Most parents spend time with their children by taking them to the park or going fishing. When 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Jane Krakowski was a kid, her dad would have her act as a lookout for his illegal street magic routines on the streets of Manhattan. The video above is from a recent interview with Krakowski on The Late Late Show with James Corden, where the actress recounts her less-than-normal childhood helping her chemical engineer father moonlight as an illicit busker.
“He would do sleight of hand magic, and we chose a butcher shop because the light was on the meat all night long so you could see the cards,” says Krakowski, “and my job was to be sort of the police lookout for my father, because we didn’t have the right permits and it was illegal.” If the cops came, they’d pack up the table and hoof it to another spot with lights on outside. You know, what normal families do.
Our favorite celebrities delight and amaze us thanks to their incredible talent and unique charm—so it should be no surprise that many actors, athletes, and other entertainers know a thing or two about magic. As it turns out, more than a few celebrities have taken an interest in magic in a variety of ways, whether that means performing routines on talk shows, being involved at the renowned Magic Castle, or even working with playing card manufacturers to make their own mysterious products. Here are some famous people who have been known to dabble in the arcane arts of prestidigitation.
The mind behind hits like Lost and Star Wars: The Force Awakens loves a good mystery. In a TED Talk he gave back in 2007, he speaks at length about a mysterious box of magic tricks he bought as a kid from a shop in New York called Lou Tannen’s Magic – a box that he never opened, even to this day. Whether the story is true or not is irrelevant; the point is, Abrams is a huge fan of magic, and even appeared in a (very) brief promotional video for Tannen’s Magic a few years ago. His production company Bad Robot has also partnered with playing card manufacturer Theory11 on an enigmatic collectible known as The Mystery Box. Made of reclaimed wood and secured with a combination lock, each box is filled with a dozen sealed decks of Mystery Box Playing Cards – and potentially a few surprises.
Cassius Clay (aka Muhammad Ali) may be the self-proclaimed greatest boxer who ever lived, but he was also known to pull off a magic trick or two. In fact, he was so keen to learn how to perform magic tricks that he asked several performers to be his personal magician. Most of them didn’t take his request seriously and turned him down, but he eventually found a metallurgy engineer and amateur magician named Terry La Sorda. La Sorda followed Ali around during the late 1970s, teaching Ali how he can use his natural charisma to make up for the failing coordination seeping into his joints. The two only spent a year together before La Sorda went back to his job as an engineer, but they kept in touch, and Ali performed magic whenever he could up until his death in 2016.
Neil Patrick Harris went from child star to all-around Renaissance man over the last few decades, transforming his turn as Doogie Howser into a career in film, television, and Broadway musicals. Harris is also an avid fan of magic, and has performed routines on the nightly talk show circuit, served as President of the Board of Directors at the Magic Castle, and is currently producing Derek DelGaudio’s hit magic stage show, In & Of Itself. His love of sleight of hand has even bled into his Hollywood work, as many of the characters he’s portrayed on shows like How I Met Your Mother and Glee are magic fans, too.
One of the Golden Age of Cinema’s greatest stars was also one of magic’s biggest fans. Born in England, Grant worked at the Hippodrome at the spritely young age of 13, and was fortunate enough to work backstage for British magician David Devant. Grant eventually moved to the states and became one of Hollywood’s finest actors in the 1930s, starring in hits like Bringing Up Baby and North By Northwest. Over the years, he became one of the Magic Castle’s most frequent patrons and even performed a few routines for the other members. Grant was also one of the Castle’s first celebrity members of the Board of Directors, and remained on the Board until the late 1970s.
Funnyman Steve Martin has delighted audiences for years with films like Planes, Trains & Automobiles, but the comedian/folk musician also has a history with prestidigitation. Martin’s first job was at Disneyland, where he sold guidebooks to park-goers. Eventually, he landed a gig working at Disneyland’s Main Street Magic Shop, where he learned and performed magic tricks, juggled, and made balloon animals for the store’s patrons. While Martin would mainly focus on comedy and banjo for his stand-up routines, he’s also incorporated magic into his act, performing a series of, uhhh… pants-themed tricks as The Great Flydini on The Tonight Show. In 2018, Martin will star in a Disney film called Magic Camp, which he has also written.
Chris Pratt may seem too busy for magic, what with saving the galaxy or training velociraptors or whatever else he gets up to in movies these days, but it’s comforting to know that even Hollywood heroes have a few tricks up their sleeve. Like this one, where Pratt seems to bumble his way through a card trick on The Graham Norton Show. All seems to go horribly, horribly wrong – until it doesn’t.
While he may have gotten famous playing the perpetual sad-sack George Costanza on Seinfeld, Jason Alexander has had a lifelong passion for magic. In fact, Alexander had originally wanted to pursue a career as a magician, and only went into acting after he realized he wasn’t going to make a name for himself on the scene. That hasn’t stopped him from practicing, eventually landing a week-long stint at the Magic Castle in 2006, winning a Parlor Magician of the Year award for his mentalism act.
From his beginnings as a producer of a radio drama simulating an alien invasion to his final directed work, a video essay on the nature of deception and trickery, Orson Welles built his entire legendary career on an obsession with audience manipulation and theatrical illusion. So it should come as no surprise that Welles held a fascination for magic as well, having been allegedly taught magic tricks at a young age by Harry Houdini. What is less known is that the director was working on a television special called Orson Welles’ Magic Show over the course of a decade near the end of his career, sadly unfinished at the time of his death in 1985. The unfinished portions were donated to the Munich Film Museum by his partner Oja Kodar, who then compiled them into a single reel viewable at film festivals and, thanks to the wonders of 21st century technology, on YouTube.
Chris Pratt isn’t just the handsome and charismatic star of movie mega-hits like Guardians of the Galaxy. Turns out, the dude’s got a few tricks up his sleeve – or at least one, based on his performance on the Graham Norton show.
Norton mentions that Chris Pratt is a fan of magic and hands him a random deck of cards. Pratt then seems to stumble his way through a trick he claims “works 50% of the time.” An unamused Jennifer Lawrence looks on as will.i.am chooses a card then shuffles the deck four times. The whole trick feels like it’s on the edge of bombing miserably, until… well, watch for yourself.
It’s a shame Chris Pratt makes so much money as an actor, because he’d probably make a killing as a magician.