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Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – “The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini”.

Award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author Joe Posnanski enters the world of Harry Houdini and his legions of devoted fans in an immersive, entertaining, and magical work on the illusionist’s impact on American culture—and why his legacy endures to this day.

Harry Houdini. Say his name and a number of things come to mind. Escapes. Illusions. Magic. Chains. Safes. Live burials. Close to a century after his death, nearly every person in America knows his name from a young age, capturing their imaginations with his death-defying stunts and daring acts. He inspired countless people, from all walks of life, to find something magical within themselves.

This is a book about a man and his extraordinary life, but it is also about the people who he has inspired in death. As Joe Posnanski delves into the deepest corners of Houdini-land, visiting museums (one owned by David Copperfield), attractions, and private archives, he encounters a cast of unforgettable and fascinating characters: a woman who runs away from home to chase her dream of becoming a magician; an Italian who revives Houdini’s most famous illusion every night; a performer at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles who calls himself Houdini’s Ghost; a young boy in Australia who, one day, sees an old poster and feels his life change; and a man in Los Angeles whose sole mission in life has been to keep the legend’s name alive.

Both a personal obsession and an odyssey of discovery, Posnanski draws inspiration from his lifelong passion for and obsession with magic, blending biography, memoir, and first-person reporting to examine Harry Houdini’s life and legacy. This is the ultimate journey to uncover why this magic man endures, and what he still has to teach the world about wonder.

“Enthralling . . . This is a first-class book, a subtle stretching of the biographical form that is also superbly readable.”

—The Times (London)

“Whatever mystical inspiration drew Joe Posnanski to the story of Harry Houdini, readers will be forever grateful. Joe’s writing about the mysterious and mythical magician is touched by its own stunning magic.”

—David Maraniss, author of A Good American Family

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Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – “Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News”

Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News

Award-winning poet and critic Kevin Young tours us through a rogue’s gallery of hoaxers, plagiarists, forgers, and fakers―from the humbug of P. T. Barnum and Edgar Allan Poe to the unrepentant bunk of JT LeRoy and Donald J. TrumpBunktraces the history of the hoax as a peculiarly American phenomenon, examining what motivates hucksters and makes the rest of us so gullible. Disturbingly, Young finds that fakery is woven from stereotype and suspicion, race being the most insidious American hoax of all. He chronicles how Barnum came to fame by displaying figures like Joice Heth, a black woman whom he pretended was the 161-year-old nursemaid to George Washington, and What Is It?, an African American man Barnum professed was a newly discovered missing link in evolution.

Bunk then turns to the hoaxing of history and the ways that forgers, plagiarists, and journalistic fakers invent backstories and falsehoods to sell us lies about themselves and about the world in our own time, from pretend Native Americans Grey Owl and Nasdijj to the deadly imposture of Clark Rockefeller, from the made-up memoirs of James Frey to the identity theft of Rachel Dolezal. In this brilliant and timely work, Young asks what it means to live in a post-factual world of “truthiness” where everything is up for interpretation and everyone is subject to a pervasive cynicism that damages our ideas of reality, fact, and art.

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“A wild, incisive, exhilarating tour through Western culture’s sideshows and dark corners. Like a sideshow barker, Young writes with unbridled enthusiasm, a showman’s conviction, and a carny’s canny, telling a story that at times defies belief. And every word of it is true.” ― Los Angeles Times

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“Kevin Young . . . reflects on hoaxers and events as diverse as P.T. Barnum, Rachel Dolezal, the forged Hitler Diaries, Binjamin Wilkomirski’s fabricated Holocaust memoir, James Frey, Stephen Glass and Lance Armstrong. What could be timelier in the age of post-truth politics, science denial, and fake news?” ― Newsweek

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“[Young’s] scrupulous feel for archival traces ― for the urgent materiality of memory ― is one of the superpowers he brings to both his poems and nonfiction. The newest example is Bunk, Young’s enthralling and essential new study of our collective American love affair with pernicious and intractable moonshine. . . . Bunk is a sort of book that comes along rarely: the encompassing survey of some vast realm of human activity, encyclopedic but also unapologetically subjective. . . . Bunk, a panorama, a rumination, and a polemic at once, asks more of the reader. It delivers riches in return. . . . Bunk is a reader’s feast, a shaggy, generous tome with a slim volume of devastating aphorisms lurking inside; it also shimmers with moments of brief personal testimony.” ― Jonathan Lethem, The New York Times Book Review

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Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – “The Magician and the Cinema”

Inside of book jacket flap.

