We are proud to announce that BookBrowse has won Platinum in the 2024 Modern Library Awards.

The Tradition of Las Vegas Magicians: Background information when reading The Lightness of Hands

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Lightness of Hands

by Jeff Garvin

The Lightness of Hands by Jeff Garvin X
The Lightness of Hands by Jeff Garvin
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2020, 400 pages

    Aug 2021, 400 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
Buy This Book

About this Book

The Tradition of Las Vegas Magicians

This article relates to The Lightness of Hands

Print Review

Welcome to Las Vegas SignEven though I lived in Las Vegas for five years (2012-2017), I never gave it much thought. Magicians were always there, on and off the Las Vegas Strip. David Copperfield's face was on that massive advertisement across the top of the MGM Grand. Mac King, the afternoon comedy magician at Harrah's, was always in any number of small Vegas magazines advertising every show and every kind of deal you could find there. The greatest touristy thrill for a non-native resident like me just trying to survive the Hell's-waiting-room summer heat was seeing the Amazing Johnathan's show at the Sahara. But reading The Lightness of Hands caused me to wonder: How and when did magicians become a thing in Las Vegas?

According to Vegas.com, Jack Kodell was the first magician to perform in Las Vegas, in the summer of 1947 at the age of 20. He was offered $1,500 a week (about $17,000 today) to do his act in a cabaret show at the El Rancho Hotel & Casino. He was also historically significant for being one of the first magicians to use birds, making parakeets appear out of nowhere in an act called A Fantasy of Birds.

Las Vegas' influx of magicians seems to have been facilitated by the appearance of Hollywood stars and musicians on the scene. There was, of course, the Rat Pack, made up of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, who performed at the Sands. They personified Las Vegas then — the kingdom of cool, the show everyone had to see. But there was also Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Jimmy Durante, the Marx Brothers and countless others. Every resort also had its own set of showgirls who opened and closed for the celebrities, and sometimes had revues of their own as well. In the 1960s, casino owners likely believed that visitors would rather spend their time being in awe of the glitz and glamour of these performers (including Elvis Presley, who began his residency at the International Hotel in 1969) than watch a magician. In fact, the late Johnny Thompson (who performed magic as the Great Tompsoni and was also a fiercely trusted advisor to Penn & Teller) said in an interview in Las Vegas' David Magazine in July 2011, there were only two resident magicians in the city in the '60s, one working at the Showboat, and the other working the bar area of the Desert Inn.

One could argue that the influx of magicians into Las Vegas began with Siegfried & Roy. Siegfried Fischbacher and the late Roy Horn were performing (with tigers) in a casino in Paris in 1967 when a producer in the audience encouraged them to try out their act in Las Vegas. The duo steadily gained popularity and headlined their first Vegas show, "Beyond Belief" at the Frontier in 1981. In 1990, they opened at the Mirage, and performed there until October 2003, when Roy was attacked by Montecore the tiger.

After the magician Lance Burton appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in the early '80s, he performed for eight weeks in a trial run at the Folies Bergere in Las Vegas, and was so popular that his contract was extended for nine years. In 1994, he signed a 13-year contract with the Monte Carlo Resort & Casino to create and star in a new version of his magic show, which opened in June of 1996. David Copperfield started at Caesars Palace in the early '80s, filling the gaps in the Circus Maximus Showroom's schedule, then moved to the Hollywood Theatre at the MGM Grand. So by the 1990s, it seems, magicians were an integral part of Las Vegas nightlife.

The list goes on and on from there, much like the colorful handkerchiefs that a magician continually pulls out of his mouth. There's Penn & Teller, and Criss Angel (who started at the Luxor in 2008 and moved to Planet Hollywood in 2019), and Mat Franco with his own theater at the LINQ Hotel & Casino. You don't even have to say "abracadabra" to conjure up any number of magicians on and off the Strip. You can even hire them for private events. What better distraction from the Vegas heat?

Filed under Cultural Curiosities

Article by Rory L. Aronsky

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Lightness of Hands. It originally ran in June 2020 and has been updated for the August 2021 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Join our inner reading circle, go ad-free and get way more!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Ascent
    The Ascent
    by Adam Plantinga
    Adam Plantinga's brilliant debut novel, The Ascent, introduces readers to former Detroit police ...
  • Book Jacket: The Curse of Pietro Houdini
    The Curse of Pietro Houdini
    by Derek B. Miller
    Derek B. Miller's sixth novel, The Curse of Pietro Houdini, opens in the town of Cassino, Italy, in ...
  • Book Jacket: Our Moon
    Our Moon
    by Rebecca Boyle
    In Our Moon: How Earth's Celestial Companion Transformed the Planet, Guided Evolution, and Made Us ...
  • Book Jacket: Neighbors and Other Stories
    Neighbors and Other Stories
    by Diane Oliver
    The history of American segregation, along with changes to it in the 1960s, is sometimes taught and ...

BookBrowse Book Club

Book Jacket
Mockingbird Summer
by Lynda Rutledge
A powerful and emotional coming-of-age novel set in the 1960s by the bestselling author of West with Giraffes.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Strong Passions
    by Barbara Weisberg

    Shocking revelations of a wife's adultery in 19th New York explode in an incendiary trial exposing the upper-crust and its secrets.

  • Book Jacket

    by Roxana Robinson

    An engrossing exploration of the vows we make to one another and what we owe to others and ourselves.

Win This Book
Win The Cleaner

The Cleaner
by Brandi Wells

Rarely has cubicle culture been depicted in such griminess or with such glee."
PW (starred review)



Solve this clue:

I Wouldn't T H W A T-F P

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.