All this week I will be featuring my recent interview with magician and magic designer David Charvet.
David, along with being an esteemed magician, has the distinction of conducting the very last and only full length interview that Doug ever did. The story of how that came to be will be revealed in tomorrow’s post. Until then, enjoy David’s early days in magic and what Doug Henning meant to him.
Can you tell us how you initially entered magic as a profession?
Well, I was a kid in the 60s and 70s. I mean I was aligned in the Doug Henning era…I got a magic set as a kid and later saw “The Magician” with Bill Bixby which was on in 1973 for a very short run. It was a great show, and it made me want to go to “The Magic Castle.” I was reading books about magic and Houdini from the library…So, I kind of figured “Hey if they could do it, why not me?”
I lived in Seattle and I saw a lot of local magicians. A big influence was Harvey Long, a Seattle magician who did shows all throughout the Northwest. He and his wife started a group called “The Junior Magicians’ Club” that met at their home twice a month. They had a full raised stage with curtains and lights in their basement and it was a place where kids that were interested in magic would meet. It was great because it gave you a chance to get up on stage, perform you own stuff, and get critiqued.
Also, at that time my interest was in history and in those days there were a lot of older magicians around Seattle who were in their 70’s and 80’s. They had seen Houdini and all the greats, and I got to talk to them all…I was a young guy in my teens and interested in history and I was a whole new audience for them to tell their stories. I absorbed it all, which of course later inspired me in writing my books. Over the years I’ve written over a dozen books about magic history and theory. That eventually led to me receiving a Literary Fellowship and Life Membership from the Academy of Magical Arts at “The Magic Castle.” I also worked for illusionist, Stan Kramien for many years as his chief assistant and traveled all over the country with him and later, my own act and show. Anyway, that’s me…I’m kind of your usual magic story.
What was your first exposure to Doug Henning?
Well, I was on the West Coast. I wasn’t in New York at the time “The Magic Show” was going. But, there was the buzz. I mean you would get “Genii Magazine,” and you would read about this guy that was doing stuff differently…Everybody at the time was doing magic old school with tuxedos and rabbits and doves. Channing Pollock and Mark Wilson were still the model of a magician in those days. So, when this new young guy hit the scene it was like “BAM!” It was completely different. I think a lot of older magicians didn’t like it. A lot of the old timers were like “Who is this guy? What’s this young hippie doing?” Until people saw him they really didn’t know what to make of him…
Being on the West Coast and he in New York we didn’t see him until the TV special, “The Special!” December 26, 1975 was a seminal moment when Doug Henning became a national figure…He was popular and successful, but not until he did that TV special did it all open for him. That’s when I first saw him…It was a big deal. It was a big deal!
What was it about him that really grabbed you at that time?
Well, I think it was a freshness and the youth obviously. He was a guy that generally seemed excited about what he was doing. He seemed generally more like a regular guy…
He was doing stuff that was completely different… You must remember this was the era of Vietnam, Watergate, and all of this negativity in the country…But, he transcended that and was the release valve for all of that in terms of the magic….
Of course, this was also before computers, the internet, iPhones, YouTube and all this stuff. Remember: there were only three TV networks and cable was in its infancy. He was at that time when celebrities were not made every ten minutes. It was a big deal because he was really the first magic “celebrity” since Houdini who was really recognized by the public.
How did you feel when he retired and stopped performing?
I don’t think a lot of us were aware of what he was doing…nobody knew what he was doing. I don’t think Doug knew at that time what he was going to do either…. He kind of thought that it was going to be temporary and he would come back. Then he realized “Well, I’m not going to come back,” and he had everything (his equipment) sold off.
As he told me later, when he had that sale he realized that the stuff was just moldering sitting in that warehouse and he didn’t want it to get thrown away…He was altruistic, and wanted it to go to other magicians who would use it. It wasn’t about the money. He never did any of it for the money. He was absolutely devoted to the art and the craft…Most of what he made was sunk back into the show.
Join us again tomorrow for the second part of my multi-part interview. To read more about David and his work, please click on the link below: