“The Greatest Adventure” by Geoffrey Williams: Part Two

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.

Today is the second and final part. I really enjoyed this piece overall, as it gave readers a birds eye and candid view of what was going on that one thrilling evening in 1975. 

I went back into the room where all the guests were gathered, and in came famous Magic Castle magicians I had read about in the pages of Genii magazine. The Magic Castle would soon become a very important part of my life, but this was my first entrée into that world. Getting to see great close-up artists such as Aubrey, Dai Vernon, Father Jim Blantz, and Norm Schultz was a real treat.

These performers were legends to me, and now I was freely strolling among them and watching them perform. I only had a deck of cards on me so I got the magicians to sign my cards. It was so worth the risk.

There was one person there whom I reacted to in a way that was even stronger than my excitement at meeting all of these famous magicians. The performers on the special strolled into the party to meet and chat briefly with the Mobil VIPs and their families, which is how I got to meet Doug. When guest star Julie Newmar walked by, I froze. Hormones surged through my body. She offered her hand to shake, which I did, trying not to shake myself. Catwoman was shaking my hand! If Doug Henning got to hang around with women like Julie Newmar, I knew then and there that magic was definitely the right choice.

I was also enchanted by Lori Lieberman. She got to sit in a Dekolta Chair, an illusion I would later get to play with when I worked for Copperfield who used it in the Attic sequence. That was the first time I ever saw it and it floored me (as it did Lori Lieberman.) At least, unlike Julie Newmar, she got to stay on one piece.

I learned there that there would be no Orson Welles. That was disappointing, although years later I would see him around the Castle frequently. Instead, they had Gene Kelly to introduce the Water Torture Cell. I had recently seen Singing in the Rain so I was not disappointed in this substitute. I was disappointed when I never saw him come out, though. That was more than made up for by everyone else I got to meet.

The only other magician on the show was Japan’s Shimada. Years later, my future wife Belle would appear on stage with him for a television special, but no one even knew she was female because she was dressed as a male assistant and her face was covered. We never worked with Doug as he left the magic scene so early, but we did countless shows with Shimada.

While I got to see the stage, and meet a lot of magicians personally, I did not get to see the show live. All of the seats were reserved with no extras, so I watched the show on studio monitors outside of the theater area. It was still so worth it, as those large monitors were much better than the television we had at home.

Doug behind the scenes was exactly like Doug on screen. He was bubbly, enthusiastic, and had a genuineness that was quite charming. At the time, he was something brand new and different. His illusions were modern and amazing. I feel privileged to have met him.

Excerpted with additional material from The Greatest Adventure by Geoffrey Williams, available HERE

Special Thanks to photographer Dave Collier

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