TV channel FX has ordered a pilot for a potential adaptation of Brian K. Vaughan’s excellent 60-issue comic, Y: The Last Man.
In the comic, struggling street magician and escape artist Yorick Brown and his capuchin monkey Ampersand become the last males on earth after a mysterious event kills every other creature with a Y chromosome. What follows is an exciting, raucously funny, brazenly political, and often heartrendingly sad journey across the post-male world.
Yorick’s escapology skills get him out of (and into) a whole bunch of sticky situations, but their use is almost always realistic, if not authentic. The wrong pair of handcuffs or an antagonist that’s just a little too attentive is enough to render most of his tricks useless. The jargon is mostly spot on too (though a New Yorker being a member of IBM instead of SAM stands out as odd now I think about), but what really grounds Yorick as a character isn’t that he’s a magician, but that you can see how a man like him would become magician, and how that’s an inexorable facet of his character.
There’s no news on when the pilot is set to be produced, but we know Michael Green (American Gods, Blade Runner 2049, Logan) and Aida Mashaka Croal (Luke Cage, Turn) are to serve as co-showrunners and executive producers on the project. Vaughan will also be an executive producer. Insecure and Master of None director Melina Matsoukas has been tapped to direct the pilot.
Personally, I’m super excited about this one. In my humble estimation, Vaughan is straight up the best writer working in comics today and Y stands among his best work.
Magicians and magic fans, there’s another talent show on the way. According to a report from USA Today, CBS has ordered the production of a show called The World’s Best, to arrive some time in the unforeseen future.
According to the article, the show promises to be “”a first-of-its-kind global talent competition that features acts from every genre imaginable, from every corner of the planet.” Contestants will perform on stage in front of a gallery of US and international judges, the latter of which is comprised of 50 individuals who each represent the best of their particular field.
The show is being produced by Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Voice), and Mike Darnell (American Idol, Little Big Voices).
There’s no word on who is hosting, judging, or when it will air, or even start production, so things appear to be very early in the making. That said, if you’re a fan of magic or are a magician who wants another opportunity to try out their skills on a national stage, you’ll probably want to keep this one in the back of your mind.
He’s one of the earliest superheroes, who uses science, gadgets and deductive reasoning to bring villains to justice – but he’s not Batman. He’s a student of mystic arts and has mastered the arcane, but he’s not Doctor Strange, or even Sargon the Sorcerer, though both borrow from him. He and his creator’s other breakout hit, the Phantom, help define what it is to be a 20th Century superhero. He’s Mandrake the Magician, who even today guards humanity, and the Galaxy, against threats both natural and supernatural, from his mountain fastness Xanadu in New York State – and thanks to a failed television pilot and constant mismanagement, there’s a good chance you’ve probably never heard of him.
Lee Falk created Mandrake in 1934 while a student at the University of Illinois. Mandrake was Falk’s tribute to the gentleman thieves and well-travelled heroes of the pulps, like Maurice Leblanc’s Arsene Lupin, and Edgar Rice Burrows’ Tarzan. He borrowed his snappy wardrobe from Lupin, though his physical appearance – mustache and all – was pure Falk. As Falk told it, of course Mandrake looked like him; Falk was looking in a mirror when he drew the Magician.
At first it was just a way to have fun, and Falk noodled onward without any real plan to sell his work. Then, almost on a whim, he sent his first two weeks’ worth off to King Features, William Randolph Hearst’s publishing arm. King loved it. King wanted more – eighteen panels a week, plus a Sunday page.
Suddenly, at the age of twenty-two, Falk found himself in business, in a very big way.
The strip took shape. Mandrake, originally a stage magician, developed hypnotic powers and acquired a magic hat, cloak and wand. His friend Lothar, Prince of Seven Nations, was the strongest man in the world. Princess Narda, from the land of Cockaigne – a mythic land of peace and plenty – was Falk’s ideal woman, and Mandrake’s companion. Together they were Three Against Evil.
