I was there when Gloria Dea received her Special Fellowship from the Academy of Magical Arts in 2022, but she was not there. She accepted via video from Las Vegas, as she had just turned 100 the previous month and is no longer quite the jetsetter she used to be. She is the first magician to appear on the Las Vegas Strip, performing at El Rancho Vegas in 1941, the very first resort on the strip. In my husband’s book The Greatest Adventure, he credits Carl Ballantine as the first magician to perform in Vegas, but Gloria beat him by 15 years. So, to be more accurate, Carl was actually the first magician with lots of pockets to perform in Vegas.
Gloria, who was born Gloria Metzner, became interested in magic at 5 1/2 (the Las Vegas Review-Journal cites the age of 4, but I am going with earlier accounts that were more contemporary). She spent six months learning before doing her first show at the age of 6.
There are many accounts of her performing in her earliest years, both in the press and in magic magazines. At the age of 7, she was performing fairly simple tricks, such as vanishing a half dollar in a glass of water, vanishing wand, and grandmother’s necklace. By age 11 her magic started to be more sophisticated, with silk productions and the earliest record I have found of her performing with birds and livestock, which she later became known for.
At age 12 she performed at the PCAM convention. By 16 she was working regularly. In a Paging the Ladies column from a 1938 issue of Genii, she is quoted about her studying science in school to use scientific principles to create new magic effects. Girl after my own heart.
In a 1935 book by Loyd E. Jones titled Meet the Boys of the Pacific Coast, there are no boys covered in it, just men, but there is a girl- 13 year old Gloria Metzner. The book is about magicians on the Pacific Coast and the many magic organizations there at the time. The book has a large photo of Gloria holding a dove and a wand. She was an honorary member of the Sacramento Capital Magic Circle. Her father Leo Metzner was the founder and president, who was also her first magic teacher.
The book says of the girl who was not then allowed to be an official member of any magic club because of her gender: “Gloria is a charming twelve year old girl and was a featured performer at the 1934 convention of the Pacific Coast Association of Magicians (PCAM) and acquitted herself in a very delightful manner. She has a pleasing personality, stage presence, and the ability to think her way out of difficulties that may arise in a performance. Pacific Coast magicians are proud of Gloria and are confident the great things expected of her will materialize.” That prediction turned out to be correct.
I flipped through the book and it appears she was one of only two female magicians mentioned. This is not surprising at a time when the Magigals, the first organization to fully allow women and only women members, was four years away. Jones’ book was dedicated to Mrs. Harry Houdini, the only other woman mentioned in the book and the only honorary member of the PCAM. I guess Beatrice and other women magicians got tired of the discrimination, and she along with many other women, mostly wives of PCAM male members, formed Magigals in 1939. As a subgroup of the PCAM, their goal was to promote interest in magic among the women of Southern California. We have a more detailed write-up about the Magigals here.
When she performed at just 19 at the El Rancho in Vegas, there was barely a Las Vegas strip yet. The Flamingo was still under construction. From a Review-Journal account of her El Rancho debut in the Roundup Room: “Miss Dea completely mystified the audience with her legerdemain. Her concluding trick, when a card jumps from a handkerchief to a quartered orange, was the hit of the show.” She also was a dancer and did dance numbers, which she found easier as she did not have to deal with as many props.
From 1945 to the late 1950s, Gloria focused on her Hollywood acting career. She mostly had small roles, but her favorite was when she was the co-star in King of the Congo, a 15-part 1952 serial opposite Buster Crabbe where she played native girl Princess Pha. It also got her an appearance on movie posters. It was based on a comic book character created by Frank Frazetta. It is of note as it was the last of the Tarzan style serials and Buster Crabbe’s final serial. She also had a very small role in one of the most notorious films of all time, the gloriously awful 1957 film from director Ed Wood, Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Despite all of her success, she has been living in Las Vegas for the past 45 years virtually forgotten. I know that some of you might be thinking that she might have been forgotten just because she was a woman. The truth though, is yes, of course that is the reason.
The story about how she was rediscovered in 2021 is an interesting one. It is thanks to AnnaRose Einarsen, who herself is known for a first as the first female hypnotist to head a hypnotism show on the Vegas strip at a major hotel with her Late Night Magic show at the Paris. Her show combines hypnotism with a bit of magic.
Dea had moved to the San Fernando Valley (where I live) until 1980, when she and her husband moved to Vegas. He passed away fairly recently. AnnaRose was shopping in a Las Vegas consignment store and found a skirt from the 1940s that she liked. She was told that it was owned by a former Hollywood actress who had also been a magician and was still living in Las Vegas. They also had some of her photos and magic books.
AnnaRose had never heard of Dea, and asked around. None of the magicians she knew had heard of her either. At this time, Dea was 98. AnnaRose tracked her down through a cousin she found online, and introduced her to a number of her friends in the magic community. Dea got to know a number of Las Vegas magicians, including Jen Kramer, Bizarro and Ruby Coby. She was also introduced to David Copperfield, who held a special event commemorating her 100th birthday.
Connie Boyd, who does the excellent Magical Women Youtube channel where she interviews women magicians, has an interview with Gloria at 99 that is well worth watching, as is the channel.