After two failed attempts to escape the country by boat, Pelaez, disguised as a priest, gained admission to the Colombian embassy and was flown to Colombia.
Pelaez spent a year teaching psychology at the University of Bogota before coming to the United States to stay. He wrote to Abraham Maslow, the famed psychologist who was teaching at Brandeis University and whom Pelaez had studied in Cuba, and became his teaching assistant.
In 1968, Pelaez started a "growth center" in Dublin, N.H., a 95-acre retreat that featured daily tai chi classes and meditation seminars. When it closed after 18 months, Pelaez traveled to Europe and studied theater, the circus, puppetry and opera — "every conceivable form of entertainment," Bull said.
In 1972, Pelaez was hired as a psychology professor at Salem State. His teaching methods, which encouraged students to think for themselves, made his classes among the most popular on campus, said Patricia Markunas, chairwoman of the school's psychology department.
"He had a way of bringing out the best in people, of getting people in particular to explore their artistic and creative side," Markunas said. "He had the magician's air of mystery that made you want to know more about him. The Magi is the wise man, and he was the wise man. You wanted to be with him whether it was in psychology or magic or just someone to know."
While running and performing in his magic show and teaching at Salem State, Pelaez and his company bought another old Beverly theater four blocks away on Wallis Street and introduced a second show, "An Anthology of Stage Magic."
"He was just a whirling dervish of energy and creativity," Bull said. "Shows and designs just poured out of him. This dream that he had from his childhood, this was the time, this was the place, and he wasn't going to miss the opportunity."