November 11th, 2009
11:57 AM ET

Carl Ballantine, 1917-2009

I love magicians. I still have the Playbill from seeing Ricky Jay’s “On the Stem” several years ago; on a recent trip to Vegas, I made a point of checking out Mac King’s comedy-magic show. I like my magic with a minimum of fuss and special effects and a maximum of skill and humor.

So I couldn’t help but pause this morning when I saw that Carl Ballantine -– the “Great Ballantine” -– had passed away. He was 92.

Nobody would call Ballantine a brilliant magician -– certainly not on the level of the magnificent Jay -– but he was skilled in another way: he had a terrific sense of timing and knew how to make the most of his clumsy tricks with a well-timed joke. He inspired many with his apparent buffoonery, which masked a clever illusionist.

"Carl Ballantine influenced not only myself but a generation of magicians and comedians," Steve Martin said Wednesday in a statement to The Los Angeles Times. "His was also the most copied act by a host of amateurs and professionals."

Ballantine was also a frequent TV guest, whether it was as a performer or an actor. Most people probably know him best as Lester Gruber on "McHale's Navy."

You were Great and Amazing, Carl Ballantine. You'll be missed.

soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. kd

    when I was a boy in the 1960s and McHale's Navy was on tv, I named my very first pet, a tiny turtle kept in one of those little turtle trays (with the island and the green plastic palm tree) 'Lester Gruber.' I'm 51 now and I'm saddened that a man who was part of a happy childhood memory has passed.

    Rest In Peace, Mr. Ballantine.

    November 12, 2009 at 3:13 am | Report abuse |
  2. Jose the Great

    R.I.P. Carl Ballantine... Keep them laughing in the great Magic Kingdom in the sky!

    November 11, 2009 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Richard Cahn

    I used to meet him around Amsterdam Ave in NYC when he went out to buy cigars from the local merchants. This was in the 60's. He was a genuinely kind, humorous gentleman! The tricks that went awry were the best! Rest in peace. Look up Houdini while you're away.

    November 11, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
  4. mike

    It was always a pleasure to visit Hollywood's Magic Castle and "spot" Carl in the audience watching fellow magicians perform their old and new tricks. For all those who saw Carl perform, one thing is certain; not one part of his act will disappear from the many fellow magicians and fans.

    November 11, 2009 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. MichaelA

    I can remember seeing him come out to do his magic act, only for him to notice his sign said "The Great Vallentine". His comment was "That's the last time I let a kid from Sesame Street make my sign".
    The guy's act may seem a bit old now, but that's because so many people imitated him. I remember seeing him on McHale's Navy, but I'll always remember him as "The Great Ballantine".

    November 11, 2009 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Marty

    I had the pleasure of seeing Carl perform at the magic Castle many times. His simple, entertaining magic act and his wonderful sense of humor will long be remembered at the Castle and by anyone who saw him perform.

    November 11, 2009 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Moonchildiva

    Wow, he was in everything when I was a kid, so thanks for the GREAT entertainment, sir, they sure don't make 'em like YOU anymore! rest in peace

    November 11, 2009 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Wayne Messer

    I just finished a few weeks past McHales Navy on Hulu.

    It was as funny as when I first saw it in the sixties.

    I looked up the actors and was amazed that people like Mr. Ballantine and Ernest Borgnine were still alive.

    Mr. Ballantine will be missed as any of the comics of his era will.

    They are more professional and personal than todays comics.

    I remember meeting Frank Gorshin and how down to earth he was and giving of his time.

    Thanks for making me laugh and remember to not take life so serious.

    You will live on in movies and T.V.

    November 11, 2009 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Lee M

    What an entrace he must've made to heaven! I bet he got it right.

    November 11, 2009 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Sandy

    He also toured in musicals. Back in the late 60's early 70's he toured in A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to the Forum as Marcus Lycus - It played in Chicago and he was wonderful. He will be missed.

