By Dick Oakes
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Le Roy Loewner
Le Roy S. "The King" Loewner, "Master of Magic, was also considered, in his time, "one of the last of the great magicians." He was born in Harrisonburg, Virginia, in 1892.
Le Roy liked changing tears into smiles. He was a versatile actor and citizen of versatility. Nine months of each year, Le Roy and his company toured the principal cities of our two great American Continents, dispensing entertainment and pleasure wherever they went. Le Roy deemed it a great pleasure to be able to take his show into communities where the populace knew him only by his reputation. His greatest pleasure seemed to come when he had the opportunity to entertain the disabled soldiers and veterans in our hospitals, the sick, the crippled, the underprivileged children, and orphans.
Le Roy knew what entertainment meant to those children and soldiers. It was during World War I, while lying on his sick bed in an Army Hospital, that he began to look upon magic as a serious art and not mere pastime or hobby. Even though he had presented many programs before the first world war, his greatest thrill up to that time was when he earned a few dollars from his part-time profession.
While in the hospital, he heard the cries and the occasional laughter coming from the children's ward, where the offspring of soldiers were being treated for their illnesses. Le Roy's love for children and his natural curiosity led him across the hall into the ward occupied by these kiddies. The next day, he found his way again into the ward, where he heard the voices of these children. This time, throwing off his rind of an officer to the winds and carrying a few tricks under his robe instead of bars on his shoulders, he presented his first free performance, his only pay being the satisfaction of seeing tears change into smiles and smiles into broad grins and bursts of laughter.
In 1941, when the Japanese made that infamous attack on Pearl Harbor, Le Roy again offered his services as a soldier to his country. And again, he found himself in the uniform of an officer, reporting for duty in the Army. While serving in the field for four years, he kept his fingers and wits nimble by entertaining the members of his company and battalion whenever the opportunity arose. Then, he was again sent to a General Hospital and, while there, dispensed his entertainment while recuperating.
During the interim between the two World Wars and when resting from his annual visitations to the principal cities, Le Roy found time to portray three characters on the air. His favorite, and perhaps best-known character, was Old Saint Nick. Each year, he could be heard over the American Broadcasting Company's affiliate station WTON. His characterization of Uncle Eph, the old negro philosopher and Farm Editor, was a regular feature over the National Broadcasting Company's affiliate station WSVA.
No matter where Le Roy was, he was always ready and eager to carry joy into the wards of hospitals, and homes for the sick, orphans, crippled, and underprivileged. The manager of the Le Roy show said that during his annual tours, Le Roy presented more shows to bring happiness to thousands without a fee than he presented in theatres, auditoriums, or clubs.
In addition to being a versatile actor, magician, radio broadcaster, and entertainer, Le Roy was also a citizen of versatility. He found the time to take active partipation in the management of a three-hundred-sixty-acre turkey, poultry, and cattle ranch in the famous Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. There, he raised ten thousand Rhode Island Reds, five thousand Borad-Brested Bronze Turkeys, a herd of Black Angus and Whitefaced Herford cattle, fifty hogs, and twenty-seven pure-bred horses.
Le Roy also took an active part in his City and County Chambers of Commerce, the American Legion, and the Forty and Eight (of which he was a past grand officer of La Societe des Quarante Hommes et Huit Chevaux, Department de Virginie).
All work and no play is an old adage, and Le Roy always found the time away from his work to play. He was an ardent sportsman and a member of the Rawley Springs Hunt Club with its headquarters at Le Roy's Hunting Lodge in Rawley Springs, Virginia. He was one of the most enthusiastic members of the club, even though his magic did not enable him to bring back a bear or a white-tail buck each season.
Le Roy's Hunting Lodge was in a setting of tall pines with the sloping mountain as a background and a clear mountain trout stream in the foreground. There he had a work shop and miniature stage where he built and rehearsed his tricks and illusions. The inside of the Lodge looked like a natural history museum. He had hung many trophies of both large and small game animals hunted in the native mountains and far-away places. Overhead, hanging from the balcony, one could see beautiful specimens of elk, moose, deer, big-horn sheep, and mountain goats. On the floor were skin-rugs of moose, Alaskan bear, and black bear. The walls were adorned with mounted foxes, bob-tail cats, baby bears, porcupines, armadillas, squirrels, and other small animals. Two large glass cases were filled with more than a hundred specimens of native North American birds, including quail, wild turkey, ruffed grouse, and other game birds. On the walls and huge fireplace were firearms dating back to Colonial Days to the more modern types used in the two World Wars. Curios, gathered from all parts of the world, were displayed in minature display cases.
