Just up Route 52, in Indiana, lies the quiet little burg of New Trenton. This serene town somehow has produced two separate celebrities, who were legends in the magical entertainment world, Lester Lake and John Calvert.
What was in the water in New Trenton, I am not sure but it worked.
In this column, I will tell you about the lesser-known of the pair, Lester Lake. Lester was known professionally as The Great Marvello.
Lester, born in 1904, began his professional career as an entertainer and magician in 1927, working the riverboats traveling the Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.
Having only completed the eighth grade in a one-room New Trenton schoolhouse, Lester was a self-taught magician and entertainer. He read, he read, and he read.
Lester, The Great Marvello, was widely known for his performances that he designed and originated, Buried Alive, a.k.a. Burned Alive, in which he was burned alive in a coffin that had been filled with 5 gallons of gasoline and set on fire.
This was his most famous illusion, Lester returning miraculously from the fiery grave, smiling and drawing applause from the audiences wherever he performed.
Lester was an impressive man of multiple talents. He was a magician, master of ceremonies, musical composer, photographer and inventor.
Lester worked closely with the Abbott Magic Company of Colon, Mich., to which he supplied his inventions, the most famous being the Magician’s Guillotine, and the Chinese Chopper. These devices still are used by magicians throughout the world.
During World War II, Lester served his country by working for the USO, traveling throughout Europe, North Africa, and the South Pacific, entertaining our troops, like the famous Bob Hope USO shows we used to watch on Channel 19.
Additionally, when Lester became a well-known entertainer, he became a permanent guest on the network TV show You Asked For It, sponsored by Skippy Peanut Butter, in the 1950s.
The show’s host, Art Baker, would introduce, The Great Marvello, and Lester would wow the live audience as well the national TV watchers. Lester’s act was so good the viewing public asked for his return many times. It’s a long way from New Trenton to NYC - well done Lester.
After Lester became famous, he was encouraged by John Calvert and others to move to Hollywood to build his career. The Great Marvello chose to stay in the area, close to his parents, and friends, working children’s parties, nightclubs, and charity events.
In other words, Lester’s career was producing a limited income but he was happy, hanging around Cincinnati, New Trenton, or visiting his buddies the McElroy brothers in Harrison, themselves being renowned artisans and inventors.
The McElroy brothers also invented several items sold by the same Abbot Magic Company. Lester usually knew when to stop in the McElroy’s on Broadway, around dinner time enjoying a nice meal cooked by Mrs. McElroy.
The Great Marvello passed away in 1977, this time not buried with a flaming 5 gallons of gasoline but a normal burial next to his grandmother in Brookville’s Maple Grove Cemetery.
The Great Marvello had no surviving family, never married, but was engaged at one time.
Lester was such a good magician he made all of his money disappear and could never recover it, no matter how many times he spoke “abracadabra.”
I recently purchased one of Lester’s guillotine kits and I am trying to assemble it now. Just a few parts I can’t get to fit, but I don’t think that’ll be a problem.
I can’t wait to test this it out on my wife. I’m sure she will be very willing to volunteer as my lovely assistant for this trick.
Barbara will look lovely no doubt. Here we go:
Chop! Oooooops! Kerplunk!
Terry Viel is an avid Harrison history buff who collects and restores vintage Harrison photographs.