Phony Magicians in our Midst

Doug Henning


I am a get along guy. If
you were to look up "easy going" in the dictionary, you
would see my picture. And if you didn't, that would be okay
too. Because, I am easy going.

That's the exterior.
But brewing just beneath the surface of my kindly demeanor is one
of the most petty, jealous magicians you will ever meet. I would
love to be part of the elite in our magic world, but I won't
make it. I would like to think it is because the elite are like
me in their pettiness and jealousy, but I've met them and
they' seem awfully nice. It must be an act for surely they
have the same petty, dark soul as me.

That's the problem
with being an easy going magician. Our profession brings people
together rather than separate them according to skill or class.
So when I see the elite at a convention, after a show, or a
lecture, they seem to intentionally make themselves available for
real conversations.

I've met plenty of
politicians who say nice things but you know they are just
spouting the insincere patter they use constantly. "Hey,
it's good to see you. How have you been and how are things?
I'll tell you what, I wish we had more people like you with
us up in Washington. We could use the common sense, real-life
knowledge you have." Blah, blah, blah.

The elite magicians on the
other hand often mean what they say. Sure, right after a lecture,
they may want to encourage you to buy their DVD or special
gimmick; but that doesn't explain why they would go with you
and the gang to Denny's for pie and coffee. After all, the
sale is done. Those who would suggest they do this intentionally
because they love this craft and love talking about it are
naïve.

Penn & Teller are the
worst offenders of the "sincere, caring, and encouraging
elite." Right, they have their own theater, their own
long-term deal, successful books, television shows, and one of
the few feature films ever to include a scene of Filipino Psychic
Surgery. By all accounts, they should be complete jerks. Maybe
they are, but if you visit with them after the show — and of
course they always make themselves available — you encounter two
people who seem to love magic and enjoy talking with those who
love it like they do. They lay it on thick: They even respond in
a meaningful and helpful manner. Bastards!

Mac King is the same way.
Oh, there he is, Mr. "I'm successful and beloved by
magicians and non-magicians alike." He probably thinks,
"Hey, I know what I'll do. I'll stop by the magic
convention to mingle and talk with young practitioners to
encourage them."

How dare he? How dare this
member of the upper-echelon make us birthday party magicians feel
comfortable talking shop — he has to know we work in two
entirely different worlds but he acts like he cares.

Whit Haydn, Gay
Blackstone, Mark Wilson, Bev Bergeron, Lance Burton, Nathan
Burton, Melinda, Rick Thomas, and pre-accident, Siegfried…

Doug Henning


I am a get along guy. If
you were to look up "easy going" in the dictionary, you
would see my picture. And if you didn't, that would be okay
too. Because, I am easy going.

That's the exterior.
But brewing just beneath the surface of my kindly demeanor is one
of the most petty, jealous magicians you will ever meet. I would
love to be part of the elite in our magic world, but I won't
make it. I would like to think it is because the elite are like
me in their pettiness and jealousy, but I've met them and
they' seem awfully nice. It must be an act for surely they
have the same petty, dark soul as me.

That's the problem
with being an easy going magician. Our profession brings people
together rather than separate them according to skill or class.
So when I see the elite at a convention, after a show, or a
lecture, they seem to intentionally make themselves available for
real conversations.

I've met plenty of
politicians who say nice things but you know they are just
spouting the insincere patter they use constantly. "Hey,
it's good to see you. How have you been and how are things?
I'll tell you what, I wish we had more people like you with
us up in Washington. We could use the common sense, real-life
knowledge you have." Blah, blah, blah.

The elite magicians on the
other hand often mean what they say. Sure, right after a lecture,
they may want to encourage you to buy their DVD or special
gimmick; but that doesn't explain why they would go with you
and the gang to Denny's for pie and coffee. After all, the
sale is done. Those who would suggest they do this intentionally
because they love this craft and love talking about it are
naïve.

Penn & Teller are the
worst offenders of the "sincere, caring, and encouraging
elite." Right, they have their own theater, their own
long-term deal, successful books, television shows, and one of
the few feature films ever to include a scene of Filipino Psychic
Surgery. By all accounts, they should be complete jerks. Maybe
they are, but if you visit with them after the show — and of
course they always make themselves available — you encounter two
people who seem to love magic and enjoy talking with those who
love it like they do. They lay it on thick: They even respond in
a meaningful and helpful manner. Bastards!

Mac King is the same way.
Oh, there he is, Mr. "I'm successful and beloved by
magicians and non-magicians alike." He probably thinks,
"Hey, I know what I'll do. I'll stop by the magic
convention to mingle and talk with young practitioners to
encourage them."

How dare he? How dare this
member of the upper-echelon make us birthday party magicians feel
comfortable talking shop — he has to know we work in two
entirely different worlds but he acts like he cares.

Whit Haydn, Gay
Blackstone, Mark Wilson, Bev Bergeron, Lance Burton, Nathan
Burton, Melinda, Rick Thomas, and pre-accident, Siegfried are all
alike. Who are they trying to fool? They couldn't really care
where I'm from or what I do. Why would Whit Haydn bother
spending time discussing the Dai Vernon school of thought on
sleight of hand with someone who ends his act with the one-two
punch of Sucker Sliding Die Box and Blendo? I'm telling you
straight — the elite of our profession must have some kind of
press consultant advising them to "take time out of your
post-show or post-lecture evening when you would rather be going
home, back to your room, or to the bar, to talk with dweebs
sincerely about your common interests."

I see right through
it.

