During the first couple of decades of the twentieth century “ask Alexander” meant drop a question (along with a dollar bill) into an envelope and send it to 239 South Oxford Avenue in Los Angeles. By return mail your question would be answered by Claude Conlin aka Alexander the Man Who Knows.
These days, to magic historians around the world, “ask Alexander” are the words spoken just before you sit down at your computer and type a name into AskAlexander, the Conjuring Arts Research Center’s massive data base. Claude Conlin pretended to have all the answers but AskAlexander seemingly does have all the answers.
A few months back I needed some answers about Alexander the mentalist and instead of visiting my favorite web site, I turned off my computer and actually visited The Man Who Knows. OK, it was the son of The Man Who Knew but at this late date, that was as close as anyone was going to get to the man.
In 2004 I published David Charvet’s book on Alexander and it proved to be the fastest selling book in our series of Magical Pro-Files. Within eighteen months, it was out of print. During that time, Alexander’s son, John Conlin, moved from Arizona to within a half-an-hour drive from my house. David Charvet and I joined him for dinner one evening and we soon learned that he was indeed a chip off the old block. The stories were unceasing and each one was more incredible than the last.
I believe John Conlin is the only person I’ve ever met who can say he shook hands with Harry Kellar. When John described a photo he had of a Pantages Theater with crowds of people lined up outside and a huge Alexander billboard visible above the entrance, I said we would love to see it. “Sure,” John said, “it’s up in my room.” Later that evening he pulled four huge scrapbooks out of his closet and said, “Here, it’s in one of these.” David and I sat there slack-jawed as we paged through the mother lode of Alexander memorabilia.
Any thoughts I had of merely reprinting the Alexander book vanished in an instant. Anything less than a whole new book would be an insult to this wonderful archive. With the generous help of John and his son, Alexander Patrick Conlin, these scrapbooks traveled to the Magic Words office where dozens of images were scanned. And just when David thought his days of researching the life of Alexander were over, he was back in the thick of it.
Since the publication of the first book, I have come to know Cathy Stevenson, granddaughter of Alexander’s brother, CB Conlin, and the Conlin family historian. Cathy agreed to organize the results of her considerable research into an appendix. Here we learn that CB Conlin starred as Psycho in his own mind-reading act and experienced adventures that rivaled those of his infamous brother.
The new expanded edition of Alexander – The Man Who Knows is now available at Mike Caveney’s Magic Words