Friday, 3 August 2018

Deveen, a Magician Firmly of the Past.

Magicians' acts can become dated with time, but few more than David Deveen's. Deveen had a successful and long career on stage and screen. He appears to have used the same act throughout his career, generally billed as "Deveen and his Two New York Blondes".


Deveen used the draw of his "New York" or sometimes "American" blondes for most of his career. Objectifying female assistants in this way is just one of the factors which dates Deveen's act, sadly it is still done by many backward looking magicians working today. The above illustration is in a programme for a performance in Southport in 1939. Four years earlier Deveen was performing in Liverpool.


In this case Deveen is far from the most problematic act on the bill. This poster is the earliest item I have relating to a Deveen performance but he must have been performing at least five years earlier as his first magic book was published in 1929.

There's a good reason we don't see acts like Deveen's now though, he was a cigarette manipulator. His whole act, seemingly for his whole magic career, was performing with Cigarettes and Cigars.


This publicity photo is from a programme for the British Ring of the International Brotherhood of Magician's conference of 1948, held in Bournemouth. Deveen performed at many conferences for the IBM through the 1930s and into the 1950s.

In 1954 he shared the bill with many greats of the time at the IBM conference in Brighton.


Aside from magic club events, Deveen was touring constantly around the variety theatres of the UK for at least thirty years. When looking through late variety programmes for magicians his is one of the names that comes up most often. Below is a typical billing for Deveen, though a rare example of his name being featured on the cover of a programme. This 1948 programme from Preston's Palace Theatre illustrates the smaller, declining theatres Deveen occupied for the majority of his career.


Early in his career he was billed at the "Gay Deceiver", then later the "Distinguished Deceiver" or occasionally the "Debonair Deceiver". This was almost always followed with some variant of "...and his [two] New York Blondes.  He performed on television at least four times in the late 1940s after which his assistants were often billed as his "Television Blondes". Despite how many bills they appeared on I have failed to find any of his assistants' names.


Unusually, Deveen used masks and blindfolds when on stage. Initially he used a quite sinister peaked blindfold (shown at the end of this article) and later an open eyed mask in the style of Zorro's mask (as above, c.1953). The smoke, cape and mask would probably have made his act more dramatic than most of his contemporary manipulators.

Deveen didn't keep his secrets to himself though, he published two books on cigarette manipulation. The first, "Cigarette Magic", was published in 1929 by Davenports. It was hugely popular for many years and reprinted multiple times.


"Cigarette Magic" was followed in 1932 by "Expert Cigarette Magic", published by Edward Bagshawe. Unlike the earlier line drawings of the Davenports publication, this was photographically illustrated with dozens of pictures of Deveen performing his sleights. It also sold well and was reprinted at least twice. It doesn't appear to have sold as many as the earlier publication however, probably due to the higher price such a well printed book would have been.

As the variety theatres closed, or converted to cinemas, Deveen continued to find work. He seems to have moved into holiday resorts, sometimes working with his wife Ivy. In 1968 they were running games for children at a Butlin's camp in Cliftonville billed as Uncle David and Auntie Ivy (the programme for this can be found in Peter Lane's article here).


In some ways this seems a sad decline for the successful stage magician of the early 1930s above. On the other hand he was still in work beyond the closure of the variety theatres and he still performed magic. There is a record of him employed as a magician for the summer season of a small holiday camp near Filey in 1971. Between 1971 and his death in 1989 I haven't found any sign of him performing, hopefully he enjoyed a good retirement.

In the next post I'm going to stay on this theme and explore the equipment used by cigarette manipulators.