Lon Chaney may have won fame and fortune as the “Man of a Thousand Faces,” but Ricky Jay has built a successful career on the world stage with his hands… or sleight-of-hand to be more precise. The master magician has also cornered the market as an actor in film, TV and the theater, as well as a performer in comedy and magic clubs and as a best-selling author, historian and leading collector of antiquarian books and artifacts in his field.
Ricky Jay is the focus of a wonderfully entertaining and informative hour-long profile, Ricky Jay: Deceptive Practice, which launches the 29th season of American Masters on PBS tonight (Friday, January 23, 2015, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET. Check local listings for air times in your region). After its debut, the film will be available for streaming at http://pbs.org/americanmasters
In Ricky Jay: Deceptive Practice, producer/director/editor Molly Bernstein and her co-director/producer Alan Edelstein not only reveal Ricky Jay’s surprising back story; but we are privy to an engrossing history of the sleight-of-hand masters who paved the way for Ricky Jay. I urge you to throw caution to the wind and watch this captivating documentary profile. I promise that you’ll laugh; you’ll gasp; you may even tear up. And I guarantee you’ll find yourself rewinding scenes featuring some of his and his esteemed predecessors’ amazing routines.
Subtitled The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay, the film features Jay as the predominant narrator, who in a running on-camera and voice-over narrative recalls the fascinating lives and milieu of the most influential magicians of the 19th and 20th centuries, some of whom, like the great Cardini, Slydini, Al Flosso, Dai Vernon and Charlie Miller, impacted Jay directly.
Original vintage black and white (silent and sound) and color performance film footage, photos, program books, posters and artwork, much from Jay’s personal collection, open a window on the master magicians’ sleight-of-hand routines and the surprising venues where they showcased their talents. They became mentors to those lucky enough to be drawn into their circle.
One lucky lad was young Ricky Jay (then Ricky Potash), who, at four years old, became an apprentice to his grandfather, the noted amateur magician, Max Katz. Katz’s circle of friends and colleagues were a veritable who’s who in the sleight-of-hand biz. Imagine Ricky’s thrill when Al Flosso, the Coney Island Fakir, showed up to entertain at his bar mitzvah!
Young Ricky Jay is seen polishing his craft in marvelous photos and film footage from the 1950s, as well as in clips from entertaining stints on TV shows during his young adult years. Highlights also include vignettes from his later stage and film performances directed by playwright David Mamet, who recalls here how he tried to outwit the master to no avail.
Ricky Jay & His 52 Assistants; Ricky Jay: On the Stem; and Ricky Jay: A Rogue’s Gallery — all directed by Mamet — were award-winning critical and commercial theatrical events. As a film actor, Jay has been seen in David Mamet’s House of Games, Homicide,Things Change, The Spanish Prisoner, State and Main, and Heist, and in many other movies and TV/cable series.
While Ricky Jay’s signature sleight-of-hand routines and comic patter play an entertaining role in Ricky Jay: Deceptive Practice, the film never loses sight of the drama and mystery behind Jay’s appeal. A wonderfully evocative music score adds weight to the levity. British journalist Suzie Mackenzie caps a long-winded reminiscence with a spectacular revelation about her meeting with Jay that to this day reduces her to tears. And when, during the film’s grand finale, Ricky Jay faces the camera and recites a poem, “The Game in the Windowless Room,” written for him by Shel Silverstein, only one word comes to mind: Wow!!
American Masters–Ricky Jay: Deceptive Practice debuts tonight on PBS (Friday, January 23, 2015, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET. Check local listings for premiere and repeat airtimes in your region.) The film will also be available for streaming at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters Don’t miss it! — Judith Trojan