Today David is Master in Residence at the Conjuring Arts Research Center, the nonprofit magic library in Manhattan, where he works on a variety of projects related to the organization’s mission preserving and providing access to an extensive collection of materials documenting magic.
David Roth has a unique perspective on the personal and professional sides of Ricky Jay, and we're grateful he spent some time reflecting on his friend for Herb’s Magic.
Herb: How did you first meet Ricky?
David: It’s very funny you should ask, because more than once Ricky and I have sat down and tried to remember the first time we met. And we know it was over forty years ago because it was before I was twenty years old. Irv Tannen got me a job as a magic demonstrator in Las Vegas at a magic shop in Circus Circus casino. It was a real working casino, but it also had a midway, like a circus, so you could bring the kids, in other words. The parents would be on the main floor and next door was like a midway, and there was a magic shop. So Irv Tannen got me a job there. But I already knew Ricky because he wanted me to meet Mike Skinner. The two of them drove seven hours from L. A. To Vegas so that Ricky could introduce me to him. That was wonderful. I’ll never forget that. Mike and I ended up becoming very close friends. We became roommates.
So I knew Ricky before I was twenty, but we can’t remember a specific event, or a party or a show or a meeting where we met. But it was a long time ago.
He was older than you right?
Yeah by about five or six years. I thought that he was 71, but I’ve been reading all over that he was 72. I also read that he was 70. I always thought that he was five years older, but apparently he was six.
At the time approximately when you met, where was he in his life at that point?
Well, he was with the very long hair. He was on the road. He basically ran away from home when he was young and never looked back. He did all kinds of things. He ran a ten-in-one show, he opened for a lot of rock bands. He worked at the Electric Circus when it was here on Eighth Street. He was doing things like that. He looked the part because of his very long hair and he was a lot skinnier then and he had a much higher energy level. You can see that if you watch him on TV shows when he still had the long hair. Dinah Shore adored him. He was on her show at least 20 times.
I remember in the 1970s when he started appearing on all these shows and one of the things that was interesting to me was that he had the long hair and the beard, but he was also wearing a three-piece suit. It was discordant, if you know what I mean. I wanted to think, ‘here’s this guy from the hippie generation who’s representing the next generation of magic,' but you couldn’t figure out what he was all about in a way.
Yeah. I think he did that intentionally. It was an interesting look. That’s right. And he was able to pull it off And he was making the rounds of talk shows. She in particular just really thought he was great and had him on a lot.
Do you remember in those earlier years sitting down and hanging out and doing magic?
This might help date it. We knew each other a while by then. When Doug Henning was doing The Magic Show he had a party in his apartment. The producers got him a very nice place near the theater. And he had a party and he hired me and Derek Dingle and Ricky to do a show. And I’m just glad Ricky went on last. I wouldn’t have wanted to follow him. But that was a while ago. That had to be in the 1970s.
Then he moved out to L. A. and when I got out to L. A. he had this terrific apartment in Venice. He lived in Venice which is a very nice area, kind of a spot for artists. [interview continues-click "read more"]