After Falling Under the Spell of Wife Debby, Doug Henning Hopes to Charm Broadway Again
He stuck with magic. In 1973, he borrowed $5,000 from his mother and, with a friend, launched a rock musical-cum-magic show called Spellbound in Toronto. That led to his role in The Magic Show. Though one critic hailed him as “the most exciting magician since Houdini, Thurston and Blackstone,” Doug recalls, “I was only making $500 a week, less than the members of the orchestra.”
Assorted groupies and sharks pursued him, however: “Every night there would be some agent with a beautiful girl. He would buy me champagne and try to have her take me home to get me to sign up.” Henning credits Transcendental Meditation, which he practiced daily to keep rested and alert enough to perform, with keeping him from booze and other temptations. “If I didn’t have meditation it would have been pretty hard for me,” he says.
After leaving The Magic Show, he eventually received $50,000 that was due him from the producers. He went to California and set up a factory to make props and other paraphernalia for his act and for the soul group Earth, Wind and Fire. He also wed songwriter Barbara DeAngelis, with whom he hammered out the Merlin concept. But career demands drew them apart. They divorced last year, a few months after he met Debby.
The daughter of Roger and Ann Douillard, who run a contracting firm in a New York suburb, Debby grew up with “two selves,” she says. “One really loved art. The other really wanted to be onstage.” She majored in fine arts at Cooper Union in Manhattan and did summer stock. After graduating in 1977 she wed José Carcamo, a Mexican artist she met at a Transcendental Meditation center. They moved to Mexico to paint, but split in 1980. “Culturally there were too many differences,” she says. A few months later she went to Maharishi University.
Henning remembers that at first her folks “were afraid I’d take their daughter off and dump her.” They needn’t have worried. The Hennings are now building a home next to the Iowa campus as a retreat from showbiz. In New York they have a sublet overlooking Central Park. They even share each other’s clothes. “We’re the same size,” says the 5’6″, 125-pound Henning. Both are vegetarians who don’t drink or smoke. “Our bodies are very pure,” says Debby, “and meditation refines the nervous system.” Observes Merlin director Frank Dunlop: “They have a sort of serenity.”
They want children eventually. Says Doug: “The first words our kid will say will be, ‘Pick a card.’ ” By that time, though, Mom and Dad hope to have gone beyond illusion to the “real magic” they say comes from meditation and a superhigh level of consciousness. “We know it exists,” insists Debby. “Someday you’ll see us flying over Central Park. We really have that much belief.” Perhaps. But for now, they’ll settle for levitating nightly at the Mark Hellinger.
Well, that as they say is that. Be sure to come back next week. I have something I think you…well I can’t say. You’ll just have to see for yourself!