Jay, Ricky 1949(?)-
JAY, Ricky 1949(?)-
PERSONAL: Born c. 1949, in Brooklyn, NY. Education: Attended Cornell University.
ADDRESSES: Office—Dailey Booksellers, 8216 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90046.
CAREER: Illusionist, performer, magic historian, consultant, actor, and writer. Worked variously as a sideshow barker, sideshow magician, accountant, and encyclopedia salesman; opening act for performers, including Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Ike and Tina Turner, Cheech and Chong, Emmylou Harris, and the Knack; singer with Chico and the Deaftones; lecturer in the United States and abroad; Mulholland Library of Conjuring and Allied Arts, Century City, CA, curator, 1985-90. Actor in films, including House of Games, Orion Productions, 1987; Things Change, Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., 1988; Homicide, Triumph, 1991; Ring of the Musketeers, Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., 1994; The Spanish Prisoner, Sony Pictures Classics, 1997; Hacks, Rigorous Productions, 1997; Boogie Nights, New Line Cinema, 1997; Tomorrow Never Dies, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc./United Artists Corporation, 1997; Mystery Men, Universal Pictures, 1999; and Magnolia, New Line Cinema, 1999. Consultant for films, including The Escape Artist, Orion Productions, Inc./Warner Brothers, Inc., 1982; New Magic, Showscan Film Corporation, 1983; House of Games, Orion Productions, 1987; Sneakers, Universal Pictures, 1992; and Forrest Gump, Paramount Pictures Corporation, 1994. Actor in television movies TNT Screenworks, Turner Network Television, 1992, and The Ranger, the Cook, and a Hole in the Sky, American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., 1995; host of television specials, including Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women, Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., 1990; Ricky Jay and His Fifty-two Assistants, Home Box Office, 1996; The Story of Magic, Arts and Entertainment, 1997; and The Virtual Ed Sullivan Show, UPN, 1998. Guest curator of The Imagery of Illusion: Nineteenth-Century Magic and Deception, Harvard Theatre Collection, Pusey Library, 1999.
AWARDS, HONORS: Lucille Lortel and Obie awards, for Ricky Jay and His Fifty-two Assistants; entry in Guinness Book of World Records for throwing a playing card 195 feet at ninety miles per hour.
Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women: Unique, Eccentric, and Amazing Entertainers: Stone Eaters, Mind Readers, Poison Resisters, Daredevils, Singing Mice, etc., etc., etc., etc., Villard Books (New York, NY), 1986.
Cards as Weapons, Darien House (New York, NY), 1977.
Many Mysteries Unraveled, or, Conjuring Literature in America, 1786-1874, American Antiquarian Society (Worcester, MA), 1990.
Ricky Jay and His Fifty-two Assistants (show), directed by David Mamet, produced off-Broadway, 1994.
The Magic Magic Book: An Inquiry into the Venerable History and Operation of the Oldest Trick-Conjuring Volumes, Designated "Blow Books" (limited edition), Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY), 1998.
Jay's Journal of Anomalies: Conjurers, Cheats, Hustlers, Hoaxsters, Pranksters, Jokesters, Imposters, Pretenders, Sideshow Showmen, Armless Calligraphers, Mechanical Marvels, Popular Entertainments (originally published in Jay's Journal of Anomalies), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2001.
Ricky Jay: On the Stem, (show), directed by David Mamet, produced off-Broadway, 2002.
Contributor to The Cambridge Guide to American Theater and Encyclopedia Britannica. Author of Jay's Journal of Anomalies, 1994-2000.
SIDELIGHTS: Ricky Jay's perfection of sleight-of-hand illusions has awed audiences on stage, particularly in his record-setting and award-winning off-Broadway show Ricky Jay and His Fifty-two Assistants, as well as those who have viewed the many films in which he has acted or for which he has been a consultant.
