinmeyer calls his “bank president” grandeur.

In his white tie and tails, Thurston performed incredible tricks. One, called the “Rising Card,” started with an audience member choosing certain cards, as if for a regular card trick. But expectations turned upside down when Thurston put the deck into a glass goblet. He would then call up certain cards—the king of spades, the ten of clubs—and they would rise two feet in the air, into his hands. The dazzling end was when all 52 cards were thrown, serially, into the audience. One reporter wrote that they fluttered to audience members “like beautiful butterflies.”

Audiences of the ’10s and ’20s loved magic. Many vaudeville shows included magic acts. Thurston inherited the “mantle of magic” from Harry Kellar, who popularized the floating woman illusion, or the “Levitation of Princess Karnac.” Thurston added Ziegfeld-inspired touches to his show, like gaudy costumes for his assistants. And he closely observed European magicians he encountered, as Steinmeyer writes, especially those at London’s Egyptian Hall, where the most accomplished magicians gathered.

Howard Thurston Magician – Continue Reading …

The street magic of India once captivated the world, including Harry Houdini himself

n 1893, years before he made his name as a legendary escapologist, a 19-year-old Harry Houdini sought to entertain visitors at the Chicago World Fair. So he darkened his face with makeup, put on a white robe, and posed as a “Hindu fakir.”

Houdini was capitalizing on the growing fascination with the mysticism and magic of India which had sparked what one commentator described as a “fakir invasion” in the West. Indeed, he was following in the footsteps of many Western magicians who gave themselves titles like “The Fakir of Shimla” and “Fakir of Jeypoor.” These artistes dressed up in outlandish outfits, muddled together tricks from across the world, and passed them all off as Indian.

“…Science was able to explain everything, yet the East held out the promise that there were things out there that might not be explicable, that there might be a place where real magic existed. So Western magicians were very keen to exploit this belief,” said John Zubrzycki, the Australian author of the new book, Jadoowallahs, Jugglers and Jinns.

In the book, Zubrzycki traces the rich social, cultural, and political history of the art of magic in India. He explores its close connection with spiritualism and the changing roles of the country’s traditional nomadic street magicians, jugglers, and acrobats, once ubiquitous in Indian cities.

The author first visited India in the late 1970s and witnessed his first Indian street magic performance in West Bengal’s Alipurduar district: An old man and a young boy performed the classic basket trick—a child enters a small cane basket and appears to be stabbed repeatedly, only to re-emerge miraculously unhurt.

It wasn’t until decades later, when Zubrzycki was working on his second book about a diamond trader in Shimla who dabbled in magic tricks, that he thought of tracing the history of the art in India.

Zubrzycki has spent the past three years hunting down hard-to-find journals of Indian magic and meeting local magicians to hear about their lives and pore over their personal artefacts. His research took him from archives in Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata to London, Cambridge, New York, and Washington DC, where the Library of Congress hosts Houdini’s vast collection of books on spiritualism, magic, and witchcraft, which include many references to India.

He found that the enduring idea of India as a mystical place has its roots in the 6th century BC when historians, geographers, missionaries, pilgrims, and royal chroniclers began presenting the region as “a land of strange beasts and fantastical races, ascetics and saints, soothsayers and snake charmers, wonder-workers and necromancers.” Read more

Magician & Endurance Artist David Blaine Stuns In Breathtaking Show In Brooklyn

Magician David Blaine. Getty Images

When the star of a show calmly jokes that he might die on stage, the audience is likely to brush it off. But when the performer making the announcement has a history of holding his breath for 17 minutes, the proclamation might not be far off.  Such was the warning David Blaine, magician and illusionist extraordinaire, calmly told the sold-out crowd at Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre last Thursday night. He then proceeded to hold his breath for 10 minutes while in a transparent tank underwater.

Many cheered as the clock ticked. Others looked on in horror and disbelief.

“Please nobody ever do any of the things that you’ve seen,” Blaine, 45, told the audience after coming out of the tank, shaking and covered in a towel. “You might just be holding your breath and you think you’re fighting to hold your breath and all of a sudden what happens is you black out, you go unconscious and then the next thing that happens is you inhale water into your lungs and you will die and drown,” he warned.

The show on Thursday was the first of two sold out performances in New York City, culminating the end of a Summer tour around the states.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, the Jewish magician made his first impression in 1997 with an ABC special on street magic. But his shot to fame came with his high profile endurance exhibitions such as his “Buried Alive” stunt where he was entombed in an underground plastic box underneath a 3-ton water-filled tank for seven days in the Upper West Side. In another one, Blaine encased himself in a block of ice in Times Square for nearly 64 hours. In a 2008 taping of the Oprah Winfrey show he broke the world record, holding his breath underwater for 17 minutes and four seconds.

