76-year-old Hand Still Quicker Than Eye

April 07, 1994|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Sun Staff Writer

Raymond M. Corbin has a face for deception.

It is thin and pointed with a sinister goatee and piercing eyes. It's the face of Ray-Mond, the Aristocrat of Deception, magician from Westminster who for 70 years has dazzled audiences as diverse as schoolchildren in Carroll County and Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace.

As many as 400 people will pay tribute to Ray-Mond tomorrow at Frock's Sunnybrook Farm in Westminster for a lifetime of community service. But the unflagging, self-promoting showman is renowned in magicians' circles everywhere.

"Anybody in magic knows Ray-Mond," said Ed Schuman, past president of the Society of American Magicians who lives outside Denver, Colo. "With all due respect to Harry Blackstone Jr. and David Copperfield, they don't have the background Ray-Mond has. I don't know anybody else who does."

The internationally famous Mr. Blackstone said of his friend Ray-Mond: "He's one of the grand masters of the vaudeville period."

Ray-Mond traveled in a medicine show, played vaudeville, combined magic and monsters into late-night "ghost shows," performed elaborate illusions, practiced sleight of hand and even wrapped his head in a turban and played the psychic.

"I made a living doing what I loved," said Ray-Mond, 76. "Judges and lawyers have to be in the same office every day. But I had different audiences, different people to relate to. I've seen practically all the wonders of the world and got paid for it.

"My wife would tell me: 'A minister makes 'em religious. A doctor keeps 'em healthy. And you make 'em happy.' "

On stage recently at the Westminster Elks lodge after a dinner honoring the Elks' grand exalted ruler, Ray-Mond displayed a bit of the magic that sustained him for seven decades. He summoned two men to the stage. One was the national leader himself, Chuck Williams, visiting from Plano, Texas.

Mr. Williams felt a squeeze at his wrist, nothing more. Moments later Ray-Mond dangled Mr. Williams' watch before his startled eyes.

"I didn't feel him slip it off," Mr. Williams said later. "I didn't see him get that other guy's billfold either. . . . The fellow was slick."

People have said that about Ray-Mond since he was 6 and put on magic shows in his Westminster backyard, charging 2 cents for ground seats and a nickel for folding chairs. In high school he christened himself Ray-Mond. It sounded exotic.

After graduating from old Westminster High in 1934, he traveled with a medicine show in Florida and then hooked up with a band of roving dancers, jugglers and comedians who performed under circus tents -- "vaudeville under canvas," Ray-Mond calls it.

Back home he played hotels, nightclubs, schools, theaters and fire halls. For a while he became Ramo the psychic, reading minds and gazing into the human psyche.

Surreal experience

Wait a minute. He really read minds?

At this point he springs from his office chair and hands this reporter a piece of paper. Write a date, number or name, he says. He turns his back.

I write a name, fold the paper in quarters and hand it to Ray-Mond. He doesn't look at it. He tears it up and drops it into a trash can.

Concentrate on what you wrote, he says. I repeat it to myself. He stands in front of me, hands folded at his stomach. He closes his eyes.

"A boy," he says. "A boy's name."

I nod.

"He's famous," he says. "An entertainer. A famous entertainer."

I nod.

He unfolds his hands and casts them out to his sides.

He smiles, then says: "Elvis Presley."

That's right.

How'd he do that?

Still smiling, he says: "That's one of our deep, dark secrets."

Then he offers this, but nothing more: "It's mainly psychology. Let's face it. We're all human beings. We do almost the same thing."

He was drafted into the Army in 1942 and then recruited for variety shows entertaining troops during World War II. Ray-Mond was chosen along with four other Army entertainers to perform for the queen at Buckingham Palace.

During the 1950s he put together a late-night "ghost show" of magic and monsters for theaters, including the Hippodrome in Baltimore. Handbills from that era screech:

"On Stage! Have you the Nerve to see Ray-Mond the Monster Maker and his Blood Curdling VOODOO Show! Beautiful Girls Sacrificed to the Blood Lust of Inhuman Creatures. Night-Mare Creatures that come right into the Audience."

The magician caught the eye of a promoter in the 1960s who, Ray-Mond said, "thought I had the potential to take Blackstone's place." This Blackstone was Harry Sr., the master magician then and father of Harry Jr., who performs today.

So Ray-Mond created his most lavish show, two hours of fantastic illusions called "Cavalcade of Mysteries." He bought equipment and hired nine associates. After a 10-week tour of Canada, the promoter said, they'd storm the United States and turn "Ray-Mond" into a household word.

Ray-Mond floated women in the air. He shot them from cannons onstage into boxes above the audience. He stuck blades into them, burned them alive and made them disappear from one trunk into another.

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