I read an article in today’s New York Times and started thinking – dangerous stuff. I managed to get from card tricks to spread spectrum radio by connecting five people. Here they are – I’ll use birth names so it’s not too obvious:
Richard Potash -> Joseph Pujol -> Melvin Kaminsky -> Harvey Kormen -> Hedwig Kiesler
The article in the NYT concerned a dispute between magicians Eric Walton and Ricky Jay (born Richard Jay Potash). I’m a big fan of Mr. Jay’s – he fits my mental model of a perfect sleight-of-hand artist – well read, raffish, incredibly good at what he does. On the dispute itself, I’ll yield the floor to Teller (he’s the small, silent crazy one as contrasted with Penn’s large, loud crazy one).
Outright ownership isn’t at stake, he added, but Mr. Jay’s act constituted a painstaking and innovative revival of some little-practiced classics, and a certain code of courtesy should apply.
“If an act hasn’t been prominently performed for a long time, and someone takes the trouble to bring it back from absolute death and put it into his act with fine touches, and which at least hasn’t been seen by a current generation,” he said, “the gentlemanly thing to do is say, ‘That’s his for now.'”
That said, he added, â€œmagicians are not unique in their absence of creativity.
I have a couple of Ricky Jay’s books (I covet Cards as Weapons, but a used softcover copy of that tome starts around $200) and in one of them, Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women, Mr. Jay introduces us to:
Le Petomane (Joseph Pujol). Le Petomane was a performer at the Moulin Rouge in the 1890s and he was, it’s safe to say, sui generis. I believe the best way to describe Le Petomane is as a fartiste. It’s pretty obvious that:
Mel Brooks (born Melvin Kaminsky) knew all about Mr. Pujol before he made Blazing Saddles. Aside from the bean scene, there’s also the name of the Governor Brooks plays in one of his roles – William J. Le Petomane. The Gov’s conniving henchman, played by:
Harvey Korman (born Harvey Kormen – go figure) is named Hedley Lamarr. This won’t be news to anyone, but an ongoing gag is confusion of Hedley’s name with that of:
Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Kiesler). If all you know about Hedy Lamarr is that she was a movie star, I encourage you to click through to her Wikipedia entry. An eventful life, to say the least – in 1942 she received a patent for a very early version of frequency hopping – in this context, to make radio guided torpedoes more difficult to defend against.
There you have it – proof positive that I ought to be committed immediately. While you’re getting the paperwork ready, I’ll just drift off a bit and put myself back in the late 30’s – Hedwig and I are getting on a Short S23 flying boat for the trip to East Africa…