However though the strip was Falk’s, the rights belonged to King, and that included the right to spin off into other media. “King Features acted as my agent through all that,” Falk said in a 1996 interview, “And they paid a little royalties, very little.”
So when King decided to make a radio show (like the one found above), or a movie serial, Falk had little say in what happened next. Neither worked out, though the radio show was more favorably received than the serial, with Falk describing the production of the serial as “badly and unimaginatively done.” The radio show lasted two years, but after the movie serial’s 1939 release there were no more plans to bring Mandrake to the big screen.
War came and went. Lee Falk worked for the Office of War Information, and later joined the Army. By the time he demobilized there was a new medium to be conquered: television. There was a voracious demand for content, and NBC was quick to notice that pulp heroes were extremely popular – and profitable. Why not Mandrake?
NBC partnered with Bermuda’s Trade Development Board to build a television studio at an abandoned seaplane aerodrome, and the Board agreed to pay half the $1.5 million set-up cost. It would have dressing rooms, a restaurant, two sound stages, a theatre for screenings, offices, prop rooms, and everything else a full-scale production unit needed. NBC could rebuild the entire aerodrome as a set if it liked, and it had a 99-year lease on the property. The weather’s perfect for shooting – even sunnier than California, NBC claimed – and if this worked, NBC would have a money-spinning TV show, of which Falk would see modest royalties.
In May 1954, NBC made the first move and incorporated Atlantic Productions (Bermuda) Ltd. to control the enterprise. It hired locals both as unskilled labor and as on-screen talent, reserving five Mandrake speaking roles for Bermudians. Seventy five hopefuls, including a baby and a professional stage magician who promised to be available “any day, any hour,” audition.
On screen, the Three Against Evil were inexperienced but hopeful. Coe Norton, Mandrake and magical technical consultant, had a short list of 1950s TV credits. Lisa Howard, only twenty-four, had a string of film and television credits, including a role in perennial soap The Guiding Light. Woody Strode, as leopard-skin clad Lothar, was probably the best known of the three leads. By 1954 he’d already had a trailblazing career as one of the first black players in the NFL, played a number of roles in jungle pictures throughout the 1940s and 50s, and was an established professional wrestler.
However things didn’t go according to anyone’s plan. Art Director Dick Sylbert complained that he couldn’t get anything done at the pace he’d like; he was used to picking up the phone and getting what he wanted almost before he’d put the phone down. That very definitely was not the Bermuda way. Meanwhile the producers were tearing their hair out over the tour boats that came to Darrell’s Island at Bermuda every week. People were keen to see what all the fuss is about, and as the aerodrome was easily accessible by water they just motored up and asked if there was any shooting going on that day. Yes, the producers responded through gritted teeth; now will you please go away and let us get on with it? The sound of your boat’s engine is ruining our shot!
Mandrake’s problems were bigger than boat engines. Coe Norton later told M-U-M Magazine, mouthpiece for the Society of American Magicians, that the producers had no idea what to do with the show. Five different directors tried their luck. Among the more unusual demands was a stage magic performance for a colony of blind people, and a complete program of magic was to be performed in a hotel swimming pool at six hours’ notice.
Only nine episodes of the planned twenty-six were filmed, and only one – the pilot – ever got made. Coe Norton blamed rights issues, and told M-U-M that the series was tied up in litigation.
This was a pattern that continued throughout Mandrake’s long career. On paper he was the kind of pulp hero that ought to make waves, but the people most interested in his career were also the least involved in projects like the TV show. Lee Falk didn’t own the rights. King did – and King didn’t know what to do with them.
When Falk wrote the book for a Mandrake musical, it got a performance up in Massachusetts, but when a money man tried to bring the show to Broadway he discovered that King had sold the movie rights, and without a movie option he couldn’t interest investors in the Broadway show. When auteur director Federico Fellini wanted to make a Mandrake film, he too discovered that King had optioned Mandrake to someone else.
