Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Señor Maldo

Born on April 8, 1896 in El Paso, Texas, Abel Maldondo lived in the United States for eight years before moving to Mexico City in 1904 with his parents, Ignacio and Izabel. According to Maldo, his older brother, Benjamin taught him what he learned from magician Jesus Lopez. At that time, Lopez was performing under the name “El Brujo Monderno or The Modern Sorcerer (As an aside, Lopez changed his name later to Alonzo Martini and performed in the Los Angeles area creating a show that included mind reading, magic, and illusions). While in New Mexico, young Abel was instructed by Lopez and learned the finer parts of magic that he would use for the rest of his life.
With the knowledge he had learned from Lopez and with a handful of performances under his belt, Abel returned to the United States in 1911 and toured the southwestern states of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona using the name Abel McDonald. He presented a show with varied card tricks, Shadowgraphy, audience participation. His featured effect was “The Burial Alive”. There’s no telling when Abel met Floyd Thayer (1877-1959), but their friendship continued throughout their lives. Floyd included a few of Maldo’s ideas and effects in the Thayer catalog.
Maldo continued performing adding effects to his show besides working with coins, cards, cigarettes. In 1935, he put out a booklet titled, Get It? A Book of Tricks and he put other effects and tricks under the name “McDonald”. It was during that time Abel had stepped into the guise of “Señor Maldo” dressed like a Mariachi in full colorful wardrobe and a wide-brimmed hat from Mexico called a sombrero. His magic show was filled with assorted skilled manipulations, paper-cutting effects, and he would include a special feature. Maldo would present his version of the Substitution Trunk and the audience thoroughly enjoyed it for each performance. At the 1936 Pacific Coast Association of Magicians Convention in San Jose, California he received the Houdini Trophy, presented to him by Mrs. Beatrice Houdini for his performance of the substitution trunk trick.

This was one of Señor Maldo's first use of a playing card for advertising.

He continued to perform throughout California at magic conventions and personal appearances. Maldo’s Six Card Repeat was different enough that Harland Tarbell asked to have it included in his course of magic. It was said by a number of those who saw Maldo present the effect, he performed his “Six Card Repeat” effect in a way of counting the cards and merely throwing the cards from on hand to the other. His way of flourishing nonchalantly and then tossing the cards gave the audience even more reason to be astounded by his presentation. And the magicians were complete impressed in seeing a personal style added to the effect they had seen so many times before.

Señor Maldo used the bridge sized Aviator back as another form of advertising as well.

In the 1930’s, Maldo and his wife lived and worked locally in the Santa Barbara. During World War Two, in 1942 Maldo registered for the draft and then was one of the many magicians would volunteer their services on the USO tours. Whether Maldo had only time to show the troops a few card tricks or other magic effects, his audiences were enthralled having a time away from their duties. In a portion of an article written reviewing one of many of Maldo’s tours, the one that took him to the Mediterranean was one to be repeated. It said the following, “…Maldo, the Mexican Magician, relied on more than a deck of cards to beguile GI audiences during his ten months tour of the Mediterranean for USO-Camp Shows. His egg trick was a soldier favorite and a GI never failed to eat the all too rare egg after the stunt. ‘Eggs are just like nuggets of gold over there’, said Maldo. ‘I always managed, through very good fortune, to have three or four dozen with me, carrying them in a special container. I did the trick, which involves bouncing a piece of paper on a fan until it gradually expands to take the form of an egg. You should have heard the 'Ohs' and 'Ahs' when they saw a fresh egg! Invariably some soldier would eat the egg raw . . . that's how hungry they were for one.’ Maldo is a one of a kind…”.

Señor Maldo was one of the many magicians who entertained the troops during WWII.

In 1951, Maldo along with the clubs and organization performances, he was played fair shows and fiestas. Also in 1951, Abel and his wife could be found at their Mexican restaurant Maldo’s El Charro on Santa Barbara Street. In 1952, he was included in the list of performers at the Abbott's 17th Get Together in full colorful Mexican costume. Maldo was involved with the magic clubs in Santa Barbara. In 1952, he served as President for the Pacific Coast Association of Magicians. That particular year the P.C.A.M. and Society of American Magicians had their joint magic convention in Santa Barbara. Maldo would freely give his time to be ‘a man of many hats’ for that convention.

