- Al Flosso
American magician and entertainer. Born Albert Levinson in Brooklyn (or perhaps on New York City's lower east side) in 1895. [fantasmamagic.com]
Died in in New York City, 1976.
His stage name was taken from a vernacular name for cotton-candy "floss". [Montague Chadbourne, conversations with Mr. Flosso, ca. 1960-1973, and with Jack Flosso, ca. 1967–1994, included in essays written for the combined exhibition of the Chadbourne Thaumaturgium and the
Main Street Museum, White River Junction, Vermont, 2008.]
Al Flosso — An Antic Force, by Montague Chadbourne.
Al Flosso’s name is known to readers of the two volume graphic novel by Jason Luttes who created a character solely upon the basis of a photograph and from of this magician’s colorful name. Readers of an earlier era of fiction writing recognized aspects of Al Flosso’s true nature in the character professor Flotto, in the pages of "The Great Balsamo," the novel by show-biz author Maurice Zolotow. The true-life Al Flosso (1895 – 1976) was as memorable a character as any created in fiction or prose.
Brooklyn born, he recalled crossing the Roeblings’ Bridge to get to downtown Manhattan and buy a ten cent pulp-paper booklet of magic to learn at home. Next he ventured in to New York City’s midtown tenderloin district where he purchased a “barberpole” production effect at Martinka’s Magic Emporium of which he would later — like Carter The Great and Harry Houdini before him — become proprietor.
In his early “kid” days he associated himself with the legendary Max Malini (1873 – 1942) who, like Flosso, was a diminutive man with a striking oversized stage persona and an uncanny knack to captivate audiences through the sheer force of his personality.
Next came his yeoman stint at Coney Island where he perfected his rendition of The Miser’s Dream in an inspired act of sideshow flare; this performance was an unforgettable admixture of high magic technique and sidesplitting comedic bravado.
Of this work on his part, showbiz legend Milton Beryl dubbed Flosso, “The Coney Island Fakir,” this salutation became the sobriquet that stuck. Professionally he also explored the worlds of traveling side show circuses and vaudeville circuits, including split weeks in New England towns. Back home in New York, he presided over Martinka’s Magic Emporium, welcoming visitors with his warm, self-effacing greeting, “So, you’ve come to see the Little Man!”
Later on, he performed on television and Catskill resorts with cyclonic vigor. His friends in the worlds of theater and magic were legend, from Houdini and Dunninger to the younger aspirants of his beloved art of magic. Like his father-in-law, professor Louis Krieger, Flosso busked for the sidewalk gamins of the Bowery and for the members of New York Society’s “Four Hundred”.
He was engaged to improve Ambassador Joseph Kennedy’s manual dexterity as part of physical rehabilitation when Mr. Kennedy was at the Rusk Institute. Unlike the broken character in Mr. Luttes fictional Jar of Fools, the true Al Flosso was a sober, and ever-alert, participant in the human condition until his last days, captivating all comers with his signature styles of magic, mirth and mystery. Until his death in 1976, Al Flosso regaled audiences with his antic force, a quality very akin to the “Rough Theater,” as described by Peter Brooks in his seminal text, "The Empty Space." This theatrical genre acts as a cultural antidote to the those denatured commercial amusements flooding the mass society which Brooks designated “The Deadly Theatre.” Flosso, the antic force to behold, was, indeed, the quintessence of the lively theater which is always integral to the lively arts.
"Al Flosso grew to be a legend in Magic. Of The Coney Island Fakir World famous entertainer Joseph Dunninger said, "If there is a better all round magician I have yet to discover him!" Although only 5' 2" tall Flosso became a giant to his audiences as he honed his act in the tough carnival world of Coney Island. Flosso was also a master Punch and Judy worker and can be seen in the movie 'A Night at The Opera' starring the Marx Brothers. Al was at home on any stage however big or small and in 1973 became Magician of the Year after an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. At his funeral Dr. Arnold Boston said, "From ten performances a day on the platforms of Luna Park and Dreamland to numerous appearances on national television, he never gave a bad show." --Fantasma Magic
*Joeseph Dunniger, "Monument to Magic," Lyle Stuart, 1974
*Steven Miller, obituary, Jack Flosso, "New York Sun," 2003
* [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9902E4D91F3DF932A35753C1A9659C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=2 Jack Flosso obituary, New York Times, October 1, 2003]
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