World-class sleight-of-hand artist, holder of the Guinness World Record for lethal card-throwing, and renowned authority on magic and bizarre entertainment, Ricky Jay is that most unusual of creatures, both artist and expert!
Reflections on gambling, cheating, and luck of all kinds. 21 full-color photographs! A Great Gift for Dad, only $12.95!
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The classic compendium of anomalous acts of entertainment, now in paperback!
Learn more about Ricky Jay from The New Yorker:
Secrets of the Magus
by Mark Singer
The playwright David Mamet and the theatre director Gregory Mosher affirm that some years ago, late one night in the bar of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Chicago, this happened:
Ricky Jay, who is perhaps the most gifted sleight-of-hand artist alive, was performing magic with a deck of cards. Also present was a friend of Mamet and Mosher's named Christ Nogulich, the director of food and beverage at the hotel. After twenty minutes of disbelief-suspending manipulations, Jay spread the deck face up on the bar counter and asked Nogulich to concentrate on a specific card but not to reveal it. Jay then assembled the deck face down, shuffled, cut it into two piles, and asked Nogulich to point to one of the piles and name his card.
"Three of clubs," Nogulich said, and he was then instructed to turn over the top card. He turned over the three of clubs.
Mosher, in what could be interpreted as a passive-aggressive act, quietly announced,
"Ricky, you know, I also concentrated on a card."
After an interval of silence, Jay said,
"That's interesting, Gregory, but I only do this for one person at a time."
Mosher persisted: "Well, Ricky, I really was thinking of a card."
Jay paused, frowned, stared at Mosher, and said,
"This is a distinct change of procedure." A longer pause. "All right-what was the card?"
"Two of spades."
Jay nodded, and gestured toward the other pile, and Mosher turned over its top card.
The deuce of spades. A small riot ensued.
At that point, I had known Jay for two years, during which we had discussed his theories of magic, his relationships with and opinions of other practition- ers of the art, his rigid opposition to public revelations of the techniques of magic, and his relentless passion for collecting rare books and manuscripts, art, and other artifacts connected to the history of magic, gambling, unusual entertainments, and frauds and confidence games.
Marcus McCorison, a former president of the American Antiquarian Society, where Jay has lectured and performed, describes him as "a deeply serious scholar-I think he knows more about the history of American conjuring than anyone else."
The actor Steve Martin said not long ago, "I sort of think of Ricky as the intellectual elite of magicians. I've had experience with magicians my whole life. He's expertly able to perform and yet he knows the theory, history, literature of the field. Ricky's a master of his craft. You know how there are those teachers of creative writing who can't necessarily write but can teach? Well, Ricky can actually do everything."
In a chapter of "Learned Pigs" entitled "More Than the Sum of Their Parts," Jay recounts the skills and accomplishments of various men and women, all celebrated figures between the sixteenth and the early twentieth centuries, who lacked the usual complement of appendages-arms or legs or digits-and compensated in inspiring ways. He dotes especially on Matthew Buchinger, "The Wonderful Little Man of Nuremberg," who was born in 1674, died around 1740, and, in between, married four times, sired fourteen children, and "played more than a half dozen musical instruments, some of his own in- vention, and danced the hornpipe . . . amazed audiences with his skills at con- juring . . . was a marksman with the pistol and demonstrated trick shots at nine pins . . . was a fine penman; he drew portraits, landscapes, and coats of arms, and displayed remarkable calligraphic skills."
Buchinger managed these transactions without the benefit of feet or thighs, and instead of arms he had "two fin-like excrescences growing from his shoulder blades." He stood, so to speak, only twenty-nine inches high. The Christie's auction enabled Jay to add significantly to his trove of Buchingeriana-playbills, engravings by and of the Wonderful Little Man, self-portraits, specimens of his calligraphy, and ac- counts of his performances as a conjurer.
Jay has attempted to rescue from the margins of history performers who in their day were no less determined than Houdini to please their audiences. "I don't want to be seen as somebody who just writes about freaks," Jay says. "A lot of the people I write about were very famous in their day, and they were a great source of entertainment. Today, audiences are just as curious, just as willing to be amazed. But look at everything we're barraged with-it just doesn't lodge in the imagination the same way." His mission, in sum, is to reignite our collective sense of wonder.