Del Ray: The Greatest Magician You've Never Heard Of!
If you're under the age of thirty, here's someone you've probably never heard of. But that's about to change. Del Ray was born Delbert Raymond Petrosky in 1925 in the quiet little town of Hubbard, Ohio. At the age of three, he entered an orphanage in the nearby city of Warren. It was there, long before thoughts of puberty ever entered his mind, that he saw a professional magician for the first time ever. And he was hooked.
His ingenuity manifested itself early on with a trick we're all familiar with... the penny in the bag in the match box. Del couldn't afford to actually buy the trick, but when he asked the clerk at a local general store to demonstrate the effect for him, he noticed the slide. He returned several days later and showed the salesman his own version of the effect, complete with additional boxes and a slew of rubber bands. His presentation involved removing the nest of boxes already bound with the rubber bands from his pocket while the slide remained concealed in his pants leg. The clerk was so impressed that he gave him the trick for free.
Del ordered every magic catalog imaginable. His first mail order purchase, and the only item he would ever buy from a catalog, was Howard Thurston's book entitled 50 Card Tricks. He studied the tome like a new convert studies the Bible and learned front and back palming and his first card rise, an effect he would continue to hone throughout the course of his career.
Del left the orphanage at age fifteen and went to live with his grandfather back in Hubbard. It wasn't long before he'd put his first act together. He began with comedy magic but quickly abandoned the laughs for silent card and cigarette manipulations. Before long, he was a steady fixture in many of the finer nightclubs in that region.
In 1942, Del entered the Navy. During that time he met Harry Blackstone Sr. and the two became fast friends. Upon his discharge, he joined the Blackstone show in Canada and toured with him for two seasons. But Del was an independent thinker and soon found himself back at work on the club circuit. In Pittsburgh, he reacquainted himself with mortician Ralph Schugar, a fellow magician he'd known since the Blackstone days. Schugar was not only a devout magic enthusiast and a skilled performer himself but he was also filthy rich. His home boasted many uncommon and unique attributes, including a remarkable magic collection, an extensive library and an elegantly built theater wing and stage. It was in that very theater that Del spent countless hours perfecting his act and transforming his extraordinary visions into reality. Schugar would routinely film the rehearsals, a costly extravagance at the time, allowing Del to experiment with angles and scrutinize each and every move until it was flawless.
Del Ray was clearly ahead of his time. His stage and close-up acts became legendary among magic's elite. He fiercely guarded and rarely shared his methods with anyone, including and perhaps especially with, his fellow magicians. He would no longer allow anyone to film or tape his routines. I'm sure many an astute magician has acquired a headache over the years trying to duplicate one of his many baffling and completely original effects. His timing and misdirection were impeccable, his technique superb. His grasp of audience psychology was as amazing as his magic and his gentle sense of humor left many an audience member leaving one of his shows actually liking the person they just saw.
Along the way, Del acquired many memorable stage companions as well including a gymnastic frog, a singing bird, an imbibing teddy bear and an adventuresome mouse named Little Willie. He became a top attraction at trade shows and corporate events throughout the continental United States. No doubt his fame might very well have become global if it were not for his refusal to fly or to have his images recorded. The respected trade publication Daily Variety, in reviewing one of his performances, said he literally "left the audience gasping". Talent recognizes talent. He was Bob Hope's favorite magician.
Del Ray died in 2003 at the age of 78. Now that you two have been formally introduced, I'm sure he's someone you'll never want to forget.
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Friday, 11 December 2009
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