Andre Malraux said, ‘You are not what you show; you are what you hide.’ This is a blog for magicians who regard the art of magic, and how its history is still an important element of that art.” —Jim
THE DOUG HENNING MAGIC THAT YOU DIDN’T SEE
Continuing my look at some unknown, forgotten, or neglected Doug Henning effects… They deserve to be seen and remembered.
Doug’s 1984 touring show was planned in conjunction with Chrysler. At that time, Doug had been signed to be the spokesman for “The Magic Wagon,” the Chrysler Voyager, which was the very first minivan, or family van. The idea of it being suitable for almost any use, and perfect for daily errands, led their executives to calculate that the vehicle should be presented as a magical solution for families. We taped the commercial in New York, while Doug was still performing in Merlin. An impressive industry show for the Chrysler dealers, the following summer, which would allow Doug to unveil the entire Chrysler line as part of his magic show.
We deliberately planned effects that would be right for the Chrysler show, with some of them designed to be used in Doug’s next tour, which would return to Broadway. (The Chrysler dealer show incorporated five illusions with full-sized cars. All of those were too big for the touring show, of course.)
Early on, Doug suggested performing a version of Richardi’s famous Kiddie Car Levitation. Aldo Richardi had originally performed this on the Ed Sullivan show as a version of his famous Aga Levitation. Doug contacted Aldo (they were, of course, old friends), and asked permission. Richardi was flattered and said yes. Take a look at the program credits, above.
Then we had to work out the method. Richardi’s secret wasn’t practical. I had a clever idea for a levitation which could be installed on most stages. But in planning a touring show, we knew that we’d be faced with situations where we’d have to omit the trick if the conditions weren’t right. Doug encouraged us to create a routine that he could use consistently through the tour. With John Gaughan, we worked out the “gas station” setting, and the individual beats of the illusion.
The glass top for the gas pump and the metal kiddie car were bought at the Rose Bowl Swap meet one Sunday morning, as John and I walked around the flea market, looking for right props. The car was a rusted old kid’s pedal car, painted red and decorated like a fire truck. Bill Bohnert suggested cutting down the back panel into a “rainbow” shape, and then re-doing it all in Doug Henning colors. The illusion was built of wood in John’s shop. Everything about the prop was small and efficient. Even the bucket, placed to one side, was important, giving us a few necessary inches to make the illusion work. The whole thing was fun to figure out—all the little gags and elements of the routine—and Doug had a great time performing it with a kid from the audience. Peter Matz specially scored the “Mayberry-like” melody to accompany the drive.
Here’s a tape of it from Doug’s 1984 New York show. The entire illusion is only 1 minute and 30 seconds long. Wow.
When I watch the tape now, I was reminded of Doug’s little toss of the cap at the end. Don’t miss that. Doug tosses it backwards, and neatly covers the gimmick as he steps downstage. That wasn’t him getting lucky. He used to do that at every show.