Chan Canasta

Chan Canasta (born Chananel Mifelew, 9 January 1920 – 22 April 1999) was a pioneer of mental magic in the 1950s and 1960s, becoming the first TV celebrity magician in the 1950s, and then in later life he turned to painting.[1] Born in Kraków, Poland, he was the son of a Polish-Jewish educator.

Personal lifeEdit

Mifelew's father was an emigre from Russia.[2] Most of his family perished in the Holocaust.[citation needed]

Mifelew attended Krakow University where he studied philosophy and natural sciences for his first year. However, he then left Poland and went to Jerusalem to study psychology. His studies were interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War, and he volunteered to join the Royal Air Force. He fought in the Western Desert, North Africa, Greece and Italy, and eventually took up British citizenship.[2]

He was twice married and died in London at the age of 79.[2]

Stage careerEdit

Canasta moved to Great Britain in 1947, following a stint in the Royal Air Force. Starting as a card magician who took his surname from the popular card game of canasta,[1] he became a well-known stage magician performing feats of memory and book tests during the late 1940s.

Television careerEdit

In 1951 Canasta recorded his first television show for the BBC - a sparse affair with only a few props that concentrated on mental effects. He became TV's first celebrity magician in the 1950s, and broadcast his last show in March 1960.[1] Throughout his career, he made more than 350 television appearances, including on the Ed Sullivan, Arlene Francis and Jack Paar shows.[3]

His final BBC TV appearance was in 1971, on the Parkinson Show, for he had left television performing behind several years earlier,[4] although he did reappear on Israeli TV on 11 November 1983.[5]

Throughout his career Canasta was never billed as a magician, nor even a mentalist, but simply as "A Remarkable Man".[citation needed]


Canasta called his effects 'experiments' rather than tricks.[citation needed] He performed experiments in thought using two packs of playing cards. He would ask a spectator to think of a card then another to pick the unstated thought-of-card from a different pack; or he would place cards onto a table and ask a spectator to pick up one card that another spectator was only thinking of. The effects were risky and he would often fail on live television.[1] Contemporary magicians were horrified by Canasta's approach but this element of "risk-taking" has been a major influence on the current generation of mentalists.[citation needed]

Canasta's signature routine was his "Experiment With Books". He would invite a volunteer from the audience to choose a random page, then would predict precisely the number of words comprising three syllables it contained. He was not concerned if he made the odd mistake when performing this trick, believing a few errors along the way simply highlighted the validity of his normally correct answers.[1]


Among magicians, Canasta is recognised for inventing the principle that eschewed perfection, believing that making an occasional error made his other effects stronger and more entertaining,[1] - an approach later followed by comedy magician, Tommy Cooper. British mentalist Derren Brown has cited Canasta as a prime influence, stating, "he was a real inspiration"[6]

Art careerEdit

Canasta retired from the stage at the height of his fame to pursue a dream to become a painter.[3] In his later years he established a second career as an artist, signing his work not as Canasta, but as Mifelew,[1] and had successful gallery shows in London and New York.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Purser, Philip (12 June 1999). "Television's first magical mystery man". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 13 November 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d Gifford, Dennis (30 May 1999). "Obituary: Chan Canasta". The Independent. Retrieved 13 November 2017.
  3. ^ a b Lentz III, Harris M. (2000). Obituaries in the Performing Arts, 1999: Film, Television, Radio, Theatre . Jefferson, N Carolina and London: McFarland & Co. Inc. pp. 40–41. ISBN 0-7864-0748-4. Retrieved 13 November 2017.
  4. ^ "Chan Canasta - Mike Parkinson Part 1". YouTube. BBC TV. Archived from the original on 14 December 2021. Retrieved 13 November 2017.
  5. ^ Ron Nostalgy (17 February 2014). "Chan Canasta doing a Card Trick (Israeli TV)". Archived from the original on 14 December 2021. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  6. ^ "Derren Brown Interview – Radio Times". Derren Brown. 19 April 2011. Retrieved 13 November 2017.

Further readingEdit

  • David Britland (2000) Chan Canasta: A Remarkable Man Volume 1
  • David Britland (2001) Chan Canasta: A Remarkable Man Volume 2
  • Chan Canasta (1966) Chan Canasta's Book of Oopses : Being a Collection of Thrilling Experiments in Which the Book Itself Plays the Part of the Mind-Reader; George G. Harrap & Co., Ltd.

External linksEdit