Raymond Louis Walston, 81, veteran who devoted his life to magic and clowning

June 11, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Raymond Louis Walston, who lost his heart to the Big Top as a child growing up in East Baltimore and spent the rest of his life as a magician and clown bringing smiles and laughs to children of all ages, died of lung cancer June 4 at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. He was 81 and had lived in Essex and earlier in Fort Howard.

Mr. Walston, who was born in Baltimore and raised on North Potomac Street, was a graduate of Patterson Park High School. He served with the 80th Infantry in Europe during World War II, where he attained the rank of sergeant and was decorated with a Purple Heart.

After being discharged from the Army in 1946, he returned to Baltimore and went to work as a produce manager for the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., from which he retired in 1976.

But rather than fresh produce and fruit, it was a lifelong interest in circuses, carnivals, clowns and magic that came to define Mr. Walston's life as a clown and magician.

"Every time Ringling Brothers came to town, he'd run away with the circus, and then his parents would have to go and bring him home," said his daughter-in-law, Alice Walston.

He began teaching himself magic when he was 9 years old - Houdini was a role model - and he got to know Harry Blackstone, the great magician and illusionist.

In 1968, Mr. Walston established Funhouse Magic Shop on Belnord Avenue, and later moved the business to Belair Road. He moved the shop to Eastern Avenue in 1993, where the business remained until he sold it and retired in 2003.

"Fake canine vomit, cans of peanut brittle that house spring-loaded cloth snakes, decks of trick playing cards, plastic vampire teeth, a calculator that zaps anyone who uses it with a mild electric shock - did I mention the self-inflating whoopee cushions? - you can find all your joke, prank, gag, magic and clown needs at Mr. Lou's," Sun columnist Dan Rodricks wrote two years ago.

"The walls of the back of the shop are covered with framed photographs of many of the magicians and clowns Mr. Lou called customers and colleagues at one time, including Earl Canapp, the Senile Sorcerer, and Freddie Smelz, who taught Mr. Lou the craft of magic," he wrote.

He was a founder of Clowns of America Inc. in the late 1960s, and when performing was known as "Loubo the Clown."

"They think you just put on some lipstick. But you have to be a mimic, an actor, a makeup artist and costume designer, too. Clowning is an art, like playing a violin. It takes years of practice," Mr. Walston said in a 1973 Sun Magazine profile.

"He was the best teacher of clown makeup, and a clown taught makeup by Lou Walston was one of perfection. Show business is full of characters, and he was one of them," said Denny Haney, owner of Denny & Lee Magic Studio in Essex.

"He knew all the old-timers and could talk it up and tell stories of the people he had met and known through the years. He also had plenty of wisecracks and colorful expressions we call `Louisms,'" said Mr. Haney whose stage name is Denny Lee.

Mr. Walston was married for 50 years to the former Catherine Debelius, who died in 1996.

Services were held Wednesday.

Survivors include a son, Raymond L. Walston of Perry Hall; two daughters, Cathy A. DePaula of Woodlawn and Sherry L. Murray of Eastpoint; and six grandchildren. Another son, Garry M. Walston, died in 2000.

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