Friday, May 12, 2017

Asking Alexander about Alexander - Part II: The Results

As described in my last post, I decided to use these long-unidentified throwout cards to test the powers of Ask Alexander, a proprietary web site/search engine housing a vast database of magic publications.

My search would be limited to the data on the cards, and one clue I stumbled across.  The clue was a small one.  One of the two cards lists a phone number using a pre-area code telephone exchange of "WOodward."  A quick Google search turned up an article by an antique phone collector suggesting that such phone numbers originated in the Detroit area.   Plugged into Ask Alexander, I was able to turn up the following clip from a 1946 copy of Billboard:

So, we learn that "Alexander the Great" had performed "Chinese magic," and belonged to a magic club in Detroit. A 1946 copy of Linking Ring  noted "The Great Alexander demonstrated the coin glass" at a  Detroit IBM ring meeting, while Conjurer's Magazine from 1946 mentioned "The Great Alexander" watching Russell Swann perform at an IBM convention.  Thus, whoever this performer was, he used both "The Great Alexander" as well as "Alexander the Great." which helped formulate more searches.

Next, I returned to Google where I learned that this individual replaced Karrell Fox as the manager of Abbott's and was described as a "former vaudeville magician" in the Detroit Free Press.  Then I came across another important clue, when I found a cached version of a site run by collector Keith Raleigh which offered a selection of memorabilia belonging to "Alexander The Great ( c.1940's )" along with the following description: "Alexander The Great (James Nagy) was a performer based out of the Detroit, MI. area in the 1940's - 50's. He also worked as Chinese magician Kim Kee."

The references to "Nagy" and "Kim Kee" helped complete the puzzle -- returning to Ask Alexander, I was able to uncover a truckload of information.   Perhaps the best single reference was a 1973 issue of M-U-M devoted to Jack Barrows, the stepson of James Nagy.  From that piece, I confirmed that Nagy performed as "Alexander the Great" and "Kim Kee" and learned that he had produced magic equipment under the company name "A and B."  Ask Alexander has scores of articles and advertisements relating to A and B Products, including some fabulous raves from Dell O'Dell about these inventive creations.   And the search engine even turned up a photo from the Linking Ring in 1967. Mystery solved.

So, how did Ask Alexander perform?  It's a thing of astonishment.   The research above, which before the advent of this tool would have taken months or even years to complete -- if it could be completed at all -- was performed in a matter of minutes from the comfort of my couch.  If you're interested in magic history, you should visit the Ask Alexander site.

And before leaving the wonders of Ask Alexander, we can introduce one more card.  This one belongs to William "Bill" Kalush, the man behind the man who knows.  Together with master magician David Blaine, Kalush, a devoted magic scholar and sleight of hand artist, established the Conjuring Arts Research Center, which offers an array of wondrous resources to magician and magic historians.  Kalush is co-author, with Larry Sloman, of The Secret Life of Houdini.  His business card, seen here, is printed on gorgeous "Skull & Bones" stock produced by the Expert Playing Card Company, another project of Conjuring Arts.
Skull & Bones Back from the Expert Playing Card Company

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