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Erik Barnouw (Tube of Plenty et al.) tells an engaging story to introduce this scholarly lark: in high school, Barnouw catalogued magician John Mulholland‘s books on magic and, meeting him decades later, mentioned “how often, in exploring film history, I had come across names I had first met in his books. Had magicians had a larger role in the evolution of motion pictures than was generally recognized?”.  A rhetorical question, it quickly seems, as Barnouw conjures up–to the accompaniment of eerie posters and other archival troves–an era when “every new scientific invention had magic possibilities”; the magic lantern made apparitions materialize, and one after another future filmmaker experimented with optical trickery. Then came the Cinematographe (1895), and the scramble “for wealth and glory”–led by magician/impresario/master of special effects Georges Melies. Also in the running were Billy Bitzer, D. W. Griffith‘s chief cameraman-to-be; Albert E. Smith and J. Stuart Blackton, founding partners of American Vitagraph; and the great Houdini himself–who turned his celebrated stage feats into film climaxes. . . which, by camera magic, anyone could now perform. The irony, as Barnouw notes, was that the films displaced the magicians. Looking at the films themselves (thanks to another happy accident–the Paper Print collection at the Library of Congress, Barnouw’s present base), he traces the magic/ film intersection through several stages–from the first “”actuality bits”” (which people “readily accepted as magic””), through filmed magic “”beefed up by film trickery,”” to the trick film: ghosts, vanishings, metamorphoses, “”cheerful”” mayhem–the realm of severed heads and severed limbs. Plus: devices special to the film, like reversals, slow motion and accelerated motion. A few concluding words ponder–with reference to the “media”–the acceptance of illusions, now, as “something real.” A spiffy little addition to early film history, with outsize implications.

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Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – Caffe Cino

The Birthplace of Off-Off-Broadway

CAFFE CINO

“It’s Magic Time!” That colorful promise began each performance at the Caffe Cino, the storied Greenwich Village coffeehouse that fostered the gay and alternative theatre movements of the 1960s and launched the careers of such stage mainstays as Sam Shepard, Lanford Wilson, Robert Heide, Harry Koutoukas, Robert Patrick, Robert Dahdah, Helen Hanft, Al Pacino, and Bernadette Peters. As Off-Off-Broadway productions enjoy a deserved resurgence, theatre historian and actor Wendell C. Stone reopens the Cino’s doors in this vibrant look at the earliest days of OOB.

Rife with insider interviews and rich with evocative photographs, Caffe Cino: The Birthplace of Off-Off-Broadway provides the first detailed account of Joe Cino’s iconic café theatre and its influence on American theatre. A hub of artistic innovation and haven for bohemians, beats, hippies, and gays, the café gave a much-sought outlet to voices otherwise shunned by mainstream entertainment. The Cino’s square stage measured only eight feet, but the dynamic ideas that emerged there spawned the numerous alternative theatre spaces that owe their origins to the risky enterprise on Cornelia Street.

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Excerpt from the Introduction

Caffe Cino, 31 Cornelia Street, NYC

Joe Cino (L.) and Edward Albee at a benefit for the Caffe Cino after a fire, 1965, Photo: James D. Gossage.

For more information about Caffe Cino go here!

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Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – “Notes on a Cowardly Lion”

Notes on a Cowardly Lion by John Lahr

Back Cover

First published in 1969, Notes on a Cowardly Lion has established itself as one of the best-ever show business biographies. Drawing on his father’s recollections and on the memories of those who worked with him, John Lahr brilliantly examines the history of modern American show business through the long and glorious career of his father–the raucous low-comic star of burlesque, vaudeville, the Broadway revue and musical, Hollywood movies, and the legitimate stage. Here in rich detail is Lahr evolving from low–dialect comic to Ziegfeld Follies sophisticate, hamming it up with the Scarecrow and Tin Woodsman on the set of The Wizard of Oz, and debuting Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in America, which Kenneth Tynan called “one of the most noble performances I have ever seen.” In the examination of Bert Lahr’s chronic insecurity and self-absorption, the breakdown of his first marriage, and the affectionate arm’s length he kept between himself and his adoring second family, John Lahr’s book also brings the reader closer than any other theater biography to the private torment of a great funny man.

