Leon Mandrake

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Leon Mandrake
Leon Mandrake-portrait.jpg
Biographical information
Born: April 11, 1911
Died: January 27, 1993
Nationality: Mini usa.gif American
Occupation: Stage Magician
Website: The Leon Mandrake
Memorial Web Page

Leon Mandrake the Magician was an Italian-American magician, mentalist, illusionist, escapologist, ventriloquist and stunt performer.

Life and career

Early life

John Arthur Leon Giglio was born[1] in San Juan (Washington) on April 11, 1911. He was the only child of Antonio Arthur Giglio[footnotes 1] and Harriet Florence Wagner[footnotes 2]. When Leon was about one years old his parents were divorced[2] and his mother brought him to New Westminster, British Columbia on the West Coast of Canada to live with his aunt Mildred[3][4].

Leon began[3] his magic career in 1922, giving vaudeville performances in New Westminster (British Columbia), only 11 years old. According to Magicpedia[5] Leon used the stagename "Leon Wagner" in his early career.

The vaudeville was made up of a series of separate, unrelated acts grouped together on a common bill. The various olio acts were normally introduced by a MC (master of ceremonies) and could include musical performances by popular and classical musicians, singers, dancers, comedians, trained animals, magicians, strongmen, female and male impersonators, acrobats, illustrated songs, jugglers, one-act plays or scenes from plays, athletes, lecturing celebrities, ventriloquist and on.

At age 16 he travelled across North America with the Ralph Richards touring magic show[3]. When the tour ended in 1927 he settled[2] in Oak Harbor (Island County, Washington) and continued to give vaudeville performances on the west coast of the US. According to "The History of Metropolitian Vancouver" [6] Leon was billed as "Leon", and later as "Leon the Ventriloquist".

In 1941 Leon married[7] the 21 years old dancer Ruby Olive Burleson (née Armour)[footnotes 3] in Maricopa (Arizona) on August 13.

From November 1941 Leon toured with the 20 years old dancer Lola R Douglas under their stagenames Leon the Magician and Princess Lola.

In 1942, while working at the Cherry-Ho Club in Phoenix (Arizona), Leon lost[8] his props and equipment, including his ventriloquist dummies, in a fire. He continued[9] with a new show working as MC and magician, while Lola danced. Leon and Lola married[10] in King (Washington) on 20 October, 1942.

Mandrake the Magician and Princess Narda

Spring 1943 they were headliners in Oakland (California) with their new stagenames Mandrake the Magician and Princess Narda.

Leon legally changed[11] his surname to Mandrake in 1944, when he prepared a melodrama vaudeville with the road show edition of "The Drunkard"[footnotes 4]. In "The Drunkard" Lola played the role figure Agnes Dowton (Mad Agnes), she was one of Leon's assisting magis and she had her own act, "Princess Narda and her Doves". The featured act was described[12] as:

 "The tiny white birds, nestling on her head and chest, are fluttering on the backs of her hands, do her bidding as she performs several tupes og Egyptian and oriental dances, and they fly out over the audiece and return on cue. Back drops, costly and filled with color, and a system of neon lighting which made the doves dots of brilliant hue, .."

When Baldy, a white sacred Javanese dove, died on stage in Tucson Leon said[13] the dove was the last of seven trained about six years ago when the act was new. He said that the doves seldom breed in captivity so his extra supply of understudies came from the Far East some time ago.

Leon headlined his own West Coast tour in 1945 billed as "Mandrake the Magician and his entire Company" and "Mandrake the Magician and his Magic Revue". Although Leon and Lola got their divorce decree[14][15] in April both Mandrake and Narda were headlined in their "Gremlin Gambols of 1946" tour, billed in larger cities in states such as Utha, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota and Iowa.

In December 1948 Lola[footnotes 5] married the magician Roy Benson (born Edward Emerson Ford McQuaid). The marriage was short-lived and after two years of separation they were divorced[16] in 1952. Lola continued to perform with her dove dance as "Princess Narda" in the years up to 1956.

Leon and Velvet Mandrake

In 1947 Leon was headlined as Leon Mandrake (the Magician) and Company, and was assisted by Velvet (Louise Marie) Salerno [Born: October 6, 1924 / Died: February 28, 2019], Lucille and (Princess) Nadja. Leon and Velvet married[17] on tour in Kansas City on July 24, 1947. In October Leon Mandrake was billed two weeks at the Club Continental in the Jefferson Hotel (St. Louis), the hometown of both Lee Falk and Phil Davis.

During the fifties, Leon Mandrake had bought a supply of unused stage posters of another magician, "Alexander, The Man Who Knows," (Claude Alexander Conlin), material previously sold by the latter retired from the stage; in order to make use of those posters he sometimes also toured under the name of "Alexander the Great, the Man who Knows" - especially in a Pacific Northwest tour. He also performed occasionally as Alexander in night clubs and on a televion series of programs, entitled "Alexander the Great", which was performed out of Portland, Oregon for 36 weeks and Richland, Washington for 20 weeks in 1955 - 1956.

He was also billed with Prinsess Nara (Velvet ?) in 1953 but later mainly headlighted as Leon Mandrake & Velvet in the following years.

Leon Mandrake also met[footnotes 6] Phil Davis and they corresponded for years.

The Last Years

In the second part of the fifties, the show was less successful and Leon only participated to road shows. Between the latest shows in the 1970s, he gave lectures on the occult, mysticism and Eastern philosophy at different universities in British Columbia.

On March 11, 1978, Leon Mandrake was awarded the "Performing Fellowship at the Academy of the Magical Arts" (The World Famous Hollywood The Magic Castle) for his contribution to the magic acts made by Leon and Velvet Mandrake. He performed his last magic show in 1985, after a 62-year career in show business.

He died of emphysema at Surrey Memorial Hospital (City of Surrey, British Columbia) on January 27, 1993. A wake was held at the old Edison Theater in New Westminster, now the Paramount Theater, the first place Leon Mandrake worked as a child magician.

On August 28, 2016, Leon Mandrake's home, located at the corner of Grosvenor Road and Kindersley Drive in Surrey, British Columbia, was engulfed in flame and destroyed. His son, Lon, has stated that during his childhood the home contained secret rooms and passages. In its September 21, 2016 Minutes, the Surrey Heritage Advisory Commission notes that "due to the significant damage sustained by the fire, and concerns to public safety, the City of Surrey Building Division issued a Demolition Permit". Unfortunately the site was in a derelict condition prior to the fire, so the staff noted that although the building cannot be documented that there might be an opportunity to celebrate Leon Mandrake through some kind of "place-making" initiative such as installing an embedded image in the sidewalk nearby. However at the present time, no commemorative plaque has yet been installed.

In 2021 an exhibit about Leon Mandrake has been organized by the Museum of Surrey (from February 17 until May 16, 2021 / Museum location: 17710 56A Avenue, British Columbia, Canada). see https://www.surrey.ca/news-events/news/experience-real-mandrake-magician-museum-of-surrey and https://www.surrey.ca/news-events/news/magic-days-coming-museum-of-surrey about Lon Mandrake performances for his father exhibit. Two news articles : https://vancouversun.com/news/mandrake-the-magician-exhibit-celebrates-world-famous-illusionists-surrey-and-new-westminster-roots (Vancouver News) and https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/mandrake-exhibit-surrey-1.5926418 (CBC News article). An virtual tour is available at: https://my.matterport.com/show/?m=tiWXk7imoke, and on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNuiPesN7UU&ab_channel=ExitThrutheGiftShop.

Photos from Studio Romaine

In the forties, the studio of the photographer Romaine (adress: 220 Jones Street, San Francisco, California) was quite noticeably known for its portraits of movies actors and actresses as well as of various entertainers or stage performers, among whom Leon Mandrake and his assistants.

Phil Davis Tribute drawing and letter


  1. born in Italy by Felix and Lorena Giglio.
  2. daughter of John Wagner and Rebecca Wagner née Mc Donald. From her first marriage she had her son Alfred Carlyle Jackson.
  3. She was the daughter of William Fenton Armour (1889-1948) and Maude E Armour (née Hill, 1894-1979). Ruby married Eugene Debs Burleson late December 1936. He was a dancer and instructor in Phoenix. She had been dancing from about 1933. Their son, Gary Dean Burleson (1939-2012) was born on October 8, 1939. They was devorced short time after their son was born.
  4. a famous play which had been running 12 tears in Los Angeles, four years in New York and two years in San Francisco
  5. Also named as Lola Wilson
  6. in 1955 ?


  1. Washington, Birth Records, 1870-1935
  2. 2.0 2.1 Border Crossings from Canada to U.S., 1895-1960 (May 25, 1939)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Wikipedia: Leon Mandrake
  4. 1921 Census of Canada
  5. MagicPedia: Richards the Wizard
  6. Vancouver History
  7. Arizona, County Marriage Records, 1865-1972
  8. "Cherry-Ho Club Destroyed by Fire", Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Arizona) 21 May 1942, page 8.
  9. "Show Box Vodvil Delights Big Crowds", The Seattle Star (Seattle, Washington), 21 July 1942, page 7.
  10. Washington, Marriage Records, 1854-2013
  11. Watson, Patrick, "The Canadians: Biographies of a Nation", Volumer 1-3. McArthur, 2003, 439.
  12. Smith, George Porter, "Magic in Big-Time Style Presented by Mandrake & Company", Freeport Journal-Standard (Freeport, Illinois), 10 Oct 1946, Page 6.
  13. "Magician's Dove Act Ended After Bird Actor Dies", Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Arizona), 31 Oct 1944, p 6.
  14. Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada) 23 Apr 1946, Page 3.
  15. Reno Gazette-Journal (Reno, Nevada) 24 Apr 1946, Page 8.
  16. "Annulment Recommended", The Kingston Daily Freeman (Kingston, New York), 20 Nov 1952, Page 17.
  17. Missouri, Marriage Records, 1805-2002

External links

Reference Books

The Conjurors' Magazine / Genii: Articles and covers with Leon Mandrake

  • The Conjurors' Magazine - selected as the official organ for the Magician's Guild of America - was a monthly periodical devoted to magic and magicians and created in 1945 before becoming Genii, The Conjurors Magazine.

Other Magazines: Covers with Leon Mandrake