Magic historians may know that Joe Karson invented the Zombie Floating Ball, but few magicians associate his name with it. When Karson first advertised Zombie in 1943, it was a sensation.
However, due to alcoholism, he slipped into obscurity and disappeared from the magic community, dying in 1980 at age 67.
The Joe Karson Compilation is a collection of books, magazines, and instruction sheets created by magician Joe Karson. Author and magician Michael E. Rose has compiled these long-lost materials to introduce modern performers to this forgotten icon and his creations.
Joseph Alexander Chrzanowski, also known as Joe Karson, was born on November 12th, 1912, in Providence, Rhode Island. As a child, he became interested in magic after seeing a local magician, and by the age of sixteen was working behind the counter at a magic shop in Springfield, Massachusetts, and performing his Asian-themed magic act around New England.
During the 1930s and 1940s, Karson became a popular comedic performer, frequently stealing the show at magic conventions.
He made a name for himself as a magic dealer by founding the Magic Dealers' Association, inventing and building much of the illusions he sold in his Springfield, Massachusetts shop named Karson's Xclusives.
Karson's Xclusives published booklets on various types of magic, including Illusion Magic in 1943, featuring "The Rubberneck Illusion." This gadget, now known as the Head Twister, is still used in many Las Vegas comedy magic acts.
Get all of Joe Karson's publications in one PDF for only $24.00. Discover the secrets behind his original card tricks, hypnotism, stage illusions, and more in 268 pages.
Most of Karson's published tricks lack patter, but his signature effect, The World's Fastest Card Trick, is explained in an eight-page pamphlet, including the scripting and subtleties that Karson used. The trick is simple, but it can become a comedy masterpiece with the right performer.
Two-person codes are always a winner with me, and the Karson Kard Kode is an easy, practical addition to any telepathy act.
Other highlights include a two-part work on hypnotrix, which are pseudo-scientific body tricks made to resemble genuine hypnotism.
My favorite thing about the Karson collection is his disregard for safety, as he published the secret methods for performing a dangerous bullet catch and the controversial pseudo-hypnosis trick, "The Subject Sleeps in One Minute." This "trick" involves applying pressure to a spectator's neck that can cause the subject to blackout or even die.
A 1934 booklet called "Sensational Poison Swallowing Act" teaches how to perform an entire act, making the audience believe the performer resists poisons.
Please don't try this one at home (or at all!)
Another favorite but less dangerous trick is a simple levitation using only a sheet and an assistant, reducing a typically cumbersome stage illusion to the bare bones.
As a magic book collector, I found the Joe Karson compilation to be a glimpse into the mind of a creative and prolific writer. Still, there's plenty of material that modern performers can use.
About the author:
Michael Rose has been a professional magician since he was young, starting his interest in magic at the age of eight when he received an Adams magic set. He has performed his comedy magic all over the United States and Canada in various settings, including dinner theaters, corporate events, street performing, and even at a Presidential Inauguration. He is a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, the Society of American Magicians, and the Magic Collectors' Association.