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The International Brotherhood of Magicians

18 Aug

Lee Grabel Dies at Age 96

Category: Broken Wand   Posted by: C. DENNIS SCHICK


Lee Grabel was a real estate broker, landlord, a long term resident of Alamo, and a famous professional magician with the off-stage ability to manifest something out of nothing. His life stretched from the small town theaters of middle America, to the bustling real estate business of early Alamo, and to the inner circles of Las Vegas, where he was recognized as part of a royal dynasty of magicians.  He was 96.


He was born in Portland Oregon in 1919. The son of Grace and Stuart Grabeel from Missouri, and brother to his younger sibling, Buck.  His life might have turned out quite different if he had not seen at age 8 a magician perform. He was so intrigued, he started learning magic tricks, and by age 12 was performing magic shows for kids older than he.  At age 16 he left Portland for San Francisco, where he played night clubs and prestigious ladies' and men’s clubs.  During World War II he was stationed in Palm Springs, where he met his wife Helen Foster, from Okarche, Oklahoma, who he married after a short courtship. He shipped off to the south pacific soon after. During the war he worked for special services doing shows and helping the soldiers organize talent shows at military bases.  


When he returned, he and Helen traveled throughout middle America in a big illusion show called the Broadway Magical Mystery Extravaganza, in a steady schedule of grueling one-nighters. They carried the show in a big truck, and had a seven person crew, and played nine months each year.  It was the last traveling show of its kind in the country in the 1950s. 


His signature trick was a floating piano, a real spinet that rose up in the air and turned in a circle while being played by a town volunteer.  He also shot Helen from a cannon, and although this was just an illusion, (she was never really shot from a cannon) he christened her the Human Cannon Ball and called her that jokingly and with affection for years.  In addition to his big illusions, Lee Grabel was also known for his sleight of hand, rapport with his audiences, a famous original card move called the one-handed-card-production, and his card and coin routines. He was also known for his amazing pipe routine that included the production of a two-foot calabash pipe, which had aroused considerable praise from his brethren.  While on the road in 1952, they had in their first daughter, Cindy, who was raised on the road starting at six months. The couple bought a house in little Alamo to spend their summers in, and the family continued to work in the magic show until 1958 when early television forced them off the road. 


They settled in Alamo and Lee had to find a new career at age 42.  One day a neighbor suggested he become a real estate broker, and within a few months he had a brokerage license and an office on Danville Blvd in Alamo. Lee Grabel Realty was a successful agency for almost twenty years. They sold the most expensive house in Alamo for $125,000 and other offices sent them bottles of champagne. He was known for his fair and ethical business practices with staff and clients. As a broker he built houses and sold them.  He worked hard helping his sales people, closing deals, building houses, dealing with tenants and patching leaky roofs at his rental properties. He belonged to the Danville Masonic Lodge and Danville Rotary. In 1962 they had their second daughter, Katy. 


In 1977 he missed his big magic show and returned to the road and played the Pacific Northwest, Idaho and California.  In 1986 he was featured in the book “The Magic and Illusions of Lee Grabel” where he announced that he was chosen to be initiated into a Royal Dynasty of Magicians in 1954, by world renowned Dante, the magician.  (The dynasty is a lineage of famous magicians that began in 1898.)   


The following years were filled with awards and recognition, including the receipt of the Academy of Magical Arts Master’s Fellowship in 1995. He also performed his coin and card routines at many magic conventions billed as a “Nostalgic Return to the Golden Age of Magic.”  In 1994, as part of the dynasty tradition, he choose Vegas headliner Lance Burton as his “successor” in the dynasty.  Burton included him in a mural of famous dynasty magicians in his theater lobby at the Monte Carlo. 


Lee’s last years were filled with the jokes and friendships and passions that propelled him throughout his life. He was very active in the Society of American Magicians' Diablo Assembly 112. He loved going to Las Vegas to hobnob with Lance Burton and other magicians. He was married to Helen for 71 years and often said, “I could never have done it without you.” His family is grateful for the incredible adventure he took them on, and his spirit and humor will be missed. He is survived by wife, Helen; daughters, Cindy and Katy; sons in laws, Tony and Edward; and grandchildren: Leah, Kristen and Shawn; great grandson Gabe; Niece Nancy Grabeel Adolphson; Nephew Randy Grabeel, and great nieces and nephews. 


In lieu of flowers the family asks that donations be made to the charity of their choice. Friends are invited to a memorial. For details and to RSVP please contact the family at 



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