This edition of the book includes the award-winning essay “The Lion and Me,” John Lahr’s intimate reflections on family life with his distant, brooding, but lovable father. A first-class stylist, John Lahr takes the reader beyond the magic of show business to a dazzling examination of how a performing self is constructed and staged before the paying customers. Both as theater history and biography, Lahr’s book is superb.

“A book-length love letter. To open it is to enter a life, to participate in a sensibility and, perhaps most important, to laugh. Uproariously.”

Stefan Kanfer, Life

“Endlessly fascinating, excellent. . . . A work of literature, a work of history, a subtle psychological study.”

Richard Schickel, Harper’s Magazine

“This is a biography of the late Bert Lahr, that clown-comedian who played everything from burlesque to Aristophanes and Shakespeare, by his son, who is one of that rare species, an authentic theater critic. . . . John Lahr is frank and objective about his father. He sees that Bert was wildly funny on the stage and unhappy off. He was a haphazard father, a selfish lover, a thoughtless husband (his wife cherished him), a hypochondriac and a ruthless ‘professional.’ The past becomes present in this biography so that we come to know and understand the actor as clearly as the man. The book abounds in anecdotes that smack of the footlight world and its fascinating fauna. John Lahr is an honorable as well as a talented writer on the theater.”

Harold Clurman, New York Times Book Review

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Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – “How Sweet It Is” – Jackie Gleason

This is one ‘helluva’ funny book!

 Inside book jacket flaps.

Back Cover of the book.

This book is great! If you like The Honeymooners and any of Jackie Gleason’s TV Specials over the years you will enjoy reading these stories about his wonderful life. There is one that I remember very well. When he stayed at the St. Regis Hotel he frequented the in-house King Cole Bar   and sat next to  Salvador Dali. This drinking companion ended up drawing an album cover for his music album “The Romantic Moods of Jackie Gleason“.

The rest of the book is equally hysterical and so enjoyable!

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Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – “Growing Up with Chico”

Growing Up with ChicoGROWING UP WITH CHICO – by Maxine Marx

Maxine Marx’s book about her experience as part of the family that gave us the Marx Brothers is deservedly well-known and much loved by classic movie fans.  Her anecdotes are funny, loving and revealing.  In some ways, the book doesn’t feel as though it were written by someone in such close proximity to these famous characters, but this jives with her description of the brothers’ closeness.  Even the immediate family came after the brothers, and nothing and nobody came between them.  Except maybe money.  
I enjoyed the tidbit describing Sam “Frenchie” Marx’s gentle nature, which has a lot to say about women in the Marx family.  Walking home after viewing The Scarlet Letter at the movies, young Maxine asked her grandpa “why they had put the A on the lady’s dress.”  “Pshaw,” he replied.  “Pshaw.”  After a bit, he added, “Don’t tell der Mamma vhat you saw, yah?”
I knew very little about Chico although he was always my favorite performer in all the movies what with the finger shooting and the  “Attsa boy, make a big slam! Make a big, big slam!”  Now I am in awe of  tough little Betty Marx for putting up with all his shenanigans.  Still, Chico manages to come across as charismatic.   I’m glad the mafia didn’t whack him after all.
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Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – “The Day The Laughter Stopped”

The Day The Laughter Stopped by David Yallop

The Day the Laughter Stopped

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and the story of his tragedy.

