Jackie Flosso (Jack Levinson, February 11, 1926 – September 26, 2003) died on Friday at the age of 77.
Flosso was the owner of the longest continuously running magic shop in the United States and the only one that was once owned by Houdini. Flosso ran the shop since 1976, when his legendary father Al Flosso passed away, until he sold it to Ted Bogusta in 2000. Services will be held on Wednesday Oct. 1 at 1pm at the Riverside Memorial Chapel (333 Amsterdam Ave- off 76th Street) in New York City, 212-362-3600. In a MagicTimes exclusive Ben Robinson gives an overview of Flosso’s life and career. (MY)
February 11, 1926 – September 26, 2003
The last time I saw Jack Flosso, I brought him a photograph of his grandfather — Louis “Pop” Krieger. The old man was shown by a small table with his famous Cups & Balls. Jack looked at me and said, “I’ll be catching his act soon.”
Jack was born to the famous Al Flosso known as “The Coney Island Fakir” and Lillian Krieger (aka “Madame Xena”), daughter of Malini-contemporary, Louis Krieger. Al’s real surname was Levinson. Jack grew up learning to read by his father teaching him his ABC’s on signs seen on the highways of post-Depression America, as his dad traveled to dates with the Sells Floto Circus. Al brought up little Jackie with the wisdom of backstage: “If it worked leave it in.”
Jack was a practical fellow, street smart, with a voice reminiscent of his pitchman father. Jack grew up surrounded by sideshow figures like the young Bud Abbott — seen in an Edward J. Kelty photograph of Hubert’s Museum from 1927 and by the wealthy figures of the twentieth century like Rolls Royce chairman John McManus.
Al Flosso did not discourage young Jack from the stage, but encouragement was hard won. Jack “cut his teeth” as a comedy magician primarily in nightclubs and U.S.O. tours featuring a money act billed as Mr. Billionaire that included the production of bills, a Miser’s Dream, concluding with the vanish of a small safe where the money was placed.
But Jack, like his father, was an ace at card forcing, mental feats and often shilling and working in concert with Dunninger. Jack’s sense of humor pervaded his stage work and his life. He always sought the best in people, and like his father always made sure young patrons of the famous store had car fare home. “Growing up in a hard world taught my dad nobody was all bad” Jack said. And this philosophy served the son as well.
In the 1950’s Jack was a young performer in Las Vegas. Chico Marx’s band was the feature act and Jack’s publicity included his wedding to a glamorous Vegas singer — but it was just an introduction to the town, pure show biz. Jack rolled with the punches, and never pulled any. If you were his friend, he’d defend you to the death. If he didn’t care for some one just looking, and not buying, he had a solution — a Dentist appointment for that tooth that had been bothering him. He winked to me as we closed the store early one day, avoiding the annoying, and said, “So Ben, won’t you join me in a shot of Novocain.”
Jack was an authority on magic, show business, comedic timing and just about anything zany and unusual. A frequent guest at the Friars Club he delighted George Burns and his manager, swapped stories with Milton Berle (who tagged his dad with his moniker) and often performed the boldest gags — most unprintable here.
One time I entered the store and Jack was unusually quiet. A man in a Homburg hat politely purchased everything Jack showed him. I sat on the messy couch and took my cue to be quiet. Finally the man left. Jack came over and collapsed in his chair and read the newspaper. I said “Is everything OK?” He looked up from the Times and said “Kid, you just watched something great. Real magic. That was David Rockefeller.”
Great or small; big stars or beginners Jack adopted the stance that everyone mattered. When he took over the famous store in 1976 after his father passed, he was sure to do two things: keep the store in the 34th Street area (to preserve the phone number) and to treat everyone with respect.
While Jack’s nimble fingers have come to rest there are a thousand memories of him performing the linking rings for children — he could have been on stage at the Palace as the crashing rings played their symphony — or the Cups & Balls he boldly set forth as a mystery of the court of “Allah Ballah Goolah” or a trick he favored called “Squeeze Play.” Jack was a character, but he was not always “on.” He had great timing and knew the secret of that was choosing the right time and place. Jack Flosso influenced thousands of amateur magicians and magic-lovers. New York newspapers always had a good story when they called him. He donned a top hat, made something float and answered the phone the next morning “Flosso magic company – New York magic headquarters.”
History moves in circles. From the German Martinka Brothers to Otto Hornmann to Charles Carter to Harry Houdini to Frank Ducrot to Al Flosso to Jackie Flosso to Ted Bogusta and the shop’s rebirth on line as Martinka.com, the magical legacy of honorable, humorous deception had endured for nearly 130 years. From 1976-2000 the Martinka store played to standing room crowds in the herald Square area across from Macy’s. And the man that ran that show was a fellow I’m honored to have known and always called “The last honest man” — Jack Flosso.
Photographs are from the collections of Ted Bogusta and Ben Robinson and are used here with permission.
Ben Robinson is a magician and writer who lives in New York City. He wrote “Twelve Have Died,” the definitive book on the Bullet Catch, and is a recipient of the Milbourne Christopher Foundation award for his notable contributions to magic. He is the co-founder of The Art Rock ‘N Roll Circus and produced STOMP at Lincoln Center. His latest book “Ben Robinson On Synchronicity” was published last year on CD. For more information visit: www.illusiongenius.com.