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Ricky Jay: 1946-2018 | Balder and Dash

Ricky Jay: 1946-2018 | Balder and Dash

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The issue with writing an obituary about Ricky Jay, who handed away yesterday on the age of 72, is that he’s maybe the one particular person actually certified to sum up his life. Even somebody attempting to make up the wildest and most unbelievable resume conceivable can be hard-pressed to prime Jay’s achievements: He was a sleight-of-hand magician whose illusions startled and amazed audiences all through the world; a scholar of the historical past of magic who used his in depth data to pen a number of books, and put collectively quite a lot of museum exhibitions and lectured extensively on the topic; an actor whose cagey display presence made him a favourite with such filmmakers as David Mamet and Paul Thomas Anderson; an important man behind the scenes who helped create quite a lot of the display’s most celebrated illusions. Jay was a raconteur of the best order, and a perennial speak present favourite. Oh yeah, he was so deft in his dealing with of an odd deck of playing cards that he might take one, fling it by means of the air and sink it into the rind of a watermelon at a distance of ten paces.


He was born Richard Jay Potash on June 26, 1946 and grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey. As Jay was as tight-lipped about his early years as he was the magic tips he develop into well-known for, little is understood about that interval in his life. He clearly demonstrated a aptitude for magic tips at an early age as he carried out a full magic act on the tv present “Time For Pets” in 1953 on the age of 4. He finally started doing it professionally and achieved quite a lot of accomplishments within the area—he’s mentioned to have been the primary magician to play comedy golf equipment and was additionally to first to open a rock live performance when he appeared on a invoice with Ike & Tina Turner and Timothy Leary. At a time when extra flamboyant performers like Doug Henning and David Copperfield had been attracting massive audiences, Jay’s act, during which he pulled off any variety of seemingly unattainable illusions whereas providing up banter as entertaining because the tips themselves, quickly developed a cult following. Jay even developed a trio of one-man reveals, “Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants,” “Ricky Jay: On the Stern,” and “Ricky Jay: A Rogue’s Gallery,” which had been directed by none apart from David Mamet.

Mamet would even be the catalyst for Jay’s transfer to the large display, although not as an illusionist. Magic tips of the kind carried out by Jay don’t translate very properly to movie as a result of even when they’re performed earlier than the digital camera in a single take with no cutaways or edits to talk of, most viewers simply assume that there’s nonetheless some form of fakery occurring behind the scenes. Nonetheless, Mamet acknowledged that Jay’s gregarious character and the sly method during which he delivered the tales his tips had been primarily based on may very well be deployed efficiently in a non-magical context, and started casting him in quite a lot of his motion pictures, together with “Home of Video games” (1987), “Issues Change” (1988), “Murder” (1991), “The Spanish Prisoner” (1997), “State and Maine” (2000), “Heist” (2001, pictured above) and “Redbelt” (2008). Jay by no means had a number one position in any of those movies however when he did come on the display, he would virtually at all times command consideration, typically stealing the scene proper from underneath the noses of his costars with the identical form of ease of his illusions. He quickly discovered himself popping up in different movies such because the James Bond epic “Tomorrow By no means Dies” (1997), the con girl comedy “Heartbreakers” (2001) and the magic-related productions “The Status” (2006) and “The Nice Buck Howard” (2008). Aside from Mamet, Jay’s most fruitful display collaborations had been with filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, who solid him as one of many loyal members of Burt Reynolds’ pornographic filmmaking household in “Boogie Nights” (1997) and had him function the narrator for his epic “Magnolia” (1999), the place his opening monologue about likelihood and coincidence proved to be the primary of that movie’s numerous pleasures. On tv, apart from his quite a few speak present appearances, he additionally turned up as card participant Eddie Sawyer throughout the first season of the acclaimed Western sequence “Deadwood.”

Along with his unimaginable talent set, Jay carved out a second Hollywood profession working behind the scenes as a advisor, devising a few of the magic tips on show in “The Escape Artist” (1982) and educating Robert Redford find out how to carry out a coin trick for “The Pure” (1984). Within the 1990s, he and associate Michael Weber created Misleading Practices, an organization devoted to serving to create workable options to seemingly unattainable visible tips for the stage and the display. One among his best-knows illusions was present in “Forest Gump,” the place he helped create the specifically designed wheelchair employed to cover Gary Sinise’s legs from view. Different tasks that he labored on on this capability included “Sneakers,” “Wolf,” “The Illusionist,” “The Status,” “Ocean’s 13” and the Broadway manufacturing of “Angels in America.”


Jay orchestrated any variety of spectacular illusions however, in contrast to quite a lot of present magicians, he by no means succumbed to the urge to indicate audiences how he pulled them off. Nonetheless, as a scholar of the historical past of magic, con video games, playing and frauds of all sizes, he would show to be each a collector and historian of this explicit space of research and conveyed that data right into a sequence of books that took care to guard the secrets and techniques of how they did it however supplied up such a wealth of knowledge that one didn’t thoughts. His 1986 e-book on oddball entertainments, Realized Pigs & Fireproof Ladies, is such a pleasant learn that even these with none working curiosity within the topic will discover it fascinating. In 2012, he lifted the curtain on himself barely by serving as the topic of the compelling documentary “Misleading Follow: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay,” during which he talks at size about his mentors within the area and the way they might assist form his personal efforts.

The easiest way to commemorate Jay’s life and mark his passing, in fact, is to revisit his work and observe his singular genius in motion. The aforementioned Realized Pigs & Fireproof Ladies deserves a spot of prominence on the bookshelf of each house. On the large display, the selection movies embrace “Home of Video games,” “The Spanish Prisoner” (nonetheless my favourite Mamet movie), “Magnolia” and the “Misleading Follow” documentary. After all, YouTube is chock stuffed with his quite a few tv appearances through the years that let you watch him do all the things from impossible-looking feats of prestidigitation to slicing pencils in half with a thrown enjoying card. To say that there’ll by no means be one other performer like him is a large understatement—the truth that somebody like him existed in our timeline within the first place is a little bit of magic to rival any of his personal tips.  

Earlier Article: Nicolas Roeg, 1928-2018

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