Auction of the Magic Collection of Jay Marshall

WHEN Sat 5/5, 9 AM

WHERE Hyatt Regency Woodfield, Schaumburg

INFO 847-605-1234, 708-757-4950, or

In The Aristocrats, the documentary in which nearly 100 showbiz types relay their versions of the eponymous filthy bit about a family of incestuous vaudevillians, executive producer Penn Jillette calls Jay Marshall the joke’s definitive teller. Comedian and magician Marshall, who gets to tell it first in the film, earned the distinction not because his unusually concise version was particularly memorable or because he was known for working blue. Marshall’s career began in the vaudeville era and went on to encompass Hollywood and television, concluding in comedy clubs and corporate entertainment gigs–a span so long Jillette can plausibly claim that Marshall was there when the joke originated.

“I’ve worked for Franklin Roosevelt doing a ventriloquist bit,” Marshall told me when I interviewed him for the Reader back in 1987. “I entertained Harry Truman at a White House party. I’ve been all over the English-speaking world.” Marshall played Broadway in the Ziegfeld Follies, shared the stage with Frank Sinatra in Vegas, and was a frequent guest on the Ed Sullivan Show–usually accompanied by Lefty, his bunny hand puppet, now enshrined in the Smithsonian. But when Marshall wasn’t on the road he could usually be found behind the counter at Magic Inc., the venerable northwest-side magic business he married into in the 1950s.

The drab storefront at 5082 N. Lincoln was well known as one of the biggest magic mail-order operations in the country but it also housed a major collection of “magicana”–tricks, cards, autographs, photos, posters, correspondence, souvenir programs, original manuscripts, Harry Houdini memorabilia, and, according to Gabe Fajuri, who helped archive the stuff, a quarter of a million books.

Marshall died in May 2005 at the age of 85, and his executors have been combing through his holdings ever since. Some of them will be auctioned this weekend at the 38th annual Magic Collectors Weekend in a performance of the greatest trick of all–making money disappear.