My friend Channing.

One very unusual friendship I have enjoyed was with the great magician Channing Pollack. Channing was one of the most influential magicians that America has ever added to the magic community. Channing was the man who pretty much invented the “dove act” as we know it. Dressed in a perfect tail suit, Pollack performed immaculate card manipulations punctuated by the gasp out loud production of beautiful white doves. As a finale he made an entire cage of doves disappear in thin air. However,  it wasn’t just what Channing did but the style with which he did it that made him so special.

David Copperfield described Pollack as “The James Bond of Magic,’ and that gets to the heart of the matter. He was extremely good looking (frequently described by the press as the best looking man in America) and had a serious and intense manner when he performed, only after the finale of his act did Channing flash a 50 megabit smile at the very close of his show when that cage of doves disappeared. It was great entertainment and even greater theater.

At the very height of his professional success, Channing made the easy jump into being a movie star and made a series of films designed to show off his matinee idol looks. Before too long he disappeared from the big screen and began a highly successful career at just being Channing. He spent his time in Beverly Hills, Half Moon Bay, and finally Las Vegas, he became an inspiration, friend, teacher, and mentor to generations of magicians. As show business stories go, this was an almost perfect one.

In the late 1970s, I met Channing for the first time at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. We hit it off immediately and spent the next few hours talking metaphysics in a smokey van.  We were both very involved in A Course In Miracles and were delighted to have a chance to discuss it in detail. On this, and all future occasions, we were both much to busy talking about spiritual matters to discuss magic!

Over the next few decades periodically I would bump into Channing and I would always greet him with, “What’s happening for you with the Course?” We would then pick up our conversation almost exactly where we left off the last time we met. It was rather a ritual. The last time I saw Channing was at one of Mac King’s annual Kentucky Derby parties in Las Vegas. When I asked him how the “Course” was going, his face clouded over a little and he said, “I have hit a block…” I responded immediately, “You might want to check out the work of Nisargadatta Maharaj.”  “Where should I look?” He replied. We chatted briefly, and when he parted Channing said, “I will phone you tomorrow to write down the name of those two books.”

I was slightly surprised the next day when Pollack phoned me, I had previously realized that he didn’t have my phone number! We chatted a while and I told him that Sri Nisargadatta’s magnum opus was I Am That. I added that I was particularly fond of the short book containing his final teaching called Consciousness and the Absolute. This second book was transcribed from Maharaj’s talks in the last six months of his life after he had been diagnosed with throat cancer. The diamond-like clarity, directness, and depth of his words are quite extraordinary. Channing thanked me and said goodbye. It was the last time we spoke, six months later Channing died from complications of cancer. I felt a little strange about my last communications with him were to recommend a book by someone in the exact life position that he was in.

When I attended The Tribute to Mr. Pollack after his death I was surprised when several of Channing’s friends came up to me and greeted me warmly as if they knew me. As I discovered my final interaction with Channing had been very appropriate and he had immediately ordered the two books I had recommended, and they had meant a great deal to him. In fact, he had sent copies of the books to many of his friends. When he died the three books beside his bed were A Course in Miracles, I Am That, and Consciousness and the Absolute. It was certainly a strange feeling to discover this. I am astounded looking back over the years, how few times Channing and I met. However the intensity of our mutual interests was very profound, and the friendship we had was a very rare and special one. There are other magicians, and then there was Channing Pollack.

 

 

 

~ by Nick Lewin on September 3, 2020.

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