Chan Canasta (1920 - 1999)
The Amazing Mr Canasta
Place of Birth
Canasta possessed the uncanny ability of immediate photographic recall, known as eidetic memory. This enabled him instantly to state the number of vowels on a page selected at random from a book by a volunteer from the audience, or to forecast with perfect accuracy the sequence of playing cards in a suddenly shuffled deck.
Canasta was the creator of "Psychomagic" (Psychological Magic) or "Sleight of Mind", whereby he presented experiments in anticipated reaction, which appeared to onlookers as mind-reading. He became a naturalized British subject and toured the world doing this act.
Born Chananel Mifelew in Kraków, Poland January 9, 1920, Canasta was the son of a Polish-Jewish educator. Most of his family perished in the Holocaust.
He attended Krakow University at the age of 17. After studying philosophy and the natural sciences for a year, he left Poland for Jerusalem, where he started to study psychology.
The next year brought the Second World War, and he volunteered for service in the Royal Air Force.
He saw action in the Western Desert, North Africa, Greece and Italy, finally becoming a British subject in 1947.
Demobilised, he began seriously to study the occult and the science of extra-sensory perception. On the side he read up parlour magic and taught himself to entertain a few friends with simple but confusing card tricks.
Adopting his surname from the popular card game of canasta, he became a well known stage magician performing feats of memory and book tests during the late 1940s.
In 1951 BBC television discovered Canasta and offered him his first television show that focused only on mental effects.
His television series - "Chan Canasta: A Remarkable Man" - was presented not as a single magic show but as a series of experiments; attempts at understanding unusual, mysterious powers.
In 1952, he worked for Butchers Film Service which filmed him in a half-hour supporting short for the cinemas in which he was billed "The Amazing Mr Canasta."
Throughout his career Canasta made over 350 television appearances, including the Ed Sullivan and Jack Paar shows.
He was a pioneer of mental magic, and has highly influenced many renown mentalists of today, including Derren Brown .
Among magicians, Canasta is revered for the invention of a principle that eschewed perfection, believing that making an occasional error made his other effects stronger and more entertaining.
He denied he used supernatural powers, saying that he had developed methods of psychological manipulation.
His final TV appearance was in 1971, on the BBC's Parkinson show. Canasta retired from the stage at the height of his fame to pursue his true dream, that of being a serious painter.
In his later years he established a second career as an artist, with successful gallery shows in London and New York.
Canasta died at the age of 79, on April 22, 1999 in London, England.
As an author, Canasta produced "Chan Canasta's Book of Oopses" in 1966, published by George G Harrap & Co. And in 2000 and 2001, David Britland authored, Chan Canasta - A Remarkable Man Vol. 1 and 2, published by Martin Breese.
Information courtesy of Wikipedia.
Photo courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London.
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