Back at the Kings Theater here, Blaine shocked the gasping audience by stabbing his arm with an icepick, and not drawing any blood when the icepick was removed. He also swallowed an audience member’s wedding ring, retrieving it with the help of a hanger. More swallowing tricks included coughing up his pet frog from his stomach.

The tension was palpable, similar to that of a horror movie, when he had two volunteers place an icepick underneath one of three cups. After the cups were moved around, Blaine, who was blindfolded, magically slammed his hands down on the two cups without the icepick. Many turned away as he did the trick, unable to cope with the anxiety.

“I kind of wanted to give everything of myself to the show,” Blaine told the audience. “It was also a curiosity like could these things, [That are] done back to back night after night, all [be] combined into one evening.”

In another stunt he downed several huge pitchers of water, sipped some kerosene and was able to spit out much of the water to extinguish a prop of his logo that was on fire.

Throughout the show Blaine performed with supreme confidence and the nonchalance of someone tossing out bags of garbage. The fact that he never raised his voice made his performance all the more mesmerizing and other-worldly. He told the crowd that he eats no food on the days he performs.

After the show, fans were mystified.

“The amount of self-discipline this guy has is unbelievable,” Shlomo Golombeck of New Jersey told The Jewish Week.

Eli Garber, who came in from Monsey to attend the show, shook his head. “It was way better than I expected. It was unbelievable. He brought a frog out of his stomach and a ring. I don’t know what’s going on there. It’s crazy.”

On stage, Blaine referenced Harry Houdini and the other great magicians who inspired him.

Manhattan resident Jacob Gitzis, said he loved that Blaine is Jewish and he was happy he got a chance to see such a performer in the flesh.

“I think David Blaine does a great job of connecting with his audience and puts an emphasis on making his show feel authentic,” Gitzis said. “Overall, he’s a terrific showman and a legend of our time! One day the young ‘magicians’ in his audience that he addressed several times will be quoting his name on stage.”

Source –  Times of Israel

The best magic shows in New York City

When performed well, they welcome you to suspend disbelief in a special zone where skills honed over the course of years meet the element of surprise. Why not allow yourself a few illusions?

In magic shows across the city, some of the world’s best illusionists help make New York a city of wonders.



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English teacher also works as Frankie Ace, a magician and comic

Frank Alletto of Western Springs has two passions, poetry and magic. And they have something in common. A poet uses ordinary words to create extraordinary ideas, and a magician uses ordinary objects to create extraordinary experiences.

That’s what Alletto tells his students at Lyons Township High School, where he has been teaching English for 22 years.

“I graduated LT in 1992 and started teaching there in 1996,” Alletto said.

But he started learning magic tricks as a boy after he saw a magician at Disney World.

“I got a bunch of books about magic from the La Grange Public Library,” he said.

When he was about 8, he performed magic tricks at block parties and in the talent show at Seventh Avenue Elementary School in La Grange.

His interest in the hobby lagged a bit, until he was in college and saw a comedy magician at a TGIF’s restaurant doing jokes and tricks at customers’ tables.

“I was totally hooked,” Alletto said. “I started going to magic shops and watching VHS tapes of magicians.”

Alletto, who taught himself magic, performed on the side at birthday parties and restaurants during his early years of teaching. For about eight years, he also was in a band called Jank with his brother John.

“That’s how I met my wife. She was the special events coordinator for a bunch of bars,” Alletto said.

But when the couple had their second child, Alletto said he realized a part-time job that kept him out until 4 a.m. was not working anymore

So he resurrected his magic act, Frankie Ace Comedy Magician.

He has done 290 Frankie Ace shows at restaurants, festivals and private parties in one year, Alletto said. Five to 8-year-olds are his favorite audience.

“That is the giggliest and most adorable age,” Alletto said.

It’s also could be the loudest. At a recent Frankie Ace magic show in the lower level of the Hinsdale Public Library, the shouts and shrieks from the kids in the audience could be heard at the entrance.

For a time, he performed at Aurelio’s Pizza in La Grange, but the manager told him it was too loud.

“The kids were laughing and shrieking too much. He asked if I could do a quieter show,” Alletto said.

“I love to goof around with little kids and make them laugh,” Alletto said. “I think it’s genetic. My kids do it, too.”

He works so that the magic in the show is as entertaining as the jokes.

“I want the sleight of hand to be really good, so the adults in the audience watch,” said Alletto, who also teaches evening and online English classes at Roosevelt University.

One of his most popular tricks is the miser’s dream. Children pluck imaginary coins from the air and drop them in a bucket. There is a clank after each pretend coin is dropped and when the child looks inside there is a silver dollar.

Adults, he said, like card tricks and anything involving money.

“They love when I change a dollar bill to a $20 bill,” Alletto said.

Alletto can be reached at [email protected], Facebook at Frankie Ace, comedy magic, or at 708-721-4919.

Source: Chicago Tribune: