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The Last Greatest Magician in the World: Howard Thurston Versus Houdini & the Battles of the American Wizards Paperback – August 30, 2012
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From 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 œthe master. While Houdini™s daring stunts were legendary, Steinmeyer says Thurston was the public™s favorite, captivating audiences with his œself-assured grandeur. Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, Thurston gained fame in the early part of the 20th century with his œRising 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 (œThe 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)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“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.”
"Few historians of magic are as qualified as Jim Steinmeyer to bring Howard Thurston back onstage. The Last Greatest Magician in the World vividly conjures up Thurston's troubled life and great illusions."
—The Wall Street Journal
“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
"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
"Steinmeyer's combination of enthusiasm and erudition is a joy."
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Walter Gibson, who knew and worked for both Thurston and Houdini, explains it well in a quote within this book. Thurston's massive publicity engine was focused on selling people on the desire to attend Thurston's live stage show the very next time it passed nearby... whereas Houdini's publicity was focused entirely on emphasizing that Houdini was a miracle-man who could by sheer strength and skill escape from any and every restraint. Today everyone has heard of Houdini, while Thurston was forgotten as soon as he ceased to tour... felled by a stroke.
Author Jim Steinmeyer does a good job of reconstructing Thurston's strange and somewhat shady life. It's an effort to do this today, because all of the "autobiographical" material generated by Thurston's publicity men or presented to reporters and developed through interviews during his magic career was almost entirely fictional, and Thurston particularly needed to conceal his early life, in which he was a fairly successful pickpocket and thief known as the "Nim Kid." Even counting up Thurston's many wives is a bit tricky.
Thurston's complex relationships with his fellow magicians, from senior mentor Harry Kellar, through numerous competitors and hired idea-men, are also detailed as they figure in throughout the story.
Thurston is in many ways the most important and influential single figure in 20th Century magic, especially for the first half of the 20th Century, and it's good to see him receive some of the attention for which he is long overdue. Recommended.