Ray Goulet: Renaissance Man

Jun15 cover

Uncle Ray. That’s what I call him. For me, it’s a sign of respect. If I refer to an older, non-relative as “Uncle,” or “Aunt,” you can be sure they are a special person who has impacted my life in a positive way. Ray Goulet is at the top of that very short list.

In my little world, living in a southern suburb of Boston, I was a typical kid, who thought he knew all he needed to know about magic by reading the only magic book in the public library, getting magic sets for birthdays, and ordering from Marshall Brodien. When I was fourteen, my little bubble popped when I was introduced to a (now nonexistent) magic shop in Boston; the following year I was employed as an “Elf” at that establishment and I worked there for the next eleven years. In 1984, a magician friend I had known for a few months said, “Hey, let’s go to Ray Goulet’s Magic Art Studio.” My response was a quick, positive, “Sure. What’s a ‘Magic Art Studio?’ And who is Ray Goulet?” My world was about to get rocked.

Kellar's Egyptian Hall

05 coverWith the arrival of the S.A.M. national convention this July, Philadelphia becomes the center of the magic universe. This is nothing new for the City of Brotherly Love; it has hosted the convention on three other occasions: 1931, 1968, and 1972. It is also a city with a rich magical history that dates to colonial times.

In the mid 1700s, Philadelphian Jacob Meyer began performing magic; Meyer eventually adopted the stage name Philadelphus Philadelphia and rose to fame both here and abroad. He traveled extensively throughout Europe and performed before the Empress Catherine and Sultan Mustafa III at Constantinople. In the late 1800s, Alexander Herrmann had a theater in Philadelphia for many years. Thurston created some of his early illusions at nearby Willow Grove Park; his life story was published by Dorrance Publishing in the city. Walter Gibson, ghostwriter for Thurston, Houdini, and Blackstone, was born in Philly and lived here. Frederick Eugene Powell, second Dean of the S.A.M., lived and worked here. Philadelphia also boasts five S.A.M. national presidents: James Wobensmith, Richard Gustafson, Bradley Jacobs, Roy Snyder, and Mike Miller. And, of course we have Assembly 4, one of the organization’s earliest.

This only touches on some of the city’s rich magical history; the topic of this article features another famous magician whom many almost consider a Philadelphia boy – Harry Kellar – who owned and operated his own magic theater that helped establish him as America’s favorite magician. In fact, he had two magic theaters in the city.

A Fine Feathered Assistant

Apr15 cover

I’m pleased to be one of only two magic assistants to be featured as the cover subject in M-U-M in recent memory. The other is Pam Thompson (March 2013), whose husband Johnny stubbornly refuses to upgrade from doves to chickens. It’s his loss; as you’re about to read, chickens are much better traveling companions.

Magicians are famous for putting young chicks in their acts, so it should come as no surprise that I started working (starring) in Mike Caveney’s act when I was about six months old. Over the years I have visited most of the fifty states; together we had some amazing adventures. Like the time I got thrown out of the New York Statler Hotel and had to live for two weeks in a dressing room at Madison Square Garden. Seems that dead chickens are more than welcome in New York, but live chickens within the city limits are strictly verboten. Apparently the Waldorf Astoria was not aware of this arcane law, because I once spent a lovely night in that famous hostelry. Of course, our room’s level of luxury never really mattered to me because I always traveled with my own private quarters. As a home away from home, it was really quite nice, having everything I needed for the week or so that I was away from my coop. I know that some people pitied me for being cooped up in a small cage, but these same people would then return to their tiny apartments, never making the connection that, pound for pound, I had far more living space than they did.

The Gustafsons

Mar15 cover

One of the pleasures of living in the Philadelphia area is the opportunity to frequently meet and enjoy the company of Dick and Joanne Gustafson, two of the most talented and busy magical entertainers in the country. They are a fixture at monthly meetings of James C. Wobensmith Assembly 4, where they unselfishly give of their time and talent to teach magic, discuss stage deportment and presentation, and help members improve their magic.

Giving unselfishly to improve magic is nothing new to Gustafson, who served as national president of the S.A.M. in 1973/74. Prior to that, he was editor of M-U-M, where he applied his considerable creative talents. Locally, he has served as president of Assembly 4 and I.B.M. Ring 6.

Another benefit of living near this talented couple is the opportunity to see their annual Amazing World of Magic illusion show, which has appeared at the Broadway Theatre in Pitman, New Jersey, for the past five years. For those of us who missed seeing Blackstone Sr. or Thurston, it’s an opportunity to enjoy a classic two-hour illusion show in a fully restored, 1,000-seat vaudeville theater that has operated continuously since it opened in May 1926.
This latest version utilized more than five tons of props, including fourteen illusions drawn from their warehouse. As in years past, they filled the theater over the busy holiday season, performing two shows daily from December 26-29. The show was a traditional mix of flashy illusions and intimate “in-one” presentations that are the gems of their act developed over the past forty-eight years.