A first-rate visual presentation accompanies a fascinating biography of the first dean of the Society of American Magicians, a man Houdini regarded as a mentor.
The son of German immigrant parents, Harry Keller (later Kellar) lived in his hometown of Erie, Penn., only until he was 10, when he hopped aboard a train bound for Cleveland, Ohio, in 1859. He apprenticed to a performing magician a couple of years later. Kellar’s career in magic and illusion led him to South America, England and Australia before he achieved recognition and success in the United States. Kellar’s meticulous attention to detail in the building of his illusions and in the staging of his performances led to his success. Traveling magic shows and established theatrical illusionists were a widespread entertainment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, incorporating aspects of spiritualism (Kellar demonstrated that he could replicate anything a medium could do) and mechanical wonders like automatons in their performances. Kellar and his team borrowed from other well-known performers, and he worked to polish and improve the illusions to perfection. Few secrets of the illusions are revealed here, but Jarrow makes it clear that it was Kellar’s art that made them seem like real magic.
Dozens of spectacular Kellar posters along with a dramatic book design nicely support this well-constructed look at a consummate showman. (timeline, bibliography, annotated sources) (Biography. 10-14)