12 February 2012

[Guest post] Remembering Ron Leonard (1923-1998)

[Edited:

I had the pleasure of making Mr. Leonard's acquantaince through Toronto's Hat and Rabbit club.  He was always a true gentleman, the likes of which are rare these days.  As I sat through his Broken Wand ceremony, I was deeply moved by the impact he had on the lives around him.  I attended an art showing of his, in his memory, and was awestruck by his talent and passion for painting.
   
There is no official tribute site for Mr. Leonard.  Thank you Magic Demon for putting this together.
 
The following is a guest post from an author who wishes to be known as The Magic Demon.

--
REMEMBERING RON LEONARD (1923-1998)
by The Magic Demon

When I was a kid the first Canadian magician I ever saw on TV was probably the late Toronto-based Ron Leonard. Ron was tall, lanky, and silver or white haired with a friendly wide grin. He had an engaging style of presentation which was both kind of sophisticated and kind of goofy at the same time. I thought he was terrific. Although Ron performed magic on and off for most of his life he is probably best remembered for his numerous appearances during the 1960s and 1970s (and rerun for years thereafter) on the daily CFTO/CTV children's show "Uncle Bobby". The British-born host Bobby Ash always appeared during Ron's performances on the show, playing the part of his seemingly dimwitted stooge and creating a fun chemistry between them. Ron's weekly fast-paced appearances featured the classics of magic performed with energetic mock vaudeville-like gestures and intonations. Ron and Bobby really did seem to enjoy themselves which is why they were such great fun to watch working together.

Ask any grown up Canadian kid of a certain age today about the magician on Uncle Bobby's show. They will probably at least remember Ron's trademark explanation for all his minor miracles, "It's maaaaaaaaaagic!" Those words, repeatedly sung (merrily) during the course of a telecast by one or both of them (badly), would serve to comedically punctuate the climax of any particular routine or effect.

Ron was a former President and Life Member of Toronto's IBM Ring 17. His name appears as a young founding member on its original IBM Ring Charter issued in 1941. His brother, the late Canadian ventriloquist Cy Leonard, was also a regular weekly visitor to the Uncle Bobby Show over the years.
 
I remember writing a fan letter to Ron in care of the Uncle Bobby show and getting back an autographed 8x10 b&w photograph and a very kind handwritten reply encouraging me in the hobby of magic. In today's digital world full of instantaneous tweets and e-mails it's perhaps hard to imagine the sheer joy of receiving a snailmailed letter like that after anxiously waiting several weeks. Even after all these years I can still recall that he generously provided details about Ring 17 (which I was too young at the time to join) as well as what was then Toronto's only magic retail outlet, The Arcade Magic & Novelty Shop (now long vanished.)
 
If you do a search on line on Ron Leonard today you are more likely to find references to his much sought-after artwork than his magic. His magic seems to have been only a part-time profession for most of his life which he juggled alongside his other avocation (painting) and a full-time day job.
 
Among the few notable magic-related on line links about Ron that I've found to date:

Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Ron Leonard in person he seemed to be a genuinely nice man as well as being a talented and very entertaining magician.

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5 comments:

  1. I recall that one of the very first magicians I ever saw - live - was Ron Leonard, at a large theater somewhere in Toronto. I sat in the very front row, the music played, and Ron stepped out fanning and manipulating cards. Then he paused for applause, riffled through the deck until he was told to stop, and extracted that card, its face toward him. He pointed at a man on the aisle and asked him to name a card - "any card." The gentleman did, and Ron flipped the card around - it was correct! Only backstage in his dressing-room, did he reveal the secret. It had been a total fluke! His usual line, he told me, was to simply reply to the card named, with "Absolutely correct, sir!" - without revealing the face of the card. He was only right about once every 52 guesses, but I'd been lucky to witness such a moment...

