Magician Geoffrey Williams was kind enough to send me an excerpt of his autobiography, with a section devoted to Doug.It’s a fascinating story of how, as a young teen, he snuck onto the set of the first “World of Magic” special, and witnessed magic history.
I’ll be breaking it up into two parts, today and tomorrow. It’s a truly engrossing read, and one that takes you back to another time when security for these events always seemed somewhat, well, lacking. Enjoy!
I was already a performing magician by the age of 15 when I met my first famous magician, Doug Henning. He would completely change the world of magic with his live magic special on NBC, and I got the opportunity to be there.
Magic was just starting to become popular on television, and I would eventually get to meet and work with just about every magician who appeared on television. At the time, Doug was the most famous magician in the country. This was his very first television special with NBC. I was about to do what young magic fans have done throughout history- sneak backstage to meet their heroes. With television, it was a bit trickier.
The special aired live from NBC Studios. I was familiar with everyone announced for the show. It would feature the guy as host who at the time we thought least likely to wind up in prison, Bill Cosby. There would be the magic of Shimada, singing by folk singer and song writer Lori Lieberman (best known for Killing Me Softly with His Song, one of my favorites at the time), and special appearances by Julie Newmar (I watched Batman so knew who she was) and Orson Welles (I knew of his importance and connection to magic by this time).
My grandmother knew one of the costumers on the show. The costumer agreed to sneak me onto the lot, but after that, I was on my own. I needed to walk into the studio like I belonged there. If I was caught without an invitation, I could not mention her name, and they’d kick me out, where I would simply have to wait to be picked up. This would really suck, since the show was broadcast live, and I’d also miss the special entirely.
This was before VCRs. It was definitely a gamble. This special was a huge deal- one of the biggest things to happen in magic in a long time, and it would be the most watched magic special in history. It would really suck to miss it, but I decided to take the risk.
The special was sponsored by Mobil, so they had a pre-show invite only party with Mobil big-wigs and their families. Even famed Henning collector Chip Romero did not know about this private event, so I gave him the originals of the memorabilia I got while there, which I thought would be a better home for them.
I was nervous about sneaking in. Fortunately, the psychology I learned from Doc Monte, a con man who was one of my first mentors, once again helped me. I struck up a conversation with a family group outside, and I continued to chat with them as we strolled in together- one big happy family.
Once inside I was fine. No one paid the slightest attention to me. I got to wander around near the stage, and even watch some of the last-minute rehearsals. I figured if anyone said anything it would just be to send me back to join my VIP parents after I had obviously wandered off from them. I doubted they would hassle me. After all, my “parents” must have been very important.
This was a specially built stage where Doug Henning would do his show. I had been able to wander into the theater earlier when they were testing the trap door built into the checkerboard stage and running through last minute checks. I saw the Water Torture Cell that would be the main feature of the show.
To Be Continued….
Excerpted with additional material from The Greatest Adventure by Geoffrey Williams, availableHERE