Showing posts with label Doug Henning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Doug Henning. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

It Was 50 Years Ago Today - Magic Changed NYC


Fifty years ago May 28th, 1974 Doug Henning, a skinny kid from Canada, debuted at the Cort Theater in NYC. He starred in a magical musical called THE MAGIC SHOW. This magic was all Doug Henning. The music was written by a young Stephen Schwartz. Ivan Reitman was one of the shows producers. Broadway star Anita Morris was in the show, as was M.A.S.H. actor David Ogden Stiers who played the antagonist in the musical. 

The Magic Show ran for 4 years and became a touring show. Doug Henning went on the road touring in Colleges for a time and eventually starring in his own WORLD OF MAGIC TV Special for NBC. 

Doug Henning couldn't sing or dance, yet was the star of the show and went on to have an incredible career. 

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Doug Henning Styled Shoes - For Kids


I was at a show today and there was a kid wearing these very shoes. I almost stopped the show to find out more. But instead I tried to look them up online when I got back. A little less creepy that way, lol. Look at these. Tell me they don't look 100% like something Doug Henning would wear on stage? And then there is the other pair below. Again, perfect for Doug. 

They are not Doug's shoes. But if you are interested, here is the link

Thursday, December 21, 2023

48 Years Ago Today, Media blitz begins on The World of Magic TV Special


It was 48 years ago today, that the press began to appear about a little show on NBC, called The Wold of Magic, starring newcomer Doug Henning. Local TV Guides all over the country had articles about the upcoming special, many with behind the scenes photos. And from what I've seen, some of them with information which was incorrect. Specifically, some of them had Orson Welles listed as one of the Special Guest Stars, but he would be replaced late in the game with actor/dancer Gene Kelly. 

The NBC Special would be broadcast LIVE on the evening of Dec 26th, 1975, and the magic world would never be the same again. 

I will go more into the special in a few days, but for now, enjoy the special commemorative poster that was created for the Special.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Another Doug Henning Anniversary, This time #23


February 7th, 2000, Doug Henning passed away. He was only 52 at the time. It came as a huge shock to the magic community for several reasons. For one, he was way too young to pass away. But secondly, he had started to get back into magic just prior to this. He had been spotted at several different magic shops and had some communications with old friends in the magic world. Some even speculated that maybe, just maybe, he was going to make a come back.

But that was not to be.

Magic was very different 23 years ago. Ok, maybe not VERY different, but different enough. I guess I'm thinking of when Doug was around and performing. New strides in the world of Illusion were happened, they started with Doug and then when he left, they continued with David Copperfield primarily. The man behind those innovations was Jim Steinmeyer. But he wasn't the only one, Andre Kole was creating incredible illusions, as well others.

Just this past weekend, I began to explore the world of one of the guys who worked with both Doug and David, his name is Doug Bennett. I recalled the name, but wasn't aware of this many contributions. In fact, as I type this, I have a friend working on a jumbo version of a trick Doug Bennett created called The Criss Cross Deck. Doug featured it on one of his TV specials. 

Doug Bennett is probably best known of his Bewildering Effect, that Doug Henning featured on a Tonight Show spot with Johnny Carson. And there is another effect he created called FireTrap, which again, Doug did on a TV spot. It was cool to discover that Mr. Bennett is still working in the magic world. as a consultant. HIs latest commercial item was a Floating Selfie Stick, ala. Dancing Can....brilliant. If you'e like to learn more about Mr. Bennett, check out

And please take a moment or two to remember Doug Henning and his unique brand of magic.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Happy 75th Birthday Doug Henning!


Today, May 3rd, 2022, would have been Doug Henning's 75th Birthday. Frankly, it's doesn't seem all that long ago when he passed away. But to think he would be 75, wow. 

I can tell you, Doug Henning was the first celebrity whose death really hit me hard. I never knew Doug, never got to meet him. But he was such a part of my magic world, that when he died, it was like that song by Don McLean, American Pie where there lyric is "the day the music died". In our case it was "the day the Magic died." That's how it felt. 

Watching Doug Henning now is nostalgic, and not everything he did holds up. But there are so many lessons that modern performers could learn from....both good and bad. In the good department, his theatricality is wonderful. His showmanship is stellar. His upbeat personality and likeablity is wonderful. He never demeans magic, never speaks poorly of it. Some of the magic happens to him, some of the magic is caused by him. He is more wizard than magician, and he loves what he does.

As much as I loved his TV Specials, there was nothing better than seeing Doug Henning LIVE. The live performances were pure Doug, minus some of the cornier dialog that was found on the TV shows. And the magic, oh man, just killer. Have you seen Doug do the Floating and Rising Cards? It's as close to real magic as you can get. His Metamorphosis presentation is the one every tried to copy, until The Pendragons came along. But even then, his routine is perfect. 

I could go on and on about Doug Henning. But let me stop and simply say, Happy Birthday Doug!!!

Friday, February 7, 2020

Doug Henning 20th Anniversary

It was 20 years ago today, the magic world got the news that one of our greatest magicians had passed away. It was a shock to many. Certainly a shock to me. Doug Henning passed away Feb 7, 2000, he was only 52 years old. He had retired from performing to pursue other projects. But in the previous year or so Doug started to show up at magic shops here and there across the country. There were rumors that he would be returning to magic. I was so excited by this prospect! To see Doug Henning LIVE on stage again, wow! His was my favorite magic show at that point, that I'd ever seen live. But it was not to be. Just as quick as the rumors started, he was gone.

