|Born||Sep. 27, 1917
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||Nov. 3, 2009 (at age 92)
Hollywood Hills, California, U.S.
Carl Ballantine (1917-2009) was an actor, comedian, and magician from the United States. He was one of the pioneers of the comedic magic act, in which his tricks would seem to fall apart or otherwise go wrong. He thereby influenced later magicians such as Tommy Cooper.
Ballantine was born Meyer Kessler on September 27, 1917, in Chicago. He first became interested in magic when his barber demonstrated the use of thimbles in conjuring when he was nine years old. When he left school, he found a job as a printer, but also started to put on magic shows in Chicago to help raise money to help support his family.
Early Career in Magic
After reaching adulthood, Ballantine moved to New York City where he quickly became well known for his performances in the city’s clubs. Some of his acts were shown on early TV variety shows, but he believed that he could never be a great straight magician, so he decided to make the world of comedy magic his own.
Ballantine is said to have gotten the idea to merge magic and comedy from the positive reaction of the audience when one of his straight tricks fell apart. It was at this time that he adopted the name Carl Ballantine, with the surname coming from a brand of whiskey he had seen in a commercial. He felt it was a name that suited show business well.
By 1950, he was being invited to appear at the New York Capitol, and shortly afterward, he became a frequent guest on top-rated TV variety shows, including The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1956, he broke new ground for a magician by performing in Las Vegas as part of a line-up including Sammy Davis Jr. and Betty Grable.
Screen Work and Broadway
Ballantine became a popular actor and appeared in several TV shows and movies, including the Disney film The North Avenue Irregulars. He was a guest on several more shows, including The Monkees, while in 1973 he was cast in The Girl Most Likely To as Dr. Hankin.
He continued to appear on screen into his old age, making his final movie appearance as late as 2006. He was a good voice actor, and voiced the role of the shady Al J. Swindler in the cartoon Garfield and Friends. Despite his stage presence, however, he was almost absent from Broadway, being seen there only once in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum‘s revival in 1972.
Later Years and Personal Life
Ballantine married twice with his second marriage lasting 45 years and producing two daughters. He was known for his love of Cuban cigars, despite the U.S. blockade of the island, and for enjoying betting on horse racing.
He usually performed under a deliberately overblown stage name such as “The World’s Greatest Magician.” Ballantine received a number of honors for his work, including the Academy of Magical Arts’ Lifetime Achievement Fellowship just before his death. He was also honored multiple times by the same organiation with a Special Fellowship in 1973 which continued until his 1984 Performing Fellowship. Tannen’s Magic gave him a Louie Award in 1985.
He died at the age of 92 in Hollywood on November 3, 2009. He received warm tributes from both magicians and comedians, including David Copperfield and Steve Martin.