Conjuring Credits

The Origins of Wonder

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Charles Jordan Controversy

Charles Jordan was largely a recluse in the magic world, rarely fraternizing with other magicians. He often created his material in isolation, only to sell it via mail order. After a few years of prolific releases, he dropped out of magic completely. This shroud of mystery has led to various controversial theories about the man, most notably the idea that the magic marketed under Jordan's name wasn't actually his.

The most oft-heard theory is that Charles Jordan was hired by Arthur Finley to publish various tricks under his own name to prevent Finley from being associated with magic. This claim was made by Rufus Steele via Francis Haxton in Pentagram, Vol. 2 No. 8, May 1948, p. 62 (the article claims to be reprinted from an issue of The Magical Gazette). Steele's story started with a visit to Jordan's home, only to find out he was a chicken farmer. According to Steele, Jordan denied being able to do magic, and asserted that he had been releasing Finley's material under his own name. Haxton's article claimed that Joseph Ovette had a similar experience to Steele, where a meeting with Jordan left him feeling that Jordan was incapable of doing any magic. There were several rebuttals of these claims, including a scathing one by Lloyd Jones in The Bat, No. 56, Aug. 1948, p. 401, and continued in No. 58, Oct. 1948, p. 421, along with one from Karl Fulves in Collected Tricks of Charles T. Jordan, 1975, p. 4.

In Stewart James in Print, 1989, pg. 81, James claims that it was he who presented this theory to Francis Haxton. James continues to write that he eventually came to a “strong conviction that Jordan did create the material that bears his name” and provides an extract from a June 17, 1944 letter from Earl de Forrest, a magic store owner based in San Francisco, who claimed to have met with Jordan at least once a week for two decades. In that letter, Forrest debunks the common Jordan misconceptions and writes that “Jordan was a wonderful man and deserves all the credit in the world for his remarkable achievements.” Forrest also claimed that Jordan was a “very secretive man until you knew him.”

When Arthur Leroy interviewed Finley for The Bat, ibid., p. 404, Finley made the following statement: “I don't know how you found me. I have had nothing to do with magicians for years. I want nothing do do with magicians. Yes, Charles T. Jordan and I were friends. We corresponded and swapped ideas regularly. It was many years ago. The story you just showed me (the May Pentagram carrying the Francis Haxton closed meeting of the London Society of Magicians story disclosing the Finley-Jordan secret, Ed:) is not true at all. I want nothing to do with magicians but this I will say: anything published under the name of Charles T. Jordan was invented and created by him. I had nothing to do with it. That is all I have to say. Please tell them not to bother me anymore. It's all Jordan's.”

Another theory, circulating prior to 1948, is that T. Nelson Downs was the creator of some of Jordan's material (see the Jones rebuttal above, p. 403). This speculation was revived by Richard Kaufman in MAGIC, Vol. 1 No. 12, Aug. 1992, p. 48, and again in the following issue, Vol. 2 No. 1, Sep. 1992, p. 48. There Kaufman recounts the previous controversies, and then presents entries in an unpublished Downs notebook, which he compares with entries in an unpublished manuscript by Charles Jordan and with tricks Jordan released and/or advertised. The evidence presented raises some interesting questions, although Kaufman's final speculation that Downs, Finley and “some other guys” conspired to use a “chicken farmer named Charles Jordan…as the front man” for a joke, “to create a fictional genius” seems difficult to support in the absence of a probable motive for mounting such a hoax and for sustaining it over so many years. Finley's strident denial of the Steele-Haxton story, years later, is hard to dismiss.