There was a little less magic in the world that day and every day since. RIP Doug Henning.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Happy Birthday Doug Henning

Friday May 3rd marks another birthday for Doug Henning. Had he lived, he would be turning 72, and no doubt would be the spitting image of Merlin himself! On Friday, my second podcast on Doug Henning debuts on, it is Episode 20. Basically on this podcast I do a run down of the World of Magic Specials 5-8. I give a list of tricks and a few other details from the specials. There is something that I mention during the podcast, that I have talked about before and I'd like to mention it again. The 8 World of Magic TV Specials, though wonderful to those of us who experienced them as they happened, may not hold up well for newer generations. They likely seem corny, over produced, campy, even goofy. It was a different time for sure. But I also point out that even though I loved the specials they failed to capture Doug at his best. What does that mean?

To see Doug Henning LIVE was much different that the TVspecials. Gone were the corny jokes and the poorly written patter. Instead, what you have is a very confident performer who is genuinely funny, energetic, enthusiastic, and HAPPY to be in front of an audience. I never in all my years heard anyone say that "Doug Henning phoned in a performance, or walked through a performance". He was engaged and in touch with every audience he performed for. And amazingly, I found proof of what I speak.

On Youtube there is a video that someone shot of Doug performing LIVE in Omaha Nebraska sometime in the 1980s. Yes, he is wearing his signature overalls, but that was HIS style for the time. But the magic is rock solid, the entertainment is fantastic. Listen to how the audience responds to his various lines and quips. He is a master showman without question. Please take a few moments to enjoy the magic of Doug Henning!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Remembering Doug Henning 19 years later

Doug Henning passed away 19th years ago on Feb 7th, 2000. It doesn't seem like that long has passed. I decided that I would put up some of my own recollections of Doug in the latest episode of the Magic Detective Podcast. I didn't want to do a biographical piece, at least not this time around. Rather, I just wanted to share some of my own thoughts. 

Doug was influential in my interest in magic. Over the course of my own career and development it seems I have done around 40 Henning tricks in my own shows. Now, I didn't always do them like he did, but they were material that I first saw Henning do. They range from close-up magic to stage magic to grand illusion. Doug was the first person I ever saw do many tricks. For example, Card Warp, I first was exposed to this on one of his specials. The Mental Photography Deck is another that I saw Doug do for the first time. Granted a lot of this stuff was already out there in the magic world, but because I was a kid at the time, Doug Henning was the first I saw present them.

He was the first I saw do The Needle through Balloon, the Al Wheatly One Cup routine, and he was the first to do Rubics Cube magic on TV! Talk about a trailblazer! Illusions, let's see, Shadow Box, Zig Zag, Mismade Lady, Microphone Suspension, Sword Suspension and more. All of these things I've listed are things I have since done. And of course, so have thousands of other performers as well. 

One of my favorite routines came from the 4th TV Special. It was a Monte Effect that boggled my mind when I first saw it on TV. Then later I saw Doug Henning perform it live several times. Years later, my friend Denny Haney would tell me where I could find that routine, it was locked away in a booklet, and thankfully I obtained it and learned it. I then wrote a script that was original to me and it became a signature trick in my own show.  In my show I tell the story of Houdini meeting a very young Charlie Chaplin for the first time, and the routine takes off from there. 

My podcast on Doug is the longest one I've done so far, almost an hour long. And I realized something after I finished the podcast. Doug's TV specials were great, but some were hit or miss. And it's hard to judge him from just the TV specials. However, in LIVE performances he was fantastic. He was charismatic and likable and he won over everyone with his joyful exuberance. He was a breath of fresh air and there has never been another like him since and there certainly wasn't anyone like him prior.  

Let's all remember Doug Henning on his day. What effect did he have on your magic? He paved the way for so many magical artists.  We were lucky to have him in our world.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Doug Henning Documentary - Fundraiser

In the 1970's there was no bigger name in the world of magic than Doug Henning. With his incredible yearly specials and touring shows he was responsible for the resurgence of interest in magic. He inspired so many future magicians, myself included. Doug was so different from every other magician out there. Doug was just Doug. He didn't try to be Blackstone, or Kellar, or even Houdini. He had his own way of doing things and his way was simply, magical. Sadly, Doug Henning is often forgotten today. 

But there is someone out there who wants to change all that, his name is Neil McNally. In May 2017, Neil created The Doug Henning Project, which is a blog devoted to the life of Doug Henning. Due to the popularity of the site, Neil decided to take the next step and create a documentary about Doug. Neil is the writer and director of the documentary, while Michelle Opitz, a veteran documentary filmmaker, is the projects producer.

From the website: This feature length documentary is made with the cooperation of the Henning family, and features such magic luminaries as Penn and Teller, Lance Burton, Max Maven, Johnny Thompson, Milt Larsen, and many more. It follows Doug’s complete life starting as a youth in Canada, his first breakthrough on Broadway with “The Magic Show,” his eight television specials, his devotion to Transcendental Meditation, and his ultimate reasons for leaving it all behind. The framework of which is told by Doug himself through a comprehensive and unreleased video interview recorded six months before his passing.
Like the Beatles before him, Doug Henning was attuned to his time. It was a time of hippie sensibilities, positivity, rainbow spandex, and love. We could sure use a lot of that today.

The documentary can use your help. Neil and Michelle have put up a website which tells you all about the documentary. And they've also put up an Indigogo Fundraising page which can be found here can contribute as little as $5 or as much as $10,000. Please go check out the sites and if you are able, contribute to the project. But before you go, watch the video below which tells more about the film! And THEN go donate to this very worthy project.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

David Ogden Stiers Passed Away

David Ogden Stiers, who played Feldman in The Magic Show on Broadway with Doug Henning, has passed away at the age of 75. He was best known for his role on M.A.S.H. as the Doctor Charles Emerson Winchester. RIP

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Day That Changed The World of Magic

I'd say there were many dates that fit this title, but in the later 20th Century that date must surely be December 26, 1975. This was when Doug Henning's first NBC Special appeared on TV. It was also the night that many new magicians were born, due to Doug's inspiration.

To set the stage, magic was not a prime time event in the 1970s. It's luster had long ago run out. Magic had not totally vanished from television, it was being kept alive by Mark Wilson's wonderful TV shows. But those were not on prime time TV.

Doug Henning had made a big splash on Broadway with his show The Magic Show. It had taken everyone by surprise, and the true magic within the show was Doug. As was stated in the fine book by John Harrison, Spellbound, "Doug couldn't act, couldn't dance and couldn't sing", and yet here he was a bonifide Broadway Star.

It was producer David Suskind's idea to bring Doug to the masses via a network TV special. The first special had a number of unique qualities to it. First, the show would be presented LIVE. Second, Doug would be closing the show with a dangerous escape, the recreation of Harry Houdini's Water Torture Cell. It also had something unique that must have endeared Doug to magician's all over the country, and that was that he opened the show with the world's smallest trick, The Vanishing Nickle.

I still recall seeing this mystery for the first time. There was this odd looking guy, with long hair and a t-shirt, very un-magician looking to me. He began with a nickle on the palm of his hand and closed his fingers around it. Then he turned his wrist to show the back of his hand and then back over to show the closed fingers. When he opened his had the nickle was GONE! He turned his hand around to show the nickle was not on the back of his had and then he closed his fingers again. The next time he opened his had the nickle had returned.  This was all done with the camera very close up. Next he picked up the nickle and tossed it twice into the other hand where it changed to a larger coin, probably a half dollar. Then that half dollar changed into a jumbo coin. The audience burst into applause! That was the start of the new age of magic. 

Much of the magic on that special had been unseen for years, but after that night many routines would be staples of Doug's future performances, such as The Metamorphosis, Things That Go Bump In the Night, and The Sands of Egypt.

The big number of course was the Water Torture Cell, which was going to be done a little differently than Houdini's version. The first change was the cell itself. Doug's Cell had glass on every side. It was also elevated off the stage. In the Houdini version, Houdini made his escape while under cover of a curtain, Doug did the same, but rather than escape, Doug apparently vanished. At the moment when the tension was the highest, as if Doug had failed and maybe was drowning on National TV, a hooded figure with an axe ran in to break the glass. As the curtain was pulled away everyone saw that Doug had vanished from the tank........and then the hooded figure pulled back his hood to reveal he was Doug Henning! A remarkable conclusion to an incredible special.

It turned out to be one of the highest rated magic specials in Television history and made Doug a star over night! And as I mentioned earlier, that night gave birth to many new magicians as well.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Doug Henning Mania

I know I've been absent for the past few weeks. I missed out on the tour of the Houdini House in NYC. I guess it's the curse of being a performer, and a busy one at that. I don't quite have the amount of time I'd like to do some other things, like explore Houdini's home.

I have been hip deep in shows. But when I'm not out performing I seem to be engrossed in the world of Doug Henning. I'm not exactly sure what started this, maybe it was the new DougHenningProject blog. But I've been watching tons of clips of Henning that I have on old tapes. I've watched most of the old specials. I've purchased some posters and am rereading the excellent book by John Harrison.

 I was certainly inspired by Doug Henning. He and Houdini were two driving forces of my initial
interest in magic. As I look back over my own career I see Henning's influence in much of the material I perform. The Needle Through Mirror still figures prominently in my show, and was featured by Henning on one of his specials. Twilight, a trick by Paul Harris was featured on that same special and was something I did early one and recently relearned it. The Vanishing Nickel, which was the opening trick of Doug's first NBC special was also one of my first tricks. The seashell matrix was another routine that I was always fond of and recently recorded it for my WeeklyWizardry show on Facebook. In my big show we present his Ring in Bread routine which he featured in his last tour and was the creation of Jim Steinmeyer.  Another routine that Doug did was Joe Riding's 3 Card Trick with 4 Cards, which again, I have in my show, but with a very different presentation.  The Rubic's Cube trick from his Broadway Special is yet another one! Gosh, there were more than I realized. What can I say, Doug Henning had an eye for great magic. And of course he had a top notch team of advisors finding that magic for him!

Watching Henning on talk shows is a delight. He excelled in those circumstances. Seeing him LIVE was even better. I was fortunate enough to see his show live 4 times. He always seemed genuine on stage. You never got the impression he was putting on an act, but rather, the guy you saw on-stage was probably very much like his off-stage persona as well.

The one negative thing I will say is the writing on his specials was dreadful. I remember back in the day thinking it was dreadful and it's worse now, lol. But the magic was rock solid.

I have a feeling more Henning magic will be in my shows in the future. After receiving the gift of one of Henning's canes from his Cane Cabinet, I've been giving that illusion serious thought. There are also two illusions that Henning did that I've never seen anyone else do that I think would be wonderful. In fact, I've always thought it would be a great fit for my show. I'll reserve the right to keep the name of it secret for now.

But look at some of the illusions Henning did that others have done. Origami Box, yes Doug was the FIRST to present this beautiful illusion. Walking Through A Mirror, another first. The Water Levitation was pure Henning and the first to do it. The Elevator was a Doug Henning first, though his Elevator had a different method. And even though he wasn't the first to present The MisMade Lady and The Zig Zag Lady, they were certainly most associated with Doug Henning.

Where would we be today without Doug Henning? It's hard to say. He brought magic back to the masses and opened the door to future performers like David Copperfield and the countless others that followed him. Yes, it's true that Doug Henning was a product of his time and seems kind of goofy today. But I encourage you to look beyond the crazy costumes and corny jokes and experience the magic from a guy who truly believed there was real magic in the world! And please check out the DougHenningProject blog as it continues to have great content and interviews with folks who knew and worked with Doug Henning!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Happy Belated Birthday Doug Henning and News

I guess I had forgotten, but May 3rd was Doug Henning's birthday, he would have been 70 years old. It's been 17 years since he left us. Seems like just yesterday. Though he had been retired, his absence in the world of magic is still felt deeply. I was looking over my past articles and saw that I had 15 articles that are either about Doug or mention Doug Henning. You can view those here:

But there is news, and news for which I am very very happy. There is a new blog devoted strictly to Doug Henning. It is called  and is put together by Neil McNally. He starts off very strong with a three part interview with Milt Larsen about Doug. It's great stuff. And with so many people who knew Doug still alive today, this site should be a rich treasure trove of Doug Henning facts and trivia. I almost wish I had done it! Best of luck Neil!!!

IF you're wondering if I was inspired at all by Doug Henning. YOU BET I WAS. Look at the photo below of a young Doug and younger me!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Piece of Doug Henning Memorabilia

Thanks to my friend Michael Stroud, who is a fine magician and also a big fan of Doug Henning and Le Grand David, I now have one of the canes from Doug Henning's Cane Cabinet in my collection. The Cane Cabinet as presented by Doug Henning was called Backstage With A Cane Cabinet and it was the creation of Jim Steinmeyer.

The origins of the trick go back to U.F. Grant and can be found in a number of different magic books including Tarbell.  The U.F. Grant version used Steel Bars and an upright cabinet. Jim's creation was basically the same cabinet with some subtle alterations to the method and with canes rather than steel bars. It was introduced into Doug's show in 1984 according to the book, Spellbound, by John Harrison.

The routine borrowed liberally from Dante's Backstage With The Magician presentation, with a painted backdrop that looked like the audience. The illusion was performed facing that backdrop, so it appeared to the real audience they were getting a view of an illusion that wouldn't normally be seen.

In the course of the illusion, the magician, sneaks out of the cabinet (in full view of the real audience of course) and goes underneath a covered table-like structure. A large quantity of wooden canes are shoved into the now apparently empty box. Once all the canes are in, one of them mysteriously begins to move, the assistants quickly jump in and remove all the canes. At the conclusion of the illusion the magician is found  having vanished underneath the table and is yet again inside the Cane Cabinet. It's a wonderful effect, part penetration, part transposition. Doug later performed this on The Tonight Show w/Johnny Carson.

In October of 2014, Jim Steinmeyer's column in Genii Magazine called CONJURING, featured another take on the cane cabinet, this time called The Petite Illusion. That version doesn't have the 'backstage' feature but does offer another 'sucker' like ending.

To my knowledge the only other person to present The Backstage with a Cane Cabinet was Lance Burton. I remember seeing the illusion featured on one of Lance Burton's TV Special's and I think he also performed it on the Tonight Show, but this time Jay Leno was the host. I am pretty sure I saw him perform it at his fantastic show at the Monte Carlo Hotel Casino in Las Vegas. At the bottom of the page is a video of Lance's Cane Cabinet in action.

The photo above/left shows the cane once owned and used by Doug Henning. I am actually going to have it mounted on a board with a photo of the cane cabinet, but I have to locate a photo of Doug presenting the illusion first. The Cane Cabinet owned by Doug Henning was purchased at the Southern California auction of Doug's props by a magician from Hollister, CA, William Wizard. My friend Michael purchased the illusion from Mr. Wizard at a later date.  Michael held onto the illusion for a while but it's size became an issue for storage so he eventually sold it to an eccentric collector in California. However, Michael kept the canes and now one of those canes is in my collection.

If you enjoyed this, I'll have another Doug Henning article later this month!

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Linking Rings, A Tricks Whose Time Has Come and Gone and Come Again!

I would love to blame my sudden fascination with the Linking Ring trick on Frederick Eugene Powell, but he is only partly to blame. I was already researching this ancient mystery when I saw his video 2  weekends ago. In his routine, at the 5:50 mark on the video, he does a remarkable move where all the rings fall and cascade off of one ring onto the floor. I had read about this move before but never saw it in action. Having seen it, all I can say is WHOA! That is awesome!!!

Just so you know, I will not be revealing the methodology of this trick. I know that 90% of the people who read my blog are magicians, but I do get lay people who read it from time to time and I am from the old school, a keeper of secrets.

The trick known as the Chinese Linking Rings is said to be 2000 years old, possibly older. I am not certain of it's origins, though I have read it can be traced to Egypt and other areas of the Middle East as far back as the first century. The Annals of Conjuring mentions that it could possibly be from Ancient Rome, but it also says that evidence is slight.  And still other sources point towards India and China as the place of origin for the Linking Rings.

The trick was introduced to the European magic world via a troupe of Chinese Jugglers and Acrobats in 1830 and thus I suspect the reason the effect is known as the 'Chinese' Linking Rings.  According to the book The Annals of Conjuring, 'they were from the Court of Pekin and performed at the Savile House, #1, Leicester Square.' A number of online sources list the French conjurer Phillipe as the first magician in Europe to do the Rings after the Chinese troupe came through, but apparently, an English magician by the name of Jacobs was doing the Rings two years earlier than Phillipe. That information also comes from Annals of Conjuring.

I think it's probably safe to say we'll never know the true origin . But at least we have a good idea of when they gained popularity, in the 1800s. The early routines presented by Europeans were done with a lot of rings, 8, 10, 11, 12 and more. I'm not sure there is anyone today doing routines with large numbers of rings. About the most you'll see are six or eight, as most sets sold in magic shops come in eights. Levant, in the book Roy Benson by Starlight speculates that the reason shops started selling sets of eight rings was because Modern Magic by Professor Hoffmann contained a routine with eight and twelve. Eight was easier and less expensive to produce and thus cheaper to sell a set of eight. However, Levant says on his DVD Levent's Ultimate Guide To The Linking Rings, that magic shops probably always sold a variety of rings, from 8-12. Today however, the set seems to stay at 8 or less.

From my research on Edward Maro earlier this year I learned that he too presented the Linking Rings but he used very large rings. I suspect he was doing either Robert-Houdin's routine or one of the routines featured in Modern Magic by Professor Hoffmann.

I first learned the Rings when I was a kid. But from the research I've done over the past week, I apparently never really learned the Rings, lol. I learned a routine, but to my delight there is so much more to this little effect than meets the eye. I was surprised by the amount of magic literature that covers the rings. For example: The Robert-Houdin routine can be found in The Essential Robert-Houdin by Miracle Factory, Tarbell #4 contains a couple sweet routines, one of which was the routine of Eugene Laurant, Greater Magic by John Northern Hilliard contains several different routines, Roy Benson by Starlight by Levent has the best possible recreation of the Benson Liking Ring routine available, and there are many other sources as well.

I've recently watched over a dozen routines on video including: Chris Capehart's brilliant routine, Pop Haydn's stellar 4 ring routine, Dai Vernon's Classic Symphony, Richard Ross's 3 Ring and 4 Ring award winning routines, Cellini's Silent but deadly two ring routine and many others. One of the best variations was Mike Caveney's Linking Coat Hangers.  I have watched videos by pros and by some not so pro but still well done. And I've seen a couple routines that I did not like at all. Two that I didn't like come to mind because I could tell, both performers knew how to do the rings, both had skill with the rings, but they chose to add dance and fast movements and it got difficult to follow the magic. Confusion is not magic and speed is not needed when performing the rings, in fact, the slower you go the more mysterious the illusion. 

I believe my first real exposure to the rings was watching Doug Henning present them. Actually, my first true exposure was a theme park magician in Kentucky just a few months before the first Doug Henning Special. I desperately wanted to know how the trick worked so I bought a copy of The Amatuer Magician's Handbook by Henry Hay and found the secret, or so I thought. That's the great thing about magic, there is never one secret to any trick. A good effect has layers of secrets along with psychology and misdirection. Then there is the  magician who must interpret all those elements and bring something of himself/herself to the mix. One of the most beautiful routines I've seen with the rings is done by Tina Lenert. Her routine is so mysterious and magical and fun. Her's is done to music and she just captivates with her presence.

Having watched so many ring routines over the past week, I have a far better knowledge of the
different routines. I know that David Copperfield for example was doing Richard Ross's routine on one of his old TV specials. I know that Doug Henning and my friend Cesareo Pelaez from Le Grand David both were doing Dai Vernon's Symphony of the Rings. OH, and Dai Vernon's routine seems to have been based on Cardini's routine. I can see similarities in Chris Capehart's routine to those in the smaller Ninja Ring by Shoot Ogawa.  I would surmise that Chris developed his through the school of hard work and repetition. His routine, uses only three rings and features a repetitive link that simply looks impossible. He does the link over and over, right under people's noses and still it's impossible to see how he does it. The Capehart routine has a different feel from others, almost a more direct in your face sort of approach, and I like it.

Who has the best routine? I don't think there is a definitive answer. John Northern Hillard says in Greater Magic that Chung Ling Soo's routine was the best he'd ever seen. Many magicians point to Vernon's Symphony or Pop Haydn's 4 Ring routine as their favorites. In the 1970's, I would have to say that Richard Ross dominated the field with his beautiful Linking Ring routine. There are just so many great ring routines, it's impossible to choose a 'best'. One thing is for sure, a Linking Ring routine, well constructed and well performed is just as strong today as it was in the 1830s.

