Today is the birthday of Al Flosso (Albert Levinson, 1895-1976). This legendary magician got his start playing in vaudeville and at Coney Island, thus his stage name “The Coney Island Fakir”. (The English word for cotton candy is “floss”, hence the other part of his professional name. The legend is that his tag was bestowed upon him by Milton Berle). In his early years his pal Houdini (by then quite famous) would come out to Coney to watch him perform. The trick he is most associated with is the “Miser’s Dream”, in which the magician pulls an endless number of coins out of thin air and plunks them into a metal bucket. He was also a top notch Punch and Judy Man; that’s him working the puppets in that scene in the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business.
In 1939, with vaudeville dead, Flosso became co-owner of Martinka & Co., America’s oldest magic store (est. 1877) and held court there while many of America’s future greats (like David Copperfield, Ricky Jay and our old friend Torkova) came to study at his feet. Celebrities too came to hang out in the shop’s famous back room. At the same time he maintained a national profile with frequent appearances on television variety shows. This clip shows why he was so loved; not just a terrific “all-round magician” (as he was once called by Dunninger), but very funny, with a distinctive sideshow style personality not unlike that often portrayed by W.C. Fields.
Al Flosso was inducted into Coney Island USA’s Sideshow Hall of Fame in 2009.
To find out more about vaudeville past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.