In 1945, he was re-assigned as a latrine orderly, and ran away. He disguised as Donna Delbert, "America's Outstanding Lady Magician and the Only Lady Fire Eater in the World". Female magicians were very rare, and Donna was quickly booked. She said that she was the widow of a tank gunner killed at Normandy. Between tours she worked at the Lambert & Butler factory as a tobacco-packer, where it was thought that she was a bit mannish, probably a lesbian.
The role lasted four years. Donna had two girlfriends who were in the know. One was jealous of the other, and shopped Delbert to the police. In prison back in the US, Delbert got a star turn in the inmate talent show, and wrote to The Performer telling the truth, and show-biz cronies wrote back.
Afterwards he returned home to Philadelphia, usually performing as a man, but sometimes as “Donna Delbert: The Celebrated English Magician & Fire Eater”. With time, however neither Delbert nor Donna was in as much demand, and they sold ice cream, worked in a Magic Fun Shop and even ran a diner.
They finally died of cancer in their mid-70s, and were buried in an unmarked grave.
- Roger Baker. Drag: a history of Female Impersonation on the Stage. A Triton Book. 1968: 189.
- Raymond Teller. “My Search for Donna Delbert”. SinCity - The Web Home of Penn & Teller. www.nytimes.com/1994/04/24/magazine/my-search-for-donna-delbert.html.
- Matt Lake. Weird Pennsylvania: Your Travel Guide to Pennsylvania's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. Sterling, 2009: 110-111.