The Magic in Books by Leo Behnke
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii January, 2010)
If you read about magic you've probably read a book by Leo Behnke. In his latest title, Mr. Behnke offers a lengthy love letter to his passion books along with a breezy autobiography recounting his remarkable life in the world of magic. If you check the "people" entry in the index to this book, you will find 208 entries, most of whom Mr. Behnke personally encountered, from Adolphus of Nassau (whom he admittedly missed by about 500 years) to T. Page Wright.
In his Foreword, comedian Steve Martin declares that Mr. Behnke was the first mentor in his life, and that's just the start of an astounding array of credentials and experience. Mr. Behnke was a demonstrator in the first magic shop in Disneyland. He was a Magic Bartender who worked for the great Johnny Paul, and became the first Magic Bartender at the fledgling Magic Castle (and also became the first magician to lecture there). He also served as the second official House Magician at The Castle (alongside Jay Ose, the first of them), and was an assistant manager at the club, too. Leo Behnke was one of the creative team on Mark Wilson's Magic Land of AllaKazam, one of many television credits to his name. He also did TV commercials (and was the hands of the "Man From Glad," an iconic TV image of the era, for about five years). Mr. Behnke built and created magic for Disneyland, for Ray Bradbury plays, for trade shows and industrial programs, and for various television programs including the Jack Klugman series, Quincy.
And then there are the books. He has a long history as a book collector, about which he has much to say in these pages ("My abiding rule for making a decision about buying a book is simple. If I don't already have it, I buy it. If I do have a copy, is this one better If it is, I buy it.") He has amassed, sold, and then collected again, substantial libraries about magic as well as extensive collections in other subjects.
He worked alongside Ricky Jay when the latter was librarian for the Mulholland Collection, and then took over as the main librarian when David Copperfield purchased the collection in 1991, where Mr. Behnke continued for five years.
And he has written an astonishing 63 books including 18 hardcover volumes (and three of those titles haven't yet reached print). And did you know that he also helped Steve Forte design and produce his remarkable Casino Game Protection (2004) and Poker Protection (2006) volumes? I didn't. That, and a host of equally surprising,enjoyable, and informative tales are to be found within the pages of The Magic in Books and there is indeed magic to be found in reading this one.