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Gloria Dea, Las Vegas magician who disappeared into obscurity, dies at 100

Gloria Dea, the first magician to perform on what became the Las Vegas Strip and then fade into obscurity after a brief career as a Hollywood starlet, died March 18 at a Las Vegas nursing home. She was 100 years old.

The cause was coronary heart disease, according to LaNae Jenkins, one of her caretakers.

In 1941, Ms. Dea was 19 when she appeared on stage at El Rancho Vegas, Las Vegas’ first hotel and casino on an almost desolate stretch of road now lined with towering gambling and entertainment shows, including Caesars Palace and the Bellagio.

Floating playing cards and causing several billiard balls to disappear, Ms. Dea “completely mystified the public with her sleight of hand,” the Las Vegas Review-Journal said in a review. “His final trick, when a card jumps from a handkerchief to a wedged orange, was the hit of the show.”

Between her magic numbers, she danced to popular songs of the time, notably reminiscent of the house band’s “You Couldn’t Be Cuter” number.

Decades later, she recounted her first performance with a hint of nostalgia for a time when Las Vegas performances were intimate and lacked pyrotechnics, lions or acrobats.

“It was a great play,” she told the Review-Journal. “You had the audience seated, then a floor-to-ceiling glass in the back, and on the other side was the pool.”

Mrs. Dea continued to perform in Las Vegas until her departure for Hollywood, appearing as a dancer in the musical “Mexicana” (1945), playing the role of a princess opposite Buster Crabbe in the series “King of the Congo” (1952). ), and playing a mourner in filmmaker Ed Wood’s “Plan 9 From Outer Space” (1957), widely regarded as the worst film of all time.

She quickly quit her performing career, slipping into a life of almost total anonymity selling insurance, then cars at a Chevrolet dealership.

Then, in 2020, Ms. Dea was rediscovered by remarkable happenstance. Magician and hypnotist AnnaRose Einarsen tried on a skirt at a Las Vegas vintage clothing store. The store owner told Einarsen that it once belonged to a magician turned actress.

“I literally stopped and was like, ‘What? ‘” Einarsen said in an interview with Connie Boyd, host of a YouTube channel about women in magic.

The store owner had acquired a treasure trove of clothes from Mrs. Dea, as well as her collection of magic books, tricks and promotional posters. Einarsen bought it all up and set out to find out more about her, eventually connecting with illusionist David Cooperfield, who, despite running a museum of magic, had never heard of her.

Copperfield has rallied the magical community to honor him. In October 2021, he invited her to one of his shows at the MGM Grand. She received a standing ovation. Copperfield and other magicians, including Penn & Teller’s Teller, got together to celebrate her 100th birthday with her last August.

“Gloria was amazing,” Copperfield told the Review-Journal after her death. “She was charming, funny and endearing. And in Vegas, as a young magician, she started it all. It was an honor to know her. »

Gloria Metzner was born in Oakland, California on August 25, 1922. Her mother was a homemaker and her father was a wallpaper and paint salesman who also performed magic under the name “The Great Leo”.

“Dad pulled a gold coin out of my ear when I was four, and straight away I became interested in magic,” she told the San Francisco Examiner in 1934.

She began performing at age 7, with the Oakland Tribune dubbing her the “Mysterious Mite” and describing her stage presence as that of an “old trouper”.

“She makes a coin disappear in a glass of water,” the newspaper reports, “takes pigeons in hats, makes half dollars disappear and reappear, turns a box of matches into a playing card and vice versa, goes around the magic wand and takes balls of wool on a tight string without breaking the string.

Later, she went by a stage name, Gloria Dea.

Mrs. Dea married Sam Anzalone, an automobile sales manager, in 1975. He died in 2022. His previous marriages to John Statham, Hal Borne and Jack Shulem ended in divorce. The list of survivors was not available.

Copperfield was due to induct Ms. Dea into the UNLV College of Fine Arts Hall of Fame this week. The event will go ahead as planned, university officials said.

“I look back in the past and see all the giants on whose shoulders I stand,” Copperfield told FOX5 in Las Vegas shortly before Ms. Dea’s 100th birthday. “So maybe I owe him my career.”


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