Larsen on Henning: Part One

For many in the magic community, Hollywood’s “The Magic Castle” has been the headquarters of the craft for close to fifty-four years. As the brain child of brothers Milt and Bill Larsen, this private club has entertained professionals and audiences in a way that can only be seen to be believed.

Doug’s first exposure to the Castle begins early in his career with occasional performances with his then partner Marsden Barrick. Travelling down from Canada, he was enchanted , as most people are, by the uniqueness and wonder of the “Castle.” So, it was no surprise when Doug applied for and received his famed $5000 grant to study magic he returned to study with the great Dai Vernon. 

“The Doug Henning Project” is pleased to present a new multi-part interview with Milt Larsen himself discussing Doug , his relationship to the Castle, and his lasting impact on magic.

For our readers that might not be aware, can you talk about how the Magic Castle came into being?

It goes back to I was born into a family of magicians. My brother Bill (Larsen) and I were the kids in a magic act and my Dad and Mother were magicians. So, we just grew up in magic.  Eventually Bill went into the television business as I did. I was a writer for a show called “Truth or Consequences” with Bob Barker and Bill was a producer at CBS. So, we had a good living going on.

My Dad, William W. Larsen Sr., passed away at a very early age. He was only 48 when he died, but he had an idea of having a club for magicians but nothing happened particularly with it…So, at any rate I found this really wonderful, old Victorian mansion in Hollywood that the owner didn’t know exactly what to do with it…So, I spoke to my brother Bill and said “You know I’m pretty good as a carpenter and you’re pretty good with an adding machine…so why don’t you resurrect the “Academy of Magical Arts” (their father’s old organization) and I’ll build you a “magic castle” in this old house. So, out of that “The Magic Castle” blossomed…We had our 54th anniversary in February…

When did you first become aware of Doug Henning?

Doug had a grant from Canada to study magic with Dai Vernon who was our resident “Professor” and one of the world’s great magicians…So I asked what’s the deal with this kid you know? He (Dai) explained that Doug Henning, this was the first time I ever knew his name, had this grant from Canada and Dai wanted to meet with him in the library of the Magic Castle which is on the third floor of this old mansion. So, he studied with Dai and the next thing we knew he was this star on Broadway with “The Magic Show.” Of course, there were several years in between.

He really was the first magician to really not have a white tie and tails and tuxedo. He was the flower child of the time and like a harlequin and a beautiful person.

What did Dai Vernon think about him as a student?

At the time, Dai was “The Professor” and Doug was the student. I think he had nothing but admiration for his student. There was a mutual feeling with both of them. Doug Henning idolized Dai and I think Dai idolized Doug Henning. It’s about as simple as that.

Return tomorrow for the second part of our interview where Milt discusses “The Magic Show” and the influence Doug had on the magic community as a whole!

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