DUNEDIN — Hugh Turley believes in the power of magic.
Turley, who bills himself as a magician, is actually much more than just a rank prestidigitator.
He’s a wizard who keeps imaginary dragons.
“Being a wizard means you have to take care of your dragons,” he said, pointing to the silk embroidered dragon-bedecked shirt he wears under his pink dinner jacket.
He is a former producer of television shows in Florida and was once known as the television character “Uncle Hubie” on the old “Bozo” TV show. He had his own show, “Uncle Hubie’s Penthouse Barnyard,” and his character won CableACE awards in 1993 and 1994. He has also been a deputy sheriff in Orange County, Florida, and a published cartoonist in the Suncoast News.
Turley also teaches magic, and he believes his lessons can help kids learn math.
Indeed, Turley is a magician, an enchanter who travels to area bars, senior centers and assisted living centers to spread the magic of, well, magic.
But most of all, Turley, a U.S. Navy veteran who lives in Holiday, is a raconteur, a man who can tell dozens of colorful stories that he has gathered during his 82 years on the planet.
And tell them he will.
There was the time, for example, when he learned a magic trick from famed director/actor Orson Welles. Welles, whom Turley met backstage at a television show, agreed to teach him a card trick, but Welles also taught Turley a valuable lesson about magic.
“He told me, ‘It isn’t about gadgets, it’s about simplicity. The best magic is simple,’” Turley recalled. “And he was right.”
It was a lesson Turley has carried with him throughout his 60 years of performing.
As a professional magician who dresses the part, Turley is never off the clock. He carries his red silk scarf with him everywhere in case he needs to perform a little sorcery. It came in handy recently when he was shopping at a local grocery store and was approached by a customer who was admiring his dragon shirt.
“I told him I was a wizard who had dragons, and he asked me to do a trick right there in the aisle,” Turley said. “So, I pulled out my red silk scarf and made it disappear. He said, ‘Where did it go?’ and I pulled it out of his nose. He flipped out.”
Turley’s sponge ball trick also amazes.
At a banquet for a high-ranking Nigerian official, Turley made a sponge ball appear and disappear in front of one of the waiters, frightening the server into flight.
“He goes, ‘Voodoo! Voodoo!’ and ran away with the rest of the wait staff,” Turley said. “We had to serve ourselves that night. The sponge ball trick always gets a great reaction.”
Turley has learned card tricks from “The Amazing Randi,” and he has rubbed shoulders with celebrities like Sophia Loren, Bob Hope, Linda Carter of TV’s “Wonder Woman,” and Leo G. Carroll, “among others.”
One of his favorite stories involves a meeting with Michael Jackson. As the story goes, Turley was acting as director of security for Jackson at the Royal Plaza Hotel at Lake Buena Vista.
At one point, Jackson suddenly asked Turley for a pen and paper.
Turley produced the items and asked Jackson why he needed them so suddenly.
“He told me that sometimes he could hear the music, see the notes, hear how it would sound, and he needed to write it down,” Turley said. “So, I guess I was there when he wrote ‘Billie Jean.’”
Turley, who considers himself a comic as well as a magician, has appeared on HBO and on the cover of “Mum,” the magazine for members of the Society of American Magicians, of which he is a member. “Membership means I get a magazine every month,” he said.
Turley said simple magic can bring joy to life, that doing card tricks can even bring joy.
“Everybody likes to be surprised,” he said. “Everybody likes to laugh. If you can bring a surprise and a smile, you’re successful.”
But Turley believes there truly is magic in everyday life.
“Practice, practice until you become good at what you want to do,” he said. “If you stick with something you love, it will work. If you do that, you’ll have a great life, you’ll be happy even if you don’t have a lot of money. And then, pow, there’s the magic. That is the magic of life.”
Turley has a regular gig at the D-Town Bar & Grill in Dunedin on Wednesday nights, and also appears there on other nights on an irregular basis. He is also looking for more performing dates, but the pandemic has slowed business.
“A lot of senior centers haven’t opened up yet, and the restaurants don’t know what do to,” he said. “I’m trying for anything I can get.”
No doubts some dates will magically appear soon.