On this day in 1917, the great magician Carl Ballantine was born. He is not best known for his magic, however. He is best know for playing Gruber on McHale’s Navy. In fact, he is mostly known as an actor. He had one of the most recognizable voices and deliveries of anyone in film or television. He was a very funny guy.
One interesting thing about him is that he didn’t work in vaudeville — he was just a tad young for that. But he created an entire career out what is essentially a vaudeville act. I actually think we’ve really lost something with that approach to entertainment. Now pretty much everyone has to have an hour and a half of material. But the truth is that very few people have anywhere near that amount of good, much less great, work. Ballantine had five minutes of absolutely perfect magic.
Apparently, through the depression, he helped support his family by doing straight stage magic professionally. But he learned rather quickly that he would never be of quality of other magicians — people like Cardini. And one time while performing, he blew a trick. So he covered with a joke, the audience laughed, and a new act was born. Here it is. I’ve seen it many times. It is pretty much exactly the same every time, including the ending where they throw the broom at him:
My favorite line is, “This takes a lot out of an artist! Oh course it don’t bother me too much.” It’s a funny act for any audience, but if you know the kind of act he is lampooning, it is so much better. For example, the torn and restored newspaper is a very beautiful trick. But Ballantine not only can’t perform the trick, he can’t even succeed at tearing the newspaper. Also, he adds a move with the platter that distinctly looks like he does a switch before, “There’s a trick I wish I could do!”
He died only a couple of years ago at the age of 92, and he was performing up almost to the end.
Happy birthday Carl Ballantine!