Chicago, May 10, 2005: The Dean of the Society of American Magicians has disappeared. Jay Marshall died today, and we are much poorer without his Puckish soul in our presence.
He was 85, but he was always charmingly full of what my mother always called the "zing zing badlies." I met Jay four times; always in a different place. Once in New York, Chicago, Boston and London. And he was always the same, playful, full of common sense and a sly sage wisdom.
Jay was an accomplished magician, collector of books, publisher, writer, and perhaps above all, ventriloquist. The last performance I saw him give was at City Center in New York, to a sold out house of nearly 2000. After Mac King had slayed the audience with his comedy magic, Jay walked on, imitating the boyish quality of my friend Mac, and said, "Hello! I'm Mac King." It brought down the house. And then Jay and his gloved wonder, Lefty, brought laughs that few comedians can bring. I'm going to miss Lefty as much as I will miss his partner.
To speak about Jay is hard - his life covered every area of the variety arts. He was a historian; knew stuff handed down from comic to comic backstage. He was a magic shop owner of the premiere Chicago enterprise, Magic Inc. He was a prankster and a serious writer. I know. At age 23 I asked him if I could include his treatise on the bullet catching stunt in my book Twelve Have Died. He graciously offered permission and wished me well, unlike other old timers who said such a book could not be done, and hung up. So there it is in the star spot, the next to closing chapter, I titled, Marshall Law.
My fondest memory of this man I came to know slightly is our meeting in London. I had just met with him in Chicago earlier that year, walking in his small front room at Magic Inc. in the bitter cold, surprised as everyone who made the trek, how far it was from normal traffic. In Chicago I was hired to appear before the Newspaper Advertising Bureau and tear up and restore a newspaper. I asked Jay, "What do you think of a 25-year-old coming to your town and doing your trick?" he replied, "Go gettum kid, it's a big world out there." So there we were in London and I was astonished to be on the same bill with both he and Harry Blackstone Jr. at the Magic Circle. Jay and Harry exchanged confidences in the clubroom adjacent to the theatre as I looked on. They went in before me, did their "turn" and then I walked on and did nine minutes, very nervously, and frankly, was received politely, but nothing to write home about.
I came out and Jay was talking to Harry. I said, "Cold in there," nodding to the stage area. Jay looked at me and said, "It's cold lots of places." Truer words were never spoken about the theatre of magic.
He will be greatly missed; Jay made living that much more fun. We send our condolences to his son Sandy.