Ricky Jay

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Ricky Jay
Ricky Jay by David Shankbone.jpg
At the premiere of Redbelt, April 2008
Born 1948 (age 66–67)
Brooklyn, New York
Other names Richard Jay Potash
Occupation Magician, actor, author
Known for Sleight of Hand, Card Tricks, History of Magic
Spouse(s) Chrisann Verges

Richard Jay Potash (born 1948), better known by the stage name Ricky Jay, is an American stage magician, actor, and writer. He is a sleight-of-hand expert and is notable for his card tricks, card throwing, memory feats, and stage patter.[1] As an actor, he is known for his roles in the films Heist, Boogie Nights, and Magnolia, as well as on the acclaimed HBO series Deadwood.

Early life[edit]

Jay was born in Brooklyn, New York, to a middle-class Jewish family.[2][3] His grandfather, Max Katz, was a well-to-do certified public accountant and amateur magician who introduced Jay to the profession.[4][5][6]


In 1953, he made his television debut on "Time For Pets," making him at the time the youngest magician to appear on TV performing a full magic act.[1]

Believed to be the first magician to ever play comedy clubs, he was also probably the first magician to open for a rock and roll band. At New York's The Electric Circus in the 1960s, he performed on a bill between Ike and Tina Turner, and Timothy Leary lecturing about acid.

At least three of his one-man shows, Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants, Ricky Jay: On the Stem, and Ricky Jay: A Rogue's Gallery, were directed by David Mamet, who has also cast Jay in a number of his films. Jay has appeared in productions by other directors, notably Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights and Magnolia as well as Christopher Nolan's The Prestige.

A collector and historian of note, he was a student and firm friend of the legendary Dai Vernon, who Jay states was "the greatest living contributor to the magical art." An avid collector of rare books (he has spent over five thousand dollars on single books alone) and manuscripts, art, and other artifacts connected to the history of magic, gambling, unusual entertainments, and frauds and confidence games, he is also opposed to any public revelations of the techniques of magic.[1]

Jay joined the cast and crew of the HBO western drama Deadwood as a guest star and writer for the first season in 2004. The series was created by David Milch and focused on a growing town in the American West. Jay played card sharp Eddie Sawyer, a dealer in the Bella Union casino of ambitious newcomer Cy Tolliver. Jay wrote the episode "Jewel's Boot Is Made for Walking".[7] He left the series at the end of the first season.

Jay is perhaps well known to the world for his role as Gupta, a henchman to villain Elliot Carver in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies.

Until recently, Ricky Jay was listed in the Guinness Book of Records for throwing a playing card 190 ft at 90 miles per hour (140 km/h) (the current record is 216 feet (66 m) by Rick Smith, Jr.). Ricky Jay can throw a playing card into a watermelon rind (which he refers to as the "thick, pachydermatous outer melon layer" of "the most prodigious of household fruits") from ten paces. In addition, he is able to throw a card into the air like a boomerang and cut it cleanly in half with a pair of "giant scissors" upon its return. In his shows, he often throws playing cards at plastic animals in "self defense."


As an expert on magic, gambling, con games and unusual entertainment, Jay has long been a go-to consultant on Hollywood projects, beginning with his work on Francis Ford Coppola's production of Caleb Deschanel's The Escape Artist.[8] Other early work included teaching Robert Redford how to manipulate coins for The Natural, and working with Douglas Trumbull on his groundbreaking Showscan project, New Magic (1983).

In the early 1990s, Jay and Michael Weber created a firm, Deceptive Practices, providing "Arcane Knowledge on a Need-to-Know Basis" to film, television and stage productions. By offering both vast historical expertise and creative invention, they have been able to provide surprisingly practical solutions to real production challenges. Among many accomplishments, they designed the wheelchair that "magically" hid Gary Sinise's legs in Forrest Gump, as well as the glass that "drinks itself" used by the gorilla in Congo. For the Broadway production of "Angels in America, part 2: Perestroika", they designed an illusion "in which a man climbs to the top of a ladder of light and vanishes in midair."[9]

Other projects they have worked on include: The Prestige,[10] The Illusionist, Sneakers, Leap of Faith, Wolf, The Parent Trap, I Love Trouble, The Great Buck Howard, Heartbreakers, and Oceans Thirteen.

Additionally, he has worked with libraries and museums on their collections, including the Mulholland Library of Conjuring and the Allied Arts and the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, CA.

Lectures and exhibitions[edit]

As a writer and speaker on subjects as varied as conjuring literature, con games, sense perception and unusual entertainments, Jay has authored numerous articles and has delivered many lecture/demonstrations. Among his presentations are:

  • "Sleight and Shadow" at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. November 22, 2005.
  • "Belknap Visitor in the Humanities" at Princeton University speaking on the relationship between magicians and mediums on November 21, 2005.
  • "Doing Likewise: Imitation, Emulation, and Mimesis at the New York Institute of Humanities, hosted by Jonathan Miller.
  • "Hocus Pocus in Perfection: Four Hundred Years of Conjuring and Conjuring Literature," the Harold Smith Memorial Lecture at Brown University.
  • "Splendors of Decaying Celluloid" with Errol Morris, Rosamond Purcell and Bill Morrison at the New York Institute for the Humanities.
  • "The Origins of the Confidence Game",for the conference of Police Against Confidence Crime.
  • "Chirosophi: Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Conjuring Literature," at the Henry E. Huntington Library in San Marino, California.
  • "Fast and Loose: The Techniques and Literature of Cheating" at the William Andrew Clark Memorial Library, UCLA.
  • "The Mystery of Fasting Impostors," and "The Avant Garde Art of Armless Calligraphers" at Amherst College.
  • "Sense, Perception, & Nonsense" at the University of Rhode Island Festival of the Arts.
  • "Illusion as Truth" at the International Design Conference in Aspen (keynote address).
  • "Prose & Cons: The Early Literature of Cheating" at the New York Public Library (Pforzheimer Lecture Series) and the Chicago Humanities Festival.
  • "Magic & Science" at the T.E.D. Conference in Monterey, California.

Jay has also lectured at Harvard University, USC, The Grolier Club, The Hammer Museum, The Getty Center, and Town Hall.

In 1999, he guest-curated an exhibit at the Harvard Theater Collection, entitled "The Imagery of Illusion: Nineteenth Century Magic and Deception."[11]

Exhibitions of material from his collection have been mounted at The Hammer Museum,[12] The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts,[13] UC Davis,[14] Christine Burgin Gallery,[15] The Museum of Jurassic Technology,[16] and UCLA's Clark Library.[17]

Additionally, he has loaned material to : The Getty Center (for their exhibit "Devices of Wonder"[18]), The Skirball Museum, The Huntington Library, and The Whitney Museum of Art.


Jay is the subject of the feature documentary Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay.





  • "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" (1982); produced by Joseph Papp for The New York Shakespeare Festival.
  • "Ricky Jay & His 52 Assistants" (1994)
  • "Ricky Jay: On The Stem" (2002)
  • "Ricky Jay: A Rogue’s Gallery" (2009)

He also performed on the 2005 BBC Radio adaptation of David Mamet's "Faustus."[20]


When not performing, Ricky Jay collects rare books and artifacts. He is the author of several books:


Ricky Jay has contributed to several projects in the music world. Most notably the 2007 Sony release "Ricky Jay Plays Poker," a box set containing a CD of poker-related songs (by Bob Dylan, Robert Johnson, Townes Van Zandt, Patsy Cline, Lorne Greene, Howard Da Silva, O.V. Wright, and several others), a DVD featuring Ricky Jay discussing and performing notable feats of card table deception, and a box of Ricky Jay playing cards.

He performed on the 2 disc set of Hal Willner's Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys, as well as its follow-up.

He appeared in the music video for Bob Dylan's "Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum,",[23] from the album "Love and Theft". During the production of the video, a screwdriver reportedly fell from the rafters and lodged in Jay's hand.[24]

He also appeared in the video for the Jerry Garcia/David Grisman single "The Thrill Is Gone," which is available on the DVD of the "Grateful Dawg" documentary.


  1. ^ a b c Singer, Mark (April 5, 1993). "Secrets of the Magus". New Yorker. 69 (7): 54. 
  2. ^ Magician With A Lot Up His Sleeve | Article from The Washington Post | HighBeam Research
  3. ^ http://blogs.forward.com/the-arty-semite/175481/the-greatest-living-magician/
  4. ^ The World Wide Website of Ricky Jay
  5. ^ http://rickyjay.com/hammer_exhibit.pdf
  6. ^ Bresnick, Adam (February 22, 1999). "Forbes.com – Magazine Article". Forbes. 
  7. ^ Steve Shill (June 6, 2004). "Jewel's Boot Is Made for Walking". Deadwood. Season 1. Episode 11. HBO. 
  8. ^ Werner, Laurie (June 2, 1994). "It's Just Magic. Really.". Los Angeles Times. 
  9. ^ Werner, Laurie (June 2, 1994). "It's Just Magic. Really.". Los Angeles Times. 
  10. ^ Jay, Ricky; Weber, Michael (October 30, 2006). "Conjuring up the magical in movies". Los Angeles Times. 
  11. ^ Harvard University Gazette
  12. ^ "Hokum That Stands the Test of Time," Review by Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times, November 15, 2007
  13. ^ "Oddballs, magicians, freaks haunt Ricky Jay's handbill history," by Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle, January 24, 2005.
  14. ^ http://www.news.ucdavis.edu/in_the_news/full_text/view_clip.lasso?id=56607
  15. ^ http://www.christineburgin.com/projects/pp_jay.html
  16. ^ http://www.mjt.org/exhibits/rickyjay/rjay.html
  17. ^ http://unitproj.library.ucla.edu/special/misc/rickyjay.htm
  18. ^ http://www.getty.edu/news/press/qnb02w.html
  19. ^ CBS News http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-18560_162-6198863.html.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  20. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/dramaon3/pip/s2fve/
  21. ^ "Secrets of Magus" by Mark Singer, The New Yorker, April 5, 1993.
  22. ^ Quantuck Lane Press || Extraordinary Exhibitions:
  23. ^ http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7340739464434464496
  24. ^ Interview in The Believer Magazine, May 2012.

External links[edit]