Duke Stern Memorial 1973
by Neil Foster
On Friday morning, during Abbott's 36th annual Get-Together, tribute was paid to the late Duke Stern at a Memorial service held at eleven o'clock in the colon High auditorium. It was a solemn occasion as hundreds of friends and admirers quietly filed in. Karrell Fox was filled with emotion as he spoke to the people about his friend and partner in their comedy act. Werner Dornfield officiated at the Broken Wand Ceremony of the Society of American Magicians. The Rev. Robert Olson, of Monroe, Wisconsin, led the group in prayer. Each of these men were life time friends and fellow columnists for the Tops magazine.
Duke Stern was born in Trenton, New Jersey, on October 13, 1913 as Maxwell Phillip Stern, eldest son of Sam and Frances Stern. His interest in magic began at the age of five. when he was eight he started taking lessons on the violin. These were to be the tools of his trade, as it were, in later life. His parents encouraged his interests in show business and at the age of twelve he performed his first professional show in Detroit.
Duke graduated from high school in Detroit and played the violin in the school orchestra. He was also performing magic. duke was accepted by the University of Chicago, and completed his freshman year. It was 1931, the depression was biting deeply into the economy, and that summer with work scarce he took a job with a string trio, playing a series of one month stands. When autumn came he took the job on a permanent basis. Later he went on the road with the quartet, performing magic and singing to increase the programs appeal.
Duke continued to advance in show business working as a magician, a violinist, a comedian, and for a season as a circus barker and side-show supervisor. Each summer, however he attended the Abbott Get-Together's and for the first ten years he and Mrs. Percy Abbott were THE orchestra, she at the piano, and he on the violin. In 1943 he came to Colon and worked full time at the Abbott Magic Company. In August of 1946 he became manager of Abbott's branch store in Indianapolis. There he had his own weekly television show, "Duke's Magicland" This was duplicated when he moved to Shreveport, Louisiana.
At the start of World War II Duke tried in vain several times to convince the army doctors that just because he could not see the eye chart - let alone the letters - was no reason to reject him. A very serious attack of scarlet fever in childhood had damaged his eyes permanently, causing uncorrectable vision problems. Finally he went to work in a defense plant, and invented a method whereby the company could increase its daily output from 3,000 to 10,000 grenades per day. "With my kid brother fighting in the Pacific, I kept thinking that one of those extra grenades might go to him, maybe even save his life," explained Duke.
With hostilities ended Duke worked for a large clothing firm and traveled throughout the country. He returned to Abbott's in 1964 as sales manager and took displays to magic conventions. In 1970 he moved to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and a year later he joined the Harris Magic Company in Atlanta, Georgia, where he was employed until his death. This occurred suddenly while displaying at a magic convention held in St. Louis on July 29. He was laid to rest in the Lakeside Cemetery in Colon on July 31, 1973.
It seems that Duke Stern's mission in life was to make his fellow humans laugh, to forget their cares and worries. In so many ways, mostly unknown to everyone, he gave generously of his time and talents. Success for Duke was the smile or giggle of little tots in their sincere appreciation. His name was never emblazoned on big theatre marquees...for this is not always the true measure of success. Instead, he won the hearts of many. As the Wizard of Oz said..."Your heart is not judged by how much you love, but rather how much your heart is loved by others." I'm sure he had Duke Stern in mind.
Duke is survived by a brother, Sid; three daughters, Judie, Pam, and Steffi; two nieces and a nephew, and several grandchildren. His name is known throughout the world of Magic. His friends are legion. He was one of a kind. May he find eternal peace.
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