Joseph Dunninger (1892-1975)
"The Amazing Dunninger"
Mentalist, Magician, Escapologist
Place of Birth
New York City, New York, USA
Dunninger possessed the uncanny ability to apparently tap into his audiences' minds and read their thoughts at will.
Dunninger had an overpowering fear of flying and traveled almost exclusively by train all of his life.
Joseph Dunninger was born in New York City, New York on April 28, 1892.
The son of a textile manufacturer, Dunninger's interest in magic started at the tender age of 5 years old.
A self-taught prodigy in the magical arts, Dunninger performed his first payed show at the age of seven at a Masonic Club in New York. He billed himself as "Master Joseph Dunninger, Child Magician."
He began his career in magic specializing in sleight of hand with cards. By the time he was sixteen, Dunninger had a one year engagement at Eden Musee in New York City. Soon after he toured vaudeville with the Keith-Orpheum Circuit.
During this tour, Dunninger he was inspired by the two-person mind reading act performed by Mr. & Mrs. John T. Fay. However, unlike the “double” act done by the Fays, Dunninger developed a one-person act, reading the minds of members of his audiences.
Also, unlike many mind reading acts of the day, Dunninger used no assistants. Assuring his audiences of this fact, he even offered $10,000 to anyone who could prove that he used payed confederates, or assistants of any kind.
Dunninger said on many occasions that he could raise the offer to $100,000, because no one would ever collect it. Though many tried to debunk his claims, no one ever collected.
Dunninger's one-man mentalist act was a hit. He was soon headlining the circuit and was very much in demand for private performances.
At seventeen, Dunninger was invited to perform at the home of Theodore Roosevelt and at the home of Thomas Edison. Both these men were avid admirers of Dunninger's work and mysticism.
His ability to read thoughts grabbed the attention of Harry Houdini, and Howard Thurston spent a great deal of time and effort in a search for the secret of Dunninger's mental abilities.
Inspired by Houdini and others, Dunninger took part in the crusade against fraudulent mediums and mentalists.
Dunninger also offered $10,000 to anyone who, with the aid of "the spirit world", could disclose the translation to secret coded messages entrusted to him by Harry Houdini and Thomas Edison.
Though he read the thoughts of royalty and dignitaries, his fame would grow to astounding heights with the advent of commercial radio. When commercial radio started, Dunninger was the first paid entertainer to go on the air.
On this show, Dunninger demonstrated hypnosis by radio. He then starred in a radio play as a psychic detective. Neither of these shows proved popular, however.
When Dunninger returned to his specialty -- thought-reading -- things quickly changed. On September 12, 1943, Dunninger first broadcast as "Dunninger, The Master Mind."
To say it was a huge success would be an understatement. Fan mail flooded broadcasting offices, tickets to the show were the most demanded of all.
Dunninger had found his niche and made his mark on the world.
Joseph Dunninger was also there when television started proving itself to be a popular form of entertainment; he tailored his act to fit the format of a television show.
Amazingly, his series appeared on all the networks at different times. In the 1940s, a poll showed that his voice was more recognizable than that of the President's.
During the 1950s and 1960s, his name was used as the basis for two recurring comedic characters, "The Amazing Dillinger," played by Johnny Carson on The Johnny Carson Show in 1955; and "Gunninger the Mentalist", on a television show hosted by the comedian Soupy Sales.
As brilliant as he was at performing, Dunninger proved a genius in marketing himself.
To keep himself in the public eye, he wrote articles for magazines for both laymen and magicians.
Soon the Dunninger byline was carried in such popular magazines as Time, Life, Look, Reader's Digest, Vanity Fair, Science and Invention, True Detective, and Sphinx.
He was also listed as author of a number of books, including "What's On Your Mind," Inside The Medium's Cabinet;" Monument To Magic," "Complete Encyclopedia Of Magic;" some of them ghost-written by his good friend Walter B. Gibson. Gibson also collaborated with Dunninger on his final book, "Dunninger's Secrets."
Dunninger's final series of programs for the TV network ABC, were recorded in 1971, but were never broadcast. By that time he was suffering from Parkinson's disease and decided to retire from performing.
On March 9, 1975, Joseph Dunninger died at his home in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. He was 82.
Information courtesy of CometoMagico.com
and 'The Encyclopedia of Magic and Magicians.'
Photo courtesy of State Library of Victoria
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