An Audience with the Coney Island Fakir

I recently wrote about the excitement of waiting for the postman to deliver that package from the magic store. I was amazed and delighted that so many people responded in a positive manner. Almost without exception everyone who emailed me took the time to mention his first real magic store. You remember your first real magic store; that’s the one where the owner actually knew your name and only recommended tricks that might actually suit you!

I had the most fleeting of meetings in a magic store back in the seventies. I was staying in a very dilapidated hotel in New York and had just taped an episode of the popular children’s show “Wonderama.” The taping had shaken my nerves till my teeth rattled. I had never been exposed to overexcited New York pre-teens before and they had been quite a shock to my system.

Having never spent any time in New York I was determined to visit its two most famous magic stores. I had a pocket full of taxi money and was ready to go. To be honest I was very disappointed when I arrived at Tannen’s; I mean it looked fine, very brisk and organized but something was missing. There didn’t seem to be a lot of heart plus the good tricks were not on display. They didn’t like being asked too many questions either which is a pain.

Nothing to excite a magician who spent his early years, in London with Ken Brooke in his legendary “Magic Place.”   Fortunately, I had saved the best for last and I was in for a treat when the yellow cab driver dropped me off in front of Al Flosso’s magic store. The moment I walked into Flosso’s shop I just stood there gulping for air! It was, without doubt, the least tidy, most messy and astonishingly disorganized place I had ever seen. It was wonderful and I loved it. There were just piles and piles of books and props stacked from floor to ceiling in every direction the eye could see. Years later when I served as a magical consultant on Steven Spielberg’s “Amazing Stories” part of my work was to create a magic shop.  I simply recreated Al’s amazing emporium and it worked perfectly for the show.

As I looked around the stacks of magic I introduced myself to Mr. Flosso and told him I brought special regards from Ken Brooke. As usual, this acted as a perfect opening mantra and Al and I began to talk magic. I don’t remember much that we spoke about but I know I enjoyed his company. At one point Flosso turned to me and said, “Did you need anything special?” I looked around the prop filled shop and expecting to get a little laugh I said, “How about a nailwriter.” It was the smallest prop I could think of and I meant it as a joke. Al Flosso was instantly off and running and dived into a stack of boxes, removed one, retrieved three smaller boxes from within it. He removed an old manila envelope from the smallest of the boxes and then shook a nailwriter onto my palm. I was very impressed. The store may have looked random and disorganized but Al knew where everything was. I loved that.

Before I left the store Flosso told me I HAD to get a spotted can trick; it was “A natural” for me.  That’s the dumb trick where the spots come off the can and end up on the silks. I had my doubts, but Al said I had to get it so I did. I never saw Al again but years later finding the spotted can in the back of my cupboard I put it in my act. Flosso was right of course; it was a natural for me and I still use a variation of it almost every show.

There are plenty of great videos of Flosso performing his Coney Island Fakir show on YouTube. It is pretty much essential viewing for any true comedy magician to watch Al perform his unbeatable version of the Miser’s Dream with a kid from the audience. He was truly a master of the magic arts. You might want to start your YouTube search with this video 



~ by Nick Lewin on February 27, 2010.

2 Responses to “An Audience with the Coney Island Fakir”

  1. funny thing but I had a similar experience with Herb Morrissey in Toronto who sold me my “spotted can” as he also recommended I should have it, I was 15 btw

  2. Great story Nick! I also had a great experience at Al’s shop. Posted it on Facebook for you. Yes, that place was a magician’s wonderland. So much stuff you could barely move. What a character! We’re lucky guys to have met and talked with The Coney Island Fakir. Thanks for the memory jog Nick-o!

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