Del Ray: America’s Foremost
Bill Spooner, one of the men responsible for the popular Del Ray book, starts his presentation with an early video of Del performing. It is 1951; Del is on Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town. It is an early version of what would become his acclaimed act. Bill needlessly tells us to watch closely. We do, but because it is Del Ray. Del has some problems with one effect. After his set, Ed Sullivan practically exposes the vanishing birdcage. What a dick.
The presentation Bill is about to give is the one Del never wanted to happen. Del was one of the most secretive of all magicians. I say this realizing that there is a long tradition of magician’s wanted their secrets buried with them. Often, our art would be less without the knowledge of them. I also realize my life is often been about an obsession with uncovering secret knowledge.
Bill is about to show the inner workings of Del’s self-created electronic props. It starts with a little geek porn. There are pictures of his workshop. Bill shows us photo after photo of bins full of switches, motors, wires, diodes, transistors, and various other technical bric-a-brac.
I guess if I were more technically minded, a Radio Shack guy, I might be more interested. The display continues with pictures of the guts of Del’s tables and props. There is a rudimentary explanation of what we see, enough to hint at its workings, not enough to build it. Most of it is just a show of what his props looked like dissected.
Bill is a good presenter, but I feel like I am attending an autopsy. If you’ve seen the videos of Del Ray performing on youtube, if you’ve been amazed by them like I have, you realize this is not the magic of Del.
Del Ray’s real magic was his charming personality and his incredible timing. The electronics were invisible. The props created miracles, but were mostly inert innocents or, in the case of his bird, almost alive. We magicians so rarely get fooled, but Del’s magic did just that. An exhilarating experience.
There is an old E.B. White quote about comedy that can apply, “Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.”
I Can Still See Me
There is a picture on my desk of Celeste Evans, age unknown. In it she could be 20 or 50. It doesn’t matter. She is a dark and alluring, beautiful, exotic. She is Ava Gardner with doves. Every time I look at the picture I think of the femme fatales from the pulp novels I love, “the kind of woman men want…but shouldn’t have.” A woman who is seductive, strong, and likely to end up on the back end of a .45 looking for revenge.
Now approaching 80 years, her walk is a little unsteady, but she still is that strong, opinionated, feisty woman out looking for revenge. With the help of her “chip off the block” daughter, Evanna, she will tell us the story of her life in magic.
Her revenge comes at the back end of a silk handkerchief and a short routine of knot tricks. At the age of nine she was shown the trick, but she was told she could never be a magician because she was a girl. She’s been opening with that trick ever since.
She developed a sex-tinged, glamorous style. Truly a va-va-voom girl, she worked in sky high heels and low dipped evening gowns. It made the appearance of her doves all the more amazing from the skin tight costumes. Where did she hide them? When pressed in the interview, she said her dove loads were made by Victoria’s Secret.
With those pin-up girl looks, she was the desire of every magician and a serious threat. She was up to the task of fighting off their jealousies. In a male dominated profession often rife with misogyny, she competed on her own terms. She toughened up by years of working the carnival circuit. Independent and adventurous, she then toured around the world for the USO and UN, using up 3 passports in ten years. In one harrowing story had her coming under fire and being held prisoner on a plane in the Belgian Congo.
As the entertainment scene changed, Celeste expanded the act by adding patter routines to survive and even appeared over 30 times on the Bozo show. A young Evanna sometimes played the random audience volunteer after she was admonished repeatedly, “Don’t call me mommy!”
Celeste took over her late husband’s theatrical management company in 1984 and retired in 2003.
The audience warmly applauded Celeste at the end of the presentation. I held my breath wondering if they would rise and give her the standing ovation she deserved. In a deft move, Evanna rose from her seat on stage to applaud her mother. The audience responds in kind.
Later, as I sit with Celeste and Evanna, I am reminded as performers how we live for validation by our audiences. Celeste is a live wire, ready to take on the world, electrified by the standing ovation she received. I am glad I am there to enjoy it.
There is one thing that is missing. Most of the audience had never seen Celeste perform. Like the Kodell presentation, they need to get a video of her performing her famous act. Then, the audience would not need Evanna’s prompting.
Celeste has a biography available. Visit her website www.celesteevansmagic.com to see pictures, read more stories, and order that book.