A Tribute to Duke Stern

Magicians Pay Tribute to Duke Stern


Colon Express, 1973: written by Neil Foster. “On Friday morning, Aug. 17, during Abbott’s 36th annual Get-Together, tribute was paid to the late Duke Stern at a memorial service held at 11 a.m. in the Colon high school 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. Rev. Robert Olson of Monroe, Wis. led the group in prayer. Each of these men was a lifetime friend and fellow columnists for TOPS magazine.

Duke Stern was born in Trenton, N. J. on Oct. 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 whole of his trade, as it were, in later life. His parents encouraged his interest in show business and at the age of 12 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 program’s 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 sideshow supervisor. Each summer, however, he attended the Abbott Get-Together and for the first ten 10 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 couldn’t 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 Abbotts’s in 1964 as sales manager and took displays to magic conventions. In 1970 he moved to Fr. Lauderdale, Florida, and a year later he joined the Harris Magic Company in Atlanta, Ga., where he was employed until his death. This occurred suddenly while displaying at a magic convention held in St. Louis on July 29, the ashes were laid to rest in 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 marques… 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, Julie, 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.