NEW YORK TIMES: As a teenager, Mr. Jay ran away to work in Lake George, the upstate New York resort area. He was later booked at the Electric Circus, the East Village hippie-era temple, doing his act between Ike and Tina Turner’s music and Timothy Leary’s lectures on LSD. Eventually he enrolled in five different colleges but by his account never advanced past freshman status at any of them. “Early on, I knew I didn’t want to do the kind of magic other people were doing,” he said in the New Yorker profile. “So I started buying old books” to research the history of the form. He built his fame with what The New Yorker called an “out-of-left-field brand of gonzo-hip comedy magic, a combination of chops and artistic irreverence.” MORE
THE NEW YORKER: The playwright David Mamet and the theatre director Gregory Mosher affirm that some years ago, late one night in the bar of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Chicago, this happened:
Ricky Jay, who is perhaps the most gifted sleight-of-hand artist alive, was performing magic with a deck of cards. Also present was a friend of Mamet and Mosher’s named Christ Nogulich, the director of food and beverage at the hotel. After twenty minutes of disbelief-suspending manipulations, Jay spread the deck face up on the bar counter and asked Nogulich to concentrate on a specific card but not to reveal it. Jay then assembled the deck face down, shuffled, cut it into two piles, and asked Nogulich to point to one of the piles and name his card.
“Three of clubs,” Nogulich said, and he was then instructed to turn over the top card.
He turned over the three of clubs.
Mosher, in what could be interpreted as a passive-aggressive act, quietly announced, “Ricky, you know, I also concentrated on a card.”
After an interval of silence, Jay said, “That’s interesting, Gregory, but I only do this for one person at a time.”
Mosher persisted: “Well, Ricky, I really was thinking of a card.”
Jay paused, frowned, stared at Mosher, and said, “This is a distinct change of procedure.” A longer pause. “All right—what was the card?”
“Two of spades.”
Jay nodded, and gestured toward the other pile, and Mosher turned over its top card.
The deuce of spades.
A small riot ensued.
Deborah Baron, a screenwriter in Los Angeles, where Jay lives, once invited him to a New Year’s Eve dinner party at her home. About a dozen other people attended. Well past midnight, everyone gathered around a coffee table as Jay, at Baron’s request, did closeup card magic. When he had performed several dazzling illusions and seemed ready to retire, a guest named Mort said, “Come on, Ricky. Why don’t you do something truly amazing?”
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Baron recalls that at that moment “the look in Ricky’s eyes was, like, ‘Mort—you have just fucked with the wrong person.’ ”
Jay told Mort to name a card, any card. Mort said, “The three of hearts.” After shuffling, Jay gripped the deck in the palm of his right hand and sprung it, cascading all fifty-two cards so that they travelled the length of the table and pelted an open wine bottle.
“O.K., Mort, what was your card again?”
“The three of hearts.”
“Look inside the bottle.”
Mort discovered, curled inside the neck, the three of hearts. The party broke up immediately. MORE