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Magic Inc. Family Feud Reignites Over Honorary Street Sign

By Patty Wetli | July 18, 2014 12:05pm | Updated on July 21, 2014 7:41am
 Family of the late Frances Marshall crief foul after her name was left off a sign honoring her husband, Jay.
Remembering Frances Marshall
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LINCOLN SQUARE — Behind every great man is a great woman.

That's the assertion of the family of the late Frances Marshall, who ran Magic Inc. at 5082 N. Lincoln Ave. with husband Jay Marshall until her death in 2002.

Three generations of Frances' relatives — a niece, great-niece, great-nephew and great-great nieces — turned out Thursday to protest the dedication of an honorary street sign outside the shop, a sign that pays homage to Jay, who passed away in 2005, but makes no mention of Frances, rekindling a family feud that has simmered for more than a decade.

Patty Wetli explains this family feud and what people in the magic community think:

"It should be both of them. It was her business to start with," asserted Katie Fearon-Peon, whose grandmother, Marguerite Young, was Frances' sister. "We just want Frances' name added."

Actually it was Frances' first husband, Laurie Ireland, who founded Ireland Magic Company in 1926. Frances continued to run that shop, at 109 N. Dearborn St., after Ireland's death, having become a magician in her own right, penning numerous guides to magic and devising her own tricks.

"One of the first accomplished female magicians," the Chicago Tribune said in her obituary.

She and Jay Marshall, her second husband and also a magician, moved the expanding shop north to Lincoln Square in the 1960s and renamed it Magic Inc.

While Jay gained fame for his magic act, appearing numerous times on the "The Tonight Show," her family said it was Frances who held down the fort at Magic Inc., which became a must-stop for visiting magicians like Penn and Teller, David Copperfield and David Blaine.

"If you're doing something to carry on the legacy of Magic Inc., you can't leave out Frances," said her great-nephew, Jeff Fearon.

Of the honorary sign, which was obtained through the efforts of Jay's son, Alexander "Sandy" Marshall, Nora Johnson, Frances' niece, said, "They're acting like she didn't exist."

"It wasn't intended to slight Frances," said Sandy Marshall, who took over the shop after Jay's death.

In fact, Sandy is quoted in the book "Chicago Magic: A History of Stagecraft and Spectacle" as saying, "Frances ran the day-to-day operations of the store."

"I respected her, I don't respect her family," he told DNAinfo Chicago, acknowledging bad blood between Jay's and Frances' relatives, who've been involved in litigation over Jay Marshall's estate.

"I rather don't like these people," Sandy said of Frances' family. "I'm sort of done with them."

He added that he first applied for the honorary sign 15 years ago. Asked if he would have included Frances' name back then or if Jay were still alive today, Sandy replied, "I would have done whatever my father requested."

The awarding of the sign coincides with the shop's 50th anniversary on Lincoln Avenue, a milestone Sandy Marshall is marking with three-day mini-magic convention at Theater Wit.

"I do things to honor my father," he said. "They should do things to honor their aunt."

Frances' family argues that they only learned Jay was being recognized the day before the sign was dedicated, via an article in the Tribune, which didn't mention Frances by name, referring to her only as Sandy's stepmother.

The slight stung, said Frances' relatives and friends, prompting them to craft signs proclaiming, "Her name is Frances 'The 1st Lady of Magic' NOT 'stepmother.'"

"You never saw" Jay at the shop, said Janice Sullivan, who worked briefly at Magic Inc. "It was all her."

Members of the magic community are torn between the two camps.

Magician Jeff Bibik, recalled his first encounter with Frances, back in 1986 when he was passing through Chicago between gigs.

"I stopped here and my van was stolen," taking all of his tricks with it, he said. "Frances got wind and she said, 'We will get you any prop you need.' She was a great lady. She was always very kind to me."

But should her name be on the sign with Jay's?

"That's a tough one," said Bibik. "I don't know if I have a comment."

"We love them both," said Jon Stetson, a self-described mentalist. "Frances was a marvelous lady and Jay was just an incredible man. And they came together in a way that was ...."


"It really was," he said.

"I see both sides," Stetson said. "It's hard for families to get together. I wish there was a happy medium."

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