Today is the birthday of Raymond S. Sugden, known professionally as Tampa (1887-1939). He often billed himself as “England’s Court Magician”, despite having been from the Pittsburgh area. His first magic act was even more deceptive about his origins. Starting around 1917 he began performing with partner Ray Hartman in a Chinese-themed act called the Chau Tung Mysteries. This act was short-lived, as Hartman was drafted into the service in WWI. Sugden then went solo under his own name, with his wife and two sons as assistants. This is when he first began claiming to have been a court magician under George V.
In 1925, he began a professional relationship with Howard Thurston, designing and building many illusions for him, and signing a ten year contract to anchor Thurston’s third touring unit. This is when he began to use the name Tampa.
Unfortunately, the depression hit his the act (and the entire industry) hard in the early 30s. The relationship with Thurston unraveled over money issues before the contract ran out. After some time spent working as “Goodwill Ambassador” for a Pittsburgh newspaper he attempted to book himself as Sugden again in the mid to late 30s, but without much success (vaudeville had died by then; the number of theatres had greatly dwindled). Sugden retired before passing away at age 51.
To learn more about vaudeville consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
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