    Handsome, well-dressed, well-spoken and elegant, Ron Leonard was one of my early heroes, though he was only five years my senior. In fact, when I was on my own in Toronto as a teen, I responded to an ad offering a room for rent, only to find that it was being rented out by Ron's mother, a spare room that she had available! It was a couple of months before that lady noticed my interest in the conjuring profession, and proudly announced the identity of her son...! I was appropriately floored by the coincidence.

    Ron, along with Johnny Giordmaine, Ross Bertram, Dai Vernon, Raymond Lowe, Howard Lyons, Bruce Posgate, Tom Ransom, Sid Lorraine, and our spiritual father, Harry Smith, saw me through the tortures of a top-change, multiplying billiard balls, and various rope-ties until I was able to head off to the USA as a pro. I'll never forget these chaps, all of whom made it possible for me to enjoy a long and happy career as a performer...

    James (The Amazing) Randi.


    [via The Magic Demon]

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  2. James, thank you very much for making the time to put some thoughts about Mr. Leonard together to share.

    (And thank you to The Magic Demon for making this happen!)

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  3. From Matt DiSero:

    Ron was so nice to me as a kid at the magic club...when I got to be on a show with him for the first time it was one of the biggest thrills of my career at that time. He was so nice, and generous.... I miss him.


    [Copied with permission from Facebook.]

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  4. From Jeff Pinksy:

    I have fond memories of Ron Leonard. I was born in 1966. Thus I really only have my childhood memories during the decade of the 1970s.

    Of course for those of us who were bitten by the wonderful magic 'bug' in Ontario Ron Leonard was an important figure.

    How exciting it was to learn at the beginning of the Uncle Bobby Show that magic guest Ron Leonard was on. If memory serves me right he was not on all of the shows. That I learned many years later was due to his strong business acumen; busy with many professional performances and a gifted commercial painter.

    In an era when there were about 12 television stations - one being in French - anything to do with magic appearing on television was exciting. Can you imagine the first Henning special? Or seeing for the first time Slydini on the Dick Cavett Show?

    What was for me particularly wonderful about seeing Mr. Leonard perform on the Uncle Bobby Show was that he was using at times props which I might be able to afford if I saved my money. I could not dream of buying something I saw Doug Henning perform. And of course until I studied 'Magic of Slydini' I had no idea how Slydini's effects were done.

    It was sort of a video catalogue for a magic shop well before there was any video! Watch Ron Leonard... then decide if I like the trick... then look it up in the (printed) magic catalogue and find out the price.

    Years later after I took over Browser's Den of Magic I would have the pleasure of meeting Mr. Leonard. He was quite different than his TV personality. And why wouldn't he? On the show he was performing for little children at home.

    But he was always pleasant when he would visit even with his poor hearing and health beginning to fail. One could tell it was affecting his enjoyment of life but at least he still had some 'magic' in him.

    Jeff Pinsky
    Browser's Den of Magic
    Toronto, Canada
    February 16, 2012


    [With thanks to The Magic Demon for passing this along.]

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  5. More from Matt DiSero:

    I just found a old VHS tape of a hat and rabbit club show I was on with Ron from 1996... he was the emcee. Black Tux, Red cummerbund. White Hair. It was later in his life...but he was still great. He did the production of the oranges and lots of great emcee bits. Man he's fun to watch. I miss him. Jeff Pinsky is right...he was an amazing business man... I STILL to this day, every day, use bits of professional advice he gave me.

    He had an older style of performing, but people loved him.
    What stuck me most after watching this video was, that most of the acts on the show were younger " up and coming" acts... the new guys... all slick with their tricks and style of performing....but when you really watch the tape, you could see the audience still liked Ron best. Man he was funny. A zillion one liners... Just goes to show ya... no substitute for a solid, worked in act.

    For me, Ron embodied something you don't see much of anymore. A guy who liked to PERFORM. Not just come up with tricks and moves to sell...but he liked his act. He impressed upon me the importance of always working on it, and always loving to perform. Its good advice. You don't hear it much anymore.... I wonder what Ron, or Herb Morrisey, or Len Cooper would think of the state of acts of late?

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