John BoothJohn Booth: Minister, magican
worked to bring people together

With the death of John Booth Wednesday, the magic community has lost another legend, and the International Brotherhood of Magicians mourns the passing of the man who has held the longest running membership.

Booth, of Los Alamitos, Calif., was born Aug. 7, 1912, and died Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009, after several weeks of diminishing health, according to longtime friends, Norm and Lupe Nielsen. He was 97.

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Norm Neilsen succinctly captured the breadth of Booth's life on a poster he designed, identifying him as author, magician, cinematographer, minister, platform speaker, adventurer and mountain climber.

A magic set at age 10 inspired the young boy's magical career, but an even greater force would inspire him as a young man. He became a semi-professional magician at age 15, according to Whaley's Who's Who in Magic. The following year, 1928, he would join the I.B.M., where he held a membership with the organization for 81 years. His serialized history of magic and autobiography, “Memoirs of a Magician's Ghost,” appeared on the pages of The Linking Ring for 435 consecutive months.

Booth and his family moved from the United States to Hamilton, Ontario, in 1928. Booth wrote how he and his mother would trudge through the snow on a six-mile round trip to attend evening services at a Unitarian church.

“After graduating from McMaster [University] in 1934, during this nation's worst depression, I decided to make my hobby, the art of conjuring with which performances I had paid for much of my education, my temporary profession,” he wrote. “After 17 months with a one-hour high school assembly program, I developed a 10-minute largely sleight of hand act for nightclubs and hotel room shows. Fortunately, I climbed rapidly and played many of the finest hotels and nightclubs in this country and Canada. Based on the fruits of this experience, I wrote two books for the profession: Forging Ahead in Magic and Marvels of Mystery. Unlike anything else in print, both became classics and helped ambitious newcomers to become more successful professionals.

“Through all those years my vision of becoming a minister haunted me. Only an uneasiness that my temperament might not be suitable for an effective ministry held me back. Finally, in 1940, my misgivings evaporated. I closed a two week engagement as a magician in the Schroeder Hotel in Milwaukee (now the Hilton) and went directly to the Meadville Theological School now located in Chicago, the seminary of my father 30 years earlier.”
Booth's decision to leave magic for the ministry was big news. In two years, he finished his theological studies and spent the next 33 years as a minister in the Unitarian Universalist church.

Eventually, he would begin weaving magic into his lectures. He wrote a book on preaching, a travel book, climbed the Himalayas and interview Albert Schweitzer. He also produced documentaries. With all of his experiences, Ben Robinson called John Booth the Indiana Jones of magic.

About a decade ago, Booth wrote, “Retired now at the age of 88, I can look back upon four basic careers that produced 17 published books, hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles, and I tried as a magician, cinematographer, lecturer, and Unitarian clergyman to bring people together in a more just, enjoyable, and harmonious society.“

He is survived by his daughter Barbara Christie.


– compiled by Bobby Warren
Web Portal Editor