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Topic: Steinmeyer’s new Thurston biography
Message: Posted by: John Cox (Nov 4, 2010 10:32AM)
I’ve just finished my review copy of Jim Steinmeyer’s new Thurston biography, The Last Greatest Magician in the World: Howard Thurston versus Houdini & the Battles of the American Wizards. Fantastic book! I've posted my thoughts on the "versus Houdini" aspect of the book on my Houdini website. Have a read if you like:

Thurston versus Houdini? Not really
Message: Posted by: mtpascoe (Nov 20, 2010 02:43AM)
I pre-ordered mine already. Can't wait. It won't come until February 3rd of next year, eek. But, if it's the same standard as Jim's other books, it should be worth the wait.
Message: Posted by: Marshall Thornside (Nov 21, 2010 07:05PM)
I can't wait to read it!
Message: Posted by: Jeff Taub (Dec 4, 2010 12:35PM)
I'm looking forward to this book myself. Jim's a wonderful writer.
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Dec 4, 2010 03:23PM)
It's kind of surprising that Jim chose that title. If you ever had a chance to see the P.C. Sorcar show, you saw a man who called himself the World's Greatest Magician, and who could back up his claim.

A lot of people maligned Sorcar, but his show was almost the inspiration for the modern Bollywood spectacle.

We have to remember that magic doesn't begin and end between the Pacific and Atlantic shores, as so many American magic authors would have one believe.
Message: Posted by: mtpascoe (Dec 4, 2010 06:35PM)
I'm glad you said you liked Sorcar. I am too young to have seen him, but was always fascinated by him. When I was a kid, I use to be a member of a magic club near the LAX Airport. The other members like Bob Wagner and his sister and Chris Michaels where talking about the great magicians of the past. They were talking about who was good and who wasn't. According to their opinion, they didn't think much of Dante or Sorcar. And had bad things to say about Kalanag. The magician during that era that they liked was Blackstone. I suppose because Blackstone was very cordial to other magicians and was also good at sleight of hand with cards.

Years later I asked a friend of mine that owned an Indian restaurant in Studio City what he thought about Sorcar. He thought he was a great magician. Of all of the tricks, he remembered when Sorcar made a clock in the center of town stop. Now, I never heard about him doing that trick, but you can't always rely on the memory of the accuracy of the details to a magic trick from a layperson.
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Dec 5, 2010 04:26PM)
Sorcar got a lot of bad "press" on "You Asked For It." He was doing the buzz saw (or another sawing) and the show was running long, so they didn't get to show that the girl lived through it. This was Art Baker's fault as much as it was anyone else's. The letters were amazing "How dare you show that filthy heathen killing a girl!" and similar things.

Magicians didn't like Sorcar, because he walked around in his turban, etc. all the time. He was at FISM, when Walter Blaney met him. A local television station and some newspapers came in to interview the magicians. The powers that be showed them to Al Goshman and said "Here's Goshman, he's the best close-up man around." But Goshman looked like a slob, so they didn't want to use him. Finally, they saw Sorcar in his turban, etc. and went over and took photographs and interviewed him. He got a LOT of ink!

Then he told Walter, who was basically the only magician who had been civil with him: "I know a lot of magicians think I'm a jerk, because I always wear this, but look whose picture is in the paper!"

Sorcar knew what he was doing. And never doubt that he made the town hall clock stop. It's not hard to do, and it's a very good trick.

Kalanag was another great magician. A lot of people think he was an evil man, because of his association with the German government. He may have been an opportunist, but he also, according to a number of magicians, saved the lives of some Jewish performers. However, he gets a lot of bad press. The Germans still think he is one of the greatest magicians who ever lived.

This is not to put Blackstone down. Both of the Blackstones were great magicians. Senior inspired me to become a magician, and Junior was my friend.

Posted: Dec 5, 2010 6:55pm
I should add this -- the magic public is very fickle and easily swayed in a negative manner. What magicians think about other magicians is of far less importance to the magicians in question than their popularity with the public.

Most of the big names couldn't give a rat's patoot about what we think of their acts or their behavior. For them, magic is what puts butts into seats. However, if there is a big scandal, and it makes one of the big guys look like a villain, then you can bet your bippy that they will be doing everything they can to get people to like them again.

There are a few exceptions to this, but, by and large, it's the way things are.
Message: Posted by: mtpascoe (Jan 8, 2011 02:20AM)
Still a couple of weeks away until they send me my pre-order copy. I can't wait.
Message: Posted by: Marshall Thornside (Jan 8, 2011 09:21AM)
Dad met socar when he was in Chicago and came out to the roundtable.
He is in the sallas drawing.

His son jr. Did carry on. Not sure if he still performing.
I remember years ago before dad's stroke that jr. Was in
Chicago. He was sponsored by an Indian association.
Tickets were as much as those in Vegas.

