Las Vegas Legend: The first Strip magician will turn 100; David Copperfield, others pay tribute
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) - Magicians across Las Vegas and beyond are working to honor a 99-year-old living legend, Gloria Dea, who historians have determined was the first magician on the Strip.
Dea is set to turn 100 on August 25.
“I’m only 99 and three-quarters,” Dea reminds anyone, claiming magic keeps one young and living longer.
At the age of 18, Dea made her debut at the El Rancho Hotel’s Roundup Room on May 14, 1941. The young woman had been performing as a child, encouraged to seek the stage by her father.
“I’d come to Las Vegas, I’d go over a hill. And there you see the two casinos,” Dea said, recalling the two properties along the barren landscape before the Strip was even dubbed the Las Vegas Strip.
According to the Nevada State Museum, visitors were offered variety shows and Dea was one of the other acts in an evening series debuting at the El Rancho. Dea “completely mystified the audience with her legerdemain,” wrote a critic on May 15, 1941, for the Las Vegas Evening Review-Journal, praising her act as the hit of the show.
“It was just fun performing here. I was a ‘show off’ or something because I liked the attention. Shame on me,” Dea said, boasting a 21-inch waist for some of her iconic costumes, which she would at times would create and design herself.
Her specialty involved ‘sleight of hand’ illusions, which magician David Copperfield calls quite complex.
“Everything in her magic world was very, very difficult. I love that she has such a passion for this art form, which is not easy, To do sleight of hand, in a show in Vegas as a young, beautiful woman is very, very inspiring,” he said.
Copperfield and other magicians, seeking to document the history and find the first magician on the Strip, learned that Dea was still alive and well in Las Vegas. Magicians such as Bizarro, Anna Rose Einarsen, and Rudy Coby have collected, preserved and restored some of her precious props and costumes, which are close to a century old.
Copperfield secured one of Dea’s costumes for his magic museum, which is a tribute to magicians and the illusion arts across centuries.
“I look back into the past and see all the giants on whose shoulders I stand upon. If it wasn’t for the people who went out there and really made magic important, I wouldn’t be here. And I think what Gloria did was, when she did her, act in the show, and got the best review, the door was open for magicians to keep performing here. So maybe I owe my career to her,” Copperfield said.
“I was one of the pioneers,” Dea said.
Dea is set to hold her 100th birthday at the Westgate Resort and Casino, where plenty of magicians from across the country will be in attendance.
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