Carl Ballantine, the first great “comedy magician,” died this week at 92. His obits spoke about how he popularized the art of doing a terrible magic act (I vividly remember the drapery “made by mother” which proclaimed him “World’s Greatest Magishen”). Ballantine was a staple on Sixties variety and talk shows, but was best known as a regular on McHale’s Navy for the four seasons (1962-’66) that it was on.
The most interesting note in the obits was that he transformed the act from an early one in which he was billed as “the River Gambler” (Riverboat?), doing straight card tricks. Take a glimmer here at someone’s wretched but priceless VHS recording of his misbegotten magic act off some special hosted by Peter Graves (could this have been “Circus of the Stars”?):
Ballantine performed the act for over 50 years, and revived it for countless TV shows including the dreaded Eighties Cosby show and Donny and Marie (and yes, I realize that with my Mackenzie Phillips entry and this one, I’ll now have linked to Donny and Marie clips twice in one month….):
One of those oddities that YouTube is populated by, a nightclub puppet act that had a “Ballatine the Great” puppet:
And here’s a scary TV history, the Charles Nelson Reilly Saturday morning kids show parody, Uncle Croc’s Block, on which Ballantine guested as “Sherlock Domes”: