The Last Greatest Magician in the World: Howard Thurston Versus Houdini & the Battles of the American Wizards

Overview

Now in paperback, the acclaimed biography of the magician's magician, Howard Thurston.
 
“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!”
...

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The Last Greatest Magician in the World: Howard Thurston versus Houdini and the Battles of the American Wizards

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Overview

Now in paperback, the acclaimed biography of the magician's magician, Howard Thurston.
 
“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
 
 “Steinmeyer produces an engaging full-length biography of the man Orson Welles called ‘the master’…Steinmeyer recovers, from the shadows of his greatest rival, a figure whose grandiose productions were an American institution for almost 30 years.”
—Publishers Weekly
 
“Magician and author Jim Steinmeyer rescues a forgotten American icon from Houdini’s shadow.”
—AARP: The Magazine
 
“Thurston may have been forgotten, but The Last Greatest Magician In The World ably resurrects his legend and his awe-inspiring magic.”
—The Onion A.V. Club
 
"An erudite, challenging text full of difficult questions"
—Kirkus Reviews

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 apparatus and 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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Expanding on his chapters on Howard Thurston in his history of magic, Hiding the Elephant, Steinmeyer produces an engaging full-length biography of the man Orson Welles called “the master.” While Houdini’s daring stunts were legendary, Steinmeyer says Thurston was the public’s favorite, captivating audiences with his “self-assured grandeur.” Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, Thurston gained fame in the early part of the 20th century with his “Rising Card Trick,” in which he levitated cards named by audience members. He successfully changed with the times, going from street performances to wagon tours through the West. He then became a top vaudeville star, but wisely left the vaudeville circuit to produce more ambitious spectacles involving 40 tons of magic apparatus and colorful costumes, a variety of animals, and more than two dozen assistants. Tracing the magician’s rise to fame, this volume neatly juggles his marriages and his magic with his triumphs, travails, showmanship, and marketing ballyhoo (“The Wonder Show of the Universe”). Steinmeyer recovers, from the shadows of his greatest rival, a figure whose grandiose productions were an American institution for almost 30 years. (Feb. 3)
Library Journal
In the early 1900s, America was entertained by carnivals, circuses, and traveling magic shows. Top magicians of the time were Harry Kellar, Paul Valadon, Harry Houdini, and Howard Thurston. Steinmeyer (Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural), a professional magic illusion designer, has written an entertaining account of Thurston's life and work. Thurston began his career after running away from home, riding the rails, working as a carnival con man, then becoming a card manipulator and magician. Thurston dreamed of having his own magic show. He toured Europe, Asia, and Australia, and when his mentor, Kellar, retired, Thurston bought him out and was billed as the Greatest American Magician. The need for bigger and better illusions created financial and marital problems, and his rivalry with Houdini became more obvious with Houdini's success. VERDICT Steinmeyer's in-depth research and knowledge of magic along with colorful characters, schemes, and magic espionage come together in a fast-paced, excellent read. Highly recommended for all readers.—Rosalind Dayen, South Regional Lib., Broward Cty., FL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399160035
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 8/30/2012
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 940,806
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

JIM STEINMEYER is one of today's most renowned historians of stage magic. He is the critically acclaimed author of The Glorious Deception, Charles Fort, and Hiding the Elephant, a Los Angeles Times bestseller. He lives in Los Angeles.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: "I Wouldn't Deceive You …" 1

1 "A Bit of Fun" 7

2 "Creation" 20

3 "The Moth and the Flame" 35

4 "The Mystic Follies" 49

5 "Disintegration of a Person" 64

6 "The Appointment" 76

7 "The Magician's Assistant" 88

8 "Original Card Passes" 102

9 "The Reversed Girl" 116

10 "A Street Scene from the Orient" 132

11 "The Levitation of Princess Karnac" 147

12 "Magicians Past and Present" 162

13 "Do the Spirits Return?" 176

14 "The Piercing Arrow" 191

15 "Birds of the Air" 208

16 "The Girl and the Rabbit" 224

17 "Sawing a Woman in Half" 238

18 "Fire and Water" 252

19 "Chundra, Who is Buried Alive" 266

20 "Miss Jane Thurston (She Takes After Her Dad)" 280

21 "Shadow People" 294

22 "Seeing Through a Woman" 310

23 "Finale: the Triple Mystery" 323

24 "The Flight of Time" 337

Acknowledgments and Sources 345

Index 371

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