Today’s multi-part story comes to us from Doug collaborator and website friend Brian Lumley. Brian has been kind enough to share a first hand account of when Doug met another legend in his field, the great Muhammad Ali. As you would expect, it’s a riveting story, and I’m very excited Brian has decided to make it available here first. Enjoy.
Doug Comes to Muhammad
One evening while I was having dinner in the Magic Castle an older magician pointed out to me that he felt Doug Henning showed no shame when it came to self promotion. This is my personal eye witness account of one of those tales.
It was June 12, the summer of 1974. The Magic Show had been running on Broadway for less than a month. Doug was making a name for himself with full houses at the Cort Theatre and he was starting to get air time on the talk shows. Muhammad Ali was pulling his entourage together for his fight with George Foreman; the Rumble in the Jungle. Part of this was gathering together a group of entertainers to develop publicity attention. He was also looking for ways to help keep things together at his camp during the month of training in Africa.
Besides being the world’s greatest pugilist Muhammad Ali was a magician; he would often entertain people around him with small hand illusions. He heard there was a magic show on Broadway, and decided to check the magician out. He let the box office know he was coming to the Wednesday matinee. Doug arranged to be hiding behind the closed stage entrance gate. As Mohammed passed by in line to the box office, Doug whispered to him in a low quiet voice “Want a free ticket?”…
Doug was thrilled to have Ali in the audience and wanted to ask him up as the volunteer for the Metamorphosis. Herb Vogler, the stage manager, convinced Doug that it would not be a good idea as it might stop the performance. So instead Doug invited him up at the end of the show.
True to form Muhammad took over the stage, let the audience know he was confident about the coming “Rumble in the Jungle”. How he was going to flatten his opponent George Foreman and he thanked Doug for the opportunity to speak to a Broadway audience. Ali then pulled a rope out of his left pocket, and performed a perfect cut and restore rope illusion, the audience loved it. Doug was completely surprised by this, and reacted just like everybody else.
Then Ali put Doug on the spot and asked him to do a little more magic. Doug was caught off guard and said he was not prepared. Muhammad insisted; pointing out that a Champ always had something left over. He well remembered the pummelling he took from George Chuvalo, the Canadian heavy weight champ. He thought Doug also being a Canadian should have the same stuff. Doug had a quick ‘Canadiana scarf around the neck knot trick’ that he could do with a belt or necktie. He asked Muhammad for either his belt or his tie. The running joke was can he tie a necktie. Ali always the good sport and high class show man said “You just want to see if I can retie it.”
Imagine the audience as Muhammad Ali rolls up his collar, takes off his tie, undoes the knot, then reties it. The crowd loved it. Ali could tie his own tie and proved it to the delight of everyone. He then opens up his coat and takes his belt off in front of them, winning the crowd over even more; they loved it. When the champion held his belt out in front of him the audience went wild. He then gave the belt to Doug.
Doug looped the belt around his neck, Muhammad shouted out in alarm; “What are you doing?”. Doug made a quick hard jerk, the belt snapped straight right before our eyes. Doug’s head was still on his shoulders and Ali had jumped like everybody else. Magic was in the air. Over the applause Doug yelled “My friend Muhammad Ali!” and Ali yelled “My friend Doug Henning!”