Celeste Evans: A Life in Magic
June 7th, 2012Filed under: Stories
I met Celeste Evans for the first time in the spring of 2011. She and I were both attending the 42nd Magic Collectors Weekend, held near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, where magicians, magic collectors, and historians get together to share stories and collections. Celeste and her daughter, Evanna, were in the dealers’ room with a new book on Celeste’s life in magic. In years past I’d met other women at this event, but Celeste was the first female magician I’d spoken to. It turns out that she’s a pretty rare bird. When Celeste was getting started, most magicians were men. With very few exceptions, the world of magic was a boys’ club.
Born in Canada and given the name Margaret Ruth Steward Evans, Celeste decided to become a magician when she was just nine years old. According to her autobiography, I Can Still See Me, Ruthie, as she was then called, saw some boys performing magic at the beach. When she asked if they’d teach her how to do the tricks, one said, “You can’t do magic, ’cause you’re a girl!” She not only went on to become an accomplished magician, she included the trick those boys were doing as part of her act for the rest of her performing life.
Ruthie changed her name to Celeste and launched her magic career as a teenager. She recalls meeting the world-famous magician Okito at Vancouver’s Magic Circle club in 1951. Although she was already performing magic, the Magic Circle only allowed women to attend certain functions and, even then, only as a member’s date. According to Celeste, Okito invited her to perform with him in St. Louis, but she was too young to leave home on her own.
Despite the obstacles, Celeste spent the next twenty years on the road as a professional magician. One of her acts was to make doves seem to appear out of thin air. She chose close-fitting costumes, thinking that such gowns made the appearance of the birds seem all the more amazing.
In Chicago, she performed at a range of high-profile venues, from the glamorous Playboy Club to the rollicking and wacky Bozo’s Circus on WGN-TV. She also performed around the world as part of President Kennedy’s Cultural Exchange Program in 1961. Celeste and her husband, Harry, eventually settled in Evanston, Illinois, and started raising their family.
Celeste Evans and others have proven that being a magician’s assistant is not the only role for women in magic. She and other women of Chicago magic are featured in a new exhibition that opens this Saturday at the Museum.
Watch Celeste on To Tell the Truth: