Magician June Horowitz,
104, blazed a trail for women
By Madison O’Connor Updated Jul 19, 2018
Photo courtesy Phyllis Horowitz
Magician June Horowitz holds a Queen of Hearts
playing card. Horowitz was referred to by friends
within the magic community as the ‘Queen of Hearts.’
Horowitz died June 27, 2018 at 104 years old.
GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Before she became one of magic’s most well-known and beloved magicians, June Horowitz couldn’t get into conventions.
Women magicians were few and far between when Horowitz began performing sometime around 1920. During her early days in magic, Horowitz was stopped at convention entrances and gently reminded, “The ladies’ event is down the hall.”
But she had a few tricks up her sleeve — Horowitz made herself a tag that read, “I’m no lady, I’m a magician,” and from then on, getting in was no problem.
Known for her willpower, witty humor and intelligence, Horowitz went on to shatter the glass ceiling for women magicians.
“She will leave a hole in magic for a long time,” her nephew Evan Ginsberg said. “When I talk to someone who’s not involved in magic, she means nothing, she’s just a person. But in her own world, in the world of magicians — which is pretty impressive around the world — she was something special.”
Horowitz died on June 27, 2018 at 104 years old in her Grand Rapids home.
Born June Warsaw on Sept. 12, 1913 in Chicago, Horowitz’s parents moved the family to Grand Rapids to provide a better environment for their children.
Horowitz went on to become the first female president of the International Brotherhood of Magicians (I.B.M.) in 1987, became the first female president of the local Grand Rapids I.B.M. club, Ring 211, in 1974 and was active in the magic community even as her age climbed into triple digits.
But she was also a math teacher at Ottawa Hills High School, Grand Rapids Junior College (now Grand Rapids Community College) and Marywood Academy, according to a biography from the American Museum of Magic.
Horowitz was also active in her local faith community and promoted religious tolerance. She played the violin and was an alumna of one of the first Interlochen Arts Camp seasons in 1929.
Her enthusiasm for magic started with her father, Abe Warsaw, who was also a magician and taught Horowitz and her two siblings magic.
In between family dinners with world-famous magicians Harry Houdini and Howard Thurston, Horowitz began practicing magic when she was around 6 or 7 years old. As her skills progressed, so did her performances, and she was able to make money to help pay for her University of Michigan education.
104-year-old magician performs card trick: CLICK HERE
Magic was her lifelong pursuit, and she continued to practice until her death, teaching her husband, Sam Horowitz, and other budding magicians. She became well-traveled and garnered respect from magicians across the globe.
“Anywhere you went with this woman, no matter what country you were in, invariably she would see someone she knew or who knew her,” Horowitz’s former daughter-in-law Phyllis Horowitz said. “Thousands of magicians knew who she was.”
Throughout her 104 years, she used magic to help students learn when she was a teacher, to engage community members and to pave the way for other female magicians to take part in the art form.
“It’s not known as ‘brotherhood’ accidentally,” Ginsberg said. “For a long, long time, women were not accepted as magicians. There’s more women getting into it now. But in her day, it was rare.”
Despite famous magicians telling her women didn’t have a place in magic and occasionally being referred to as “Mr. Horowitz” while president of the I.B.M., Horowitz used her quick wit and sense of humor to impact the world of magic, Ginsberg said.
“I asked her once, ‘Why aren’t there more women magicians?'” Ginsberg said. “She had a great answer: ‘Pockets.’ Women don’t have pockets. When I put on my suit in the morning before I go to work, I’ve got 10 pockets. Women put on a dress and they might have one.”
“Smart answers” were her thing, Phyllis Horowitz said. When an awed audience member asked Horowitz how she did a trick, she’d say, “Very well.”
“She had a great sense of humor,” Phyllis Horowitz said. “When she was performing, she would have a good comeback.”
Challenging the boys’ club came down to being strong-willed and skillful with magic, both qualities Horowitz exuded, Michele Parkes said. Parkes is treasurer and past president of the local Grand Rapids I.B.M. club, Ring 211.
“She was so well-received and so well-known and so highly regarded that, you know, that business where the boy’s club happened, she broke that barrier down,” Parkes said. “There are many female magicians now who credit her.”
Queen of Hearts
The “Queen of Hearts,” as Horowitz was dubbed by friends from Ring 211, invented many of her own tricks, using her mathematics background in the process.
“She would always have a trick that no one knew how to do, which is quite amazing,” said Ginsberg, who is also a magician. “After a while, you think you know everything.”
Horowitz was skilled in illusions, mental tricks, cards and was an expert with coins, Ginsberg said. He noted as magicians gets older, they start to move away from large-scale stage magic and toward close-up magic, which is less strenuous.
She was still doing card tricks at 104, up until her death.
“I think she got as far as she did [in magic] not just because of the perseverance, but also because of the talent. To be a magician, it’s a constant thing. You’re practicing all the time,” Phyllis Horowitz said. “She was an extremely intelligent and well-read and well-spoken person.”
Horowitz was honored at this year’s I.B.M. Convention, a gathering of hundreds of magicians across the international organization every year.
The convention was held in Grand Rapids this year at DeVos Performance Hall to make it easier for Horowitz to attend, but she died the week before the convention.
During the July 4-7 gathering, Horowitz was honored for about an hour with a video, a short speech from Ginsberg, a proclamation signed by Gov. Rick Snyder and a magic performance from a female magician, Parkes said.
Ring 211 will hold a “broken wand” ceremony at the club’s next meeting, a ritual performed when a magician passes away, Parkes said. In Horowitz’s memory, a wand will be broken, signifying that with her death, the wand has lost its magic.
More than a magician
But Horowitz hesitated to be remembered simply as a magician.
“She did tell me one time that she had spent her whole life promoting religious tolerance and understanding, and when she died, all people would remember was that she did card tricks,” Ginsberg said.
Outside of magic, Horowitz was heavily involved in Temple Emanuel, a Grand Rapids Reform synagogue. She was on the board of directors, an archivist, taught in the religious school and was active in women’s groups, Rabbi Emeritus Albert Lewis said.
Lewis said Horowitz was involved in interfaith and interracial activities early on and would make an effort to connect with and welcome new congregation members.
“She didn’t care what your sexual orientation was, she didn’t care what your religious beliefs were, what your race was,” Lewis said. “If you came into her view, she wanted to give you as much as she could of her talents.”
Her reputation was that of a talented and generous woman, Lewis said. Visits to Horowitz’s home, even after she reached 100 years old, meant gifts and food and magic tricks.
Part of her legacy will be that kindness and outreach, he said.
“For a woman who lived to be 104, she put into each day and took out of each day more than many people in their 40s and 50s do,” Lewis said. “She was totally engaged in life, and anything she set her mind to learn, she learned.”
Horowitz is preceded in death by her husband, Sam Horowitz, son Nathan Horowitz, brother Don Warsaw, sister Elaine Steil and niece Michelle Potter.
She is survived by son Steven Horowitz, three grandchildren, four great grandchildren and other relatives.