User:Thoughtmaster/Ray Stanley Sugden
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The Curtain Rises
Ray Stanley Sugden performed his successful magic show from Pittsburgh to New York. By 1921, the act included his wife Helen and two sons, Ray Jr. and Edmonds. He continued using the name “Sugden – England’s Court Magician” until 1925 when he signed a ten-year contract with Howard Thurston. Sugden agreed to perform under the auspices of Thurston, under the name "Tampa” - England's Court Magician. Sugden was forced to put money in the show, since Thurston was seemingly "short" of funds. Sugden (now Tampa) would perform a few of his own smaller effects and large-scale illusions Thurston supplied. Thurston had already enlisted another extension of his show in 1923, with his employee/ builder, Harry August Jansen. Thurston had Jansen adopt the name Dante the Magician and sent him off touring the illusion show as the second show unit of Thurston.
Tampa - England's Court Magician
In a very short time, Sugden's contract proved to be Thurston's undoing. Even though Dante had left the United States for his European tour in May of 1927, Thurston began to see his engagements drop off. To the dismay of Thurston, Tampa's show was receiving rave reviews. To prevent any further loss, Thurston had the Sugden's show booked further away from his own performances. He sent Sugden out west to Washington, California, and Utah on the Pantages Theater circuit. In 1927,while Sugden was performing in large theaters, Al Jolson was appearing on film in "The Jazz Singer". With Jolson's "talkie", the days of vaudeville became numbered. Theater audiences became more anxious to see this new form of entertainment, than to watch live performers. As this new competition grew in popularity, the economy (or lack there of) of the United States was showing its darker side. In 1929, The Depression devastating everyone by the scores. Theaters were becoming more known for their bread and soup lines, than for entertainment. Sugden did all he could just to make ends meet. He thought his agreement with Thurston assured him of work, but he found that he was more or less of a thorn instead. Thurston considered canceling their ten year contract and then he would withdraw his decision. By June of 1930, Tampa's show appeared in Charleston, West Virginia. The show was presented under a tent and sponsored by fraternal groups like the Elks Club. After this brief appearance, the show was packed up and stored in Ray's hometown of Pittsburgh. The show may had closed, but that didn't stop Sugden from wanting to keep the name Tampa - England's Court Magician alive.
Tampa - Radio Magician
With the show in storage, Sugden knew he needed to come up with an idea. In the last months of 1930, Sugden was contracted to perform on the local radio station, WCAE in Pittsburgh. His sponsor was the Hankey Baking Company of McKees Rock, Pennsylvania. It was home to Farm Boy Bread and great their pies. At eight o'clock each night, Sugden and the Farm Baker Orchestra would present a show filled with magic, music, stories, and fun for a half-hour. Sugden included his own creations of sound effects and his inventive scripts that would transport the listening audience to distant lands without leaving their homes each night. Sugden continued to make appearances at markets and schools when he wasn’t “traveling” via the airwaves to Egypt or other far away places. Once his contract with Hankey ended, he continued to promote his radio show with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Included in the advertisements, was a method for children to join Tampa’s Post-Gazette Magic Circle. All a child would need to do was to get their neighbors to subscribe to the newspaper and they would receive membership and a chest filled with magic effects from Tampa. For a limited time, Tampa’s "Keep em’ Guessing” would appear in the paper. The reader could learn a trick and the method and perform it for their friends and family. As 1933 came to an end so, did the radio engagements. All this time, Sugden continued to try to convince Thurston to cancel their contract. Financially, it could work out better for both parties,
Rest at Last
Finally Thurston agreed to the possibility of ending their contract in May of 1935. As settlement, Sugden would receive some money and the show. Everything seemed to be in order for Sugden to be freed of Thurston’s constant false promises. Then in October of 1935 Thurston had a stroke while at a restaurant across from the theater where he was performing. He took time off to recover along with his newlywed wife in Florida. In April of 1936, Howard Thurston passed away. Once again, Sugden had to begin his uphill attempts to settle the contract now with the estate of Thurston. After nearly a year of discussions, Sugden along with his lawyers and the estate’s lawyers came to a settlement. In February 1937, Ray Sugden was finally released from his contract and awarded the rights of the Tampa Show. This included the complete use and ownership to the name, “Tampa – England’s Court Magician”. Unfortunately, the settlement was bittersweet. The illusion show had been stored since 1930 and the old vaudeville theaters now were called movie theaters. Sugden thought that by possibly refurbishing the show and replacing himself as lead performer, the show might have a chance of being a success again. He would feature his son, Ray Jr. as “Tampa II”. Sugden found in short order that there wasn’t a theater owner interested in a show of that size anymore. The golden age of theater had slipped away with time. The last months of Sugden’s life was mostly spent at home in Lawrenceville, the suburb of Pittsburgh and on July 20, 1939 he passed away. Ray Sugden as laid to rest in the Allegheny Cemetery just blocks away from his home. He was an inventor of magic and also electrical ideas. His legacy continues to influence magicians and others today. There wasn't a question in the public's mind in the 1920's, when Ray Sugden performed, he was magic.
- Frank, Gary R. - (Sugden the Magician - The Wonder Show of the Century) - 2007
- Frank, Gary R. - (Tampa - England's Court Magician) - 2002
- Olson, Robert E. (The Complete Life of Howard Franklin Thurston) - 1993
- Temple, Phil - (Dante - The Devil Himself) - 1991
- Price, David - (MAGIC - A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theater) - 1985
- Christopher, Milbourne (The Illustrated History of Magic) - 1973
Variety - December 28, 1927