Preston the magician
Before the single names of Beyoncé, Justin, and Madonna were recognized by millions, and yes even before Elvis dropped Presley and became known simply as Elvis, the Tri-State area could boast of its own internationally-known celebrity who used only one name for his shows.
A native of Pineville, Kentucky, whose professional career as a magician and hypnotist began in 1940, William Preston Slusher Jr. rose to great acclaim as “Preston.” His career covered much of the 20th century, ending with retirement in 1991.
Born on Straight Creek, Preston was the son of William Preston Slusher Sr., and Fannie Bell Bingham Slusher. He often said that the appearance in Pineville of the famous magician Blackstone greatly influenced his decision to pursue a career as a magician. He entered Union College at Barbourville but decided to leave before completing undergraduate studies to pursue the education of a magician and hypnotist on the road.
World War II interrupted his chosen profession, and he served two years in the U.S. Army. After the war, Preston was selected as the featured entertainer at a reception for General Henry “Hap” Arnold when the great military leader received his fifth star as general.
Shortly after that, officials at Union College recognized his unique talent and awarded Preston an honorary doctor’s degree in 1948. Kentucky’s Governor Earle C. Clements named Preston a Kentucky Colonel.
During the decade of the 1950s, Preston and his first wife Mildred, who died in 1987, managed Pine Mountain State Park, and Preston was actively involved in promoting tourism in Bell County and in the entire Tri-State area. He had a leadership role in the successful introduction of “The Book of Job” the outdoor drama that was staged in the cove at Pine Mountain.
Working closely with civic and political leaders in the area, Preston promoted the dedication of a new national park at Cumberland Gap. He worked with local and regional groups as well as the National Association of Travel Organizations in the 1950s to promote tourism.
The years that followed took Preston across the country and around the world as he presented what was frequently called a “Wonderful World of Fun.” He was identified internationally as “One of America’s great showmen.”
Those years brought extraordinary recognition and praise to this native of Pineville. He was named Ambassador of Goodwill for the State of Kentucky and the same for Sarasota, Florida, his second home and the place of his death in 1994.
Known as a master showman, one of Preston’s greatest tributes came with his election as President of the International Brotherhood of Magicians in 1977.
William H. Baker, native of Claiborne County and former resident of Middlesboro, may be contacted at Wbaker@limestone.edu
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