Chan Canasta

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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.

Stage career[edit]

Canasta moved to Great Britain in 1947, following a stint in the Royal Air Force during World War II.

Starting as a card magician who took his surname from the popular card game of canasta, he became a well known stage magician performing feats of memory and book tests during the late 1940s.

Television career[edit]

In 1951 Canasta recorded his first television show for the BBC - a sparse affair with only a few props that concentrated on mental effects.

Throughout his career Canasta made over 350 television appearances, including on the American Ed Sullivan, Arlene Francis and Jack Paar shows.

His final TV appearance was in 1971, on the BBC's Parkinson show, and was billed as "The Return of Chan Canasta," for he had left television performing behind several years earlier.[citation needed]

Throughout his career Canasta was never billed as a magician, nor even a mentalist, but simply as "A Remarkable Man".

Art career[edit]

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.[citation needed]

Technique[edit]

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.

Influence[edit]

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.

References[edit]

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