Doug and The Washington Post

I just came across this treat of a “Washington Post” interview I think everyone will enjoy. It was published on June 9, 1982 and takes place right before Doug was winding down touring to concentrate on the creation of “Merlin.”

Compared to other interviews I’ve read it really delves deeply into Doug’s thoughts on the different levels of magic and “real” magic, and the spiritualism we should seek within ourselves. There’s even a little bit of Houdini sprinkled in for good measure. I’ll be breaking it up over several parts. Enjoy!

“The Spellbound World of Doug Henning”
by Richard Harrington
June 9, 1982

Magician Doug Henning wants to fill the world with wonder.

“Magic is very, very important to the world right now,” he insists, words rushed with enthusiasm. “People have totally lost their sense of wonder because of the stress of modern-day life. Wonder is seeing the world the way it really is. William Blake said if we could cleanse the windows of our perception, we’d see infinity in every direction; and when we do that, we see the world the way it really is–a totally miraculous place. Every instant of our perception should be totally filled with wonder.

“Let’s say I’m doing an illusion–I’m making fountains come out of a table and I hypnotize a girl and put her on the fountains. The audience’s intellect starts to become very sharp and they try to figure it out–there’s ‘something in the water, wires, magnetism.’ All of a sudden, the fountains go down . . . there’s nothing in the water. They’re starting to doubt their own experience.

“And then I pass the hoop over the girl, which shows there’s nothing in any direction. Suddenly they transcend their own intellect. They’re still perceiving the illusion–which is beautiful–and they feel an upsurge of pure consciousness. Maybe for the first time in their lives, they feel wonder, real wonder; maybe for the first time they’ve experienced a higher state of consciousness. I used to have wonder as a 5-year-old, but I lost it, like most people do, going through the school system and the hustle-bustle of the world. But wonder–that’s the true way we should experience life.”

When Henning, 34, wand-thin with shoulder-length brown hair, brought magic out of the closet and onto the stage, the medium had been on a half-century-long downward spiral from the heyday of Harry Houdini. But from his first major production (“Spellbound” in his native Canada) through the “Magic Show” (the eighth-longest-running musical on Broadway) to seven yearly television spectaculars, the toothy Henning has brought his irrepressible showmanship to millions of new fans. Houdini’s magic was perceived as infatuated with death and the dark side of nature, but Henning’s is positive, life-affirming.

Although the spark of wonder has always been there, Henning attributes much of his current success to his deep involvement with transcendental meditation. To study with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Switzerland, he left his Broadway hit (which ran two more years without him) and turned down a command appearance on Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee show, telecast around the world. Henning feels his magic has evolved so much that those costs were minimal.

Henning’s first sense of wonder came at age 6 while watching a television magician levitate a woman. His first giving of wonder came soon after. “I got a magic kit. My first trick was to make a coin vanish from my father’s handkerchief and reappear inside a box wrapped inside elastic bands. He was amazed, and that started me in magic. I couldn’t believe he couldn’t figure it out; I wanted to know why magic worked.”

So Henning studied, poring over library books and mail-order magic kits (he’s just approved and endorsed his first mail-order kit, from Japan). The first performances came at 14 (Henning’s card read “Magician: Have Rabbit, Will Travel”). “I was a shy boy who did magic because it was a way to be different, and for my own ego.”

To Be Continued…


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