Have you ever wanted to join the ranks of the world's most famous mentalists?
For years, people have been fascinated with the field of mentalism. Sometimes, mentalists can be so good at performing that the audience wonders, even for just a moment, if it could be real.
Mentalism seems hard but with enough practice, you can become good at it. It just so happens that it takes natural talent to be a famous mentalist.
Few people make their mark in their field and those that do are truly remarkable. Which is why we've decided to compile a list of these gifted people.
Who knows? Maybe you'll be inspired to follow in the footsteps of these top 10 famous mentalists.
1. Claude Alexander Conlin
Claude Alexander Conlin was born on June 30, 1880 in Alexandria, South Dakota. Alexander wasn’t just a mentalist but also an author who wrote about stage performance, spirituality, New Thought, and psychology.
Alexander performed under the stage name “Alexander, the Man Who Knows” during 1915 to 1924. At the time, he was a highly paid and famous mentalist whose popularity was partially because no one could figure out his tricks back then.
Robert A. Nelson, a biographer of Alexander during the 1940s, claims that at the height of Alexander’s career in the 1920s, he was the most highly paid mentalist in the world. Having earned a considerable sum of millions, Alexander could have possibly been the richest mentalist in history.
But even a mentalist as famous and talented as Alexander has to step back from the limelight eventually. Alexander retired in 1927 at the age of 47 but kept in touch with other entertainers and celebrities in South California like actors John Leslie Coogan and Harold Lloyd.
Thirty three years after Alexander made waves as a mentalist, Banachek was born on the other side of the pond. The English mentalist became famous for his role in James Randi’s Project Alpha experiment which debunked parapsychology research.
Originally named Steven Shaw, he had his name legally changed to his stage name, Banachek. In an interview with Full Circle Magic, Banachek explained that he simply didn’t find his own name fitting for a stage performer, so he chose to name himself after an American detective show called Banacek.
Banachek later carried on his reputation from Project Alpha and became director of the JREF Million Dollar Challenge which tested the abilities of supposed psychics up until its suspension in 2015.
3. Uri Geller
Uri Geller is an Israeli-British mentalist who became known on television for his signature spoon bending performances. His decades long career is marked by numerous accomplishments including being an actor in the 2001 film Sanitarium and being host of an Israeli reality show called The Successor.
The famous mentalist has had many controversies surrounding his career, however. He’s been accused repeatedly of cheating on his tricks with the most notable being by James Randi who wrote a book called The Truth About Uri Geller.
This famous and infamous mentalist is a multi-millionaire who has provided dowsing services to mining companies at a rate of 1 million pounds. He has also been interviewed on a 2009 ITV broadcast called My Friend Michael Jackson: Uri's Story where he talked about his relationship with the late singer.
4. James Randi
James Randi is a Canadian-American mentalist who made waves not because of his tricks but because of his efforts to debunk pseudoscience in mentalism.
Though he practiced mentalism and stage magic, James Randi himself never claimed nor believed that any of it was real. A devoted skeptic, he co-founded the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and spearheaded Project Alpha where Banachek became famous.
Ironically, during a meeting where he demonstrated a fork bending trick that duplicated Uri Geller’s signature spoon bending, he was accused of cheating. The accuser, a professor from the University of Buffalo, didn’t accuse Randi of not using ‘real magic’ but for using ‘magic’!
Senator Claiborne Pell would later say something similar about this famous mentalist: “I think Randi may be a psychic and doesn’t realize it.” Pell believed in psychic phenomena though- but wouldn’t it be quite a twist for Randi if that were true?
5. Derren Brown
English mentalist Derren Brown studied Law and German at the University of Bristol but made a surprising career choice during his college days. It was at the University of Bristol that Brown saw a hypnotist show by Martin S. Taylor which would later inspire him to become a mentalist.
He began his career in 1992 performing shows at his university while using the stage name Derren V. Brown. Soon his little gig would grow into a successful career.
Brown later met Jerry Sadowitz, a comedian and magician, at the International Magic shop in Clerkenwell London. Thanks to Sadowitz, he made connections that led to his show Mind Control.
Mind Control became the first award-winning show by Objective Productions thereby cementing Brown as one of the century’s famous mentalists. He has also written books about mentalism such as Tricks of the Mind.
6. Max Maven
When it comes to famous mentalists, we definitely can’t exclude Max Maven. After all, he’s been listed among Magic Magazine’s ‘Most Influential Magicians of the 20th Century’.
Born on December 21, 1950, Maven grew up mostly in Boston, Massachusetts. It was there that he first achieved some level of fame by performing at places such as the Playboy Club.
