We were in Las Vegas last week and did not have access to anything that could be used to communicate with the outside world. Consequently, we were unable to pass along the very sad news that Inside Magic Favorite and Hero Carl Ballantine (stage name of Meyer Kessler) died in his sleep last Tuesday.
He was 92.
Mr. Ballantine was one of the most naturally funny performers we have ever met. He was a delightful man who took time for people of all stripes in and out of the business.
He was a successful actor and essentially made the show McHale’s Navy as the always scheming Lester Gruber.
His influence was broad and lasting. Steve Martin, David Copperfield, and Penn and Teller all credit Mr. Ballantine for making a new genre of magic. In 2007, Steve Martin presented Mr. Ballantine with the Magic Castle’s Lifetime Achievement Fellowship.
“Carl Ballantine influenced not only myself but a generation of magicians and comedians,” Martin said Wednesday in a statement to The Los Angeles Times. “His was also the most copied act by a host of amateurs and professionals.”
“Basically, Carl Ballantine created comedy magic,” David Copperfield said. “The combination of magic and comedy had perhaps been done before, but he truly defined it and made it his own.”
He performed his act for the last time at the “It’s Magic” show at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood last fall, his daughter said. “To great acclaim, I might add. His timing was still fantastic,” she said.
Mr. Ballantine’s family requests donations be made to Used Pets, 517 W. Buckthorn, Inglewood, CA 90301, in lieu of flowers.
There will be no funeral.
His daughter Saratoga Ballantine (named for the famous New York racetrack) told the Los Angeles Times, “He wanted to have his ashes scattered over Santa Anita racetrack. He loved the ponies.”
We considered it an honor each time we met or spoke with Mr. Ballantine.
We stole so many bits from him and tried, in vain, to copy his machine gun style.
It took a while before we learned there was only one performer capable of being Carl Ballantine.
And now he is gone.