November 11th, 2009
11:57 AM ET
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.
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