I just can't figure
why they're like this though. I am sure they don't need
to use me as a referral to get the next birthday gig or adult
living facility strolling job. The elite usually work pretty
steady.

As for sales, most of the
elite don't even sell magic tricks. You can't find Penn
& Teller's Bullet Catch available — even a knocked-off
version. Mac King has yet to market his Goldfish routine. Heck,
Gay Blackstone doesn't have anything to sell at
all.

I thought maybe they were
like me. Maybe they appeared interested because they wanted to be
liked or "well-liked." Arthur Miller's character
Willy Loman makes the distinction between being
“liked” versus “well-liked.” This theory
doesn’t wash, though. Even if they shared my pathological
desire for approval, my guess is that they would be well-liked
even if they never mingled, never talked with the
magicians.

David Copperfield
astounded me. I was lucky enough to push some seven year-old down
towards the syrup coated theater floor to get positioned to catch
the big, inflated ball tossed to pick volunteers at random. I was
called up on stage with 12 other lucky folks to be vanished by
this workaholic magic-loving freak of fiction. After the
vanishing, he talked with all 13 of us. When he was done with his
statement — which we are to keep secret and I will — he asked
generally if anyone had any thoughts about how some of the tricks
looked.

I don't know why, but
for some reason, I piped up. I told him I was a magician so
perhaps my observations wouldn't be helpful for his
performances. That should have ended the conversation. But no, of
course not. He finished talking with the other 12 members of the
disappeared volunteers and then quizzed me. He acted like he
really cared what I saw and what I thought.

At one point in our
conversation, he looked down towards the floor as if in deep
thought — as if he was really considering what I suggested. He
lifted his gaze and tried to sound like one of the
non-elite.

"So you thought it
would have been more logical when I did trick X if I had shown
that prop Y was empty before I put it on table Z?" Pause. He
looks down towards the floor as if pondering the suggestion. He
looked up again and asked like a junior magician receiving a
post-show critique, “But what about when I showed prop Y
after it was on table Z? Didn't that help?"

He had another show in two
hours and he was wasting his time soliciting my advice on how to
make his award-winning, highest-grossing show better. Right.
Sure. That makes sense.

But then he had the icing
on the cake. It must be a well-rehearsed bit he does all the
time. One of his backstage assistants came by with a
"problem" needing the great magician's
"help." I've heard this bit a thousand times. The
secretary buzzes in if the meeting is going too long and tells
the boss there's a "situation" or "an
appointment." The boss excuses himself but not before
gratuitously saying he really hated to end the conversation so
quickly.

Mr. Copperfield played it
a different way. He asked the assistant if it could wait until he
was done talking with me. She said that would be fine and walked
away. Then he gilded the lilly. "What kind of magic do you
do?" He asked.

Mr. Copperfield sent his
assistant away so he could ask what kind of magic I
do.

What kind of under-handed,
slick, Hollywood routine is that?

Well, he asked for it. I
told him: some kid's shows and some mentalism for grown-ups.
He wouldn’t leave it alone. He followed up and asked me
more about the tricks I did and where.

It makes no sense at all.
None.

Trixie Bond must rehearse
all the time to act consistently cheery and interested in us
lesser magicians. She headlines with her lectures on Kid Magic at
all the major conventions and is certainly one of the elite few
members of FFFF. I saw her at a magic convention and she said, in
her usual cheery, positive voice, "[i]sn't the magic
community wonderful? We all love this stuff so much. It's
just fun!"

The elite play it so
sincerely that I am tempted to let my guard down and believe
them. But I have learned to stay vigilant. I may not understand
why the elite should be so encouraging, so helpful, but that
doesn’t mean I have to set myself up for the disappointment
reality will deliver.

When I was 14 years-old, I
wrote a long letter to Doug Henning about my magic, my shows, and
my problems being hired by clients looking for older magicians. I
told the Broadway star I called myself “The Mini
Magician” to take advantage of my youth but this
didn’t seem to help.

Back then I expected that
he would write back to me. After all, I told him that I watched
him on Broadway in The Magic Show and it made me so excited about
magic that I wanted to be a professional like him. I wrote all of
this well-before I learned that life is not fair and that people
are not as they appear.

If I were to counsel me as
a 14 year-old magician now, thirty years later, I would tell him
to not waste his time. Doug Henning is not going to write back.
He will likely not even read the letter — especially because it
was filled with misspellings and covered with White-Out. It
looked like a stalker's note.

Of course, thirty years
ago, I probably would not have listened to my sage advice. I
would have dismissed it and insisted that Doug Henning loved
magic as much as I did and we were all one big brotherhood. I
would have told the old man to “just wait and see.
He’ll write back.”

But that kind of
enthusiasm only fits a child yet to be burned by business
associates, hurt by lovers, left behind in the climb to the top
of the corporate ladder. This young man of 14 didn’t
understand the concept of back-stabbing. The closest he came was
his version of Knife through Coat. He’d learn alright. I
knew the disappointment he was about to experience but I also
knew the disappointment would provide an essential
education.

To the ever-confident 14
year-old, it made perfect sense when I received a light blue
envelope with a unicorn image and the return address for Doug
Henning in New York. Why wouldn’t he have written Tim
“The Mini Magician” Quinlan?

I read the typed
three-page, single-spaced letter many times and gave it a special
cigar box in my magic trunk for safe keeping.

Thirty years later, I
still re-read Mr. Henning's letter from time to time. If I am
not careful, I can easily slip into the childish belief that
magicians are magicians regardless of their status in the magic
community. I know from real-life, life outside the convention
halls, or the lecture rooms, that the real world doesn't work
that way.

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