How do you think he bridged the gap between the magicians of old and the superstar ones we have today?
Well he was the true bridge. You wonder would it have happened without him?…Doug Henning understood magic and the history of magic. So, he knew what principals worked and re-introduced them. He did an amazing version of “Metamorphosis” and enhanced it and made it even better…
Then he had this incredible idea of doing it live on television as a primetime special. I think people don’t realize that at that time magic had kind of gone into an eclipse and considered children’s birthday party stuff…and this was primetime live, danger-filled…He just figured out the way to do magic on television and that broke everything open…That was part of the contract with the audience: How do you do magic on TV? You do it live, you guarantee no camera tricks…but at a certain point camera tricks did get into it (with modern specials) but that’s a whole other topic…(Laughs)
What do you think the similarities are, if any, between Houdini and Doug?
Well, they were different guys in their characters, and their careers were different too. Probably the biggest similarity they share is that they both connected completely with their times and audiences and elevated their forms of magic. Both were the master magicians of their day…and Houdini was a real student of magic history and so was Doug.
Getting back to the Water Torture Cell, Doug Henning did it very differently than Houdini. Of course, Houdini did it as an escape, and when Doug did it he did the twist on the end where he appears as the ax wielding person who has been standing out in front for the whole escape. His whole point was that he wanted to change it from being a Houdini escape to an illusion at the end because that was more Doug Henning. He was right and that was brilliant…
He also wrote an excellent book with Charlie Reynolds called “Houdini: His Life and Art.”
Oh yeah. Well, that thing is one of the great gifts that Doug Henning gave to everyone. He hooked up with Marie Hinson, Bess (Houdini’s) sister, and again it was perfect timing because here suddenly is this young master magician…and the story Doug Henning told was that he goes over and talks to her about Houdini and she shows him her artifacts. Doug was like “This is incredible! May I buy one or two things?” She then said “Buy? You can have everything!”
So, he got scrapbooks, and photographs, and diaries and all this stuff. What did he do with it? He produced a beautiful coffee table book where he just reproduced it…That book was amazing…To this day that is one of the most remarkable books on Houdini that there is…Someone should reprint that.