Max Malini was born Max Katz Breit in Ostrov, Poland, growing up in New York City in the United States. While still quite young, Malini worked in a bar in the Bowery ran by Professor Seiden, a magician, fire-eater, and ventriloquist.
Malini's job was hardly glamorous, or even remotely magical: he waited on customers. He also used to sing for the patrons on many occasions. He was quite good. He had a great personality. However, he was fascinated by magic, and used to watch Professor Seiden perform tricks with awe. Seiden noticed this.
Eventually, Seiden took the young boy under his wing, mentoring him in the ways of the prestidigitator. Malini was a quick learner, you could say he was a natural, as so many of the legendary performers of the past have been. By the time he was fifteen, he was being presented as a professional magician.
Malini was extremely creative. Armed only with his wits and sleight of hand, Malini made most of his magic happen with simple and common objects -- knives, glasses, matches, handkerchiefs, and other such mundane things. Malini, now a smooth entertainer, would walk into a bar, make himself known by his taken name, and perform a two-hour show with these common objects he carried in his pockets. Such was his dexterity and skill that he gained a world-wide reputation as a master magician. A master of misdirection, he dominated the world of magic as few ever had, creating most of his miracles by the use of a simple body servante.
The fact that his hands were so small may have been a problem for others, but not for Malini. He devised tremendous misdirection methods, in his casual movements, and in his manner of speech, to hide the fact that something was hidden in his tiny hands. When he palmed a card, according to Charlie Miller (one of my dear friends in his later years - SD) the edges of the card could clearly be seen if you were looking. But he was so clever that nobody ever caugtht him.
His creativity made itself manifest with the creation of effects and routines almost spontaneously without difficulties. One of his great routines was to produce a huge block of ice under his hat.
Charlie once told Vernon and myself about the time they were sitting in the middle of a restaurant. Charlie watched him from the minute they got into the place, wanting to see when and where Malini would be getting the block of ice that he was sure he would be producing for the guests. Charlie says that Malini never left his seat, and nobody came close to him, yet at the end of a very long meal, Malini went into a routine, and at the conclusion of it, his hat was lifted, and there sat a large block of ice, which would have easily melted if Malini had it hidden on him for such a long time.
A world-traveller, Malini presented his magic with uncommon success for European nobility and political leaders of his time.
Malini's great work was kept most secret, prized by him as gold. Malini never took part in magic conventions, and only very rarely entered a magic shop. When Dai Vernon wrote the book "Malini and His Magic" in 1961 with Lewis Ganson, Vernon had to rely on the personal accounts of Charlie Miller, one of the very few magicians who had the privilege to know Malini and some of his secrets.
Malini was an amusing and fascinating person. He always had remarkable stories to tell. Charlie Miller says he heard him tell some of his stories over and over again, and each time, the stories took on a larger than life quality, with frequent exagerations and details that got more impressive.
His popularity was so great that the people often showered him with gifts. For example, a performance he gave at the Viking Hotel, in Newport, was given to him entirely for free; he paid nothing for the location, the staff, or any of the decorations used for the performance. At one time, he was given a bracelet on which his name was set in diamonds.
He passed away in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1942, after a long illness.