Obituary: Charles Reynolds, magician

Charles Reynolds, magician. Born: 9 September, 1932, in Toledo, Ohio. Died: 4 November, 2010, in Manhattan, aged 78.

Charles Reynolds described his business as providing "chaste, charming, weird, wonderful and supernatural illusions" - and proved it by coming up with two entirely different ways to make an elephant disappear.

Reynolds, who died from liver cancer and is survived by his wife Regina, belonged to the circumspect, virtually invisible world of "backroom boys" who help magicians refine their acts. In Merlin, a 1983 Broadway musical starring Doug Henning, he worked out how to make a live white horse and rider vanish into thin air. In Blackstone!, a 1980 Broadway show, he helped Harry Blackstone Jr bifurcate his wife with a buzz saw.

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He was producer, director, magic creator and magic consultant for television, stage and film productions from Hollywood and Broadway to London, Paris and Hong Kong. He was chief magic consultant to Henning for all eight of his annual one-hour magic specials in the US. The first, in 1975, attracted 50 million viewers.

He shared magic with Jim Henson, Woody Allen, Saturday Night Live, the Metropolitan Opera and the organisers of a birthday party for Mickey Mouse. He wrote or helped write six books on magic, one of which provided insight on how to saw a woman in half with a rope. He was also a major collector of things magical.

Reynolds's expertise was as well known to magicians as it was unknown to the general public. Among many honours, he was the 2004 magician of the year in the US and was named one of the 100 most influential figures of 20th century magic in a Magic magazine poll.

He lived in a little house in Greenwich Village, New York crammed with magic books, mummy cases and antique posters, including a dozen of the American magician who went under the Chinese name Chung Ling Soo and who became an instant legend in 1918 when he died by messing up the trick of catching a bullet in his teeth.

Reynolds's knowledge of magical history was deep and quirky. He could tell you all about one Professor Lamberti, a vaudeville and burlesque performer who did magic tricks in addition to being the "world's daffiest xylophonist". As a stripper squirmed behind the professor, he welcomed the audience's applause as his own. Reynolds said that since Victorian times there have only been a dozen or so real tricks, with limitless variations. Magicians succeed, he said, by manipulating people's own assumptions - call it misdirection - and never by lying.

Charles Raymond Reynolds was born in Ohio. At the age of seven, he went to the local theatre to see Harry Blackstone Sr, who estimated that he had pulled a total of 80,000 rabbits out of his hat over his lifetime. Young Charles had a new hero and was inspired to acquire his first magic set, the Gilbert Mysto kit. He later worked in a magic shop."Like most boys, he was interested in magic," his wife said. "But most of them grow out of it. He never did."

Reynolds earned degrees in theatre, worked as a television cameraman, taught photography, worked as magazine picture editor for magazines, and did freelance photography and writing. While working on an article on magic's popularity, he met Henning, who asked him to be his consultant. Soon other magicians sought his help. His almost preternatural knowledge came from reading, his wife said.

Along the way, he found time to help show that Uri Geller could not bend spoons with mental powers. He once whipped up a trick for Harry Blackstone Jr in a cab on the way to a live television show. He lectured at the Smithsonian.

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How spectacular were Reynolds's illusions? Here is what the younger Blackstone said as he and Reynolds plotted a new levitation act in Reynolds's living room on a sunny August afternoon in 1988: "I would like for someone at the end of the 21st century to say that the Reynolds illusion was created for Blackstone in the last years of the 20th century, and that nothing since has come close."

Blackstone performed the levitation in Las Vegas in 1996. Was it the best ever? Gay Blackstone, the widow of Harry Blackstone Jr, who died in 1997, thinks it was awfully good. She was the one who floated upward, as curtains on every side rose to reveal no visible supports, from either below or above.