Born on April 2nd, Ricki Dunn began life as Freddy Revello, living in Newark, New Jersey. Between ages fourteen and seventeen, Ricki made a living working carnival and amusement park sideshows. During this time Ricki got his education through watching and performing at Carnivals, although he became a 'carny' and would soak up their way of life, he would never smoke or drink.
Ricki also worked for a time as assistant to Card Mondor and his spook show "Dracula's Den of Living Nightmares" where he met Dick Newton who became a lifelong friend.
It was during this period in 1946 where he met his first pickpocket - one who worked the streets. In exchange for card sleights this man taught Ricki the basics of pocket picking. It wasn't until a few years later that Lou Tannen suggested he pursue this field that Ricki really started to put what he had learnt in to practice. Lou encouraged Ricki to put more audience participation in his act and so his pick pocketing career started.
With very little information available, except a small booklet by Eddie Joseph, Ricki was forced to develop his own style or working and attitude, which was probably a blessing as he set new standards for the art form of Pick pocketing.
Ricki knew that to become a success he would have to specialize as a pickpocket, and so none of his publicity ever mentioned the word magician again. Throughout the years Ricki used every kind of publicity tool to establish himself as America's leading pickpocket included making up Wanted Posters, flyers that resembled hundred dollar bills and envelopes to mail them in that simulated wallets. If he gave an agent or booker a gift, it was usually a watch or wallet, with a note reminding them of his ability to 'steal' it back. Perhaps Ricki's most amusing stunt was an advertisement he placed in VARIETY , which simply stated, "Ricki Dunn is a THIEF!" causing a sensation and resulted in bookings in top venues including long runs in Las Vegas, where he would work The Flamingo, the Aladdin, the Dunes and the Haciena. Looking for volunteers one night, Ricki spotted Elvis in the audience and managed to lift the crooner's watch.
Ricki had an amazing career spanning over FIFTY years as a professional entertainer and inventor of many fine magic effects and routines, including the "Dove Streamer" and Dove to Glove Tray, and is still advertised today in Tannens Magic Catalogue. He also had a passion for mentalism and close-up magic and created what I would consider the BEST EGG BAG routine using live baby chicks! In the 60's Ricki published a book entitled 'Bat Magic', a collection of magic tricks and gags themed to the popular TV show Batman. He also had the original idea which became Al Cohen's shogun Wallet.
Onstage, he was a masterful combination of stand-up comic and steamroller. Offstage, he never tried to attract publicity, and he was not one to indulge in impromptu magic. Ricki was happiest sitting ina deli, surrounded by show business cronies, dining on split pea soup and rice pudding. (although after being introduced to Pumpkin soup in New Zealand he gave up the 'split pea).
Ricki became friends with some of the most recogizable artists in our profession, perform like Norm Nielson, Channing Pollock, Glenn Falkenstein and Frances Willard. He also shared his time with magicians who weren't 'big names' and he treated everybody the same.
Ricki passed away two months short of his seventieth birthday. Ricki would be the last person to think of a legacy, be he did leave one, an important one. His legacy is the hundreds of magicians he encouraged and inspired, and most amazingly, for all his beefs and brawls, his legacy is a lesson in how to be a friend.
Some of the information above is from excerpts from Watch Your Wallets, Hold on to Your Watches! A Remembrance of Ricki Dunn by David Avadon which originally appeared in the July 1999 issue of Genii magazine. The complete article is reprinted in David Avadon's new book , Cutting Up Touches , the first book ever written on the history of exhibition pickpocketing. The book will be available in May from Squash Publishing, www.squashpublications.com