Memoirs of a Magician’s Ghost
The Autobiography of John Booth
RAY GOULET: SEEN THROUGH A PRISM
When the S.S.United States cut through the ocean waves as one of the world’s largest steamships, 22 of its trans-Atlantic sailings boasted a magical entertainer on board named Ray Goulet. On a Cunarder crossing in 1969, I believe, he gave a private show for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
On land, still partnered by his lovely wife Ann, and booked by big city eastern agents, he appeared with popular musical stars of the time like Della Reese, Vic Damone and Barbara Mandrell. Even the inimitable Jimmy Durante shared a bill with him.
For five years he toured an illusion show — after a stint with the U.S.O. (United Services Organization in Korea) — using a Herman Hanson-suggested stage name “Raymon and his Mystic Maids.” His professional name gradually evolved into today’s readily remembered “Ray Raymond” on an agent’s advice, because Goulet (French: Goo-lay) was seldom spelled or pronounced correctly. A precocious lad, he was already performing as a high school student in a few nightclubs- by claiming to be older than he was - as “Ray Goulet.”
Life began for him In Cambridge, Massachusetts — a Boston suburb and home of Harvard —January 20, 1930. Except when leaving the area for professional engagements with his wizardry, Ray Goulet, as the chameleon-named gentleman is known to prestigitators, has remained settled in another suburb of Beantown called Watertown. He has transformed an otherwise anonymous community into a mecca for magicians far and wide. This is the thrust of our story.
But, first he had to establish himself as a master of the elusive art. With some boy friends, all about 14 years of age, he wandered into Jack and Jill’s Joke Shop, which I believe was on Bromfield Street in Boston’s heart. The salesman vanished a handkerchief in his fist, sold a pull to the amazed youth, and unwittingly launched him on a lifelong career.
Discovering Holden’s Magic Shop and its manager, Herman Hanson, was a touchstone to greatness. The often dour Hanson, the Swedish-born, successful vaudeville magician, had spent 15 years as understudy and manager of the ‘‘Wonder Show of the Universe” presented by that giant among magicians, Howard Thurston. Upon the latter’s death, Max Holden persuaded Herman to manage a new Boston store. Across the next 25 years, Holden’s became the conjuring center of New England with Hanson inspiring and assisting many magicians like Goulet in their upward climb.
The next key development in Ray’s life undoubtedly was his marriage in 1949 at the age of 19 to Ann Marie Ford. His lifetime partner in magic, love and entrepreneurship, she has played a major participatory role in his popularity and successes.
Within two years after taking up magic as a hobby, he had read about and practiced sleight of hand, ventriloquism, fire-eating and escapes. Small nightclubs booked his manipulative act, preparing him for his military service overseas with the U.S.O.in Korea.
Back home in Watertown, a civilian once more, the magician became a full-time insurance salesman by day and a club date magician three-to-five nights a week for 15 years. Ann worked each day with a phone company and at night in the Goulet show. This regimen, plus still being in demand today as a professional magician explains to questioners how the extensive Goulet properties, collections and interests have been underwritten..
In 1976, he opened his Magic Art Studio, a retail magic depot in a store on Spring Street in Watertown. It appears to be more a residential area than a business center, yet it prospers. Inside are the usual glass counters, countless tricks, wall posters and latest magazines for sale. Ray maintains that this well-stocked store is a hobby although every magician usually wants, at some time in his life, to run a magic store.
The husky, genial and dynamic man couldn’t stand still. So he commandeered the store next door and converted it into a 50-seat theatre for shows and practice. It wasn’t long before Silent Mora Ring 122 of the I..B.M. — which met monthly for some years at 874 Beacon Street in Boston’s historic Second Church during my ministry there — began making the Goulet premises its headquarters.
Meanwhile, the collector’s bug bit Ray savagely. Almost recklessly, it seemed, he began to buy and accumulate fine pieces of apparatus constructed by the master craftsmen of magic. Equipment with associations in conjuring history that make handling it a moving experience descended upon Watertown. Where could he possibly store it all?
