About Doug Henning
Following is the biography that was included in Doug's last press kit before his retirement from the stage:
"Doug Henning has been acclaimed as the greatest magician of modern times. With his charming style and wondrous illusions, Doug has transformed the dying art of sorcery into a spectacular and enlightening form of entertainment.
Douglas James Henning was born May 3, 1947, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He first became interested in magic at the age of six when he saw a magician levitate a woman on a television program. He practiced with a magic kit and studied magic books at the local library. At the early age of 14, he performed publicly for the first time at a friend’s birthday party. Delighted with his ability to captivate an audience, Doug placed an ad in the local paper that read, “Magician, Have Rabbit, Will Travel.” Soon he was busy performing at parties and local television shows in Toronto.
After high school, Doug enrolled at McMaster University, planning to be a doctor. It was there that he studied the psychology of perception, which helped him understand the power of suggestion and the art of attention manipulation. Doug applied these skills in creating his illusions.
Upon graduation, Doug planned to perform magic for just two years before continuing his education. But after turning his studies to magic, he never went back for medical school.
Instead, Doug developed a formula: “Magic + Theater = Art,” and convinced a skeptical panel to award him a $4,000 Canadian Council Grant for the study of magic. This allowed him to travel the western world and study with such sleight of hand masters as Dai Vernon and Slydini.
With a dream of reviving magic as a great theatrical art, Doug decided to take a gamble. Borrowing $5,000 from a bank, he built some large stage illusions. With the help of a university friend, Ivan Reitman (later producer of the hit films Animal House and Stripes) $40,000 was raised at a backer’s audition. As a result, a show called Spellbound was born, combining magic, music and story. It broke every box office record of the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto and attracted the attention of New York producers. The producers brought Doug and his show to Broadway, made a few revisions, and opened The Magic Show in May 1974. Audiences loved the show and Doug was nominated of a Tony Award for his performance. The Magic Show ran for almost five years, one of the longest running musicals in Broadway history.
During his years on Broadway, Doug continued to expand his career. In 1974, he was asked by NBC to perform his first magic television special. This live performance, before a studio audience, assured that trick photography could not be used. After eight months work designing original illusions, which included a recreation of Houdini’s Water Torture Escape, the first Doug Henning’s World of Magic show aired in December 1975. The show was viewed by 50 million people and won the Christopher Award for outstanding achievement; and in just one hour, more people saw Doug Henning’s magic than has seen Houdini during his entire lifetime.
These shows became annual events, and television audiences have seen Doug walk through a brick wall, turn himself into a shark, change a black horse and white horse into a zebra, perform the Indian Rope Trick, and make a four-ton elephant disappear. Unlike other magic television show, Doug has never used video trickery to accomplish his illusions.
In 1976, Doug took two months off from The Magic Show to tour colleges with his lecture/demonstration, Illusion and Reality. Soon after he moved to Los Angeles, where he established his own production company to invent and build original illusions. These have been featured in seven more World of Magic specials. His shows have won an Emmy and received seven Emmy nominations, including nominations for Best Variety Special two years in a row.
In the spring of 1979, Doug selected the best illusions form his television and Broadway shows, combined them in a two-hour production and took the show on a highly successful tour. Since then, Doug’s touring World of Magic has delighted audiences across the country. His show carries a full cast and crew, and two truckloads of scenery and magic. In addition to his large illusions (which include conjuring up a 450 pound tiger), Doug performs sleight of hand magic, which the audience views in giant television screens.
Doug has also taken his magic as a headliner to the Las Vegas Hilton and Sahara Tahoe hotels. In January 1977. he received the coveted Georgie Award from the Academy Guild of Variety Artists for Special Attraction Entertainer of the Year.
Doug has been involved in a number of special projects as well. He has staged magic effects for the rock band Earth Wind & Fire and created a show-stopping illusion encore for Michael Jackson on the original “Jacksons” tour. Doug has written a book entitled Houdini: His Legend and His Magic, co-authored with Charles Reynolds and published by Warner Books. He is also responsible for the largest magic show in history. In 1979, Magic Mania, a magical musical, opened in Tokyo, Japan. Doug created and staged the dozens of illusions in the show.
Besides magic, Doug’s other interest is in consciousness expansion through the Transcendental Meditation program. Recently, he spent several months in Switzerland at Maharishi European Research University studying higher states of consciousness through the TM technique, Doug believes that the real magic of each individual can be unfolded and his potential realized. Doug has lectured on meditation for various groups, including the inmates at San Quentin prison.
In December 1981, Doug married Debby Douillard in Fairfield, Iowa. The beautiful ceremony, complete with horse drawn carriage, seems to come from the pages of a fairy tale. Debby has since appeared in Doug’s 1982 television special and is currently featured as co-star in his touring stage show.
Doug was honored to be chosen as the spokesman for the March of Dimes 1981 Reading Program. Though use of his magic, he instructs children on the importance of books.
In December 1982, Doug returned to Broadway in Merlin, an elaborate magical, musical stage show, which he co-created. Merlin, produced by Ivan Reitman and Columbia Pictures, recreated the story of Merlin’s adventures. Doug, as Merlin, performed a series of show-stopping illusions, which he specially created for the musical.
His magic earned high praise from the critics. The New York Times wrote, “Mr. Henning is beyond compare as an illusionist. He believes in his magic and makes us true believers too.” Time magazine proclaimed him, “one of Broadway’s certified miracle workers.”
Merlin ran on Broadway for eight months and received five Tiny nominations. The show holds a place in Broadway history for setting the one-week box office record at the Mark Hellinger Theater—$421,000.
Doug and Debby’s new creation is a line of children’s characters called Wonder Whims. Produced as toys by Panosh Place, the Wonder Whims are designed to share the magical aspects of nature with children (MoonGlowm one of the characters is the keeper of the moon and nighttime; Jadoo is the mythical prince of animals). Currently a Wonder Whims feature film and television special are being planned.
Doug’s originality has been attributed to his own bright, casual style. Having never seen a live magic performance until he was in his early adolescence, his shows developed with none of the dark, mysterious trappings of traditional magic. His goal is not to simply baffle an audience, but to create a feeling of wonder. Doug’s colorful illusions and sparkling enthusiasm have become the trademarks of his magic.
“The art of magic,” explains Doug, “is to renew our wonder for the world. If we live in a sense of wonder, our lives will be filled with joy.” Doug has not only transformed magic into theatrical art, but thrilled new generations with his illusions. Through television, Broadway, and stage shows, million s have experienced the “sense of wonder” from Doug’s modern wizardry."
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