Spellbound: The Wonder-Filled Life of Doug Henning (Book Review)
By Mark Williams
Spellbound: The Wonder-Filled Life of Doug Henning takes a look at the life and times of Master Illusionist, Doug Henning. It truly is a fantastic book by author, John Harrison. The book was originally released at “Magic Live!” in 2009. I can tell you that this book was met with eager anticipation. Spellbound is definitely a must read for all Doug Henning fans. John has painstakingly researched every aspect of Doug’s life and career in Magic. It is a true testament to the author and his own dedication to write this biography. John has done a magnificent job in both presenting the facts and weaving an integral story surrounding the wonder-filled life of Doug Henning.
At the age of six, Doug Henning watched the Ed Sullivan Show on television to see magician Richiardi perform the Broom Suspension Illusion. It was at that moment when Doug asked his mother if he too could someday become a magician. (On a side note, the Ed Sullivan Show aired on television for nearly 23 years. Mr. Sullivan hosted this variety act show, which included an assortment of talented performers.)
Years later, when Doug Henning started to become a household name, he was often fond of saying, “The Magic of Today is The Science of Tomorrow”. This type of thinking would eventually lead Henning into the realm of Transcendental Meditation, which would in effect change his life forever.
Transcendental Meditation, or TM, is a series of techniques used to improve one’s self awareness and inner development. The most common form of this type of meditation focuses on the use of a mantra (a single word or a series of words strung together), which is practiced verbally between 15 to 20 minutes, twice a day. Although, TM has a basis in Hinduism, it has both religious and non religious offerings. Henning became so engrossed in TM, that he dedicated a huge portion of his life and money into the planning and building of a TM related theme park. Unfortunately, Henning’s life ended so abruptly that this project never came to fruition.
John Harrison’s book encompasses Doug’s early years on Broadway during his tenure in “Spellbound”, “The Magic Show” and “Merlin”. It then takes you on a journey through Doug’s life and eventual fame onto television. December 1975, saw his first televised special, “Doug Henning’s World of Magic”. Over 50 million viewers tuned in to watch as Doug attempted to recreate Houdini’s Water Torture Cell Escape and break the time record, set by Harry many years ago. Doug successfully escaped, but missed beating the time record. The broadcast was so hugely profitable for NBC (National Broadcasting Company) that they signed Doug on for six more annual specials. Some of the more interesting facets of Spellbound are interviews John conducted with Doug’s family, friends, co-workers and associates. All of the information is presented in a delightful way and makes for a relaxed read. You definitely get the feeling that you are hearing an enthralling story, as if the author was telling it to you, in person.
John refreshingly presents the details of Doug Henning’s life so that everyone will enjoy the fascinating journey. You will read about the highlights and the downfalls Doug experienced, providing a clearer picture of what Doug Henning was all about. You also learn how Doug Henning rocketed into the public limelight and follow his exquisite career in Magic. Spellbound will delight all those who want to know more about Doug Henning. You will learn about “Hendoo”…Doug’s first performing name. Many will be surprised to find out that Doug Henning studied with Dai Vernon and Slydini, through a grant issued by the Canadian Government. Also, you’ll find out why a performance for the Inuit Indians made Doug realize that Magic is everywhere. Readers also learn how Doug Henning first used Transcendental Meditation to overcome hyper-activity and how it later ruled his life. Spellbound reveals that “Metamorphosis” was Doug’s favorite illusion. This book also reveals how Doug Henning sought out real wonder in the World and how “Magic + Theater = Art”. Clearly, there is much to enjoy inside the pages of this incredible book.
February 7, 2000 was truly a sad day when Doug Henning succumbed to Liver Cancer at the age of 52. Doug Henning will certainly be remembered for bringing Illusion into the homes of television viewers everywhere. Doug was determined throughout his life to bring “Wonder” into other peoples’ lives. He made a long forgotten art (Magic), stand out brightly for all to enjoy. In Doug Henning’s own words, he made this profound proclamation…”I don’t know how to be anyone other than myself.”
Originally published in the E-Zine “Top Hat” in the September, 2015 issue.
Special Thanks to Mark Williams.