On the DVD, Levent's Ultimate Guild To The Linking Rings, Levent share's Robert-Houdin's routine with 12 rings, Chung Ling Soo's 12 Ring routine, Claudius Odin's 8 Ring routine, Cardini's 6 Ring routine, Dai Vernon's 4 ring and 6 ring routines, Paul Potassy's 8 ring routine, Jack Miller's 5 ring routine, Roy Benson's 11 ring routine, Richard Ross's 4 ring routine, and several of Levent's own ring routines that he created. He does these routines perfectly and they are all a pleasure to watch. If you want to learn the Linking Rings, Levent's DVD is a must have, but it's expensive, so the merely curious will stay away. His 4 DVDs are a college course in mastering the Linking Rings. One thing that sort of surprised me was that among all the various ring moves and sleights he displays, none of the four I created are among the bunch. Now, I did not reveal mine to Levent, but I had always kind of assumed that I was likely reinventing something someone else did, but apparently that isn't the case. So, it's nice to know I've got four Linking Ring sleights that are unique! One more think on Levent's DVD, it's FANTASTIC. I found the historical information and the recreations to be just as great as the teaching segments. He always does a stellar job.

Oh, and I was surprised to find that Houdini has a contribution to the Linking Rings. Though, it appears that Houdini's contribution may have come from Adrian Plate's notebooks that Houdini owned. The contribution appears in the book Houdini's Magic by Walter Gibson. The sequence is a very unorthodox linking of two rings that is brilliant and deceptive. I don't know if Houdini ever actually performed the Linking Rings in his show, but I'm guessing he probably did not (if I'm wrong, let me know).

UPDATE:  I had to mention this, I just watched Jonathan Pendragon's Linking Ring routine on video. I had seen it before but forgot about it. After watching so many ring routines over the past couple weeks and watching 7 hours of rings this weekend, I must say that Jonathan's routine is among the best there is. His routine is very well constructed. It's a combination of patter and music, part of the routine he interacts with the audience, part of the routine he is on stage performing to music. And his choice of music is the perfect fit for the routine as the rings act as almost a musical instrument interacting with the music. As with anything Jonathan does, it's a very physical routine and it goes to show how a performer takes a routine and makes it their own. Just great stuff.

UPDATE2: I forgot to mention I have two friends who do the rings. But they don't really 'do the rings' They make music with their rings. They're routines are a thing of beauty and you can sense the years of dedication and practice and love in every movement. They both do similar routines but yet the end results are different. My two friends are Glenn Gary and Keith Pass, two maestros with the rings.

The reason I did not personally continue with the rings many years ago was because I shifted to the Linking Hula Hoops, which is a variation of the Linking Rings. I have been doing the Hoops for 30 years and it's become my signature trick. Originally created by Dick Zimmerman in the 1960s. I took the original routine and added my own additional moves and figures. The only flaw, if there is one, to the Linking Hula Hoops is that it's a stage trick only. So now, I'm considering a return to the Linking Rings for smaller venues. I'd like to venture into one of the 11 or 12 ring routines because those are so rarely done.  For now however, I'd like to share my variation of the Linking Rings, done with Hula Hoops. This is actually a ten year old video, so my current routine is slightly different, but you get the general idea. I hope you enjoy it and I hope you liked my history of the Linking Rings!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Spirit Handkerchief and It's History

There is a wonderful effect in magic that has found it's way into the acts of many performers called The Dancing Handkerchief. Probably the most iconic performer to present the effect was Harry Blackstone Sr., and then later his son Blackstone Jr.. Even David Copperfield made a hit out of this little wonder.  But you might be surprised just how many well known performers and hundreds of lesser knowns performed this effect.

I tried to track down the origins of the mystery, originally known as The Spirit Handkerchief. Magicpedia lists Nevil Maskelyene as the creator. I can find no reference in magic literature to Nevil Maskelyne having been the creator of the trick.
Anna Eva Fay
thought I had the answer but then a second source listed a different name. Originally, I thought that Anna Eva Fay created this mystery. She began her career as a fake spirit medium and this type of effect would have been ideal for her 'Light Seance' segment.

However, here is what I do know. In the 1870s, Anna Eva Fay was in England presenting her seances. She had encountered John Nevil Maskelyne, who was busy exposing all spirit mediums. There is a brief account of their altercation in White Magic by Jasper Maskelyne. Shortly after this Anna Eva Fay returned to America and for a time was thought to be English, though she was actually from Ohio.

So who created the Spirit Dancing Hank? Looks like the winner is Anna Eva Fay*. But I think I know why Maskelyne's name is connected to it. The Dancing Hank was often presented in conjunction with another effect which was sort of a mini-Spirit Cabinet. Two chairs were placed on stage. A sheet of glass was balanced upon the two chairs and then a small cabinet was placed upon the glass. Inside was a bell and a slate. This effect was the creation of Maskelyne.  And it may have been Frederick Eugene Powell who first presented these two together in the United States. This information comes from Magic: A Pictorial History of Conjurers In The Theatre by David Price.

I do know that Harry Kellar began presenting these two effects together in 1894. He called it The
Cassadaga Propaganda. And from several different accounts, his Dancing Hank routine was a big hit. It's hard to say where he got it from, though he may have seen Maskelyne present it as he was known for stealing material from the Maskelyne show.

