Carl Ballentine has folded up his velvet trick cloth, collapsed his magic wand and waved a fond farewelll to all his fans this day as he exited the sphere through the wings. Veteran Vaudevillian, stage, film and television actor, magician and unrepentent Cuban cigar smoker Ballantine is probably most recognizable for his role as Lester Gruber on the hit TV show "McHale's Navy".
But he also known, by those in the know, as The Great Ballantine, a unique magican that never could finish a trick. It became his stock and trade when he performed his magic act.
In a June 2000 interview with Roger Mexico and Michael Monteleone he talked of his days as a young perfomer in Chicago in the early 1940's where he encountered a brilliant if unorthodoxed comedian named Dick Buckley.
"I was playing those toilets around Chicago, on the same street with Sir Richard. And those other guys, which I'll never forget: the three snozolas. Three guys doing Durante. Amazing act. Buckley was nervy. Nobody could understand how he got away with the stuff he did."
And he spoke fondly of Buckley's 4 Chairs bit.
"It's audience participation the way it should be. Good audience participation. See, and again the audience knows what he's doing, otherwise he'd get no laughs. As long as they know what he's doing. Gonna get laughs."
And he told an anecdote of a time when his wife, actress Ceil Cabot, was in the hospital in New York City.
"The wife was very fond of Dick too. I think Dick must have liked her also. She came down with an appendectomy in New York. And I met him on the street and we spoke about Ceil. And he said, 'Where is she?' In a hospital up here on 57th Street. Hospital's still there. He said, 'I'm gonna go visit her.' Now I don't know where I was; I might have been over at the Paramount doing six shows a day, at the time-first show's at 9:45. Those were the good days. So he went to visit Ceil and they wouldn't let him in. They said, 'You can't come in here, this is doctors only.' He say, 'I'm a doctor of mirth, where is she? Let me in, I want to visit Ceil.' He got in and they visited and she recovered. And I remember that very well."
Carl Ballantine was a gracious interview subject and one of the last of the gentleman Vaudevillians. Given his love of illusion and his mastery of the Art of the Confoundment of Expectations we at LBC would not be surprised to hear that he had pulled himself out of a hat and returned to make us all laugh one more time.
Thanks to Roger Mexico for letting LBC know of Carl's passing.