SPOOKSTERS OF MAGIC PAST AND PRESENT
Ray-Mond Mid Night Horror Show
by Walter Hudson
This is a reprint of a 1972 Tops article by Walter Huston
Ray-Mond the illusionist had one of the most successful Mid-Night Horror Shows to tour the country. The show was continually on the road from 1946 through 1950. It played North and South and coast to coast. There were several reasons for its success. It was a good show that was different from the run of the mill Ghost-Horror Show; it had strong booking agents and promoters, and a novel and forceful publicity campaign.
The years immediately following World War II were good to the magician who had a Ghost-Horror Illusion Show to offer. Theater managers were crying for something to bring people into their houses. Television was rapidly becoming popular as a media of entertainment. People stayed away from the movies in droves. Vaudeville was dead. The days of the stage shows and big bands were over.
The Ghost Show offered the theater manager a chance to make money with very little expenditure. It was always presented around 11 P.M. after his regular evening motion picture was over. It was a one night stand so it did not tie up the theater every night of the week. The publicity costs were either split or totally paid for by the Ghost Show operator. The publicity campaign was carefully thought out and a "script" of what to do was sent to the manager about a month ahead of the attractions appearance. The show could hardly fail to draw good houses and make money.
Ray-Mond had 3 editions of his show over the years. The first was "Ray-Mond's Ghost Show," the next "Zombie Jamboree" and finally the "Voodoo Show."
The show was first booked by the Kempt agency and worked out of North Carolina. Next it switched to the Wilber-Kinsey agency and played the deep South circuit. Finally, Joe Karson of Charlotte, North Carolina, took over as promoter and it played the largest theaters on the Schine, Warner, Paramount, and lowe's circuit. The pattern was to play four small towns a week, each a one night stand, and then move into the larger cities on weekends for two night stands.
The shows were booked about two months in advance. A complete exploitation campaign including film trailers was supplied the theater manager by our advance man and we in turn would pick up all the re-useable materials on the night of the show and take them with us. The advance man would meet us once a week and take the materials on ahead to other theaters. I'll discuss our complete promotional program later.
The show itself was about as sensational and shocking as you can make an illusion show. Remember our audiences weren't looking for a cultural experience. The teenagers wanted a fast paced show and Ray-Mond gave it to them. As I think back now, over 20 years later, it is difficult for me to keep the 3 different editions clear in my mind but a typical show might use the following format.
Ray-Mond started the program around 11 P.M. and it ran about one hour. The house lights were dimmed and the weird music began. We used recorded music. A flash of lightning on the house curtain and Ray-Mond made his appearance. After a short opening speech I wheeled out the Doll Hous Illusion; it was completely revamped to look like a haunted house. After showing it empty, a beautiful ghost made her appearance dressed in a diaphanous white dress.
Since ghosts have the ability to fly, Ray-Mond proceeded to levitate her. We carried two levitations with us. In the larger theaters we used Abbott's Aga, in the smaller houses we used their Super X. Following this there was an audience participation effect or two and then our second girl made her appearance in a skit called "Jungle Voodoo." Each illusion was presented in a brief playlet fashion and each became more horrifying than the former. Ray-mond was building toward a shocker finale.
The girl appeared in a brief jungle costume and to the beat drums and jungle music presented her exotic dance. As she danced a large net was lowered from the flies. When she finished her dance the two male assistants, dressed as jungle hunters, grabbed her and as she struggled and screamed she was hoisted in the net high above the stage. The music became louder as Ray-Mond made his incantation. Suddenly there was a flash of lightning (from a film in the projection booth) and one end of the net fell and as it did the girl visibly vanished and in her place was a skeleton whose bones fell clanking to the floor. This illusion was a stage version of the Bengal Net effect which is used to vanish a dove. Blackstone also presented a version of it but his girl was dressed in a butterfly costume, and just vanished. The appearance of the skeleton as used by Ray-Mond added that "something extra" needed for a Horror Show.
This was the first really horror type illusion in the show. The first two, the Doll House and Levitation, were more ghostly and mysterious.
Because of the rigging needed for the net illusion it was not possible to present it at all theaters so we often substituted the Cremation or Burned Alive illusion. We still kept the jungle motif.
Ray-Mond next presented the Rod Thru Girl. Again he used a horror theme as he explained the neon tube was a deadly beam.
The one illusion that stands out in my mind was presented before we went into our final illusion and blackout sequence. It was called Beauty and the Beast. Although it was a cleverly devised illusion and gave the audience the shock it was waiting for, Beauty and the Beast wouldn't win any prizes at a magic convention and it is doubtful if it will ever appear on the market.
After our girl presented a brief sexy dance (yes, we had two such numbers in the show) the lights were dimmed and as she took her bow a huge gorilla came creeping up behind her. The audience went wild with the screaming of teenage girls. Our assistant turned, started to run, screamed and fell as the gorilla came after her. Ray-Mond entered from the side and yelled for a gun, then he made a quick exit.
The girl fainted and was picked up by the gorilla who carried her to a table. They were center stage in a blue spot. The gorilla let ot a loud grunt, jumped up and down and the proceeded to disembody the girl's limbs. Ripping off arms and legs it threw them high into the air and they fell to the stage with a deadly thump. The whole act was played very quickly. The audiences frequently stopped screaming and were silent in disbelief of what they saw. The girl was on the table minus arms and legs and the cloth covering the table was red with dripping blood. There was a loud clash of symbols; Ray-mond entered and shot the ape and a quick blackout followed.
When the spot came on again, Ray-Mond was standing center stage. He asked for the assistance of a young lady from the audience. It was often impossible to get a girl to come up after the audience had viewed the last effect. If this was the case Ray-Mond used a young man. The boy was seated in a chair and Ray-Mond announced that he was about to commit murder! An assistant, dressed as a hunchback, entered with a glass of green smoking liquid. Ray-Mond appeared to drink it and then fell writhing in pain to the floor. When he arose his face had changed into a "mad doctor" with fangs.
The volunteer was taken by the hunch-back and a girl assistant to Ray-Mond who hypnotized him. while this was being done the other two assistants wheeled out the Buzz Saw Illusion.
However, Ray-Mond's illusion was made to sever a head! The volunteer was placed on the table and the blade was turned on. The audience was sitting on the edge of its' seat. They thought the Beauty and the Beast illusion was shocking. They hadn't seen anything yet!
A butcher knife, with a gleaming blade, was held against the saw blade and the metalic clang sent chills up and down the spine. The lights dimmed, the dramatic music grew louder, and the blade was slowly lowered, cutting of the volunteer's head. It was the most dramatic moment in the entire show. All the assistants played their parts. The two girls, dressed as nurses, screamed and Ray-Mond gave out with a hideous yell! Then Ray-Mond grabbed the severed head and ran into the audience with it; up one aisle and down the other. The audience was dumbfounded. The girls grabbed their boyfriends; some shut their eyes, cringed and crouched down in their seats. This was a horror show! Their expectations had been surpassed by Ray-Mond!! As soon as Ray-Mond got back to the stage all the lights went out and the blackout sequence began. Ghosts floated across the stage and over the heads of the audience. A skeleton danced around the stage and a huge hairy spider made its appearance.
The audience was one mass of screaming hysteria. There were three flashes of fire shot from a flame gun and this was the signal for the lights to go on. Ray-mond had a few closing remarks. The audience showed its appreciation and the motion picture began.
In all honesty, the show probably would not appeal to the connoisseur of fine magic. But that was not the purpose of the show. Each act was carefully routined, each illusion beautifully staged and the showmanship was flawless. It played 5 years on the road and many of the engagements were repeat ones.
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