The Last Greatest Magician in the World: Howard Thurston Versus Houdini & the Battles of the American Wizards
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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.”
“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"
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.
to mystify.... Fortune telling and mind reading are all rot. Why read a palm for a dollar when you can forecast the stock market tomorrow? These insights were hardly remarkable, and Doyle’s gullibility was discussed after it dissolved his friendship with Houdini. But Thurston continued with additional exposures, designed to fascinate the public:The most common form of ghosts used by the fraudulent spiritualists is contained in a small watch. It is blown up by a collapsible rod, which appears to
Collection, New York Public Library, and the collections of Ken Klosterman and George Daily. Passenger lists confirm some of the travel to and from Australia. Harry Thurston arrived in Sydney on the Ventura on January 27, 1906, and arrived in Vancouver on May 26, 1906. Material on Servais Le Roy is from Servais Le Roy, Monarch of Mystery. The story of the yogi in India appeared in my book, Jarrett and Steinmeyer, The Complete Jarrett (Hahne, 2001), where Guy Jarrett reported it as backstage
promptly generating a lawsuit from Adelaide. Herrmann the Great was the title of her husband, she insisted. The judge was confused by the case, reasoning that Herrmann was Leon’s real name and he could use his own discretion if he wanted to call himself great. Leon put together a shorter act and then returned to Europe several years later. He was just forty-two years old when he contracted pneumonia and died in Paris in 1909. When Thurston walked out of the Tabor Grand, he was only months from
exits. Thurston watched the near accident and shook his head. It seemed eerily significant. He knew that it was time to go home. But he had no idea what sort of show business snakes he’d find beneath his feet. ELEVEN “THE LEVITATION OF PRINCESS KARNAC” Magicians didn’t get to pick their successors any more than they were allowed to select their competitors. It’s true that the American public seemed to accept only one great magician at a time. But there was no tradition of the heir apparent
he’d just been publicly knee-capped. If he had ever been scheming to copy Thurston’s Princess Karnac mystery, he now had been shown so much, so generously, that he would be forced to avoid the floating lady illusion in the future. That night in December 1920, Houdini had seen the World’s Greatest Magician. WHO WAS HOWARD THURSTON? He was the hero of generations of American boys, like Orson Welles and William Lindsay Gresham, who sat spellbound in a theater, and pledged their lives to magic.