Lon Mandrake brings magic to KPU TALK event

Stories of Leon Mandrake the magician were shared, and a magic show performed at recent TALK event

Lon Mandrake gave a presentation for a KPU TALK event on Feb. 10. (Kyler Emerson)

Lon Mandrake gave a presentation for a KPU TALK event on Feb. 10. (Kyler Emerson)

Lon Mandrake was born and raised in a world of magic and wonder through his father, Leon Mandrake the magician from New Westminster, B.C. 

Growing up, Lon, his mother, and his siblings travelled with Leon across the United States and Canada for Leon’s magic shows at theatres, fairs, and nightclubs in the 1940s and 50s, performing everything from card tricks and a box escape to driving blindfolded. 

“My father had a large travelling magic show and we were born while he was touring. As kids, we watched his shows and other magicians … so we saw a lot of magic,” Lon says. 

“I became a very curious child,” he says. “And that guided me towards a science career.” 

Lon was a science teacher, a president of the B.C. Science Teachers’ Association, and has been a performing magician for over 30 years. He has received several awards over his career, including the Outstanding Science Teacher Award from the Optical Society of North America and the Distinguished Service to Science Education Award from the teachers’ association. 

“[Leon] wouldn’t tell me how any of his [tricks] were done unless I really wanted to sit down and learn. When I took science in high school, I found that was a way to solve mysteries as well. So, I moved into a science career mainly because of my interest from watching magic shows,” Lon says. 

On Feb. 10 as a part of KPU’s Third Age Learning at Kwantlen (TALK) program, Lon and his wife, Linda, gave a presentation about Leon’s life, Lon’s experience growing up around magic shows, and performed one themselves.  

Whereas his father started magic performances at a young age, Lon did his first show at age 38. Some of the students Lon taught at the time asked him why he didn’t do magic like Leon, and after he dreamt about performing magic that night, he performed some the next class. 

“It really blew their minds because everything had worked really well,” Lon said. “They dropped a sledgehammer on me and I was doing various kinds of mental effects where you read their minds.”

He’s been performing ever since. 

In 2018, Lon and his wife Linda collaborated together to write the book The Real Mandrake the Magician, a biography that describes Leon’s career through over 100 photos and text of behind the scenes stories. 

“He had so many wonderful photos and stories and I thought, ‘This isn’t going to go any farther than our children and I’d like my grandchildren or great grandchildren to know their heritage,” Linda said. 

“There are other books about Mandrake [but] they are a chronological story. [What] we wanted was his personality and sense of humour and amazing stories of what went wrong,” she said. 

Linda read a few selected excerpts from the book, including one about Leon frightening a past girlfriend of Lon’s by making a scarf float across their living room, and she shared some of Leon’s wise words. 

“‘Always count your change, and ‘the smarter you think you are, the more vulnerable you are,’” she read. 

For students that missed Lon’s presentation and magic show, he performs at Science World each year over the Christmas break. 

The TALK program is free for all KPU students, and is available to people 50 years or older who purchase the annual $10 membership and pay a small fee per course.