It was decades ago, but I was sitting in the second to last row at Hollywood's Pantages theater and enjoying Doug Henning's touring magic show. At one point, Henning introduced his mentor who was sitting in the center of the front row. An elderly man slowly got up and acknowledged the crowd.
Of course, the elderly man was none other than Dai Vernon, the Professor. I hadn't yet discovered the art of magic at that point in my life (but I was close to it after seeing Henning's show), and I didn't know who Vernon was. But looking back, it's a memory that somehow places me with Doug Henning in a very small way.
This memory came back to me as I read John Harrison's excellent and enthralling "Spellbound: The Wonder-filled Life of Doug Henning." It's a fascinating read that covers Henning's ascent in the magic world, rise to Broadway and his role as an entertainment celebrity.
Life and Times
Harrison has taken care to talk with just about everyone who worked with or knew Henning and the book provides not only insights into his life, but the world of theater and Broadway, television of that era, the illusions and his many innovations and challenges.
You meet Henning in his youth; his early magic years on the coffeehouse circuit; the development of his first show, "Spellbound," which blended story and music with magic; the innovative illusions; his time on the great white way and "The Magic Show;" the television specials, Las Vegas, touring, Merlin and "The Magic Show" movie.
This book is hard to put down. I finished at 4:30 AM in the morning.
Of course, all magicians know how the Henning story ends. I found the final part of the book that covers his abandonment of magic, immersion into transcendental meditation and his run for political office that caused him to be mocked and laughed at, downright heartbreaking.
Throughout, John Harrison carries the right tone to present the facts and place the events into perspective for each portion of Henning's life and the period. You can read an excerpt from the book on Harrison’s site.
Many magic experts agree that Henning single-handedly revived the art of a magic as theatrical entertainment and paved the way for the likes of David Copperfield, Criss Angel, David Blaine and more.
In the end, the Henning story is an inspiring one of a guy who most said couldn't sing, dance or act, but had that certain intangible something that took him and magic to a pinnacle in the entertainment world. In "Spellbound: The Wonder-filled Life of Doug Henning," we get to see what Doug Henning truly was and can only imagine what could have been.