Chan Canasta: A very Remarkable Man.

NPG x132481; Chan Canasta (nÈ Chananel Mifelew) by Ida KarI have recently taken to joking with agents, bookers and producers that I am rather unique as magicians go because I don’t read minds! The field of corporate entertainment has become so filled with mentalists that it usually gets a good laugh from them.

Actually it isn’t quite true because I have been fascinated with the field of mental magic for about 50 years, because of three remarkable men who influenced me greatly before I left my homeland of England. They all grasped something that contemporary magicians are now rediscovering and sharing with their audiences. Mentalism contains some of the strongest effects in the entire lexicon of magic.

One of my earliest memories of watching magic was sitting in front of our black and white Decca television set and watching Chan Canasta perform on one of his wonderful BBC television series. It must have been the very early ‘60s and I really can’t remember if this was before or after my first interest in magic. If it was before then it must have been a major factor in my interest blossoming, if it was after then it sealed the deal. I really had no idea of what he was doing; let alone how he did it.

I was recently gifted a copy of one of those pioneering TV shows and was shocked to discover that I still had no idea how many of his effects were accomplished. The man was amazing, or as the TV credits informed us—‘A Remarkable Man.’ Not only was his magic incredible but his presentation chanbioex2was so superb that it stands up today as strongly as I remember it from my childhood, and how often is that the case.

Born in 1920 as Chananel Mifelew in Krakow, Poland he moved to Great Britain in 1947 where he soon became a hugely influential instigator in the birth of mentalism in the United Kingdom.  In 1951 he was featured in the first of his 350 performances on BBC TV. Yes, 350 shows—that is a whole lot of magic!  He had a rather simple and yet totally overwhelming gimmick when he performed, he didn’t always succeed in his psychological experiments.

This simple factor did something very powerful, it made him appear incredibly authentic. I don’t remember my two other mentalist heroes, Al Koran and Maurice Fogel, ever taking the chance of being flat out wrong. It was sheer brilliance to take chances the way Canasta did. By taking this approach he succeeded even when he apparently failed.

While never, ever claiming to be more than ‘A Remarkable Man’ I really don’t think there were many viewers who didn’t secretly believe that his abilities crossed some special line. Each week I would wait to see the booktest that inevitably closed his TV shows. A bookcase was part of the backdrop on his set and I would wait breathlessly for the moment when he performed this particular effect.

Let’s not gloss over that little bombshell that I dropped in the last paragraph. The book that was used by Canasta for the booktest was removed by a spectator from a bookshelf. How cool is that, it was in a bookshelf! How many mentalists have you seen who added that psychologically powerhouse touch to their presentation?  The man was pure genius. He left me with a life long fondness for this particular effect that has cost me hundreds and hundreds of dollars!

hqdefault At the height of his fame Canasta left behind his wildly successful career as a performer and followed his true dream as a painter. With successful gallery shows on both side of the pond he turned this dream into a reality. The man was a genius.

If you want to know more about Chan Canasta I suggest you find a copy of the excellent book that David Britland wrote and my dear friend Martin Breese published. The book is called ‘Chan Canasta-A remarkable Man’ and belongs in the library of any true mentalist who is worth his salt. If you really want a master class in Mentalism then find some video of Mr. Canasta performing his world-class feats of magic and mindreading. No matter how much effort it takes you to find a copy of his work it will be worth it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the man was pure genius, and a truly Remarkable Man.

Chan Canasta may have preceded the current ‘Mother Of All Booktests’ but he was very definitely the ‘Mother Of All Booktesters.’ Trust me on this one– his work has haunted me for nearly half a century!

~ by Nick Lewin on November 14, 2013.

2 Responses to “Chan Canasta: A very Remarkable Man.”

  1. Nick, I have only a few recordings of Chan working and had no idea that he had performed 350 times on TV. Is there a repository of those performances?

  2. I`ll chase this book up , if anyone can help me , just email me , to the email here……best wishes……

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