Douglas James Henning
May 3, 1947
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
|Died||February 7, 2000 (aged 52)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Occupation||Magician, illusionist, escape artist, politician|
|Spouse(s)||Barbara De Angelis |
His first experience in magic occurred when he was six years old, watching a magician on television. He asked his mother, "... what made the woman float in the air?" "Magic", his mother said. He went on to say that he still remembered that feeling and wanted to re-create that same emotion he felt.
He performed his first show at the age of 14 at the birthday party of a friend and was inspired by his audience's spellbound reaction. Within a few months of placing an ad in a local newspaper, Henning launched a series of performances on local television in Toronto and as an entertainer at parties.
After Henning graduated from Oakville Trafalgar High School, he stopped doing magic, not wanting to do it for a living. He felt that there were only two kinds of magicians, "... magicians for kids, and magicians for nightclub acts. I didn't want to be either kind."
So, instead, he enrolled and became a student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and studied psychology, in preparation for a medical degree. It was there that Henning met Ivan Reitman, when he appeared in the 1968 Reitman-directed production of Li'l Abner in the role of Lonesome Polecat.
To support himself during this time, he worked at the Toronto International Airport loading and unloading crates. He found the work to be too heavy and tiring; so, with the help of a female assistant, he formed the partnership of Henning and Mars, and performed at local bars and nightclubs.
After graduating with honors with a degree in science and psychology, Henning decided to take a couple of years off before entering medical school to continue with his magic. Henning and Mars successfully performed with the top entertainers in Canada and traveled from one end of the country to the other.
He soon realized that he needed more theatrical training as well as the principles of magic. He applied for a grant with the Canada Council Arts Bursary in the theater division with a proposal that used the equation that magic plus theater equals art. Henning was awarded a Canada Council for the Arts grant for $4,000.
After being awarded the grant for a one year study of the art of magic, he studied mime under Adrian Pecknold as well as dance with a Canadian choreographer. He sifted through magic literature in the hopes of developing an all-around magic education in manipulation and being an illusionist.
He visited the Magic Castle in Hollywood, California, a private club for magicians. After an impromptu performance in the Wine Cellar, he met resident magician, guru, and fellow Canadian Dai Vernon, known as "The Professor". Since the terms of the grant required Henning to study magic, he got up the nerve later in the year to write the Professor and asked him if he could take lessons with him. Thereafter, Henning traveled to Hollywood to study with Vernon, then with another magic great, Slydini, whom he considered to be his primary teacher of magic.
With the intention of returning magic to its "glory days", Henning worked to perfect his craft. Garnering financial support, he developed a live theatrical show, Spellbound. It was there that he contacted his college friend Ivan Reitman, who directed Spellbound. Along with music by Howard Shore and co-starring actress Jennifer Dale, Henning created a musical that combined a dramatic story and his magic.
Henning borrowed money for the project and spent $5,000 to build and design illusions. They set up a backer's audition in Toronto. One man found potential in the project and invested $70,000. It took so long to work out a plot around his illusions, that there was time only for two dress rehearsals, neither of which was in the theater.
The show opened at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto, where it broke box-office records. Henning reworked the show after catching the attention of New York producers and took it to Broadway as The Magic Show, with songs composed by Stephen Schwartz. Debuting in 1974, the show ran for four and a half years and earned Henning a Tony Award nomination.
Following his Broadway success, Henning approached NBC with the idea of producing a television special. It was not until Henning suggested that he would reproduce live Harry Houdini's famous and dangerous water-torture escape—for the first time since Houdini performed it himself—that the NBC executives signed him.
Henning spent the next eight months reworking his stage act for TV and practicing the water-torture escape act. More than 50 million viewers tuned in for the December 1975 broadcast of Doug Henning's World of Magic, hosted by Bill Cosby.
In 1977, Henning co-wrote a biography of Houdini, Houdini: His Legend and His Magic. He created illusions for an Earth, Wind and Fire tour in 1979, and for two of singer Michael Jackson's concerts, including his 1984 Victory Tour.
In 1985, a set of plush toys called "Doug & Debby Henning's: Wonder Whims" were made by Panosh Place and copyrighted by Marvin Glass and Associates. There were a total of six Wonder Whim characters. Each came with an animal friend, a personalized story, and a magic kaleidoscope wand of colors and patterns.
The World of Magic specials
Henning's first World of Magic special aired on NBC on December 26, 1975. Henning successfully performed the water torture illusion, although he did not break Houdini's time record. Produced by famed talk show host David Susskind and sponsored by Mobil, the show ran live in the eastern United States without commercials. The event was the first of seven annual broadcasts, which would eventually bring Henning seven Emmy Award nominations, including two back-to-back in 1976 and 1977 for World of Magic.
In December 1976, Doug Henning's World of Magic II aired, again live and with only two commercial breaks, on NBC. The theme for this show was "Fire, Water and Air" and it was hosted by actor Michael Landon, with guest star Joey Heatherton. The show included Henning vanishing an elephant and also included a segment with special guest magician Ricky Jay.
On December 14, 1978, Doug Henning's World of Magic IV aired with the theme "A Magical Journey Through Time"; however, due to numerous problems that occurred during the telecast, this was the last special broadcast live.
On February 15, 1979, there was a broadcast of the fifth World of Magic special, which was taped at the Las Vegas Hilton.
Doug Henning's World of Magic VI, taped at Osmond Studios in Orem, Utah, was broadcast February 22, 1980, on NBC. Bill Cosby made his second appearance as special guest. Marie Osmond also appeared on the program. Several revamped versions of illusions from earlier specials appeared. The finale was an escape and reappearance featuring a huge Rube Goldberg machine.
