I recently spent a lot of time on airplanes, and while I marvelled at how those around me could watch intense drama films while confined within a flying tube cylinder, I went straight for my usual long haul flight distractions: silly comedies. On this particular trip The Incredible Burt Wonderstone caught my eye, and while this film won’t be winning any Oscars anytime soon, it did keep me chuckling while the hours ticked by. Starring Steve Carell and Jim Carrey as duelling magicians in Las Vegas, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone proved to be an amusing distraction, but what I really appreciated about this film was how it took me down memory lane by reminding me of my childhood love of magic. This love was fostered by a series of specials called World’s Greatest Magic that aired on NBC in the mid-90s as special programming for the Thanksgiving holidays, and it was because of these specials that I first harboured the ambition to be a magician myself.
World’s Greatest Magic began in 1994 and aired annually through to 1998, and I used to look forward to these specials every year more than any other yearly programming. I would beg my Dad to record them, and would then proceed to wear out the VHS tape re-watching every act and illusion. The names of the magicians featured on these shows became as familiar to me as Hollywood A-listers, as did each magicians’ signature tricks. I spent hours trying to figure out how the illusions were performed, and one Christmas morning during this time my enthusiasm was rewarded with a magic set for kids sitting under the Christmas tree with my name on it. That year the entertainment at Christmas dinner was my hastily put together act of all the familiar beginner magic tricks, including cup and balls, disappearing coins, linking rings, and turning water into ice. I even managed to genuinely surprise my family when I turned a foam rabbit into five small foam bunnies within my cousin’s hand.
What I loved the most about these specials is that they instilled in me the belief that the world is a magical place and that anything is possible. Those magicians spurred my imagination more than anything else I saw on TV, and although I may not have continued on to become a magician myself, I still have a couple of card tricks up my sleeve that never fail to entertain. Sadly, I have never been able to find World’s Greatest Magic on DVD, but clips from the specials can be found on youtube. In particular, check out this clip of Peter Marvey performing a routine that kept me mesmerized as a child trying to figure out where all of his props were coming from. Re-watching it today, it’s nice to know that in today’s world of technology driven cynicism, a simple disappearing card can still induce gasps of wonder.