    November 11, 2009 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mark Brandyberry

    "Come out flying!"

    November 11, 2009 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Brian

    Please don't worry about spelling. Just consider the kind things people are saying.

    November 11, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. S. Done

    I met Mr. Balintine at the Magic Castle in Hollywood CA., and he was as nice and funny in person as he was on stage and T.V.

    November 11, 2009 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Michael

    "Duces Wild!!" (If you're a fan of his, you know what I mean.)

    November 11, 2009 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Stephen Mc.

    I've known Mr. Ballantine for 20 years... we've ridden the local bus many times, talking about new television, period politics, and his favorite subject - horse racing. I will miss his friendship.

    November 11, 2009 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  16. citizenUSA

    Although I was a little younger, I remember him very well. From McHale's Navy to various movie parts, numerous TV appearances doing his magic. I hope no one really believes he was bad magician. That was part of his act making him a brilliant comedian. He seemed like a really good guy. Won't ever forget his voice. Thank you Carl.

    November 11, 2009 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Beth

    Ms. Pennypacker,
    There are pictures of Mr. Ballantine at

    November 11, 2009 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Dave Z

    Carl Ballantine will be missed. I enjoyed his performances immensely. It's a shame CNN doesn't think enough of him to provide a link to a story about the man's life instead of a link to a blog. I know there's a link inside the blog but the link should have been to the story, not the blog. Blogs are amusements; they are not news.

    November 11, 2009 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  19. scott w

    Thanks for the laughs, Carl.

    November 11, 2009 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  20. Meg K

    Big man, big smile, big personality. He always had so much enthusiasm for life, and he'll be fondly remembered!

    November 11, 2009 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  21. Jerrod

    Hey people, one nice way to honor him would be to at least spell his name correctly: B-A-L-L-A-N-T-I-N-E

    November 11, 2009 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Sue A. Pennypacker

    I really think it would be nice if you could publish a picture of the person who passed away, some people would remember the person if they had a picture to see who it was, some do not remember names.

    November 11, 2009 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  23. Caroline

    My late father loved Carl Ballantine, so when I heard about his passing, I felt the loss all over again. He was the kind of simple, fun, honest entertainer we are in short supply of these days. He will be missed!

    November 11, 2009 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Steven Gaynor

    Carl seemed to always have a twinkle in his eye and he was a big reason McHale's Navy was a great show. Thanks, Carl.

    November 11, 2009 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  25. tom c

    I did not know him as much as a magician, more for his TV role on Mckale's navy in the 60's as gruber

    November 11, 2009 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Crazy Al

    There are very few character actors from any period, I took the time to memorize. Carl Ballentine was one of them.

    I remember seeing him as a magician before he appeared on McHales Navy. He had a unique Vaudevillian manner. Loud physical gestures, grand movements, Truely a lost art form.

    He wasn't that bad of a magician either. He interspearsed his act with comic relief, and tried to play that some trick outcome was a surprise to him as well ..... He was truely a comedy master. unique, one of a kind,

    You left an impact and a legacy, you will be missed !!!

    November 11, 2009 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  27. t. shults

    His signature move was plunging his hand and arm into his top hat up to his shoulder and fumbling around obviously UNDERNEATH the table top the hat was upended on! Why shed tears for the guy who did that? Because 90% of the performers taking up space on the screen never had that original an idea! Oh, yes, I used to dabble. Once sawed my sister in half for a local talent show and her feet were still sticking out of the box after she emerged with her other feet. . .Carl could have used that. . .

    November 11, 2009 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |

    I recall seeing Mr. Ballentine in numerous movies of the 1960's, which is when I was growing up, including, movies with Elvis, who apparently was a good friend to him. RIP Mr. Ballentine.

    November 11, 2009 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  29. Debra R

    I will miss Mr Ballentine, he certainly gave me many years of laughter. Rest in peace.

    November 11, 2009 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |

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