Buster Keaton said that the day the laughter stopped was September 5, 1921 – the day that Virginia Rappe became ill during a party in Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle‘s suite at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. She died four days later as a result of her illness, peritonitis caused by a ruptured bladder. Mr. Arbuckle had nothing to do with Ms. Rappe’s illness and death, but he paid with his good name, his career and his happiness nonetheless. He was tried three times, by a politically motivated and extraordinarily underhanded prosecution, and was acquitted with an unprecedented apology signed by every member of the jury. This should have been more than enough to ensure his warm welcome back into film, but nothing of the sort happened. The tragedy of Roscoe Arbuckle is that he was made to be the scapegoat of a Hollywood running scared from public opinion – his guilt or innocence had become irrelevant.
This is the story that David Yallop tells in The Day the Laughter Stopped. Though the book tells the story of Arbuckle’s birth, start in show business and the years after his being sacrificed by so-called friends, the focus of this book is on the unfortunate death of Virginia Rappe, and the ham-handed attempt of the prosecutor to wrangle a political future out of the railroading of an innocent man. The problem? The prosecution had no case – its “star” witness, Maude Delmont, was lying from the onset and was easily discredited, and the doctors who examined Ms. Rappe during and after the party, and who conducted the autopsy, clearly indicated that no violence was done to her. The question, of course, is why she didn’t receive proper surgical medical care in the first place, but due to the passage of time I suppose that query will forever go unanswered.
When Mr. Yallop began research for this book, all three of Mr. Arbuckle’s wives were still living, and were eager to share their stories with him. Even Minta Durfee and Doris Deane, whose marriages with him ended in divorce, remembered him with great love. Indeed, all who were still around to be interviewed by Mr. Yallop had positive and kind things to say about the gentle, generous Roscoe Arbuckle.
This is an indispensable and devastating text in the study of the trial and the nature of Hollywood politics in the 20’s. Simple common sense and a rudimentary review of the facts indicate that Roscoe Arbuckle was completely innocent – this book makes it abundantly clear. It is a shame that Mr. Yallop has not written further titles regarding the silent era – his voice would be more than welcome. My only quibble, and it is a tiny one, is that there is some gratuitous foreshadowing in the “Before” section of the book – chances are that anyone who awaited this book’s arrival knew that its main focus was the events following September 5, 1921, and didn’t need to be reminded of the sadness just around the bend during Roscoe’s happy times.
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REVIEWS
This book should be the end of all the scandal regarding the case of murder against Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle. The author lays it all out so well that there is no question that Arbuckle had absolutely nothing to do with the death of Virginia Rappe. That is not to say this is not as interesting as the dirty little stories that others have told about this case, it is just that this happens to be the truth! I highly recommend this book!!!
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David Yallop is a film and television writer. He spent more than three years writing this book. The `Acknowledgments’ thank the many who helped in this 1976 book. There is a `Filmography’ by Samual A. Gill, and a `Bibliography’. The `Preface’ presents the testimony given by Maude Delmont. She accused Roscoe Arbuckle of murdering Virginia Rappe. Delmont never testified in court because her story was all lies. District Attorney Matthew Brady knew this as he prosecuted Arbuckle. Most people know of the legend of Arbuckle as a murderer with a Coke bottle. It ruined the career of Arbuckle, one of the most popular comedians of Hollywood, and was followed by a national board of censors. Arbuckle was the first actor to be blacklisted (p.261).

Part 1 has the history of Roscoe and show business. Originally all American films were made on the East Coast (p.25). California had better weather and light, and a varying landscape (p.25). There was a wide-open free market for films in the early days (p.27). Mack Sennett was an inventive pioneer who recorded real events for future films (p.40). Roscoe was enormously popular in American, but also in Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, and elsewhere (p.47). The “true story of what happened in Boston” begin on page 67, when Roscoe “was still a sick man”. Roscoe “is not now considered one of the greatest silent film comedians because most experts have never had the chance to see the best of his works” (p.83). Roscoe was a deputy sheriff (p.86). There was a famous dinner party (pp.87-90). 1921 saw the beginning of the Depression (p.96). [Due to falling agricultural prices.]

Part 2 tells about the St. Francis Hotel that survived the earthquake and fire of 1906. Roscoe picked the best hotel in town. Yallop interviewed many of the people who were involved, and read thousands of pages from the six proceedings to construct what happened on September 5, 1921 (p.109). Pages 108 to 128 end with Virginia’s death. Yallop says medical malpractice killed her. An illegal post-mortem removed organs that could tell of an abortion. The death caused reporters to investigate the story for The Front Page. Theaters began to drop Roscoe’s films (p.135). Lawyer Frank Dominguez advised Roscoe to answer no questions at the Hall of Justice (p.136). [This prevented the creation of prosecutorial perjury.] The reports in the Hearst Press was “criminally irresponsible” (p.138). Was Hearst the only millionaire to use gangsters (p.140)?

