Preview | Ricky Jay: Deceptive Practice - About the Film

For the first time, the American Masters series profiles a magician: the inimitable Ricky Jay, considered one of the world’s greatest conjurers, capable of creating a profound sense of wonder and disbelief in even the most jaded of audiences. He is also a best-selling author, historian, actor and a leading collector of antiquarian books and artifacts.

Launching the series’ 29th season, American Masters — Ricky Jay: Deceptive Practice premieres nationwide Friday, January 23, 9-10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) and journeys into the mysterious world of sleight-of-hand and the small circle of eccentrics who are its perpetual devotees. Told largely in Jay’s own distinctive voice, the documentary traces the story of his achievement, beginning at age four as apprentice to his grandfather Max Katz, an accomplished amateur magician, and features rare footage of some of the most influential magicians of the 20th century: Cardini, Slydini, Al Flosso, Dai Vernon and Charles Miller.

Narrated by Dick Cavett, American Masters — Ricky Jay: Deceptive Practice weaves together new interviews with Jay, his friends and collaborators, including writer/director David Mamet, and rare performance footage from his one-man shows and classic TV appearances, among them a hilarious turn with Steve Martin on Dinah Shore’s 1970s program. Filmmakers Molly Bernstein (editor, American Masters — Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About) and Alan Edelstein (Oscar-nominated producer, The Wizard of Strings) explore the arduous demands of the magician’s craft, the use of language and storytelling central to the art, and this ancient tradition’s future.

“All the arts are forms of magic, and the wonderment, mystery and pure joy of seeing a master like Ricky Jay perform is a thrill like no other,” says Michael Kantor, executive producer of American Masters. “This intimate film makes you marvel at his genius and allows you to peek behind the curtain at many of the greatest magicians of the last century.”

“I am truly honored to be included in this iconic series, and grateful to be able to introduce viewers to the great sleight-of-hand artists who were my mentors and my inspiration,” says Ricky Jay.

Launched in 1986 by series creator Susan Lacy, American Masters has earned 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series since 1999 and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 12 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards and many other honors. Now beginning its 29th season on PBS, the series is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET.

Production Credits and Funders Print

American Masters — Ricky Jay: Deceptive Practice is a production of Hopscotch Films. Molly Bernstein is producer, director and editor. Alan Edelstein is producer and co-director. Alicia Sams and Philip Dolin are producers. Cathy Greenwold and Terry Gross are executive producers. Edward Marritz, Joey Forsyte and Ben Wolf are cinematographers with original music by Olivier and Clare Manchon. Michael Kantor is executive producer for American Masters.

American Masters is made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Rosalind P. Walter, Rhoda Herrick, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Vital Projects Fund, Jack Rudin, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation and public television viewers. Funding for this program was provided by Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown.