Jane Thurston, Gene Willadsen
Magician, Singer, Dancer
Place of Birth
Weehawken, New Jersey. USA.
Jane possessed the ability of prestidigitation, singing, dancing and showmanship prowess.
Jane was an accomplished songwriter. One of her most successful songs was a hit from 1942, entitled "My Best to You."
Jane Thurston was the daughter of Nina Leotha Fielding of Nova Scotia and John R. Willadsen of New Jersey.
The marriage did not last, and Leotha, "a dancing, singing comedienne" who had appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies, met and married Howard Thurston in 1914. Jane became Thurston's stepdaughter whom he affectionately called "Jane Girl." Jane was five years old.
She was sixteen when she first performed her own magic act as a featured attraction in the 1928 shows. She combined magic with singing and dancing in a variety of magic acts she presented until the Thurston shows ended in 1935.
One of the special songs she sang was "My Daddy's a Hocus-Pocus Man," and the shows were advertised as "Thurston the Famous Magician and Daughter Jane."
After Howard Thurston died, Jane had been named the beneficiary of a small insurance policy, and that props and scenery of the Thurston show were now in her name.
Working with George and Herman Hanson, she learned the intricate choreography of her father's famous Floating Ball and Spirit Cabinet routines, intending to sign a new act with producers Fanchon and Narco.
But as the project dragged on, Jane became impatient. She was tired of the association with the illusion show and embarrassed by the Thurston family squabbles.
For a while she was determined to go on with the show but lost her heart and went back to New York were she used parts of the act in swank night clubs.
In 1941, she flew to Miami and performed at the Terrace club at the Beach for six weeks; around this time she started to give up show business. When war was declared and as a holder of a private license since 1931, she became a member of the first squadron of the Civil Air Patrol were she schooled in Miami.
As a Cap pilot and observer, she flew out of Sunny South airport for three months. Thereafter, she went back on the road with a band for a while.
She worked for several years with Isham Jones as a performer and songwriter. Her songs were composed under the name Gene Willadsen; Willadsen was used to deliberately put her years as Jane Thurston behind her. Gene was used because ASCAP, the songwriter's union, was restricted to men.
Later Jane was employed by PanAm in Miami, working in operations and dispatching planes from 36th st. airport. She also learned to fly. She married a flight engineer named Guy Lynn, and had two children. After Lynn's death she married Dick Shepard, a retired Navy Captain.
In the 1960's, she proudly became Jane Thurston again, gradually contacting her old friends and fans in magic; visiting magic conventions, and writing about the years with her father's show.
On a rainy day in early November, 1994, Jane slipped and fell on a sidewalk in New York City, an hour before she was to meet with Maurine Christopher (widow of Milbourne Christopher) for the first time.
The trauma of the fall and a broken limb put her into a coma. On November 12, 1994, Jane Thurston Shepard slipped away at age eighty-five.
Information credit: The Last Greatest Magician in the World:Howard Thurston versus Houdini... (Jim Steinmeyer)., Magician.Org, Miami News - Jul2, 1944.