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Moments in Time: Bill Hunter
Bill Hunter (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)

Moments in Time

Moments in Time is a weekly series featuring recollections of area residents. To suggest someone to feature in Moments in Time, please contact Mary Jane Grenzow, editor, at

MONROE - He may no longer reside here, but 92-year-old magician and Monroe native Bill Hunter still loves to come back to the place he still calls home. It's where he was raised, graduated high school and held a seasonal job for more than two decades. It just also happens to be the place where his longest running magic show is held.

Known as "Magic Bill" or "Uncle Bill" to most, Hunter is a career magician. Although he's held other jobs while performing, magic has always been his passion and it's been the love of magic that's driven him.

Hunter was born in Lake Forest, Illinois, the son of a Scottish golf professional, and the family moved to Monroe in 1924. His father, who was also an architect, laid out the original nine at the Monroe Country Club.

The 1940 Monroe High School graduate has fond memories of school and being involved as a drummer in the high school band. Growing up during the Depression taught Hunter the value of a dollar, and he recalls spending his free time raking leaves, shoveling snow and delivering papers around town.

After graduation, Hunter went to school with hopes to one day become a teacher. But because of World War II, that dream never materialized. Two years after graduation, Hunter joined the service and was assigned to the U.S. Naval Armed Guard. He served aboard merchant cargo ships, tankers and troop transports. Hunter sailed much of the Pacific area for nearly three years as a gun captain.

"It was exciting and it was scary," Hunter remembers of his time there. He recalls many frightening nights.

In July of 1944, Hunter was in Australia and was sent to the Navy sick bay in Sydney after becoming ill. He was diagnosed with malaria, extending his stay, and it was there that he met and became friends with Steve Belloise, a prize middleweight fighter who fought for the world title twice. Belloise was an amateur magician and taught Hunter some magic - that sparked Hunter's attention to a hobby that would change his life.

Although Hunter later took magic lessons from American magician Neil Foster, one of the world's greatest card manipulators, and also flew to London, England to learn from Ken Brooks, one of England's finest performers, it was Belloise who inspired Hunter to make a career of magic.

"He was such an entertainer," Hunter said of Belloise. "I never dreamed one day I would be able to do that."

After Hunter got out of the military, he came back to Monroe for a short time before deciding to go to New York City where he attended school at the School of Modern Photography.

"Magic seemed more exciting than photography," he said with a laugh.

Magic has brought friends and a career to Hunter he didn't fully expect. He's been able to take on other jobs and welcomed travel without hesitation.

"You have to like people," he said of performing. "And really be dedicated to learn the magic."

Hunter performs what some would agree is the most difficult magic - sleight of hand. Hunter presents a type of magic where he strolls and mingles throughout a crowd, table to table, entertaining small groups that often grow into large groups.

He also presents a stage show for audiences from 50-500 or more, using sophisticated sorcery and comedy, making his act fun for audiences of all ages. After-dinner banquets, conventions and hospitality rooms are his specialty.

His first paid magic show was in Monroe for Dearth Motors, where he performed at the 1949 opening for the 1950 unveiling of the new model. He had kept contacts in Monroe and each year, he would come back and work part time for the Swiss Colony. During the winters, he would come back to the Colony to help hire the winter crew, and he also traveled for the Colony as a sales rep for a few years.

He would still come back to Swiss Colony for three months out of a year to help with hiring for 25 years. But for the most part, his career in magic had taken off. Hunter had made several contacts through Swiss Colony and used them in his favor.

Another one of his side jobs was working in Greenland for three years where he was employed by North Atlantic Constructors as a clerk typist during the 1950s, building the Thule Air Base, which is more than 800 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

In the late 1960s, while performing magic in Indianapolis, Hunter was invited to the Indy 500. He's been performing there for 46 years and works the VIP suites for driver parties and corporate events at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway and is known as the "Indy 500 Magician."

It's mostly been from this event that Hunter has an entire photo book dedicated to him with big celebrities such as Paul Newman, David Hasselhoff, Cary Grant, Ron Howard, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and several others. He has several nicknames - and has been introduced as the "Magician to the Stars."

"Seeing the amazement on people's faces is why I love it," Hunter said. "It's fun to entertain people."

Today, Hunter spends his winters in either Florida or California. He's traveled so much over the years that he feels he has a family of friends anywhere he goes. He's performed magic in 42 states and 20 foreign countries. He is still doing shows across the country, keeping his favorite shows on the docket in Los Angeles, Florida and Vegas. He's slowed down a bit, but has kept his longest running show - the Swiss Colony Badger Days, that he's done for the past 57 years.

"Magic opens doors all over the world," Hunter said. "It's amazing the people I've met just from magic."

Hunter loves that he's entertained people that have also done amazing things. When he performed for Pete Conrad, an astronaut who wanted to record Hunter's performance, he felt honored.

"I was amazed and floored to think a man who had been to the moon would want to film me," he said with a smile.


Hunter also took a strong interest in airplanes after his time in the military and eventually became a licensed pilot, even owning his own airplanes.

"It's a whole different world up there," he said.

Hunter has performed at the Florida air show evening party since 1986, after meeting John Klatt, an aerobatic pilot.

For the past few years, Hunter has performed for the International Conference of Air Show Performers, doing several air shows at their annual convention in Las Vegas.

Hunter hasn't lived in Monroe since the 1960s. He moved to Rockford, Illinois, where he lived for 20 years and spent his winters in California. He moved to Palm Springs, California in the 1990s and lived there for 12 years before moving back to Roscoe, Illinois.

Hunter said the amount of friends that magic has brought to him gives him people all over the world with whom he can touch base no matter where he is.

"Magic is quite a brotherhood," he said. "It makes the world pretty small."

And a quick visit to Monroe is always enjoyable for Hunter.

"Monroe is home," he concluded. "No matter where I go, it's fun to come to Monroe."