During the latter years of his life, scores of alumni of the schools and colleges made annual treks to "The Cabin in the Pines," as Le Roy's Hunting Lodge was familiarly called. Groups composed of student councils, senior classes, dramatic clubs, camps, Y.M.C.A. groups, Y.W.C.A. groups, and members of the faculty of the American University, Bridgewater College, Madison College, Otterbein College, Shenandoah College, and many other schools and colleges in Virginia, nearby states, and the District of Columbia, carried with them happy memories of their visit to Rawley Springs. At the Lodge, they held their retreats and made plans for their campus and school activities, or they studied and rehearsed their plays, or were simply weekend vacationists getting a few hours rest from their daily school routines. It was on those occasions that Le Roy brought out his new magic tricks and illusions and performed them before his willing but critical audiences. He listened to their comments and suggestions and was able to perfect his every trick, to preform them with confidence, ease, and dexerity before he assembled his complete company to begin his annual tours of theatres, schools, and clubs in villages, towns, and principal cities.
To see Le Roy transform an empty stage into an "Enchanted Garden of Flowers," or to bring forth the proverbial magic rabbit as no other magician at the time did, or to catch live temple doves in the air and cause them to vanish as mysteriously as they appeared, kept his audiences in wonderment.
Le Roy would invite two ladies onto the stage, where the audience would witness the miracle performed by them while Le Roy remained in the audience to give them instuctions, caused people to believe that he was endowed with supernatural powers (which he was always quick to deny). Several small children would be invited to the stage by "The King" to participate in the performance of several of his most famous tricks which not only mystified the children, but held the audience in joyable suspense as the tiny tots performed.
People admired the gentlemanly manner in which Le Roy treated his committees. He thrilled them with "The Olde Clock Shoppe," in which he and the audience had "an alarming good time." Audiences were chilled when they saw his "Operation Chamber," then shook with laughter when he visably removed a portion of a volunteer's arm. Many of his tricks were designed for mirth and presented in a genteel manner for a refined audience of amused folk. Le Roy delighted audiences with his performance and entertainment in tricks, illusions, and magical mysteries from the drawing of the first curtain to the final goodnight.
The "Master of Magic" most spectacular performance in his long professional career as an actor-magician was his full-stage, two-hour presentation of magic, mystery, and mirth--a truly magical extravaganza, streamlined for imaginative enjoyment. His mastery of magic was evident in the numerous scenes depicting unique, eye-appealing, baffling, and mystifying tricks and illusions that kept his audiences thrilled. It was no wonder that Le Roy was acclaimed "The King." His master showmanship, ease and skill in which he performed the most difficult tricks, his pleasing personality and gentlemanly manner were what one would expect from a great magician and showman.
Unlike the magicians of ancient times whose skills were regarded as being produced by the powers of the demons or gods and inspired by the greater or lesser powers through superstitious beliefs in supernatural manifestations, Le Roy depended solely upon his skill as an actor-magician to take his audience into the land of make-believe.
Le Roy's nimble fingers, quick wit, ability to deceive and misdirect his audiences, perfected down through the years of his professional experience, made him one of the few of the remaining great magicians of his time.
Le Roy died on January 26, 1953, and is buried in Beth El Cemetery, Harrisonburg, Virginia. His tombstone reads, "He helped advance the American ideal of liberty to all the oppressed peoples of the earth."
Transcribed and augmented by Le Roy's nephew by marriage, Dick Oakes, from a Souvenir Program that Le Roy sent to him as a Christmas card when Dick was a young lad. Le Roy applied a Christmas sticker to the front of the program and inscribed it "Sincerely, Le Roy." The program includes a Gallery of photos, four pages of Tricks and their solutions for his younger audience members to enable them to "Win Friends with Magic," his Programme in two acts, and an Advertisement for the "Greatest Magical Show Ever Presented Outside the Metropolitan Areas." Le Roy was also a student of the Magic of Yesteryear. Le Roy bequeathed his stock of tricks to Richard Miller III of Hapeville, Georgia.