Henning's last TV special was World of Magic VII in 1982, which featured guest Caitlyn Jenner[note 1] and several revamped versions of illusions from earlier specials. The theme was Henning's magical house, with rooms featuring magic from the past, present and future. In the show's finale, Henning created the illusion of turning a black horse and a white horse into a zebra.
At the end of each World of Magic performance, Henning addressed the audience with the same monologue: "Anything the mind can conceive is possible. Nothing is impossible. All you have to do is look within, and you can realize your fondest dreams. I would like to wish each one of you all of life's wonders and a joyful age of enlightenment."
Other television appearances
On December 13, 1977, Henning appeared as a guest on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. While Henning performed illusions and chatted with host Johnny Carson and his other guests, he also plugged his new book on Houdini and announced his impending marriage to Barbara De Angelis.
In 1980, Henning appeared on The Muppet Show, where he performed several acts. He demonstrated chink-a-chink for Scooter, did a flying handkerchief trick for Kermit the Frog's nephew Robin, segmented a Muppet monster into four pieces (and put him together wrong), and performed The Metamorphosis: a bit where he swapped places with an assistant who was locked inside a trunk.
In December, Henning appeared on The Osmond Family Christmas Special, starring the popular brother/sister act Donny and Marie Osmond, as a guest with such entertainers as Peggy Flemming and Greg Evigan, at the time star of NBC's B.J. and the Bear.
On February 13, 1981, Henning made his seventh appearance on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. This show marked the first time that Henning was Carson's first guest.
A version of The Magic Show was mounted in Toronto at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. The purpose of this show was to film in front of a live audience of several thousand people for broadcast on CBC Television. Henning came back to the show that had made him a star, and many changes were made for this new production. Notably, most of the cast was changed, specifically the role of Cal, now performed by Didi Conn. Some script changes were made (the night club was now known as "Chez Manny" and the older, drunk magician was now named "Van Zyskin"). Some of the songs in the Broadway version were also changed (notably the risqué lyrics of Charmin's lament), or replaced totally, such as the song "Solid Silver Platform Shoes" (the once popular shoe style, by then out of fashion), which was replaced with "It's Gonna Take a Magician". The film version of the production was only aired once on Canadian television, but released on DVD decades later.
In 1993, he released a video for the Canada Natural Law Party, made up of excerpts from his World of Magic specials along with newly recorded linking dialogue detailing his philosophy of how the world's problems could be solved by meditation and yogic flying.
In the mid-1980s, Henning retired from the stage and had an increasing interest in Transcendental Meditation. He received a Ph.D. in the Science of Creative Intelligence from the Maharishi University in Switzerland.
In 1992, Henning and Transcendental Meditation founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, drafted plans for a $1.5 billion-dollar project called "Maharishi Veda Land" near Niagara Falls, Ontario, that would "combine astonishing, unique visual and sensory effects, state-of-the-art 3D imagery, and ultra high-tech entertainment technology with his best original magic illusion secrets". Attractions were to include a building suspended above water and a journey into the heart of a rose, but at the time of Henning's death the project's status was uncertain.
In 1992, Henning was a Natural Law Party candidate in the United Kingdom's general election, contesting the Parliamentary constituency of Blackpool South in Lancashire. As a Canadian citizen, Henning qualified as a candidate under British electoral law, which allows candidates from Commonwealth nations. He finished fourth of four candidates, polling 173 votes. He was senior vice president of the Natural Law Party of Canada ("NLPC"), and ran as the party's candidate for the former Toronto riding of Rosedale in the 1993 federal election, finishing sixth out of ten candidates.
|Liberal Democrats||Robert E. Wynne||5,673||12.9||−7.0|
|Natural Law||Douglas Henning||173||0.4||N/A|
|1993 Canadian federal election|
|Progressive Conservative||David MacDonald||10,930||21.24||-20.12|
|New Democratic||Jack Layton||5,547||10.78||-4.28|
|Natural Law||Doug Henning||817||1.59|
|Independent||Linda Dale Gibbons||350||0.68|
|Abolitionist||Yann Patrice D'Audibert Garcien||40||0.08|
|Total valid votes||51,454||100.00|
Death and legacy
Henning died aged 52 on February 7, 2000, at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, five months after being diagnosed with liver cancer. His ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean off Redondo Beach, California.
In 2005, a handwritten letter from Henning to James Randi was placed for auction on eBay, unbeknownst to Randi. When Randi learned of it, he announced on his blog that the letter had been "stolen" from his files. A week later, Randi wrote that he "managed to have the sale stopped" and that the letter was back in his possession, but did not elaborate on further details of the controversy. Randi claimed that Henning had immersed himself so thoroughly in transcendental meditation that he "abandoned regular medical treatment for liver cancer, continued to pursue his diet of nuts and berries, and died of the disease."
A book titled Spellbound: The Wonder-filled Life of Doug Henning, by John Harrison, was released in 2009 to good reviews.
- Caitlyn Jenner's name at the time was Bruce Jenner.
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- “Maharishi Veda Land” maharishivediccity.net description of Vedaland project
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- Doctorow, Cory (June 1, 2005). "James Randi's letter from Doug Henning is stolen and on eBay". boingboing.com. Retrieved January 10, 2012.
- James Randi (June 10, 2005). "SWIFT June 10, 2005". James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). Retrieved January 10, 2012.
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- Canadian Walk of Fame
- Doug Henning at IMDb
- Doug Henning at the Internet Broadway Database
- Douglas James Henning at Find a Grave