Preview Maria Ibanez

A Celestial Celebration


“Merlina the Magical Storyteller”

In July of 2007, the SAM got its third female—and its first Hispanic female—president. Three-time President of the Florida Magicians’ Association, former President and Founder of the Magic City Conjurors, and former President of SAM Assembly 280 in Miami, Maria Ibáñez had a long history of service to the art that was good to her for 45 years.

Maria Elena Hernández was born in Havana on December 6, 1951. Her family escaped the communist regime in 1962, after her father—an engineer at Shell Oil—had been imprisoned five times as a critic of Fidel Castro. Maria was nine when she was whisked from a comfortable home with a nanny and transplanted to Miami, where she quickly learned to be more self-sufficient. Her father Orlando set the example for the family by saving enough money to repay the $1200 loan he had received from the Refugee Center upon their arrival. The family has always been grateful for the warm welcome it received in the United States.

While most future magicians probably were thrilled at watching their first magic show or getting that first magic set for Christmas, Maria’s introduction to magic turned her off. At the age of six she attended a circus in Cuba. A young boy—a stooge for the magician—was drinking a Coke on the edge of one of the circus rings. In stormed the angry magician, chastising the boy for drinking his cola. He pretended to stab the child with an ice pick and then squeeze soda out of his elbow with a funnel. This horrifying twist on a stock comedy magic routine made young Maria think magicians were evil.

She didn’t change her mind for twenty years until her son Orlando’s first birthday, when she hired a magician to entertain at the party. Even though the performer was not all that brilliant, Orlando was hooked, and so was his mother. Maria went out and bought $15 worth of tricks at Miami Magic, a local shop owned and run by Sammy Chiprut, aka Amazing Sammy. An impromptu show at a hospital ward when Orlando had his tonsils out went so well that Maria sent her husband back to the magic shop for more tricks. Soon, an ad placed in the local paper by a friend of the family amazingly netted 30 bookings, and Maria the magician was born.

Her mentor, ventriloquist/magician Alberto Montejo, came up with the stage name Merlina, and she did shows for nearly 40 years in the Miami area at birthday parties, schools, libraries, hospitals, company picnics, and many other venues. She performed at the US Coast Guard Air Station, the Mall of the Americas, and gave three command performances before the Saudi royal family. She became the official Christmas and Easter entertainer at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables for six years and a house magician at the Sheraton Bal Harbor Hotel for another five.

As a graduate of Florida International University, a member of the National Storytelling Association, a member of the Miami Storytellers’ Guild, and the founder of the Strawberry Fields Storytellers, Maria loved to incorporate educational messages into her magic routines. Some were didactic lessons about fire safety and avoiding drugs, but she also liked to tell stories about her Cuban grandmother, her own immigration to the United States, and other things that helped spectators young and old appreciate Hispanic culture. Audiences loved her bilingual shows and her unique mix of magic and storytelling. “Coming to America” was one of her favorite routines—it was a version of the magic coloring book effect that wove in the story of Maria’s leaving her home country and finding her place in a new land. She performed the effect in Spanish and in English. The images in the book depicted her family and friends and favorite childhood places. She also did a routine called “Grandmother’s Sewing Basket,” where each item in a sewing kit served a magical purpose.

In Has This Ever Happened to You? (compiled by Celeste Evans), Maria confessed that one of her worst show disasters turned into unintentional comedy gold. When doing a Cub Scout banquet show where she was told a prominent magician was in the audience, Maria was a bundle of nerves. One thing after another went wrong: a dove pan jammed, a milk pitcher was overloaded, and so on. Finally, Maria noticed the audience laughing hysterically, and she turned to witness her rabbit, Harry, peeking his head out of a square circle long before he was supposed to be produced. Backstage later, the visiting magician, wiping away tears of laughter, asked Maria how she had managed to get the rabbit to pop up on cue. “Months of training,” was her quick response.

Maria was active in many charity organizations, such as the Make-a-Wish Foundation and Miami Children’s Hospital’s VACC Camp. After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, she entertained families displaced by the storm as well as the troops that came for support of the affected area. She received an Outstanding Volunteer Service Award from the United States Marine Corps. She was such an effective goodwill ambassador for magic that the Mayor of Miami-Dade County declared October 31, 2005, to be “Maria Ibáñez Day.” She was also recognized in 2007 with an “In Company of Women” Pioneer Award for her 30 years performing as Merlina and for being both a pioneer and a role model for women.   


Maria met her husband Jesus “Jay” Ibáñez in high school in Miami, and they were married in 1973. Jay built many of her props and attended most all of her shows, and she also got a great deal of support from her two sons, Orlando and Jason, both retired Marine Corps sergeants. At one point Maria was performing four to six shows per week or more, though she eventually cut back in order to spend more time with audiences at each show. She fed off of their enthusiasm and love.

Maria joined the IBM in 1982 and the SAM in 1988. She became the first woman to serve as President of the Florida Magicians’ Association in 2000. Also during that year, she began serving in national offices in the SAM and worked her way up the organization. When interviewed in 2007, her colleagues were excited about having Maria Ibáñez as SAM President. Dean George Schinder said of her, “She always stands out. I am sure she will inspire many people. She is a dynamo and she knows how to make herself heard. Even though she is a small woman, she produces huge waves.” Former SAM President Jann Goodsell believed that Maria would be an inspiration, especially to female and Latin members: “Maria is going to be a great role model. And not only because of her tricks but also because of her vivacious personality. She’s hyper and so into it.”

