Psychology major finds true calling in magic


Jeff Lefton, 52, long has been one of the area’s leading magicians. Today, his office is housed in Crestwood Mall with more than four dozen other artists. From there, his company, Abra-Kid-Abra ( offers classes in magic, puppetry, balloon twisting, comedy and circus acts.

Lefton holds a bachelor’s in psychology and philosophy from Tufts University (1979) and an MBA from Washington University (1985). He and his wife, Bry Lefton, and their two daughters live in Clayton. They are members of Temple Emanuel. When we spoke recently, he wore a rather large tan sport coat and a tie with a straight flush splashed down the front. His father is Dr. Robert Lefton, co-founder of Psychological Associates, a business consulting firm for more than half a century.


How did you get into magic?

My dad gave me a magic set when I was about 8. After I went to bed, I’d sit by the door where the light came in, tinkering with the tricks.

You had a knack for that sort of thing?

I was a shy kid. It helped to bring me out of my shell.

What was your first trick?

The ball and a vase. It’s a little plastic vase with a ball in it. You cover it up with a towel. You open it up, and the ball has disappeared.

Did you do magic for other kids?

When I was 12, I started performing at birthday parties. My mother would drive me around on weekends. My first one was for my cousin. I charged $6.

Do you still perform?

I do a show every week or two.

Should we call this magic? Is there a better word?

I think of it as performing arts.

Where do you perform?

We do a lot of school shows, daycares, libraries, birthday parties, fairs and festivals, (Cub and Boy) Scout events. Family and children audiences are probably our main niche. I still do corporate banquets, more sleight-of-hand sort of stuff, but the focus of our business is family and children’s events.

Is this a pretty good living?

Well (laughs). I’d say it’s more love than money. I’d like to get it more profitable. I work part time at Psychological Associates and part time here. I’ve got three employees that are full time. If I worked full time here, I’d probably make a little more.

What kind of personality does it take to be a magician – or a performing artist?

You have to like working with kids and be patient. Some of our instructors are magicians or clowns, and some of them are teachers. I would prefer a teacher.


When you get a class of 10 or 15 kids, there is usually one or two who act out. A teacher is better skilled and trained at managing a class. A magician knows the tricks better, but can be more apt to snap at a kid. We can train teachers to teach the tricks.

Do you go to magicians conventions?

Yeah. Those are fun, one of the best times of the year. We stay up ’til 2 or 3 in the morning, showing each other card tricks in the lobby. Some of the conventions are more to learn magic. Some are more the business end of it, marketing and so on.

Is there a Jewish way to be a magician? After all, Houdini was Jewish.

We do after-school classes at Solomon Schechter and Epstein Hebrew Academy. We do shows, a fair amount, at the JCC. Sometimes I get asked to do a show about Purim or Hanukkah.

Can you make candles burn a long time?

I forget the story, so I have to refresh myself.

What about Purim?

I’ve got a trick where I get a kid and put some stocks on him and thrust a sword through his neck. That kind of relates to Haman.

Does magic ever hurt anybody?

One time I sawed somebody in half, and he’s now living in Chicago and Philadelphia. It’s not very dangerous. Historically, there’s a bullet-catching trick where you fire a gun, and the magician catches the bullet in his teeth. I think a person or two has died over the years. I don’t mess with that kind of stuff.

What’s your favorite trick?

For stage shows, I produce a bowling ball from nowhere. I drop it on the floor, and it shakes the place a little. I like doing that one, because it’s usually a big surprise to people that a bowling ball comes out. I do a routine where I have 10 different people each select a card and put them back in the deck. Then I reveal each one in a rapid-fire series, each in a different way. As a prelude to that, I have somebody pick a card and they keep picking the same card all the time.

How many tricks do you know? Hundreds?

Probably. One of my quirks is collecting tricks I can teach. I try every day to spend a little time reading kids’ magic books or watching DVDs or video tapes about magic. I have about 950 on a spread sheet. They are categorized: card tricks, rope tricks. I’ve written maybe 10 curriculums. We work with about 80 schools in the area, doing after-school programs.

Anything else?

At bar and bat mitzvahs, if there are eight place settings, I put out eight envelopes with eight different tricks. This summer, we are doing a magic camp with levitations and animations. We’re going to teach kids how to levitate different objects, then two ways of levitating a person.