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Chan Canasta (born Chananel Mifelew, 9 January 1920 – 22 April 1999) was a pioneer of mental magic in the 1950s and '60s. Born in Kraków, Poland, he was the son of a Polish-Jewish educator. Most of his family perished in the Holocaust.
He was twice married and died in London at the age of 79.
Throughout his career Canasta was never billed as a magician, nor even a mentalist, but simply as "A Remarkable Man".
Canasta retired from the stage at the height of his fame to pursue his true dream, that of being a serious painter. In his later years he established a second career as an artist, with successful gallery shows in London and New York.
Canasta's act was limited in scope but truly daring in application. He always called his effects 'experiments' rather than tricks. He performed experiments in thought using two packs of playing cards. He would ask one spectator to think of a card then ask another spectator to pick the unstated thought-of-card from a different pack; or he would place cards onto a table and ask a spectator to pick up one card that another spectator was only thinking of. The effects were incredibly risky and he would often fail on live television. Contemporary magicians were horrified by Canasta's approach but this element of "risk-taking" has been a major influence on the current generation of mentalists.
Canasta's signature routine was his 'Experiment With Books'. He would ask one spectator to choose a book from a large bookshelf on the set, then ask them to think of a page number. He would then ask two other spectators to name a line number and a word number respectively. Canasta would then somehow predict the word and the contents of the line even though the first spectator was still only thinking of the page number, which he invited them to change if they chose. The effect has been acknowledged as one of the classics of mentalism.
Among magicians, Canasta is revered for the invention of a principle that eschewed perfection, believing that making an occasional error made his other effects stronger and more entertaining. British mentalist Derren Brown cites Canasta as a prime influence.
- "A review of Chan Canasta - A Remarkable Man at Magic Week". Retrieved 2007-03-05.
- Gifford, Denis (31 May 1999). "Obituary: Chan Canasta". London: The Independent.
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