Maria was especially honored to have one of her mentors, Cesareo Pelaez, install her as SAM President on the magical date of 7/7/07. A whirlwind year of magic conventions took her to Colon, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, London, Milan, and many other places, and she gave numerous Presidential Citations to deserving SAM members and members of the magic community. Spending lots of time with IBM President Phil Willmarth and his wife Robbie was a special part of the job for Maria and Jay. As SAM President, Maria Ibáñez used her influence to encourage members to mentor young magicians. During her term a new forum called was established to foster better communication within the organization.

In 2016, I asked Maria Ibáñez for an update since she left the office of SAM President, and the subsequent years were full of travel, performances, and recognition: Maria travelled to and presented at several different cities and countries, including but not limited to, Mexico on several occasions, Guatemala, Colombia, France, England and Italy. In Italy she presented in several cities including Milan, Venice, Verona, Florence, Pisa, Sienna, Naples, Rome, Capri, and Pompeii among others.

As the magical storyteller for three municipalities—the City of Doral, Bay Harbor Islands and Pinecrest—Maria stayed busy presenting shows before diverse audiences, normally on a weekly basis at one or another of the municipalities (this in addition to her regular performances at libraries, schools and private events). When the Smithsonian Institute awarded Pinecrest Gardens a grant to present “The Way We Worked,” which consisted of six weeks’ worth of daily presentations, Maria was brought in as the magical storyteller to talk about different types of jobs in the past and in the present. During these events she had an opportunity to work with a U.S. Navy Sailor, a police officer, a veterinarian, a fireman, a sports figure and a musician among others. Maria felt honored to be the presenter at these events as well as to serve with these “heroes without capes” who make a difference every day.

Maria Ibáñez was honored with Presidential Citations from both the IBM and SAM Presidents. She was also appointed as a Trustee and Full Professor, by the Camelard College of Conjuring Chemmis, joining such distinguished names as John Calvert, Bev Bergeron, and Jeff McBride. The Camelard College honored Maria with its highest award: the Beneficium Arte Magica (BAM).

Merlina also received a Merlin Award from Tony Hassini of the International Magicians Society in recognition of her contributions to magic. She was also honored with a Cometa Magico, the highest recognition from the Hispanic magic community, which is presented after a vote by magic societies worldwide. A life-size bust of St. John Bosco, Patron Saint of magicians, is the Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Mexican magic societies. Mandrake the magician and the Abrakadabra organization have also presented Maria with several plaques and awards.

The City of Miami and Miami Dade County have recognized Maria with Proclamations presented by the respective Mayors, and on numerous occasions she performed directly for and at the request of the Mayor of the City of Doral, Luigi Boria and his wife. She also appeared as Mrs. Claus for three seasons during the annual Nights of Lights event at Pinecrest Gardens.

She served as President of the Greater Miami Magic Association, which is comprised of IBM Ring 390, SAM Assembly 280, MALAM (Magos Latino Americanos en Miami), IMS Chapter 25, and Magic City Conjurers. As she wrote in 2016, “We were very honored to have then International President, Shawn Farquhar, present the Charter for I.B.M. Ring 390 personally.” Finally, Maria served as a member of the Membership Committee for the IBM alongside of Terry Richison.    

Maria gave a presentation at the Magic Collector’s Conference in Orlando in January of 2023. It was her last appearance. Maria died on February 15, 2023, after a battle with cancer. She was 71. She was survived by her husband, two sons and their wives, and six grandchildren. 

A version of this article first appeared in the February 2007 issue of The Linking Ring and is used here with permission. Additional updates were provided by Maria Ibáñez in 2016, and she appeared on the cover of The Linking Ring in February 2021, with an article written by David Bull. 



Most of the few female magicians whose names start with “I” seem to cluster in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Thanks to the exciting research of Charles Greene, we now know much more about the previously mysterious life of Ionia (Clementine DeVere, 1888-1973), daughter of magic dealer Charles DeVere. Her short-lived illusion show between 1910 and 1913 was advertised with some of the most stunning posters ever printed. You can read about her in Charles’ book Ionia—Magician Princess—Secrets Unlocked. Ivy-Jeane, “England’s Young Queen of Magic,” was touring Ireland in 1902. There is also Ibhar (1874-1930), the assistant of Pharos, who worked with her own black art act in 1907. Madame I’Ada, “Mental Telepathiste,” played the English provinces in 1913-14. Mlle Irisah was a pro magicienne with Alyett’s troupe in Egypt circa 1915, and Indomita was one of many Houdini imitators working in Britain around 1910. Mary Edith Ingram (1890-1992), wife of Everett Ingram of Mystic, CT, performed as a magician in the ‘30s. An Australian mother-daughter duo called themselves The Illusiones in the 1970s. Among present-day magicians, Inés Fuentes is a close-up artist from Spain with many television appearances. Finally, no tribute to the “I-list” ladies would be complete without a tip of the hat to the late Frances Ireland (1910-2002), doyenne of the Chicago magic scene.


A Celestial Celebration Index