Was the scandal about Roscoe meant as a diversion from the economy (p.141)? Censorship of Chaplin (p.143)? Lehrman made up stories (p.145). Delmont made up stories (p.149). D.A. Matthew Brady knew that Roscoe was guiltless but prosecuted anyway (p.152). They tried to put words into one witness (pp.162-165). Brady knew he didn’t have a case (p.186)! Arbuckle’s films were banned in Great Britain and elsewhere, but not in France (p.191). [Is there some human flaw that causes people to hate what they once loved (p.194)?] Was the incident a variation of the “badger game” (p.196)? Maude Delmont played this game before (p.197). Brady refused to let her testify (p.198). A fickle public now cheered Arbuckle (p.202). Private detectives guarded Roscoe (p.207). Finally, the third jury acquitted Roscoe in five minutes because there was no proof (p.253).

Part 3 asks why an innocent man ws banned from movies (p.259). Will Hays was a puppet of Adolph Zuckor (p.260). The acquittal and the ban shattered Roscoe (p.264). He worked behind the scenes (p.265). Popular support ended the ban (p.266). But there were objections (p.267). [How wise are those moral leaders who would condemn an accused innocent (p.268)?] Billy Sunday said the ban was evil (p.272). The film “Sherlock Jr.” was based on the trial (p.278). There was another important case about the morals of a plaintiff (p.279). The rest of the book tells about Roscoe’s last years. Roscoe made comedy shorts in 1932 and was prepared to return to features when he died in his sleep (p.294). [Was there a need for comedy during the Great Depression?] The `Epilogue’ tells how the ban on Roscoe’s films continued long after his death (p.299). [Andy Edmonds’ book explains why the event was a frame-up.]

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Check out Vaudevisuals – Review – May 2016

Vaudevisuals.comVaudevisuals Review – May 2016

Lots of great things happened in May of 2016. BelloMania was at The New Victory Theatre, Bindlestiff Family Circus presented their new show “A Cardboard & Duct Tape Spectacular and Radio Free Brooklyn had a ‘Special Event’. The Vaudevisuals Bookshelf  was chock full of recommendations.

“BELLOMANIA” AT THE NEW VICTORY THEATRE – APRIL 2016

VAUDEVISUALS BOOKSHELF – “STREET PEOPLE” – BY JANET BELLER

RADIO FREE BROOKLYN – SPECIAL LIVE EVENT – SATURDAY MAY 14TH

VAUDEVISUALS INTERVIEW WITH KEITH NELSON – “A CARDBOARD & DUCT TAPE SPECTACULAR”

VAUDEVISUALS BOOKSHELF – “THE CITY & THE THEATRE” BY MARY C. HENDERSON

VAUDEVISUALS BOOKSHELF – “WHERE THE HEART BEATS: JOHN CAGE, ZEN BUDDHISM

VAUDEVISUALS BOOKSHELF – “THE DOWNTOWN BOOK” – 1974 – 1984 NY ART SCENE

VAUDEVISUALS BOOKSHELF – “HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT” BY COLIN WILLIAMSON

VAUDEVISUALS BOOKSHELF – “I CELEBRATE MYSELF” BY ALLEN GINSBURG

Michael Karas performing in "BelloMania"

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Stay tuned for June and July Postings!

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Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – “Conjuring Asia – Magic, Orientalism”

Conjuring Asia

The promise of magic has always commanded the human imagination, but the story of industrial modernity is usually seen as a process of disenchantment. Drawing on the writings and performances of the so-called ‘Golden Age Magicians’ from the turn of the twentieth century, Chris Goto-Jones unveils the ways in which European and North American encounters with (and representations of) Asia – the fabled Mystic East – worked to re-enchant experiences of the modern world. Beginning with a reconceptualization of the meaning of ‘modern magic’ itself – moving beyond conventional categories of ‘real’ and ‘fake’ magic – Goto-Jones‘ acclaimed book guides us on a magical mystery tour around India, China and Japan, showing us levitations and decapitations, magic duels and bullet catches, goldfish bowls and paper butterflies. In the end, this mesmerizing book reveals Orientalism as a kind of magic in itself, casting a spell over Western culture that leaves it transformed even today.
“If magic is the art of accomplishing the impossible, Goto-Jones emerges as a scholar-magician: a wonder-full book!” 
Derren Brown, mentalist and illusionist

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