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Richard Himber

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Richard Himber

Cover of Genii (1963)
BornHerbert Richard Himber
February 20, 1899
Newark, New Jersey
DiedDecember 11, 1966 (age 67)
Manhattan, New York City
CategoriesBooks by Richard Himber

Richard Himber (February 20, 1900 - December 11, 1966) was an American bandleader, composer, violinist, magician and practical joker.

Himber was born in Newark, New Jersey to the owner of a chain of meat stores. His parents gave him violin lessons, but when they found him performing in a seedy Newark dive, they took the instrument away from him and sent him to military school. In 1915, he stole away into New York City, where Sophie Tucker heard him play and hired him as a novelty act to play with her and the Five Kings of Syncopation where Himber was the highlight of the cabaret act.

He worked his way through Vaudeville and down Tin Pan Alley. He managed Rudy Vallee's orchestra service, which sent out bands for private parties and society functions. A suave salesman and irrepressible idea man, he soon had his own band booking agency. In 1932, he acquired the first known "vanity" telephone number, R-HIMBER, answered 24 hours a day. Later that year, Himber finally formed an orchestra of his own, parlaying a gig at New York's Essex House Hotel into national NBC radio exposure. Among the top notch professionals in its ranks were Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw and many other future stars of the music world.

Himber was a skilled magician, and invented many magic tricks including The Himber Wallet, "The Himber Ring", and the Himber Milk Pitcher. In later years, his band act often included an interlude of magic, and he conjured on many television shows as well.

Himber staged a number of magic shows, some involving his friend Orson Welles.

Although he is now remembered primarily for his musical legacy, his contemporaries recall his incessant practical joking. The employees of Toots Shor's 51st Street Chophouse in New York City, which he frequented, lived in fear of him, as he constantly engaged in the act of butter snapping (artfully placing a pat of butter in the center of a napkin, so that when thrown upward, it would adhere to the ceiling) and bread crumbing (rolling bread in to hard pellets and tossing them at female restaurant patrons, so that the bread would hit them at the neckline and then descend into their bosom). Famous celebrity victims of Himber's pranks included Ben Blue, the chanteuse Hildegarde and Charles Laughton. At home, Himber would boast of his cooking skills, and when his wife asked for veal cutlets, he breaded the inner sole of a shoe.

Himber wrote the original theme for NBC's Today Show.

A portly yet youthful-looking man with flaming red hair, Himber frequently lied about his age, giving birth dates of 1902, 1904, 1907, and 1909 at various times. He married only in his forties, to prominent model Nina McDougall, with whom he had a son. Their acrimonious divorce was the talk of New York tabloids a decade later.

Among Himber's novel promotions was a traveling bandstand on a flatbed truck, sponsored by Pepsi-Cola. The orchestra used it for free outdoor concerts in the New York City area in the 1960s. It was during one of these concerts in 1966 that Himber suffered a heart attack, dying several hours later.[1][2]

Birth date

Robert Lund writes in Abracadabra in 1966:

"At various times and to various interviewers he claimed to have been born in the years between 1902 and 1909, pick one."


  • To be a good practical joker, you need patience and plenty of it, because there's a time and place for everything, and you have to wait for the right moment and remember that vanity rules the world.


It Takes All Kinds by Maurice Zolotov, New York, Random House, 1952.


  1. Cover Genii 1963 October
  2. Obit Genii, Vol. 31, No. 5, January 1967, RICHARD HIMBER, page 190
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