Click for details and to buy tickets

Sunday, December 26, 2010

35 years ago today...

It was exactly 35 years ago on December 26, 1975, that Doug Henning performed his first live television special on NBC, The World of Magic. Of course, what made this night so memorable, and now legendary, was Henning's performance of Houdini's Chinese Water Torture Cell.

Henning was not a death-defyier by nature, and he would later admit that performing the USD was a harrowing experience, and one that he would never repeat. But he also noted, "I reached 50 million people through my first TV special. That's more people than saw Houdini in his whole lifetime."

I was one of those 50 million, and I'll never forget the experience of seeing this show. Along with seeing the movie HOUDINI with Tony Curtis (which I think all happened in the same month), it sparked my interest in magic and obsession with Houdini. In fact, the TV Guide advert for the show (below) was the very first image I ever saw of the real Harry Houdini.

Original TV Guide ad. (Click to enlarge)

Henning's special was a huge hit, and not only did it make Doug Henning the preeminent magician of the day, but it reinvigorated magic and opened the door for other magicians to mount their own Prime Time TV specials, which continue to this day. Henning would go on to perform several more live TV specials and tour until 1987 when he retired to study Transcendental Meditation (he reportedly sold many of his effects to David Copperfield). He died of liver cancer in 2000 at the age of 52 -- the same age as Houdini when he died.

Doug Henning is one of the all-time great names in magic. And on this day 35 years ago, he proved himself to be a showman worthy of Houdini.


Thanks to Andrew Martin (www.andrewmartinmagic.com) for reminding me of this important anniversary. You can read the full story of Doug in Spellbound: The Wonder-filled Life of Doug Henning.

9 comments:

  1. I think I do remember seeing him do this. He was Mr Magic in the 70s, that's for sure. I didn't realise until I started reading your blog that he had died. James Randi came out here a few times (and once memorably had a run in on live television with a local talk show host over a psychic). But Doug was pretty much king I think.

    ReplyDelete
  2. His death was a shock and very sad. It was interesting, because for many, many years, no-one ever really knew what had happened to Doug Henning. He just seemed to vanish in 1987. Then, in 2000, he suddenly reappeared one night at The Magic Castle, looking exactly like the Doug Henning of old. It was the talk of the magic world. But within a month or so, he was dead, and it was then understood that he had come back to the Castle to say his goodbyes.

    ReplyDelete
  3. That is sad - thanks for mentioning the book. I would like to know more about him.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This was truly amazing. It was the first time I had ever seen someone other than Houdini perform the USD (as Harry called it) or the WTC as most others did.
    I had also heard that Doug had plans for a magic theme park but it never got underway. Sad as it would have been very interesting to see what he could have come up with in creating a land of magic.
    Alex

    ReplyDelete
  5. Seems we had the same spell cast on us John. My intro to all this was also The Houdini Movie with Tony Curtis followed by Doug Henning and his first special.

    ReplyDelete
  6. And the assault continued into 1976 with several new books about Houdini, many reprints of older books, and the TV movie in Oct. I guess this all sprung from it being the 50th Anniversary of the death, but it certainly seemed like fate that we should become a Houdini fanatics.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks for this touching tribute to my idol Doug Henning. I saw all his specials, & i believe most all his appearances on other shows, & saw him in person in San Antonio, Texas in 1985. After the show, I met him & Debby outside the stage door. I told Doug i worked at the local Magic shop, & he said "That's great! Keep up the good work, because i'll get tired of all this touring one day, & you're helping to train my replacement". I told him NO ONE could replace him, & no one has. I cherish my photo of myself with him & Debby.
    Bill Smith

    ReplyDelete
  8. Oh, & by the way, That book, "Spellbound - the magical life of Doug Henning" is AWSOME! Only one problem. Just like Doug's life, it was TOO SHORT! I hoped it would NEVER end!
    Bill Smith

    ReplyDelete

Translate

Receive updates via email