Chuck Davis writes:
Did the stage performer Mandrake the Magician inspire the famous comic strip of the same name, or was it the other way around?
Leon Mandrake, who became famous as Mandrake the Magician, was born April 11, 1911—99 years ago—in New Westminster. At age eleven he was on the stage of the Edison Theatre there, and at sixteen started touring North America. He was billed then as “Leon,” and later as “Leon the Ventriloquist.” By the mid-1940s he was being billed as “Mandrake the Magician.”
The title character in the comic strip Mandrake the Magician—it debuted June 11, 1934—was said to be drawn to resemble him. But Mandrake's son, Lon, also a magician, says that who inspired what or whom has become too tangled to sort out.
Here's what James Randi says in his book, Conjuring: “It appears that cartoonist Lee Falk had come up with the name Mandrake independently, basing it upon the claimed miraculous powers of the poisonous plant of the same name. Phil Davis, the eventual artist of the cartoon strip, even changed the look of his character somewhat to match Leon's appearance after the two met. It was an excellent symbiosis, each entity enhancing the other.”
The Mandrake family, by the way, moved to Surrey in 1958. Leon Mandrake died in 1993.