We didn't go obviously but it was nice to see the legacy continue.
Message: Posted by: John Cox (Jan 12, 2011 12:41PM)
I got the actual book yesterday. It's a beauty! Terrific pics.
Message: Posted by: Marshall Thornside (Jan 12, 2011 11:10PM)
I'm curious to read it because I know a lot about
Dante from first hand experience through my father
assisting Dante and it will be interesting to learn
about the show before it was passed onto him.
Message: Posted by: mtpascoe (Jan 13, 2011 02:22AM)
Zencat, did you pre-order your book too? I wonder if I'll get mine soon.
Message: Posted by: John Cox (Jan 13, 2011 08:55AM)
No, the publisher sent me a copy. It was a pleasant surprise. They sent me a review copy last year. I didn't expect they'd also send me the actual book. :)
Message: Posted by: mtpascoe (Jan 27, 2011 02:34AM)
Well, it's just a week or two until the Thurston book is released, I can't wait. If it's like Jim's other books, it should be insightful.
Message: Posted by: motown (Jan 28, 2011 10:46PM)
I ordered one through Amazon. Can't wait to read it when it comes. Sounds like a very interesting story.
Message: Posted by: John Cox (Jan 29, 2011 01:27PM)
Kev Silverman reviewed the book in the Wall Street Journal.

Message: Posted by: cairo (Jan 29, 2011 02:38PM)
Like all Steinmeyer books it looks like it's worth a read. Disturbed to hear Silverman felt the book was marred in the way he suggests at the end of the review. Still, I like Steinmeyer and want to know more about Thurston.
Message: Posted by: John Cox (Jan 29, 2011 03:13PM)
I really dislike this trend of including narrative passages in biographies -- you know, when you are in the head of the "character". Kalush and Slomon did this in The Secret Life of Houdini and it drove me nuts! I want an authoritative voice telling me the facts as they exist. It didn't bother me as much in Steinmeyer as it did in Secret Life. Still, I don't like it. It's how children's biographies are written.
Message: Posted by: cairo (Jan 29, 2011 07:09PM)
I agree with Zencat,and I felt the Silverman work was superb, not so much so about the Kalush publication.
Message: Posted by: John Cox (Jan 30, 2011 09:40AM)
Don't get me wrong, there is a TON of good stuff in Secret Life and I worship Mr. Kalush for his fine work establishing The Conjuring Arts Center. Here I was just talking about the stylistic choice of including narrative passages in biographies, a choice Steinmeyer makes in Thurston. Don't like that. But maybe it's just because I like my Houdini info to be very fact based. Even dry. With the Steinmeyer Thurston book, I wasn't as troubled by the narrative passages. But it's still a depressing trend. History can be history.

(But I do agree with you, Cairo, that Silverman's Houdini bio is superior than Secret Life.)
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Jan 30, 2011 11:24AM)
On 2011-01-29 15:38, cairo wrote:
Like all Steinmeyer books it looks like it's worth a read. Disturbed to hear Silverman felt the book was marred in the way he suggests at the end of the review. Still, I like Steinmeyer and want to know more about Thurston.

Silverman should not cast the first stone. His review, itself, is somewhat sloppy. For example, he should have given Palladino's first name as well as her last name, because nearly every account of the rivalry between Houdini and Eusapia Palladino does just that.
Message: Posted by: cairo (Jan 30, 2011 12:43PM)
Message: Posted by: Kevin Connolly (Jan 30, 2011 01:25PM)
Oh yeah, that's critical. Leaving Eusapia out. Not. :)
Message: Posted by: houdinisghost (Jan 30, 2011 07:33PM)
Oh, crud, I hope Eusapia doesn't see this latest snub that Ken Silverman has thrown at her.
And if she has, I hope with all my heart she finds this thread and sees Bill Palmer's astute criticism of Dr. Silverman's review. At least then she will see that someone remembers--someone cares.
I have a dozen books in which that sweet, plump, little Italian woman is referred to again and again as "Palladino" and I'll bet every one prompted her to say, "Call-a me, Eusapia, alla my friendsa do."
If anybody objects to my written version of a vaudeville Italian dialect, they should take it up with Silverman and Palmer. They started this!
Message: Posted by: John Cox (Feb 3, 2011 01:08PM)
New review (of a sort). I have to say, Silverman took Steinmeyer out of context in his review.

Message: Posted by: Banester (Feb 3, 2011 02:58PM)
I like Jim's other books, but what drives Jim to critize Houdini so much? Even in Hiding the Elephant I got the feeling he didn't really care for Houdini. Is it that Houdini fit more into escapology?

Exactly what makes one the greatest? The most popular, the one whose name is recognized longer, the one who came up with the most clever trick/illusion or just plain old ticket sales?
Message: Posted by: John Cox (Feb 3, 2011 03:05PM)
You know, I'm as hardcore a "Houdini guy" as they come, but I had no problem with this book. I didn't think Jim criticized Houdini unfairly. His observations are pretty astute actually, and not all negative. He just tends to tell insider stories from a non-Houdini perspective, so Houdini isn't necessarily on the pedestal we are used to seeing him on. Doesn't hurt Houdini, IMO.

As to what makes one the "greatest"? Heck, I don't know. Was Thurston the greatest? Maybe. Maybe not. But this is the book that makes that case. And it's a case worth making by a guy who knows his magic history.