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

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

by Jim Steinmeyer
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

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

Overview

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.

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
Kirkus Reviews

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101486344
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/03/2011
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
958,301
File size:
566 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

"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.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >