Sunday, December 18, 2016

Meet Jane Thurston

Gary Frank's recent post on Howard Thurston showcases exemplars of some of the magician's fine, rare scaling cards.   As we have noted elsewhere, there is little doubt that the throwouts produced and used by Thurston are among the most remarkable collectibles of the genre.   Perhaps the most common of Thurston card remains that featuring the magician on one side, and his daughter Jane on the reverse.

Throwing cards were an important part of Thurston's act.  Inspired by the success realized by T. Nelson Downs as the "King of Koins," Howard Thurston (1869-1936), "The King of Cards," began in vaudeville with a masterful manipulation act. During "The Rising Cards" -- the centerpiece of his act -- cards selected by spectators would float from the deck into the magician's waiting hand. Thurston, an expert at tricks with playing cards, proved particularly adept at throwing them -- the magician once threw a card to the top of an eight story building! Not surprisingly, card throwing became a regular feature of his demonstrations.

In 1907, Thurston succeeded illusionist Harry Kellar, who retired due to failing eyesight. No longer "The King of Cards," Thurston toured the country with a grand illusion show. Floating pianos, appearing lions, and vanishing horses became his stock in trade. While the large illusions showcased in his "Wonder Show of the Universe" made Thurston a top star, card scaling remained a popular part of his program.

Jane Thurston (1909-1994), became Howard Thurston's stepdaughter when the magician married Nina Leotha Fielding of Nova Scotia in 1914.   The marriage did not last.

At age 16, Jane first performed her own magic act as a featured attraction in the 1928 Thurston shows. She continued to work in various capacities on the Thurston shows until their demise in 1935.
She inherited the magician's props upon his death.  She planned to mount her own illusion show, and learned the intricate choreography of her father's famous Floating Ball and Spirit Cabinet routines,  Eventually, she gave up on the project, opting to appear in nightclub acts as a magician, singer and dancer until World War II.

One vestige of Jane's failed efforts to mount an illusion show is the Jane/Howard Thurston "Good Luck" throwing card. On one side, this beautiful, color card has a portrait of Thurston adorned with devils and lightning bolts. The other side features a portrait of Jane -- one of few women depicted on a throwing card -- over the caption "She takes after her Dad."

Probably due to the fact that the show never got off the ground, the Howard/Jane card is commonly available in perfect condition.  This wonderful piece of magic history often sells for only a few dollars.  It provides an easy way for enthusiasts to begin a collection of throwing cards, and has sparked the interest of many in this area,

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