|Topic: Johnny Hart: International Star of Magic--A Review|
_Johnny Hart: International Star of Magic_ by Stephen Short is a welcome addition to the list of biographies of our Art's movers and shakers. It has earned a place of honor in my library on the same shelf with John Fisher's _Cardini: The Suave Deceiver_, Levent and Todd Karr's _Roy Benson by Starlight_, and John Moehring's _Del Ray: America's Foremost_. It's what we in the library field call a "tall book"--measuring 8-3/4 x 12 inches, profusely illustrated with both color and black-and-white photos.
As any good biography should, it traces Johnny's life from his childhood to the present. Johnny is quoted as saying, "I wanted to be a chemist, but then something happened that changed my plans." That "something" was the discovery of Will Dexter's _Everybody's Book of Magic_ at the local library. Other early influences are also mentioned--such as Murray Walters of Murray's Magic Mart and Lewis Ganson's _Expert Manipulation of Playing Cards_. Channing Pollock's appearance on "Live at the London Palladium" also sparked his interest in dove magic.
Copies of playbills and programs from his early performances document Johnny's rise to stardom. As Stephen mentions, Johnny's act was originally a solo act, but a letter from teenager Lorna Sneezum who had seen Johnny's act on "Sunday Night at the London Palladium" suggested that Johnny's act might be improved if he had an assistant. Eventually Lorna herself became Johnny's assistant.
Stephen documents Johnny's relationship with the three main assistants who were part of his act over several decades: Lorna, their daughter Sally, and Vinnie Barning. He also goes into detail about the acts that Johnny shared the bill with at various venues and how the other artists respected Johnny's performance as art on a par with their own.
It was interesting to note that Johnny's early influences paralleled my own. Will Dexter's _Everybody's Book of Magic_ was one of the early magic books that influenced him, as well as Lewis Ganson's _Expert Manipulation of Playing Cards_ and _Marconick's Original Magic_.
It would have been nice if a DVD had accompanied the book. Fortunately, though, there are some very good videos of Johnny's acts on youtube. URLS for those performances are appended at the end of this review.
As a graphic artist, I might quibble about the choice of photo for the dust jacket. Johnny is shown holding the budgies that were a trademark of his act. I imagine that it was chosen because it is a color photo. What bothers me somewhat is that—-because of the camera’s depth-of-field setting—Johnny’s face is slightly out-of-focus with the budgies slightly covering it. Also, the title and subtitle _Johnny Hart: International Star of Magic_ is superimposed over the top of his head. I would have preferred the publicity photo on page 92 that shows Johnny and the budgies both in focus--but uncropped.
Those minor criticisms aside, I am delighted that Johnny's career has been documented so well by Stephen's writing.
Here are some of my favorite youtube clips of Johnny Hart’s performances:
From the Mike Douglas Show:
From an unknown venue:
Johnny Hart The Double Sawing a Woman in Half illusion
Johnny Hart Magician Good Old Days 4th March 1976
(with a rarely seen performance of Johnny's Zombie routine).
----- Amado "Sonny" Narvaez