Lee Grabel was born in Portland Oregon March 12, 1919. The spark of magic was kindled in his heart when he was a boy he witnessed a performance of a remarkable old conjuror, Professor Turtle. To this day Grabel remembers the magical fantasies Turtle created.
Among his mysteries, Turtle took an oriental fan and fanning his empty hand a snowstorm of white confetti was created. Suddenly amongst the confetti a snow-white dove made its appearance. The white dove circled the stage and returned to Turtle's forefinger. He then placed it in a cage. More paper snow fluttered in the air, grabbing a handful the professor squeezed it into a paper ball, which when bounced on the fan transformed into an egg. The egg was broken in a glass; it was a real egg.
Turtle then took a sheet of newspaper, folded it in half and poured the broken egg into the newspaper. Looking out at the audience with a smile, the folded paper opened out flat. The egg shells, yoke and all had vanished.
Turtle was an artistic performer and the aura of fantasy he created was an enchantment that started Grabel on his way to become a master of magic.
These early years in the life of a budding magician were the Great Depression years, and the need for money was keen in the mind of everyone. Young Grabel was no exception and he honestly states that making money motivated him towards making magic. During those years, Lee worked five shows a week for $5.00 a show. It was good money for those times as his father worked ten hours a day, six days a week for only $18.00. For a fifteen year old to make $25.00 a week in the 30's was mighty good. The money he earned made a deep impression on a young man that magic was the road to riches.
In 1931 Lee presented his first one-hour program which was sponsored by The Boy Scouts of America. In 1936 Lee advanced to win the coveted award for sleight-of-hand presented by the Pacific Coast Association of Magicians at the convention in Seattle. His reputation quickly grew as an accomplished magician.
Success followed success and in 1940 Grabel was engaged as a performer-lecturer by the University of California. He demonstrated to the students aspects of the psychology of deception. His appearances on the Berkeley campus lead to an initial touring with his show to other Western Colleges. During this period he also engaged as a featured attraction at the San Francisco World's Fair on Treasure Island.
World War II came and Grabel was inducted into the army in 1942. His talents as a magician proved a boon to Military Special Services and he was sent to many bases to entertain. It was while playing at an army base in Southern California that he met a beautiful librarian. A swift courtship followed and in 1944 Lee married the lovely lady. She became an indispensable part of Lee's show, and became known as Helene.
In 1944 Lee was sent to General Headquarters in the South Pacific to organize soldier shows in that area. While in New Guinea he ran into Arnold Furst, who likewise was in the war theater in those battling years of the 40's. Arnold was touring for U.S.O. The two magicians began a long friendship that has culminated in the publishing of this book, The Magic and Illusions of Lee Grabel.
Arnold Furst tells of the time he was riding in a jeep with the famous motion picture producer, Elia Kazan who was in the south Pacific working on a program to enhance soldier shows. Kazan told Arnold of how fortunate he had been in discovering one of the greatest magicians he had ever seen and had enlisted his aid to join in military show production. The magician Kazan mentioned turned out to be Lee Grabel.
Following the war years, in 1946, Grabel started in earnest building his show into the theatrical institution it eventually became.
In the 1950's, after Blackstone Sr.'s retirement, he became recognized as America's No. 1 Magician. With his great show he toured coast to coast across America with both artistic and financial success. Variety Magazine described him as one of the theaters outstanding personalities and a master illusionist.
In 1954, Grabel was chosen by the Great Dante as his successor. In 1958, his magician peers commemorating his recognition as America's #1 magician presented Grabel with a gold medallion.
Quotes from many great names in magic have acclaimed Grabel's mastery of magic and illusions.
"Lee, as Thurston once said to me, 'Harry, I need you more than you need me. You can take it from there.' I feel confident your billing should be Dante presents Danton." (Dante 1954)
"Lee Grabel is the legitimate successor to Dante." (Moi-Yo-Miller, Dante's featured Assistant)
"Lee Grabel has the most spectacular magic show on the road today." (Percy Abbott 1955)
"Lee Grabel was the reason I stayed in Magic", (Channing Pollock)
"Lee Grabel was my inspiration." (Andre Kole)
In 1959, at the height of his popularity, Grabel suddenly announced his retirement from professional magic and left the stage for a quiet life on his ranch in California. As he puts it, he wanted to unwind from the grinding life on the road to give Helene, along with their young daughter, Cindy, an opportunity to live a normal life. A second daughter, Kate, was born to Lee and Helene in 1963. Kate was one of the troupe during the '77 tour. There were also investments derived from the success of the big show that required attention. Lee's "quiet life" soon expanded to include a variety of business endeavors centered on the east side of San Francisco Bay.
The "second career" was the management of the investments he had made from the success of his shows. He is still active in such work, but the call of magic has always been great. Thus, the illusions that had made the name of Lee Grabel synonymous with the best in show business were dusted off, and what Lee call "Selections From the Big Show" took a twenty-week tour of the cities of the Far West in 1977. Lee referred to it as his "Farewell Tour" as personal business commitments demanded that he return to the Bay Area.
But, as for a "Farewell Tour," that will never be, for the Master of Magicians, like magic itself, never quit. And, beyond question, Lee Grabel will one of these days be out on the road again.
For more from this work and other historical sources on Lee Grabel, please visit the
section of this site or view Mr. Grabel's lineage in the
ROYAL DYNASTY OF MAGIC