Acting decisively, Ray took over the store on the other side of his magic emporium. Today, it is jammed full of so many collectibles that it begins to resemble the once-famous Charles Larson Collection in New York City. Actually, one can see and reach all the items but so much is crowded into the space that the effect of needing a week to examine articles properly is rather overwhelming. It is often called ‘New England’s Only Mini-Museum of Magic.”
Thus, housed in three adjoining stores in Watertown are a shop, small theater, and mini-museum, all dedicated to conjuring. One can understand why this unique arrangement has created a warm and inspirational gathering place. Not only do New England magicians gravitate there, and bask in the friendly presence of Ray Goulet, but prominent professionals, advanced amateurs, and leading collectors seek it out.
A magic mouse might have seen England’s Dr. Eddie Dawes investigating the collectibles, or world-touring John Calvert examining illusionists’ pet equipment, or Norm Nielsen admiring colorful posters, or Father Cyprian leafing through some of the volumes in Goulet’s 6,000-plus book collection.
I have not yet introduced my readers to the residence of Ann and Ray, located about two blocks from the facilities just described. Not risking valuable antiquarian books in the stores themselves, they are shelved, thousands of them, in their comfortable home. Ray went to the public library and borrowed instruction books that enabled him to personally install all the wiring, plumbing and woodwork throughout the house.
A few beautifully framed stone-lithographed posters of eminent magicians are strategically and artistically and placed around the home. One particularly interesting printed poster, 15 inches wide by 48 inches high, announces a November 10, 1883 appearance in London’s Colston Hall of Herr Dobler.
Inasmuch as the distinguished Austrian conjurer of that name and Court Magician to Frederick Wilhelm Ill of Prussia, retired in 1818 and died in 1864, he is not the performer named in this 1883 London poster. In fact, he was an Englishman named William George Smith (1836- 1904) who adopted the stage name Herr Dobler, soon after the famed continental entertainer died. Such are the lore and insights a study of posters can generate.
Our friend has ventured into the exciting realm of publishing by Ray Goulet’s Magic Art Book Company. In 1986, he published Ben Robinson’s TWELVE HAVE DIED – Bullet Catching – The Story and Secrets, which Dr. Dawes and I had the pleasure of editing. It won a Christopher Foundation award. A notable volume appeared in 1990 titled THE GREAT WIZARD OF THE NORTH: John Henry Anderson, by that conjurer’s great-great-grandniece Constance Pole Bayer. A list of historians, scholars and magicians too long to reproduce here worked on the manuscript of this Goulet-inspired hardcover book.
The Magic Art Studio was founded in Watertown at the same time Cesareo Palaez and his group were starting work on their now-famous Le Grand David and his Spectacular Magic Company. As Webster Bull, the skilled writer of the Cabot Theatre productions publicity, has said: “Ray was the first magician to back us, encourage us, bring other magicians to see us — and he doesn’t falter.’’
It is not surprising that the Beverly magic show has presented the Goulets’ collection with one of the 500-pound unique bronze sculptures of the Broomstick illusion being performed by the Le Grand David cast. The other two are on display at Beverly’s Cabot Street theatre and in the Lunds’ American Museum of Magic.
Goulet is also one of the founding fathers of the New England Magic Collectors Association which draws attendees from far and wide bicentennially to Salem, Massachusetts. As convention chairman, he supervises overall the intricacies of coordinating this important event.
Finally, as worthy successor to Herman Hanson in so many ways, Ray has been the producer and director for many years of New England’s biggest annual show, the Magicale in Boston, sponsored by the S.A.M. Almost every top magician in magic has appeared on it at some time. When the curtain descended on its 50th annual show recently, Ray retired from its leadership.
Denizens of the six states in the northeastern corner of the U.S.A. may well look upon Watertown, Massachusetts as New England’s Home of Magic — all because of Ann and Ray Goulet.