How many assistants does it take to cut a watermelon? One of 52, if you ask master conjurer Ricky Jay who wowed the crowd at The Paley Center for Media last Thursday night. He has starred in a show, "Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants" for years, expertly fanning his deck at nightclubs around the country. This occasion, however, was a PBS event celebrating a documentary profile called Deceptive Practice, part of Channel 13's American Masters series, to air on January 23. Ricky Jay is the first magician to have a documentary portrait as part of the prestigious series begun by Susan Lacy several decades ago. Now with executive producer, Michael Kantor, it is evident the program continues to be in good hands.
And speaking of hands, a master raconteur, Ricky Jay told a story about his hands being like the hands of a surgeon in a recent hospital visit when he had to have stitches. The nurses had no idea what sleight of hand was. Because he began performing his tricks at age 4, Ricky ne Protach from Brooklyn, has a patter that is as practiced as making a single card break the melon's thick skin. The documentary goes into his many influences and teachers, reviving a golden age in the time of vaudeville: Slydini, Cardini, the names are variations of Houdini but each one was a real life "character," astonishing, entertaining, showing the young magician the art of sleight of hand. The film, produced and directed by Molly Bernstein and Alan Edelstein, serves as an homage to his grandfather Max Katz. Aside from its premiere on PBS, the documentary, longtime a film festival favorite, will also be available in a longer version on DVD.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.