Victor Gade's charisma is no illusion. The affable Argentina-born magician, 59, has a constant twinkle in his eye and suave smile on his face, charming people wherever he goes. He's also constantly in entertainer mode; cracking jokes or conjuring a simple magic trick from his pocket to amuse an impromptu audience.
Gade's a natural showman who started developing sleight-of-hand abilities as a youth. He wasn't whisked away to Hogwarts like a certain juvenile wizard, but instead became enchanted with the illusionary arts at age 7 after witnessing a magician at summer camp in Buenos Aires. Although his family bounced from Argentina to the U.S. and back during his youth, Gade continued to pursue his knack for trickery. He faithfully watched influential '60s TV program The Magic Land of Allakazam, practiced with coins and balls at the dinner table, and pored through books on the subject (teaching himself English in the process). Even today, 44-year-old girlfriend Susan Young (who's his onstage assistant "Blondie") says Gade's frequently buried in some tome.
"We're at the Laundromat the other night, and he kept showing me this book about a woman in a cannon," she says. His passion for prestidigitation helped woo her (he conjured some roses during their first date), but she admits it's caused sleepless nights in their studio apartment, as he's endlessly tinkering with tricks.
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A self-described "artisan and jack-of-all-trades," Gade builds, instead of buys, his own trick cabinets, boxes, or other gear. His versatile gags run the gamut from wholesome, family-friendly stuff for corporate gigs to macabre devices (such as headless bodies and vampire-filled coffins) created for local haunted houses such as The Nest in Queen Creek. There are also hints of both danger and vaudevillian ribaldry in some routines, through sawing Young into thirds, or making her clothes (tastefully) disappear during an act at the bygone Paper Heart.
Gade's performed throughout North and South America but says his favorite shows have come after relocating to Phoenix in 2000 (where he won a 2003 award for Arizona Parlor Magician of the Year). Though he hasn't caused any local landmarks to disappear in pretentious, David Copperfield style, he's wowed audiences with straitjacket escapes and dazzling levitations.
But like a true artist, he ain't revealing any secrets.
"Someone asked me after a show how I did that, and I said, 'I'd tell you, but I'd have to kill you,'" Gade quips. "The guy said, 'Okay, can you tell my wife.'"