Señor Maldo always presented his show dressed in full Mexican attire.

        During the early 1950’s, Maldo accepted a particularly unique tour. He traveled with a seventeen-member troupe around the Midwest appearing at state fairs and small theaters with Miss Sally Rand famous fan dancer. Their tour schedule took them across Oklahoma, Texas, and then Washington. Maldo was one Milt Larsen’s choices to perform in his new production of “It’s Magic”. He was also one of the chosen magicians to appear on Art Baker’s “You Asked For It” television show. Señor Maldo presented his substitution Trunk.

Here is Señor Maldo entertaining both the audience as Geri Larsen in the 1950's.

             Maldo had made a good living with magic and his life in Santa Barbara among his friends and family; it was always satisfying. In the later part of 1959, he had found that after a doctor’s examination he needed an operation to remove a small lump on his neck. The operation went as planned, but the diagnoses wasn’t good. Even though all that he went through during that time, he continued to perform shows and never allowed what he knew was inevitable to slow him down. Three months after his operation, Abel Maldonado passed away on December 8, 1959.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Ovette and the Art of Reinvention

Joseph Ovette (1885-1946), an Italian immigrant from Naples, was first inspired by seeing a performance by Alexander Hermann, and purchased his first trick from Otto Maurer.  He began his career as a medicine show performer with the famed Kickapoo Medicine Show, eventually becoming a fixture of vaudeville.  Billed as "The Great Ovette" in his stage show, he also offered Asian-themed show under the name Lung Chang Yuen and performed mentalism as Mar-Jah.  Ovette wrote approximately 16 books on magic, several of which are seen below.

First showcased on our scrapbook damage page, Ovette's "Magic Wand" card remains one of the most inappropriate I've encountered. The cover of his book, Advanced Magic, seen below, demonstrates a similar sensibility. In 1927, Ovette was credited as the originator of the "Ovette Master Move," also known as the "Kelly Bottom Placement,"  a card sleight used to secretly place a chosen card on the bottom of the deck.

Some of Ovette's books were poorly-produced typescript jobs with awful diagrams.  And, at times, he was accused of failing to adequately credit original inventors.  But these issues should not necessarily dissuade practitioners from the contents.  After his death, the Conjurer's Magazine observed:

Joe Ovette not only invented hundreds of tricks and illusions but he performed his inventions as well, and successfully. Not all of Ovette's effects were original in their entirety. But he did have a keen sense for doping out new angles for old tricks and his imagination was limitless. Many of his best effects were "rebuilt" tricks which, because of the expert Ovette touch, turned out to be more effective and entertaining than the originals.

That was written by an author identifying himself as "Hokus Pokus Jr.," whose actually identity is a mystery to this writer, but who reported being a good friend of Ovette's.

A 1948 ad in Billboard shows the sad demise of his magic repertoire:

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

J.W. Wilson

I've long had a particular fondness for this card featuring J.W. Wilson, perhaps drawn by the incredibly cheesy devil-costume clad assistant whispering in this performer's ear.  This particular piece of ephemera dates to an era when artists like Thurston and Kellar distributed promotional pieces adorned with gorgeous lithography sporting imps, devils, owls and other familiars imparting secrets to the performer. Wilson went decidedly low-tech and low-rent on this piece, offering a friend in a devil get-up in this black-and-white photo. The Deland back suggests that Wilson may have hand-printed these himself.  

A group of Deland backs.  Wilson's is on the left.

So who was J.W. Wilson?   That Wilson is a common surname, and he insisted (generally) on only using the initials J.W.. made him somewhat difficult to track down.   (Consider the fact that these pages also feature a contemporary named John Darrell Wilson).  Scattered references reveal that together with the famed A.M. Wilson (ed. of the Sphinx), he was admitted to the Society of Buffalo (New York) Magicians in 1921. Later that year, the Sphinx reported that J.W. performed something intriguingly entitled his "Black Box Mystery" but left tantalizingly undescribed. (Additional research suggests it was a put-together production box).    In 1922, the Sphinx reported that Wilson was performing magic and Punch and Judy shows for American Legion halls.  By 1928, he hosted a group of Buffalo magicians, now using the name "John W. Wilson" and performed a spirit seance, and by 1933, this group elected him "stage manager."

The other textual clue on the card was the reference to The New York Clipper.  This periodical, it turns out, was a theater newspaper published in New York City through 1924, when its coverage was assumed by Billboard.  This helps date the card, and suggests that Wilson was playing the theater circuit.

Fortuitously, I came across this image of a 1918 issue of The Magic World on an Internet antique dealer's site, and Tom Ewing was able to secure a copy of the article for me.   It adds a few details: Wilson was born September 29, 1876 in Buffalo.  He developed a magic program and eventually added some large stage illusions, leading to a contract with United Booking Offices.  The illusions included Black Art and The Haunted House.  The Magic World found him working in Delaware and developing a new, Asian-themed act.  

 Despite my derisive comments about the production values of Wilson's throwing card, it turns out the image he used was a magazine cover portrait, which makes it a pretty cool collectible.

Finally, there is a coin move called the "JW Wilson Grip."  For a time, I assumed it was attributable to this performer.   However, continued searching led me to a September 2010 article in M-U-M by inventive magician Nathan Kranzo.  Fascinated by the JW Wilson move, he dug into the question, and came to believe that it had been developed by a Jimmy (sometimes spelled "Jimmie") Wilson, Jr. whose father, J.W. Wilson Sr. was also an accomplished magician.  Yet Richard Kaufman credits "Jimmy Wilson, Sr." for developing a coin grip in 1946 (see Genii, June 2003).  And the Conjurer's Magazine for May 1946 does contain  an effect called the "Five Coin Vanish" by one Jimmy Wilson.

The J.W.'s -  father and son - have left us with a few mysteries.

Friday, November 29, 2019



One of the things I enjoy about the study of magicians' playing cards is learning about obscure, even unknown, performers, whose career may be memorialized only by the existence of a card or perhaps a program or handbill.  Then, occasionally, I come across a piece like this one, which bears the image of a performer entirely unknown to me, but who was famous in his or her time. Such was the case for these odd pieces, which, I came to learn, were promotional cards for a performer named Rodolfo.  The cards come from full 52 card decks, available in both black and red, with a special joker featuring an image of Rodolfo.   While I own only a single card from one of these decks, I suspect that the backs are marked based on the elaborate back design.  Two other card designs, shown below, were shared with me by Magic Christian.

A Rudolfo Packet Trick

As I have noted elsewhere on this site, it is often the case that the amount of information on a magician's advertising piece is inversely related to the fame of the performer. Well, these card backs bears no information -- not even the performer's name. As I started to research Rodolfo, I came across a vast amount of information, both in magic periodicals and more general sources. And before I invested too much effort in distilling a post from these various sources, I found a most excellent summary of his life and career, written by none other than fellow co-contributor, Tom Ewing.
So, reprinted below is an article about Rodolfo written by Tom in a feature called "The Nielsen Gallery," written by Tom Ewing for M*U*M in April 2014:

Magicians everywhere have at some time faced uncertainty and fear when stepping through the curtain to perform magic. How much harder must it have been for Rodolfo, the subject of this month’s column? His was the Iron Curtain.
Rodolfo was the stage name taken by Rezso Gacs, who was born in Budapest, Hungary (home of Houdini), on May 16, 1911. According to brief biographies of him, he was born the son of a typesetter. There is no account of which magic trick lit the spark that ignited a lifetime career in magic, but it happened when he was thirteen and was reportedly performed by a Chinese bead vendor.

Rodolfo mastered that elementary trick and while performing it for his boyhood friends, he was observed by the Hungarian actor Arpad Odry, who also happened to be the president of the Hungarian Magicians Association. He took the young boy on as a pupil and trained him in the art of magic. His magic career began in 1930 when he appeared at the Municipal Grand Circus in Budapest; reports of his talent spread. His performing proceeded without interruption until he was drafted for military service in 1940. Soviet Union forces drove the Nazis out of Hungary at the end of the war and occupied Eastern Europe. In 1956, a spontaneous, month-long nationwide revolt against the People’s Republic of Hungary and its Soviet- imposed policies broke out. After many clashes and deaths and the promised withdrawal of Soviet troops, the Politburo changed its mind and crushed the revolution. Hundreds were killed and many fled the country, but not Rodolfo, who continued to perform both within his country and across Europe. During World War II he performed for injured soldiers in army hospitals. After the war he worked as a teacher and professor in a school for the performing arts.

Behind the so-called “Iron Curtain,” performers were not allowed to individually book themselves. They had to do so through a government representative, who also gave them their dates and pay. Thus any act, whether in a circus or theater, was booked through, and payment made to, a communist government agency. The agency then parceled out to the acts an amount of money they felt was necessary for the performer’s needs. Such was the world in which Rodolfo operated.

Rodolfo never appeared in the United States, but if he had, the Hungarian government would have taxed him ten percent of his earnings. He did entertain audiences in
London, Lausanne, Paris, and Berlin. In 1957 he appeared in the Boxing Day Party on England’s BBC. Assisting him backstage was his most famous pupil and fellow Hungarian, George Kovari, who trained under Rodolfo. His opening effect was the Ribbon Fountain, in which hundreds of feet of colored ribbon cascade down on to the stage from a previously empty container.

According to Kovari, Rodolfo was a hard taskmaster when it came to learning magic. He insisted that Kovari copy his moves exactly saying, “If there was a better way of doing it, he, Rodolfo, would have found it himself!”

Dr. John Henry Grossman, magic historian and long-time columnist for M-U-M, visited with Rodolfo in Hungary during a trip through Europe. He and his wife were feted at the Budapest Association of Hungary Magicians at the Actors Club. Later Rodolfo took the Grossmans to the Jewish Hall of Records, where one of the crumbling books contained the handwritten record of the birth of Erich Weiss in 1874. This was at a time when historians were still trying to disprove Houdini’s claim of being born in Appleton, Wisconsin.
Rodolfo performed mentalism, stage magic, and pickpocketing; he would go through the audience shaking hands and greeting people and then proceed back on stage with the watches, wallets, and jewelry of audience members.

Due to his extensive language abilities he was able to present his program in eight different languages, and so was very popular with audiences throughout Europe. He wrote several books on magic, produced and sold several magic sets for children, including ones featuring trick cards bearing his photo, appeared on various television programs, and in 1962 was elected president of the Hungarian union for performers/artistes. His obituary noted that in a country where magic is considered a second grade art, he achieved every award ever given to any entertainer.

Even at the age of seventy Rodolfo still practiced four hours each day in front of a six-foot mirror, making sure his moves were flawless and invisible. He simply never stopped practicing. His creed was, “The artist who is satisfied with himself is not an artist anymore. He is dead.” Rodolfo died January 26, 1987, at seventy-five years of age. 


How famous could he really be?  Well, it was not as though they put his image on a postage stamp . . .  oh, wait, there is this:

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Senator Lightner, the Wizard

This throwout card for Senator Joe Lightner (1884-1946) has everything a person could want in a throwing card. First, behold the intriguing stage moniker -- Lightner, reminiscent of lightning, conjuring up powerful supernatural images. Then, look to the bold, unsupportable claim to the title "America's leading magician," an excellent piece of showmanship. Next, consider the dramatic portrait -- the conjurer's profile, with a top hat perched at a jaunty angle, simply exudes mystery. Finally, the card contains some real magic -- the face of the card entreats the holder to count the dice on its back. (A standard Deland back design makes this a puzzling endeavor.)
Several Deland backs.  Lightner's is on the right.

Lightner first performed as "Lightner the Wizard" in 1906. performing in Chautauqua.  He was close friends with Dr. A.M. Wilson, and after the good doctor's death, he joined a group of investors who bought The Sphinx magazine, becoming a shareholder and member of the Board of Directors.

While I was running the throwingcard.com web site, Tom Ewing kindly supplied the following report about Lightner from the October 1943 issue of The Sphinx:


The Hon. Jos. G. Lightner, a member of the Missouri Senate, and leading citizen of his home town of Odessa, Missouri, is as proud of once having been a magician as he is of any of the various high elective public offices he has held.

Joe Lightner had his own show of magic for a number of years and as he was a good magician, it was a good show. It was during this period of his life that he first became a close friend of the late Dr. Wilson. During the latter years of the Doctor's editorship of The Sphinx, Joe aided him in innumerable ways. His devotion to Dr. Wilson and The Sphinx prompted him to become one of the first stockholders of the present corporation. At one period, Joe was also associated   with the Seven Circles magazine.

An early member of the S.A.M., Lightner regularly came to New York for the annual banquets. He has also attended many conventions of magicians. Joe likes magic to be fast, colorful and it must be entertaining. Although he has little time for his own magic today, he always seems to be able1 to make time to go to see the performance of some other magician. His love of watching magic is so great that he will travel great distances to see a performance.

 Joe Lightner in his quiet way is awfully good company and knows magic and magicians of today and yesterday. 


He had a storied career in and out of magic, becoming president of a group called the International Magic Circle and regularly reporting on the Seven Circles Conclave.  His wife- named Marvel - also performed in vaudeville with comedian Gallagher Shean.   Collectors might be interested to learn that he inherited many artifacts from Doc Wilson, including the very first pack of Deland's Dollar Deck, autographed by Deland for Wilson.

Lightner died of a heart attack in 1946 at age 62.  Upon his death, The Sphinx described him as "a brilliant man of noble tendencies."

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Ted Colteaux - The "Secret Man"

You may never have heard of Theodore "Ted" Colteaux.  I hadn't before coming across his throwing card.  Yet The Linking Ring noted in 1995 that "his influence in magic was so prevalent that it is impossible to measure."   Thus, I've borrowed the moniker "The Secret Man" from a classified ad run by Colteaux in that same periodical in 1925 -- some seventy years earlier -- as it's a particularly fitting appellation.

Colteaux was born in 1907, and started performing magic while attending elementary school in Bloomington, Il.  By 1924, while still a young teenager, he began contributing pieces to magic magazines, offering workman-like hints, tips and suggestions to fellow practitioners.   He met Houdini and Thurston, and corresponded with legendary magicians including Ted Annemann.  By 1926, he began offering equipment for sale in The Sphinx, and by the 1930s created the Colto Magic Trick Company, which offered standard equipment and original effects.

But was Colteaux any good?  This is a question I sometimes grapple with when writing about lesser-known performers.  Here I found an unusual answer:  Colteaux was a featured performer at the 1932 IBM convention, where he shared the stage with, among others, John Booth, Len O. Gunn, Brush, Harry Cecil and Marquis.  In the months that followed, his presence on that stage (along with these others), created a small controversy in magic magazines as some complained that less skilled performers would be discouraged from participating in Convention contests, when magicians like Gunn, Brush, Booth and Colteaux, described as "tough competitors" were "stealing the cake."  Having been compared to some top names in the field, once can assume that Colteaux was a formidable presence on stage.  

Colteaux touring with his sister, c. 1935.
In 1931, a columnist in The Linking Ring observed that Colteaux "has been on a buying spree, and we think he intends to put on a full evening's show."  Indeed, he soon hit the road, becoming a performer with the Wiere and Wayne Vaudeville Troupe and later performing in Chautauqua.  He became known for scriptwriting, ventriloquism and classic magic pieces, like rag pictures (featured on his throwing card below), nested alarm clocks, card flourishes and billiard ball manipulation.

He had two throwing cards, both of which are seen here.  Both cards feature "Jimmy," his ventriloquist dummy.   One card has a vintage Bicycle back and is standard size; the second is oversized with a printed text back with period graphics.  Over the years, I've encountered a great deal of Colteaux memorabilia.  

From Billboard, 1948
Eventually, when full-time magic could not support his family, he became a salesman for the Beich Candy Company, a position he would hold for the next 40 years, and used magic to further his sales. And his passion for magic never waned.
He became deeply entrenched in the International Brotherhood of Magicians, holding membership number 365 and was part of the Order of Merlin. Reputed for his "infectious and lovable approach to performing,"

Colteaux continued to practice and teach the art that he so loved until the 1990s. He died in 1995 at age 88, having been active in magic for three quarters of a century.


Thursday, August 15, 2019

The "Other" Carter and his 10,000 Cards

When I first obtained this charming card sporting art deco graphics from a contact in Europe, I harbored some hope that it represented an artifact from the illustrious career of Charles Carter "The Great" of "Carter Beats the Devil" fame.  One suspects, however, that if Carter the Great had produced a throwout card (and I believe he hadn't), it would have showcased some colorful graphics produced by the artisans at Otis Litho.  Also, the numberless four on the reverse seemed puzzling.   The European purveyor of this card told me that it either belongs to Carter the Great or a German magician he called "Herr Carter," born in 1880, which wasn't much to go on.

