In memorium: Ricky Jay

Because I've loved magic since I was at least ten, I discovered Ricky Jay over thirty years ago, and he was my favourite.

He once said that "women don't like magic", but that might have been a bit of misdirection. I think women are wary of magic tarted up with million-dollar special effects and spandex. But every person, regardless of sex, in a Ricky Jay audience was spellbound—not by a laser show, but by one deck of cards, his hands, and a mordant charisma.

Though on every "Best Ten of All Time" list of magicians, Jay was also an historian, a writer who preserved the lineage, a collector of memorabilia and rare books, an actor and film consultant on deception. With Ricky Jay, there was always a history lesson embedded in the performance. (A 1993 New Yorker profile by Jay Singer,  "Secrets of the Magus" vividly captures his commitment and genius.)

At some point, even the best sleight of the hand can't cheat time; Jay died on Saturday at 72. Or, as the New York Times said, maybe 70.

Even if you have never heard of him, take four minutes to watch Ricky Jay deal "Four Queens Three Ways", and you'll see not only his astounding skill, but his inimitable storytelling:

I don't love all magic; stage magic has become dependent on technology, grandiose sound effects, lions. But good close-up magic, especially cards, astonishes and delights. If there is a sweet hereafter, Ricky Jay will be making heads shake, while maintaining his "Gee, look at that!" nonchalance.

No, Ricky, women are willing to be fooled, we just want to be in the front row. That's where I sat in 2009, and I brought home Ricky Jay's king of diamonds:

PS. I mistakenly also posted a jewellery post that should wait till the New Year so we can see ALL of Laura's gorgeous reno pieces. Promise, it's coming back complete!

Poof! I can't make a lady vanish but I can do it to her jewellery.


Laura J said…
Sadly unaware of Ricky Jay but close up magic is superb— a coin from behind the ear !! Lovely tribute. If you have not come upon them you may enjoy the Ziz zag girl and other in the series by Elly Griffiths —
Duchesse said…
Laura Jantek: There's lots of Ricky Jay on YouTube, so if interested, you can see more.

Pulling a coin from an ear is one of the first tricks an aspiring magician learns, and you can too in five minutes (naturally there is a YouTube video). Practice the French Drop a few times, and then have fun amazing little kids. Ricky Jay would practice his card tricks for several years before performing them and did not work with props and a "lovely assistant", though he did pull people out of the audience.

Laura J said…
I just might try this!! I can’t be any worse than my piano playing (started in my 60s!)
Wendelah said…
I know him from The X-Files's episode, "The Amazing Maleeni." Unsurprisingly, he played the magician. Also the magician's twin brother. He was very good.
LauraH said…
An eye opening tribute to a real artist.
Leslie M said…
I recently watched on Netflix “Deceptive Practice, The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay”. I had never heard of him before, but the documentary was highly rated. Only a few minutes in, I was mesmerized. His love and respect for magic was so apparent and a thrill to watch.
Susan B said…
He was one of the greats. I loved watching him, though never saw him live.
Duchesse said…
All: Thanks. Fortunately quite a body of work exists. I am hoping HBO re-releases the video of his great Broadway show, "Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants".

The New Yorker profile is 25 years old, and re-reading it, I wondered if Jay was somewhere on the neuro-diversity spectrum. He had astonishing gifts of memorization and was obsessive about technique. Singer says Jay frequently had no idea what day it was, and had other eccentricities. Some may have been deliberately affected as part of his persona.

Laura Jantek: If you have the chance in Toronto, see David Ben!

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