I found an interesting article in The Linking Ring Vol 40 #8, on a lesser known magician, John Grdina. In the article it says that Grdina taught none other than Harry Blackstone Sr. the Dancing Hank and whenever Blackstone was in Cleveland, he would mention it to his audiences. Grdina, as a youth apparently saw Harry Kellar first present the effect. He later would create some kind of version of his own.

Blackstone Sr. presented the Dancing Hank so well, that he is associated with the effect. His son, Harry Jr. also made a showpiece out of the routine. Others have presented the original version including Harry Willard, John Calvert and Howard Thurston. But no one made as big a mark with it as did Harry Blackstone Sr.. Below is the video of Harry Jr. presenting the hank, exactly as his father before him had presented it. (The person who uploaded the video fast-forwards through a bit of the early section, so just ignore that.)

In the 1950s, along came Ralph Adams. He created a more elaborate version of the Dancing Hank that was different from the Blackstone version. Doug Henning later used the Ralph Adam's version in his shows for many years. Though it was still a piece of cloth becoming animated, it was a different routine from the earlier versions. Below is a shorter version of the Henning routine. Usually, Doug presented it onstage with one of his dancers.

Then in the late 1970s David Copperfield debuted a new take on this classic effect. His version was the creation of Don Wayne and it combined aspects of the original with a sort of animated 'zombie' like effect. The Don Wayne version became all the rage for a number of years. Incidentally, the Don Wayne version may have been an updated version of the Joe Karson version known as Voodoo. One reason I think the Copperfield routine became so iconic was that he created a story based routine or a vignette. The magic was an important aspect of telling the overall story.

And speaking of updating versions, the latest and most advanced version of the effect started with the Don Wayne method and flew out to the stratosphere thanks to magic creator Sean Bogunia. Sean has taken the basic effect, added multiple methods and truly brought the animated handkerchief to life in ways that no one ever thought possible. Because of his innovations, many performers present the Dancing Hank in their shows today.

I'm not certain that anyone has really gotten the notoriety with the effect that the Blackstone's did. Though Sean is sure known as Mr. Hanky these days. This is by far a complete history of the effect but it does give you a good overview of the dancing hank through the years. Others have had innovations along the way as well, like Karrel Fox and Steve Dusheck. And a multitude of performers have presented this great effect. One thing is for certain,  over 100 years later the effect of causing a bit of cloth or handkerchief to come to life and animate and dance is still an amazing and popular illusion.

*Barry Wiley, author of The Indescribable Phenomenon, a biography of Anna Eva Fay, believes that in fact it was Maskelyne who created the Dancing Hank effect. His book is extremely well researched so now I'm leaning towards Maskelyne over Anna Eva Fay.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Unique Piece of Doug Henning's Magic

The illusion above is a Disembodied Princess created for Doug Henning's touring show by Jim Steinmeyer. It was called 'Seeing Through Surrounded' and was the last illusion designed for Doug Henning.

The very first prop of this kind was created by P.T. Selbit and was called The Man Without a Middle. His version was quite different from what many are used to. In the Selbit version, the entire middle section of the box is removed leaving the head section to be held up by two poles.

The next version to come along was created by Carl Owen when he worked for Thayers. He called his version 'The Disembodied Princess' and his version was a vast improvement on the original because the methodology was simplified. In the Carl Owen version, the top door would show the girls head, her legs could be seen in the two sections below. Two large blades would pass through her neck and waist and then the middle box was opened to show that part of her body was gone, even though the legs and head could still be seen.

In the book, P.T. Selbit Magical Innovator, the authors Eric Lewis and Peter Warlock comment that if Selbit had never created The Man Without a Middle Illusion, then Robert Harbin would never have developed his Zig Zag Lady. The Zig Zag was Harbin's way of creating a similar effect with even more advancements.

Getting back to the Doug Henning prop, this was developed because Doug was appearing in a number of 'Theatres in the Round' and they were unable to do the standard Disembodied Princess due to site issues. So 'Seeing Through Surrounded' was built to allow a view of the prop from any angle. A full description of the prop along with it's inner workings appeared in a small booklet called Square One put out by Stan Allen of MAGIC Magazine.

I had read Square One and was instantly fascinated by the line drawings of this prop but was never fortunate enough to see it in action. Imagine my surprise while visiting a Science Museum in Tampa Florida to come upon a large touring feature called The Magic of Science, and among the items on display was this prop once owned by Doug Henning.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Sad Day of Rememberance

Feb 7, 2000, Doug Henning passed away. 15 years has passed since that news came out and it's still sad. However, to add to it, this morning I awoke to the news that the Maestro, Rene Levand has passed away. Rene was truly one of the most artistic performers of our art to ever live.

Wow, this has been a tough day. after I posted this I learned that Dean Dill also passed away today. He was such a kind man and fantastic performer. I am stunned.

RIP Rene Levand, Dean Dill, & Doug Henning.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Great Doug Henning

We are fast approaching the anniversary of the death of Doug Henning. He was an iconic magician who left us much too soon. But thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can still experience his magic. Now, I will say compared to some of the super slick illusions and mysteries of today, some of the magic seems dated. But you also get to some some real gems mixed in as well.

