The Last Greatest Magician in the World: Howard Thurston versus Houdini and the Battles of the American Wizardsby Jim Steinmeyer
Everyone knows Houdini-but who was Thurston? In this rich, vivid biography of the "greatest magician in the world," celebrated historian of stage magic Jim/b>
Here is the seminal biography of the magician's magician, Howard Thurston, a man who surpassed Houdini in the eyes of showmen and fans and set the standard fro how stage magic is performed today.
Everyone knows Houdini-but who was Thurston? In this rich, vivid biography of the "greatest magician in the world," celebrated historian of stage magic Jim Steinmeyer captures the career and controversies of the wonder-worker extraordinaire, Howard Thurston.
The public's fickleness over magicians has left Thurston all but forgotten today. Yet Steinmeyer shows how his story is one of the most remarkable in show business. During his life, from 1869 to 1936, Thurston successfully navigated the most dramatic changes in entertainment-from street performances to sideshows to wagon tours through America's still-wild West to stage magic amid the glitter of grand theaters.
Thurston became one of America's most renowned vaudeville stars, boldly performing an act with just a handful of playing cards, and then had the foresight to leave vaudeville, expanding his show into an extravaganza with more than forty tons of apparatusand costumes. His touring production was an American institution for nearly thirty years, and Thurston earned a brand name equal to Ziegfeld or Ringling Brothers.
Steinmeyer explores the stage and psychological rivalry between Thurston and Houdini during the first decades of the twentieth century- a contest that Thurston won. He won with a bigger show, a more successful reputation, and the title of America's greatest magician. In The Last Greatest Magician in the World, Thurston's magic show is revealed as the one that animates our collective memories.
Entertaining rescue of a forgotten show-business legend.
We tend to associate modern magic with Houdini, but he was not considered a great magician by most of his contemporaries. If asked to name the greatest magician, most would have named a Houdini rival, an entertainer few today have even heard of: Howard Thurston (1869–1936). When we think of the debonair performer in black tie who patters suavely with the audience while sawing women in half or pulling rabbits out of hats, we are conjuring the image Thurston spent 40 years in show business perfecting. According to Steinmeyer (Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural,2008), a magician, illusion designer and scholar of magic, Thurston may have lacked the dexterity and originality of some of his illustrious peers, but he brought the elements together to drag theatrical magic into the modern world. What made Thurston so great, Steinmeyer argues, was his utter belief in his own con. Though cultivating the illusion of the modern entertainer as a bland, upright businessman, Thurston was actually a one-time street urchin and pickpocket who, while on his way up, was not above grifting when the occasion called for it. The author ably conveys Thurston's intriguing milieu and relentless adventuring (much of which he labored mightily to hide from the public)—his train-hopping boyhood and travels between carnivals to medicine shows in the wild West as an apprentice magician, his vaudeville and music-hall tours of the United States and Europe, his 1905–06 tour of Australia and the Far East and "last stand" as an itinerant movie-theater performer at the height of the Depression. Thurston's rise to the heights of showbiz fame paralleled the thrilling American boom years between the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago and the financial crash of 1929, and Steinmeyer, in his quiet, workmanlike way, captures it all vividly.
A low-key but thoroughly fascinating biography.
- Penguin Publishing Group
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What People are Saying About This
"There is no greater expert on the history of stage magicians than Jim Steinmeyer. His deep knowledge of the subject, combined with a remarkable mastery of magical know-how, makes this book a smart, fantastic read. I can't recommend it enough!"
-Neil Patrick Harris
"Jim Steinmeyer knows the outside-in world of magic from the inside; he is a celebrated 'invisible man' - inventor, designer and creative brain behind many of the great stage magicians of the last quarter-century... Steinmeyer writes about events a century ago as vividly as if he had been there; and in a sense, he has been... No author has ever better conveyed the way the love of conjuring consumes a magician's life with magic's joys, terrors and longings."
-Teller (of Penn and Teller), The New York Times Book Review
Meet the Author
Jim Steinmeyer is the critically acclaimed author of The Glorious Deception, Charles Fort, and Hiding the Elephant, a Los Angeles Times bestseller. He is also a leading designer of magic illusion who has done work for television, Broadway, and many of the best-known names in modern magic. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.
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