Carl Ballantine (Meyer Kessler)

Carl Ballantine

Kessler was born in Chicago, Illinois. Nicknamed the “Jipper,” he was inspired at age 9 by his barber who would do magic tricks with thimbles while cutting his hair. His first job was working as a printer. In the 1930s, Kessler was doing professional straight magic as “Count Marakoff”, “Carlton Sharpe”, and “Carl Sharp” in Chicago, helping support his family, and later moved to New York City, where he performed in night clubs and on television variety shows. In the early 1940s, he gave up “real magic” when he realized he could not be as good as some of his peers. According to his daughter, “one night, one of his tricks got screwed up, he said something to cover, and the audience laughed. So he started adding more.” He switched to comedy magic and changed his name to “Carl Ballantine”, after he noticed a bottle of Ballantine whisky in an advertisement and decided it sounded “show-businessy and classy”, and called the magic act “Ballantine, the World’s Greatest Magician”. He was billed as “The Amazing Mr. Ballantine” when he played the New York Capitol in 1950, and “The Great Ballantine” in The Ed Sullivan Show and The Steve Allen Show on television in the 1950s and 1960s. He was the first magician to play Las Vegas, appearing on a bill with Harry James, Betty Grable and Sammy Davis Jr. at El Rancho Vegas in 1956.

Ballantine was cast in several movies including McHale’s Navy (1964), Penelope (1966), Speedway (1968), The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968), The World’s Greatest Lover (1977), Just You and Me, Kid (1979), Disney’s The North Avenue Irregulars (1979) and Billy Crystal’s directorial debut, Mr. Saturday Night (1992), and in numerous television series, including the ABC sitcom McHale’s Navy (1962–1966), in which he played Lester Gruber, one of the PT boat sailors, starring with Ernest Borgnine, Joe Flynn and Tim Conway. An early television role cast him as Magician “Al Henderson”, working the 53rd precinct Christmas Party for brother-in-law Officer Toody in episode 15 of the 1st season of Car 54, Where Are You?, first airing December 24, 1961. He also guest starred on The Partridge Family , I Dream of Jeannie as a used car salesman, and on The Monkees episode called “The Audition” which aired on January 23, 1967. In 1973 he appeared as Dr. Hankim in The Girl Most Likely to…. His last feature film appearance was in Aimee Semple McPherson, a 2006 biopic about the female evangelist. Ballantine made his only appearance on Broadway as Lycus the slave merchant in the 1972 revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum starring Phil Silvers. In later years he was a recurring voice artist on Garfield and Friends, usually as Al J. Swindler, a purveyor of shoddy merchandise and goods. Ballantine died on November 3, 2009 at age 92 at his home in Hollywood, California. His remains were cremated.


  • September, 27, 1917
  • USA
  • Chicago, Illinois


  • November, 03, 2009
  • USA
  • Hollywood Hills, California

Cause of Death

  • natural causes


  • Cremated

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