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His Story

Leon Mandrake

April 11, 1911 - January 27, 1993

Leon Mandrake, ( Leon Mandrake the magician) was raised in New Westminster, British Columbia. As a child, he witnessed the great magicians of vaudeville and learned magic from some of the greats, including Howard Thurston, Alexander (the Man Who Knows), Chefalo, Doc Verge, Bannister, and Ralph Richards (the Wizard). He attended all the shows he could and visited the magicians, doing jobs for them in return for lessons in magic. He began performing at a very early age, himself, and at the age of eleven took the stage of the Edison Theatre in New Westminster as one of the vaudeville acts. Later, at the age of fourteen, he became the magician for the Moyer's carnival for the Pacific National Exhibition. There he learned fire eating, mind reading, and ventriloquism, and acquired some classic illusions from this carnival.

In 1927, Leon joined the touring magic show of Ralph Richards. Ralph Richards had a large touring magic show which was compared favorably with Thurston's and Blackstone's. Richards had a two hour magic show and ended with mental magic (similar to Alexander's). Leon was with the show for 6 months as it travelled across North America until it disbanded in Winnipeg, Manitoba. By the late 1930s Leon travelled with his own magic show and was accomplished as a ventriloquist as well. He was married to his first wife, Narda, from 1939 until 1946. During this time period, he bought several of Alexander's illusions and had others custom built. Before long, he had a full evening show which criss crossed the United States and Canada. He had sold out performances both in Los Angeles at the Orpheum Theatre and in Las Vegas at the Last Frontier, in the mid 1940s. In 1946, M. C. A. (Music Corporation of America) billed him as one of their biggest box office draws. While on tour, with M.C.A. in 1947 in Chicago, he met and married Velvet (Velvet had been an assistant with the Blackstone show in 1945 for a season). Leon and Velvet did theatre shows and performed in the lavish night clubs of the 1940s and 1950s. Leon and Velvet were the first team to take a full magic show and tailor it to a night club setting, where the performers were surrounded by their audience. It was about this time when Leon added the suit change to the "metamorphosis" trunk escape, changing places instantly with Velvet. While on tour, Leon Mandrake and Company met Phil Davis, the cartoonist for "Mandrake the magician" comic strip, in St. Louis. They became fast friends and corresponded for years. In 1951, Leon bought the Alexander, the Man Who Knows name, and publicity materials through Robert Nelson and occasionally performed as Alexander, the Man Who Knows in night clubs and on television. He had a series of programs entitled "Alexander the Great" which performed out of Portland, Oregon for 36 weeks and the Tri Cities (Richland, Washington) for 20 weeks sponsored by Hollywood Ford in 1955 - 1956.

Some of Mandrake's publicity stunts included a blindfold drive, a challenge box escape or prison escape, hypnotizing a girl to sleep in a department store window and challenging mind reading feats.

Leon and Velvet had four children, who travelled with them. Lon, Ron, Kim, and Jill, were born as the Mandrake troupe travelled across the United States between 1947 and 1958. After spending a year in Alaska (1954), Portland, Oregon (1955-56)and Hawaii (1957), the family moved to Surrey, British Columbia in 1958. While based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Leon and Velvet produced a smaller show and performed mainly on the Pacific Coast of North America, while the children settled down to a continuous schooling in Canada. During this time, Leon and Velvet performed in Night Clubs such as "the Cave" in Vancouver and Amato's (later the Ho Ti), in Portland, Oregon, County Fairs, Service Clubs, Corporate and Trade Shows, Shopping Centers, and Military Clubs.

In 1964, they performed a larger Grandstand Show at the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver for 16 of the 17 day fair (the Beatles replaced them for one day). It was lucky for the show that they didn't perform that day because the crowd rushed the stage after 10 minutes and the Beatles had to leave quickly. With illusions on stage such as the Buzz Saw and the Guillotine, there might have been some severe injuries.

In 1966 Leon Mandrake took a show East to Montreal, Toronto, and Eastern United States. This tour was cut short due to a bleeding ulcer and operation in Dayton, Ohio. Three weeks later he completed his Eastern tour in Toronto and Montreal and returned to British Columbia.

In 1967, Leon and Velvet performed a lengthy tour in Japan, Okinawa, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand and the Phillipines.

On their return to Canada, they soon began performing at University campuses across Canada and the United States. As well as magic, Leon gave performances on mental abilities and confidence men and their methods. They proved to be very popular with the University audiences and these became his main performance venue from 1970 until 1980. The Mandrakes performed at Universities from Victoria, British Columbia to the Memorial University of Newfoundland (Coast to Coast). A favorite with Mandrake was the University of Manitoba's Festival of Life and Learning. During this period of time, Leon Mandrake also performed with son, Ron, for four months as the official magician of Expo 74 in Spokane, Washington.

In 1978, Leon Mandrake was awarded a "Performing Fellowship" from the Academy of Magical Arts in Hollywood, California. The award acknowledged the contribution to the dignity and stature of magic made by Leon and Velvet Mandrake over their lifetime in magic. The Mandrakes performed their last magic show in 1985 for the Chocolate Festival in Victoria, B. C. and were filmed by C. B. C.'s Fifth Estate.