Like Banachek, he had his name legally changed from Phil Goldstein to Max Maven.
Maven is a legendary figure in mentalism and has authored several books on a wide range of magical practices. A true teacher, Maven has also served as a magic consultant for magicians like David Copperfield and Doug Henning.
The famous mentalist has been granted numerous awards for his work in mentalism. He has received an Academy of Magical Arts Creative Fellowship, MINDVention Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Allan Slaight Award for Lifetime Achievement.
If anyone’s a famous mentalist, it’s certainly Max Maven!
7. Theodore Anneman
Theodore Anneman’s dashing looks may amaze the woman in the picture but his skill as a famous mentalist enchanted men and women alike.
Born on February 22, 1907, Theodore Anneman began his career as a railroad clerk. This unglamorous job would shortly change once he got into show business.
Though he initially set out to be a singer, Anneman soon became a magician’s assistant. It was this exposure to the field of magic that got him to transition into becoming a mentalist.
With his sharp wit and inventiveness, he soon became famous for improving the bullet catch illusion.
Further cementing his influence, Theodore began to write for and publish The Jinx magazine which focused on the topic of mentalism. He would also write Practical Mental Magic, a mentalism book that is now one of the Bibles of today’s famous mentalists.
Sadly, though Theodore could figure out a way to catch bullets in mid air, he couldn’t find his way around a deep depression.
Pressured by the responsibilities of being a famous mentalist and the strain of having to always be ‘on’ for an audience, Theodore Anneman committed suicide on January 12, 1942.
8. Gerry McCambridge
If you ever go to Las Vegas, we recommend that you watch one of Gerry McCambridge’s shows.
This famous mentalist has over 20 years of experience under his belt. Like Banachek, McCambridge began his career early at the tender age of 12 years old.
His considerable talent and skill as a mentalist made him popular enough that by the age of 15, he began his first tour.
His flexible skill set included not just mentalism but also theatre, stand-up comedy, and as unlikely as this sounds, statistics.
He uses all of these abilities to create shows that are stunningly captivating. Watching him perform, you can’t help but be struck by the thought that maybe this mentalist is doing real magic.
After residing in Las Vegas for 3 years, Gerry McCambridge performed his 500th Vegas performance on June 25, 2008. After this, Hooters COO Gary Greggs presented him with a Rolex as a gift.
Greggs would then extend his contract for another year making giving this famous mentalist the longest running mentalist show in Vegas history.
9. Marc Salem
Let’s be real. With his homey looks, Marc Salem doesn’t strike you as a mysterious mentalist.
Like many mentalists, Marc Salem is only using a stage name. His real name is actually Moshe Botwinick and as you can guess from that, Salem is Jewish.
Hailing from Philadelphia, Marc Salem is a capable mentalist, mind reader, and non-verbal communicator. Specializing in cold reading, Salem has a gift for understanding what people aren’t saying.
This comes as no surprise because he worked with Kinesics founder Ray Birdwhistell. For those not familiar with Kinesics, it’s basically a highly specialized form of cold reading that focuses only on body language.
Not only that, the famous mentalist also has a PhD in Developmental Psychology from the university of Pennsylvania, further cementing his reputation as a cold reader.
Marc Salem was featured on the television show 60 minutes back in 2008 and has been interviewed in newspapers such as the Daily Telegraph and the New York Times.
10. David Blaine
This famous American mentalist focuses on more extreme performances.
Born on April 4, 1973, David Blaine White mainly performs on television. With the number of mentalists who have had TV shows, you may be wondering what’s so special about Blaine.
Well, Blaine has, in the words of the New York Times, ‘done something unique and fresh with it’.
An innovative performer, David Blaine has taken the mentalist practice of directing attention to a new level. His shows show less of himself doing magic and mentalism.
Instead, the camera focuses on tracking the reaction of audience members, making the thrill and awe of watching the show more heightened for viewers at home.
His ability to transform the viewer experience has led American magician Penn Billet to say that Blaine’s first TV special Street Magic ‘the biggest breakthrough (in television magic) done in our lifetime’.
Though there have been many famous mentalists before, that doesn’t mean you can’t join their ranks someday. Maybe you’re one of the lucky, gifted few who have the natural talent to perform mentalism with ease.
But even if you don't become a famous mentalist like these guys, it’s perfectly alright.
At the 2014 unveiling of a 12 foot tall gorilla statue made of spoons donated by school children, Uri Geller said this: “This will not raise money for charity. It will do something much better. It will amaze sick children.”
So perhaps the real skill of a mentalist isn’t the act itself but how he can entertain his audience.