Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Thurston – Some Throw-Out Card Trivia

It is amazing how many magicians used a throw-out card, or playing card, or a “Good Luck” card to advertise themselves. Without a doubt, the king of throw-out cards was Howard Thurston. From the time early in his career when he started to throw them out to his audience, until he had to stop performing, he literally sent thousands upon thousands sailing out into the theatres in which he played.  
From Adventures in Magic by Henry Ridgely Evans, (1927).

As one can imagine, Howard Thurston has been covered on this blog many, many times. Co-contributor Gary Frank wrote a fine post on Thurston and included many examples of his cards. I thought I would offer up, on this post, some interesting items of trivia that I have found on Thurston related to his throw-out cards, and his card scaling.
One early reference I have found concerning Thurston’s card throwing was found in the Black and White Budget for January 12, 1901 shortly after he had arrived in England. Like Harry Houdini and T. Nelson Downs, Thurston’s career first took off when he went to London. The following is a small sampling from that article.
Thurston’s inclusion of card throwing appears to have been inspired by having seen Alexander Herrmann while a young man. Thurston scaled cards from the start of his career when he billed himself “The World’s Premier Card Manipulator”. On one of his earliest throw-out cards from the beginning of his days as a performer, he had a card produced with an image of him about to throw a card. While I don’t have this particular card in my collection, Harry Houdini had this one shown below in a scrapbook.  This scrapbook now resides, and is through the courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin.
Courtesy of Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin.
We can get a general idea of the time frame of Thurston’s cards by seeing how he aged on the card over the years. This is not a hard and fast rule, as he would use older cards for long periods to keep himself looking youthful. He was rather vain about his appearance, even to the point of having face lifts.
For me, extra special Thurston cards are those where the audience member who received the card would often write the date of getting the card and sometimes the theatre as well. By searching old newspapers, I was able to find the location and even an ad for Thurston’s  performance  for the throw-out card below.
Acquired at the Crown Theatre in Chicago on January 9, 1913.
Another bit of trivia that I had heard for years, was that Thurston could throw a playing card over an 8 story building. The late John Booth mentioned this in his monthly column in The Linking Ring back in 1999. I was able to nail down the source of this story some years back, when I acquired a vintage newspaper page with the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not cartoon that first stated this fact. It ran in newspapers all over the country on December 23, 1930.
In Hugard’s Magic Monthly, Fred Braue wrote; “What is entertainment? Thurston would throw good-luck cards into the audience for perhaps two minutes – and they loved it!” In the same magazine, but a different issue, the magazine’s namesake Jean Hugard wrote the following; “Thurston would throw these to those at the back of the theatre or in the galleries. These cards were much heavier than ordinary playing cards and were therefore easier to throw to a distance. On one occasion, however, Thurston had the misfortune to have one of these cards strike a spectator in the eye and had to face a suit for damages”. Further research indicates the  member of the audience was awarded $500.00 in damages. So scaling cards out into the audience was not without its perils. (I would like to thank co-contributor Judge Brown for reminding me about this incident.)
There is no doubt that the overwhelming quantities of “Good Luck” throw-out cards that Thurston scaled out to his appreciative audiences was a great marketing tool in terms of advertising. He wanted to make those audiences remember him, and to keep them coming back for repeat performances of “The Wonder Show of the Universe”.

1 comment:

  1. I thru a playing at Larry Anderson (Mark Wilson's right man back in the 70s) And it stuck in his eye..perfect shot on my part,but he was in pain. I felt terrible. I give him an eyepatch for his b-day. Card was a 4spades..my favorite card.