Celebrating Milbourne Christopher

December 6, 2012

My good friend William V. Rauscher—magician, Episcopal priest, psychical researcher, and author—has produced yet another excellent book—a long-overdue tribute to American magician Milbourne Christopher. I especially welcome it, because Christopher was one of the greatest influences on my early career as a magician turned paranormal investigator.

Milbourne “Chris” Christopher (1914–1984) was not only one of America’s best-known magicians—gaining world acclaim as an illusionist and prestidigitator—but he was also a major collector of magic’s historical memorabilia and a prolific author. Among his many books, several had a big impact on me: Panorama of Magic (1962), Houdini: The Untold Story (1969) and ESP, Seers & Psychics: What the Occult Really Is (1971), followed by Mediums, Mystics & the Occult (1975) and Search for the Soul (1979).

These books reflected Christopher’s very skeptical views of paranormal claims. He was a founding member and fellow of CSICOP (now CSI) and also (like Houdini before) chairman of the Occult Investigating Committee of the Society of American Magicians. A capable investigator rather than knee-jerk “debunker,” Christopher sought to understand and explain alleged paranormal phenomena—an inspiration to me in that regard, and I recommend his books without reservation.

Rauscher’s Milbourne Christopher: The Man and His Magic is a treasure trove of facts, photographs, posters and playbills, great stories and insights, poignant moments, glimpses of magic history, additional photos, and still much, much more. There is a special chapter on his lovely wife, Maureen, a journalist who wrote the groundbreaking book, America’s Black Congressmen (1971), and predicted the eventual election of a black president. She has been a wonderful custodian of Christopher’s legacy.

I regret not having known him personally, but I did once tell Mrs. Christopher—pointed out to me by Bill Rauscher himself at a magic convention—how much her husband’s life and work meant to me. I think, having now read Rauscher’s wonderful book, I’ll tell her again—with even more enthusiasm.