Of course, as far as King was concerned, Mandrake was just one of many. At its height, King exec Sylvan Beck said the syndicate received 1,000 comic strip submissions every year, and would only choose one. If a project like the Mandrake TV show didn’t pan out, King had plenty of other properties to choose from.
It didn’t help that Mandrake is pure fantasy. Falk’s other comic creation, the Phantom, aka the Ghost Who Walks, is just as pulp, but ultimately grounded in reality. The Phantom may have a Skull Cave, but he uses fists and gun, and the enemies he faces are relatively mundane. Whereas Mandrake, with his Eastern mysticism, magic apparatus and hypnotic powers, is much more exotic, and often deals with the supernatural. That’s before you consider that his girlfriend literally comes from a fantasy kingdom, and his best friend is stronger than a thousand men.
It’s a problem that can be seen in the TV show (which you can watch via YouTube below). Mandrake’s powers almost beg for special effects wizardry. Instead what we got was a poor madman babbling about flowers. As Falk pointed out when discussing the movie serial, even at that time the directors could have tried something a little more visual – anything, really, so long as it sold the idea of a magic man doing incredible things. Instead we got a crime fighter just like all the others, except this one was in formal wear and had a knack with throwing knives.
After the 1954 TV show wrapped, Bermudians were shown Mandrake in viewings at the local cinema. A child buried her face in her father’s chest and wailed, “that bad man is beating up my daddy!” William ‘Cheese’ Ray, the unnamed villain thrashed by Lothar, could only smile. It was the start and end of his television career.
The team broke up. NBC kept its studio for a brief while, and a movie was shot there in 1956, but NBC no longer had any big plans for its Bermuda outlet, and the expensively renovated seaplane aerodrome was allowed to rot.
Coe Norton had a good life, but never really became famous. If ever you see a 1960’s era TV commercial for cigarettes or Charmin starring a debonair master of magic, you’re probably looking at his work. Woody Strode went on to become one of the most recognizable and talented character actors of the 20th Century, appearing in many westerns, especially for director John Ford, who championed Strode.
Lisa Howard gave up acting and reinvented herself as a journalist, becoming ABC’s first female correspondent. She backed liberal Republican Kenneth Keating in his 1964 Senatorial reelection contest against Robert Kennedy, and because of this ABC fired her. In 1965, at the age of thirty-five, she overdosed on barbiturates and died on the 4th of July.
Mandrake continued his career, with Falk writing his adventures until his death in 1999. Even today his continuing adventures appear in magician-centric magazine Inside Magic, with King’s permission, and there are any number of reprints of his past escapades.
Even so, it’s hard not to imagine what could have been; had the NBC show not flopped miserably, maybe we’d be talking about the Mandrake Cinematic Universe alongside Marvel and DC Comics. With Sacha Baron Cohen set to play Mandrake on the silver screen in 2019, here’s hoping he’ll finally have his shot at the spotlight.
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.
Ever since we spotted the Sacred Riana’s tryouts from Asia’s Got Talent on YouTube, we’ve been following her rise through the finals, along with magic acts from Sobhi Shaker and Akira Kimura. In the video above, she’s finally been crowned winner of season two after weeks of performances, and even in victory, she’s as stone-faced and hauntingly unresponsive as ever.
As a bonus, check out her spooky performance from the results show, where she summons spirits to move a giant table around the stage and then predicts one of the hosts’ biggest fears with a Ouija board.
We’ve been following the results of this season’s Asia’s Got Talent pretty closely here because not one, but two magicians have made it into the Grand Finals: Syrian close-up magician Sobhi Shaker and Indonesian horror illusionist the Sacred Riana. While we wait for the results to come on the season finale on December 14, Asia’s Got Talent’s YouTube page has hosted a few behind the scenes videos for each of the contestants, which you can watch in the videos below.
First up is Sobhi Shaker, who talks about his surprise in making it past the tryout phase of the show, and where he hopes to take his career if he wins:
Next is the Sacred Riana, who continues her unwavering commitment to the bit:
Both illusionists face stiff competition this year from beatboxer Neil Rey Garcia Llanes, dance troupes ADEM Dance Crew and Urban Crew, digital dancer Canion Shijirbat, and kid guitarist Feng E. However, The Sacred Riana’s behind the scenes video is currently sitting at over 200,000 views and rapidly climbing, while the other performers hover around 2,000, if you want to get a sense of who the clear favorite of the show is. Stay tuned as we find out who wins in a couple days.
The fourth season of Penn & Teller: Fool Us just wrapped up at the start of the month, but that doesn’t mean the show is taking a break. Shawn Farquhar, who you might remember as a two-time successful fooler, shared a note from the Fool Us executive producers on Facebook with some information about casting for season 5.
According to the post, the CW has indeed ordered a new season. That means chances for more magicians to get lots of eyes on their best work.
“As always, our goal is to feature the best and brightest in the magic world, and as such, we’d like to respectfully invite you to submit a recording of a trick you perform that you believe would be good for our show,” Executive Producers Lincoln Hiatt, Andrew Golder, and Pete Golden said. “Highly original presentations and original tricks of all kinds are appreciated.”
The tape dates are March 7-9 and March 12-15 in Las Vegas. Think you’ve got what it takes? Check out the Facebook post for the full information, then send your recording to firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck!
Jon Armstrong knows a thing or two about Hollywood. Outside of his very busy career in close up magic, he’s been a consultant and designer on projects such as The Mentalist, AntMan, and Spiderman 3, and is one of the performers at the center of Netflix’s Magicians: Life in the Impossible documentary.
His latest project is as the magic consultant on Hulu’s original series Shut Eye. The show is about former magician Charlie Haverford, who runs a ring of shady storefront psychics for a mob kingpin. But after a head injury, he starts seeing some rather strange things.
The trailer for the second season shows Jeffrey Donovan, who plays Charlie, doing a bit of card-disappearing flash. The first season didn’t get a ton of love from Rotten Tomatoes, but with someone of Armstrong’s chops helping out, at least the magic scenes should be quality. Plus he’s got a cameo in the “Purple Hearts” episode. Judge the trailer for yourself:
It’s been a great year for magicians in this season of Asia’s Got Talent, and two illusionists have both wowed the the judges and won enough votes to progress onto the Grand Finals.
First up is The Sacred Riana, who has been spooking the hell out of everyone with her horror-tinged illusions. Now, you’ve probably seen a vanishing/reappearing act before, but you’ve probably never seen one with dozens of zombies pouring out of a box:
Next is Syrian close-up magician Sobhi Shaker, who uses his card magic to tell a heartfelt story about overcoming adversity to follow your dreams:
They’re both facing off against Canion Shijirbat’s impressive dance skills, who even whips out a little bit of magic of his own:
Whoever ends up taking home the grand prize, both magicians will likely have a long career ahead of them thanks to their impressive performances.
Asia’s Got Talent has been showcasing skilled performers from all walks of entertainment, but this season has had a triple dose of magic. Three magicians made the show’s semi-finals, and at least one of them will be moving on to the final round.
First up, here’s The Sacred Riana. The Indonesian magician caught our attention earlier in the season for her unique stage persona, channelling the familiar “creepy long-haired girl” trope from horror movies. It’s a really clever concept, especially given how often magicians of old would claim spooky or supernatural powers. Her approach did enough to impress the viewers, and she’ll be appearing in the Grand Final.
Akira Kimura was the second semi-final magician, and he’s the polar opposite of the Sacred Riana. His routine is equal parts magic and comedy, where he appears to be performing a clever sleight of hand, but then promptly reveals the trick prop. It’s a chipper and colorful performance.
Syrian close-up magician Sobhi Shaker also appeared in the semi-finals, and wowed the judges with a routine that combined card tricks with an anti-war message. See what the judges called “the best performance [they’d] seen all night” in the video below.