Below, is a video of one of Doug's specials I found on Youtube. There are some drawbacks to the video, for one it's dubbed in Spanish, so if you speak Spanish you might enjoy it even more. But for those of us that don't it's unfortunate that we can't really hear Doug. Also, Bill Cosby appears on the show as his co-host. At the time, Cosby was one of the biggest stars in show business. I'll not be going into the current controversy, except to say, ignore that and pay attention to Doug!

On this special you'll see: Things That Go Bump In the Night, The Double Sawing, The Flexible Mirror, Walking Through a Mirror, probably the very first version of The Elevator and still my favorite, and you'll also see the Rube Goldberg illusion that I believe was actually Doug's idea. For close-up you'll see a contribution from Paul Harris called Twilight, Doug's Matrix with Sea Shells, and the production of some Goldfish.

AND, for the magic history fans, there is something that I did not remember on this special. It's a version of the Book of Life used by FuManchu.

So if you don't speak Spanish, turn down the volume a little and enjoy the magic. If you do, enjoy every moment of this fun special from the 1970s.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Platinum Age of Magic

We have all heard the term Golden Age of Magic. I'm not really sure if there is a true beginning and ending to the Golden Age, but my guess would be 1890-1930. This is when magic really took off. Kellar, Houdini, Thurston, Blackstone, Dante and others ruled the stages.  After 1930s, magic certainly continued but with the death of Vaudeville and the advent of movies and TV magic lost it's once mighty place in the world of showbiz.

Magicians know that magic continued and saw the rise of different kinds of magic, the manipulators, like Cardini worked nightclubs. Illusionists like Jack Gwynne changed their acts so they could work in the round on dance floors. And of course, there was the rise of the close-up magicians with men like Dai Vernon, Charlie Miller, Ross Bertram and others. Magic was forced to adapt and it did, but with the death of the traveling illusion show, magic faded from the eyes of the general public for the most part.

In the 1970s along came Doug Henning. He is credited with ushering in a second Golden Age of Magic and I think that's true for the most part. But there were others, Mark Wilson was setting the stage before Doug and even after Doug. David Copperfield came along just at the height of Henning's fame and David continued to carry the torch. Suddenly in this second Golden Age of Magic, we had Copperfield, Henning, Wilson, Blackstone Jr., Siegfried and Roy, Penn and Teller, Lance Burton and others. That flame seemed like it was going to burn for a long time but it was put out (in my opinion) almost over night by a guy named Valentino. And once again, magic seemed to slip away from the public consciousness.

Within the magic world, things were red hot. Close-up was the big craze and it was moving leaps and bounds over all the other types of magic. Folks like Paul Harris, Michael Ammar, John Carney, David Williamson, David Roth and others were now the big stars. Just when we thought there would be no more magic on TV, some kid named David Blaine showed up and rewrote the book on magic. David Blaine, like Henning before him, ushered in a whole new style and type of magic, Street Magic. Granted it was really close-up magic, but it was close-up stripped of the bells and whistles. It was highly visual magic that was often 'in your face'. No more tuxedos, no more big boxes, no more rabbits, magic was going in a new direction.

I can't say that David Blaine ushered in another Golden Age. I think what he did was keep magic alive and change what audiences thought of magic. Magic was becoming more psychological, more mystifying, frankly more amazing. The mentalists began to rise! Sure, we know they were there all along, but now they were out on the forefront. Folks like Banaceck, Derren Brown, Keith Barry were taking magic to places no one ever dreamed. Magicians and Illusionists jumped on the mentalism bandwagon and mixed their magic with feats of mentalism.

It was during this time, I would read on blogs and in magic magazines how some thought magic was dead. Some writers felt that magic was probably on it's last legs and because of the way technology was changing, we would soon all be gone. For the record, I've been hearing the doom and gloom scenario from magicians for years.

That brings me to now, 2014-2016. I think we have hit the Platinum Age of Magic. No more Golden
Ages. Magic is burning on all cylinders. Close-up is at an all time high. Card Magic has spun off into various directions, one of which is Card Artistry and there are a ton of people, guys and girls who are dominating that arena. Stage magic is seeing a resurgence, and a fresh one. Again, magic is no longer a males only club, Alana from Germany has got one of the best and most original magic acts out there. Illusion Magic is coming back in ways I never expected. Barry and Stuart from England do comedy magic with illusions and stage props and are killing it! Topas from Germany is adding a fresh spin on everything he touches. There are 4 unique touring illusion shows right now. The Illusionists, The Illusionists 2.0, The Illusionists 1903, and Masters of Illusion. Audiences are going nuts over these shows. Standing ovations nightly. I do not think there has been a time in the history of magic when magic was hotter than it is now.

On TV, The Carbenero Effect, Wizard Wars, Penn & Teller Fool-Us, Masters of Illusion, Steve Cohen's History Channel Special Lost Secrets of Magic, and the recent HOUDINI Miniseries. That was just last year! There were even MORE TV Magic Shows in England and Europe! The MAGICIANS was huge show in England, Derren Brown's TV Specials are big hits, Dynamo is a household name in Europe because of his TV show.  I understand there is a lot more magic in the works for 2015.

The Platinum Age of Magic is here my friends. Ride The Wave and let's hope it lasts for a quite a while!

Tomorrow, I will be attending The Illusionists Show at The Kennedy Center, so expect a review in a few days.