But I found him.  Scattered references in periodicals throughout the 1930s identify this gentleman as a performer billed at various European venues as the "Magician with 10,000 Cards," and sometimes "100,000 Cards."  His act, consistently described as spectacular, revolved around skilled manipulations with the front and back palm, as well as a torn and restored card effect using a giant paper card.   One correspondent noted that Carter could produce as many as 27 cards simultaneously from his fingertips. Showgirls assisted as he performed a fine color changing plume and handkerchief routine.   Most notably, for our purposes, Carter gave a remarkable demonstration of card throwing, presumably scaling cards such as the one featured here, out into the audience.  But his finale was most memorable: thousands of cards dropped from the ceiling of the theater, while a curtain dropped with hundreds more sewn to it.

Magicians criticized Herr Carter, though, for his
exposures.  Apparently, after providing a deft demonstration, he revealed the workings of the front and back palms to his audience.  He also exposed the secrets behind his color changing plumes and handkerchiefs.  Several reporters, over a period of years, decried this practice, claiming that is undermined the performer's fine act.  At one point, a magic magazine reported on charges of "exposure" lodged against him by a German magic organization.

Interestingly, I wasn't the only one who thought there could be some confusion between Herr Carter and his more illustrious namesake.  In 1931, for example, the Sphinx identified this performer as "Carter (not the American)."  Sources suggest that Charles Carter, a magician AND a lawyer, got into a dispute with the German conjurer over use of the name, but was persuaded that Herr Carter's use of the name predated his own and dropped the matter.

And before we leave Charles Carter "The Great", in May 2018, I had the pleasure of attending a gathering at the home of magician/historian Richard Cohn.  This writer and fellow contributor Tom Ewing posed in front of one of Carter's fabulous 8-sheet posters which adorns a wall in Richard's fine home:

Tom's the one on the left.  Over his right shoulder is a black-and-white photo of a very young and unbearded Richard performing as "Riccardo the Great."

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Howard Thurston – 150 Years Old Today!

Some months back I had a post entitled Thurston - Some Throw-Out Card Trivia concerning items that I had found on Howard Thurston, arguably magic’s greatest “Throw-Out Card King” of all time. Since then, I have continued my research for additional items of interest in terms of trivia. Here is some of what I found.
On January 31, 1926, the Pittsburgh Press ran an ad in the newspaper for Thurston’s “Perfect Breather”. This was an anti-snoring device that Thurston was marketing in hopes of financial gain. Like many of his investments outside the magic arena, it was not a success, and finding one of these devices today is difficult as they are quite rare. Below is the ad, an image of an actual “Breather”, and a throw-out card also used to advertise the device.
The Morning Call of Allentown Pennsylvania for December 6, 1928 wrote about Thurston, “He is still regarded as the greatest card magician in the craft”. They went on to say, “In the difficult feat of throwing cards to all parts of the theatre, Thurston has no rival.”
I particularly like when I can find images of Thurston in action with his cards. Below are a couple of new ones that I have found. These are from very early in Thurston’s career.
Thurston gave a demonstration of his card throwing skill on September 22, 1931, by throwing cards from the top of a skyscraper, the Foshay Tower in downtown Minneapolis. According to the Minneapolis Star, "Thurston hurled 1,000 cards from the tower to demonstrate his prowess, and 100 of these contained free admissions to two persons each to see his performance at the Minnesota”.
I have done further research on the lawsuit brought against Thurston when an errant throw of a card injured a spectator in the audience at one of his shows in Detroit. The following article appeared in the News-Palladium in Benton Harbor, Michigan on April 14, 1927.
Thurston had a number of throw-out cards made advertising Miller Tires. He even created a revolving tire illusion to be used in company promotions. It spun “in the air with no apparent means of support”. Below is an advertisement and an article from the Harrisburg Telegraph for November, 1916 in which the illusion was being shown at the Sterling Auto Tire Company. For good measure I am including one of Thurston’s Miller Tire Cards.

Finally, today is the anniversary of Howard Thurston’s birth. He would have been 150 years old today. In recognition of this historic occasion, I have been saving this post for today. Happy Birthday Howard!