Born July 20, 1869(1869-07-20)
Died April 13, 1936 (aged 66)
Cause of death Pneumonia
Howard Thurston (July 20, 1869 – April 13, 1936) was a stage magician from Columbus, Ohio.
Thurston had the largest traveling Vaudeville magic show for the time, requiring more than eight entire train cars to transport his props across the country.
The King of Cards
He is still famous for his work with playing cards. He called himself the King of Cards. Thurston was one of the first magicians to take advantage of the Back Palm with cards. The history of the back palm is just as mysterious as a magic trick itself. According to legend, a Mexican magician appeared at a magic shop in New York city owned my Otto Maurer. The enigmatic magician demonstrated how could make cards disappear, one by one, at his fingertips.
Maurer then showed Thurston the move. This was something that would be a future in his act. He couldn’t do just the card production by itself, so he thought about doing the Rising Cards he learned from Professor Hoffman’s Modern Magic. In the book, Thurston learned the rudiments that was done by magicians for years. Howard would walk into the audience and ask several people to choose cards from a deck of cards. The deck was shuffled and placed into a clear glass. He would call for the chosen cards. One by one the cards would rise up to the top of the deck.
When audiences wanted the cards to rise higher, he developed a way of causing the cards to rise directly out of the pack. Now he had an act that could play the big time. That is, if he could get someone to look at his new act.
He arranged an impromptu audition with Leon Herrmann, nephew of Alexander Herrmann. His version fooled Leon. From that point on he billed himself as, "The man that fooled Herrmann." He billed himself as the King of Cards and used the publicity from that to get booked into top vaudeville houses in the U.S. and Europe.
Passing of the mantle
Harry Kellar retired in 1908, and handed over the mantle of America's Greatest Magician to Thurston. It is said that Kellar considered only Thurston to be worthy of succeeding him. The mantle was just a ceremonial gesture. What he actually gave him was his cane. A poster of Kellar with his cane can be seen in this lithograph titled, A Walk In The Woods. At Ford’s Opera House Kellar gave the cane to his successor with the following inscription: “Presented to Howard Thurston On May 16, 1908”.
Thurston continue to troupe Thurston-Kellar Show, following the retirement of Kellar. The Thurston show became an institution. He kept up the grind for about thirty years. On March 30, 1936, Thurston suffered a stroke he received from a cerebral hemorrhage. He later died on April 14 at his Oceanside apartment in Miami Beach, Florida. Death was attributed to pneumonia. He is entombed at Green Lawn Abbey, a mausoleum in Columbus, Ohio.
Thurston is mentioned and appears briefly in Glen David Gold's novel "Carter Beats the Devil" (ISBN 0-7868-8632-3), concerning fellow stage magician Charles J. Carter and the Golden Age of magic in America. Thurston is also mentioned in two novels by Robert A Heinlein: Time Enough for Love and To Sail Beyond the Sunset.
Thurston is quoted as a subject matter expert in Dale Carnegie's book "How to Win Friends and Influence People (ISBN 0-743272-773)." He appears in Part Two, Chapter One ("Do This and You'll Be Welcome Anywhere").