Jay was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in New Jersey. He has never revealed his real surname and is known by his first and middle names only. Jay's maternal grandfather, Max Katz, was an accountant and practicing magician who knew the notables of his day. At age four, Jay performed for the Society of American Magicians, and at seven, he appeared on television. Jay hung out at Al Flosso's magic shop and took lessons from illusionist Tony Slydini, a friend of his grandfather.
Jay was seventeen when his grandfather died. He moved out of his family's house and entered a period of constant change. He attended several colleges, including Cornell's School of Hotel Management, and when he was twenty, he appeared on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. He was offered more gigs which required that he travel, and never finished school. He worked as a bartender, salesman, accountant, singer with a doo-wop group, sideshow barker and magician. Jay moved to Los Angeles during the 1970s, where he performed in hip attire, sporting a fringed vest and waist-length hair. He opened for big-name acts, throwing cards and performing illusions, and adding a bit of comedy to his act. Soon Jay was a headliner. He was drawn to Los Angeles because Dai Vernon, the founder of the Academy of Magical Arts, or private club known as the Magic Castle, was there. He studied his art and learned the history of magic and its preeminent practitioners and collected thousands of books, posters, lithographs, and other items on the subject. Soon he was writing his own books.
The first edition of Jay's Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women: Unique, Eccentric, and Amazing Entertainers: Stone Eaters, Mind Readers, Poison Resisters, Daredevils, Singing Mice, etc., etc., etc., etc. was reviewed in People by Jim Jerome, who noted that the volume received "rapturous reviews" and quickly was in its third printing. Jerome called the volume "an irresistible tome that details the rise, demise, fame, and shame of history's most gifted freaks, geeks, wizards and quacks. Jay brought a scholar's passion for accuracy and telling detail to his ten years of research. And he knows his stuff."
Entries include one on Matthew Buchinger, an eighteenth-century German who played many instruments, performed magic, and was a master calligrapher, even though he was only twenty-nine inches tall and had no arms or legs. Toby the Sapient Pig read minds, played cards, and wrote his own autobiography, and Chabert the Human Salamander carried steaks into an oven and stood there while they cooked. Clarence Willard was able to stretch his body from five feet, ten inches to six feet, four inches. Max Malini was a magician who could take a ten-dollar bill and make it appear inside a lemon. He could also hypnotize a plucked chicken and awaken it from its trance on a platter, much to the astonishment of the guests.
Adam Bresnick reviewed the book in Forbes, calling it "a beautifully crafted homage to some of the most pointlessly gifted individuals the stage has ever seen. These were the performers who made audiences around them gasp before Hollywood invented special-effects illusion, and Ricky Jay clearly loves them with his whole vaudevillian soul."
The stage show Ricky Jay and His Fifty-two Assistants was a collaboration between Jay and director and playwright David Mamet, who cast Jay in three of his films, including the critically acclaimed House of Games. The assistants, are, of course, a deck of cards, and they were the only prop Jay needed to keep audiences spellbound as he recalled stories of riverboat gamblers and other cheats who used "artifice, ruse, and subterfuge" at the tables. Greg Evans noted in Variety that "as he shuffles, deals and works his wonders, he weaves in historical arcana, poetry, personal anecdotes and audience banter, all in a compelling style that blends the bravado of a sideshow barker with the relaxed intensity of a first-rate professor."
Between 1994 and 2000 Jay published a journal, all sixteen issues of which are collected in Jay's Journal of Anomalies: Conjurers, Cheats, Hustlers, Hoaxsters, Pranksters, Jokesters, Imposters, Pretenders, Sideshow Showmen, Armless Calligraphers, Mechanical Marvels, Popular Entertainments. This volume, like Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women, is generous with its illustrations and photographs and includes entries on Edward Bright, said to be England's fattest man; L. Bertolotto, the inventor of the flea circus; and a human fly. Some subjects from the earlier volume appear here, but Jay expands on each, providing new information. Dennis Drabelle, who reviewed the collection in the Washington Post Book World, said that "just to be clear about it, none of the information … is of any use whatever. For that reason alone, I love it."
In 2002 Jay took to the New York stage again with Ricky Jay: On the Stem. He relied on his cards and illusions, some of which required volunteers from the audience, and in one routine, he simultaneously planned chess moves, quoted Shakespeare, computed square roots, and sang.
Entertainment Weekly reviewer Chris Nashawaty interviewed Jay and noted that calling him a magician "is like calling da Vinci a doodler. … He'sa character actor. … He'san author and scholar. … He's a raconteur whose oddball stories are a connection to a colorful past populated with snake-oil salesmen, con artists, and quacks. And he's a sharpshooter with a deck of cards who can pierce the skin of a watermelon with the ace of clubs from ten paces."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Newsmakers, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1995.
Sultan, Donald, Donald Sultan: Playing Cards, Kyoto Shoin (Kyoto, Japan), 1989.
Book Collector, autumn, 1998, Nicolas Barker, review of The Magic Magic Book: An Inquiry into the Venerable History and Operation of the Oldest Trick-Conjuring Volumes, Designated "Blow Books," pp. 429-431.
Entertainment Weekly, June 21, 2002, Chris Nashawaty, "Pickpocket Full of Miracles: He May Dazzle Sellout Crowds Nightly, but the Magic behind Actor-Illusionist Ricky Jay's Con Is Really Meant for the Pros" (interview), p. 36.
Forbes, February 22, 1999, Adam Bresnick, review of Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women: Unique, Eccentric, and Amazing Entertainers: Stone Eaters, Mind Readers, Poison Resisters, Daredevils, Singing Mice, etc., etc., etc., etc., p. 165.
Hollywood Reporter, May 3, 2002, Frank Scheck, review of Ricky Jay: On the Stem, p. 8.
Los Angeles, September, 2001, Howard A. Rodman, review of Jay's Journal of Anomalies: Conjurers, Cheats, Hustlers, Hoaxsters, Pranksters, Jokesters, Imposters, Pretenders, Sideshow Showmen, Armless Calligraphers, Mechanical Marvels, Popular Entertainments, p. 54.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 2, 2001, Thomas Lynch, review of Jay's Journal of Anomalies, p. 22.
Newsday, September 9, 2001, review of Jay's Journal of Anomalies.
New York, February 21, 1994, John Simon, review of Ricky Jay and His Fifty-two Assistants, pp. 52-53.
New York Times, May 3, 2002, Ben Brantley, review of Ricky Jay: On the Stem, p. B6; May 26, 2002, Margo Jefferson, review of Ricky Jay: On the Stem, p. AR4; June 16, 2002, Jesse McKinley, "A Memory of Houdini and, No Escaping It, It's a Gabfest; Ricky Jay and David Mamet Talk about Their On the Stem with a Theater Veteran Who Practices His Own Kind of Sleight of Hand," p. AR5.
New York Times Book Review, December 14, 1986, James Randi, review of Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women, p. 1; December 23, 2001, Francis Heaney, review of Jay's Journal of Anomalies, p. 6.
People, May 11, 1987, Jim Jerome, review of Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women, p. 67.
Time, February 14, 1994, Jay Cocks, review of Ricky Jay and His Fifty-two Assistants, p. 62.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), October 26, 1986, David Holahan, review of Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women, p. 4.
Variety, February 7, 1994, Greg Evans, review of Ricky Jay and His Fifty-two Assistants, pp. 60-61; May 13, 2002, Charles Isherwood, review of Ricky Jay: On the Stem, p. 32.
Wall Street Journal, May 8, 2002, Barbara D. Phillips, review of Ricky Jay: On the Stem, p. D9.
Washington Post Book World, December 2, 2001, Dennis Drabelle, review of Jay's Journal of Anomalies, p. 13.
Harvard University Gazette online,http://www.news.harvard.edu.gazette/ (December 17, 1998), Ken Gewertz, "It's Magic! Exhibition Examines Nineteenth-Century Magicians."*