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Del Ray: The Greatest Magician You've Never Heard Of!

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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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Our valuable member John Randall has been with us since Thursday, 28 May 2009.

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Comments  

 
+1 #5 Michael Easler 2011-09-24 02:14
I recommend the book, "Del Ray: America's Foremost" for further info about this amazing man. I had the pleasure of seeing him work at the Atlanta Harvest of Magic in about 1983. I can truly say his was the most astounding act I have ever personally witnessed, and I have seen magicians by the score. The book I mentioned also has a DVD with some of his performances.
 
 
0 #4 Anthony Petrosky 2010-08-17 06:06
Quoting veegates:
Great article John,
I have a few dvds of DelRay. He was truly fun to watch.
Lot's of magnetics, remotes and very clever gadgets.
You mentioned his cigarette manipulations. I think anyone who smokes should take a peek at Dels' videos. A few of his last performances, you could tell the COPD had him in a very tight grip. It was so painful to watch him. He never seemed to slow down, but it was obvious he was in discomfort. Even with his condition, he still performed cigarette tricks. ????? I don't understand
Again, I still think of him as a great performer.
Very smooth and personable!
RIP



veegates,
I see you posted that you have some videos of Del Ray. I am his nephew and we have some of his videos but are always looking for more. I poseted a comment in reply to Johns article from January which you can read but if there is anyway that you can send us some videos of Del Ray I would really appreciate it. Let me know if that is something you can do. I may have some that you never seen also that I may be able to send to you. You seem very knowledgeable about my unlce and I would love to talk some more to you. Please respond and maybe we can exhange e-mails somehow and discuss this subject further. Hope to hear from you soon.

Mr. A. Petrosky
 
 
+1 #3 Anthony Petrosky 2010-08-17 05:57
I wanted to say that I enjoyed your article very much!!

Del Ray was my unlce and I grew up watching his magic. I couldnt wait for any holiday that the family got together for just to see Del Ray perform. We were the only family that the kids were more excited on Christmas about seeing Del Ray perform then we were about presents.
The Stories he told and the pictures we seen and have are really amazing.
He was Bob Hopes favorite magician and he even performed for Bob Hope at a private birthday party that Dean Martin threw for him. We have some pictures from that nite and even though I wasnt there im sure it was nothing short of amazing.
When he died he left most of his old props to my grandfather(who was his brother) which have since then been left to me. I have a few videos of Del Ray performing but am looking for more even tho there are not alot out there. If anyone has any I would appreciate it if you could contact me and possibly send them to me. My Family would really appreciate it.

My name is Anthony and my last name well you can probably guess that seeing how it is the same as thee above mentioned.

Thank You and to all those who have said kind things about my unlce I thank you also. Del Ray lived his life for his magic and enjoyed entertaining more then anything in this world and I know he would appreciate all the kind things that were said about him and his magic.

P.S. My uncle really perfected his slight of hand with cards while running the tables at all the local card games. He could tell you when every major company in Warren, including the police station, got paid. If he lost a hand he lost it on purpose so to not raise suspicion. As a young man he made some promises to his brother and sister to get them out of the orphanage and did whatever he could to do that. Of Course running the tables at some local card games might be something that some people frown upon but he did what he had to do to help his family. His family was the only thing he cared about more then his magic. Which most people dont know but one of the reasons he joined the navy was because his younger brother Albert joined and he felt an obligation to look after him. I could go one for days about Del Ray because he truely was a great man and he will be missed very much but I better stop there.
He will always be the greatest Ever Magician In My Eyes

Anthony Petrosky: Nephew of
(Delbert Raymond Petrosky)a.k.a. The Great Del Ray
 
 
0 #2 Matthew Field 2009-12-12 09:43
Many thanks for this. Like other magicians for whom no (legitimate) videos exist, like Slydini, Del Ray is unknown to most magicians, especially those under the age of 40.

Matt Field
 
 
-1 #1 Kevin Wright 2009-12-11 19:44
Great article John,
I have a few dvds of DelRay. He was truly fun to watch.
Lot's of magnetics, remotes and very clever gadgets.
You mentioned his cigarette manipulations. I think anyone who smokes should take a peek at Dels' videos. A few of his last performances, you could tell the COPD had him in a very tight grip. It was so painful to watch him. He never seemed to slow down, but it was obvious he was in discomfort. Even with his condition, he still performed cigarette tricks. ????? I don't understand
Again, I still think of him as a great performer.
Very smooth and personable!
RIP
 
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