The Greatest Trick Doug Henning Never Did

 

(Originally printed  Feb 2000)

    Doug Henning, to whom so many of us owe a debt of gratitude, passed away last week at age 52. Aside from the usual sadness of losing someone who was a great influence in my life, I am particularly upset about it because his death dashes my hopes of ever discovering the truth behind one of his greatest tricks - one that he himself is probably unaware of having performed.

    In August of 1974, my parents took me to see The Magic Show on Broadway. I was about fifteen years old and had been performing magic for about four years. I was so thrilled with the show that I felt a need to not only see it a second time, but drag my high school English teacher and all of my friends as well, even those with just a passing interest in magic. 

    To say I was a fan is understatement. I had purchased a copy of the Broadway soundtrack album (with the  included "Hexaflexagon"), the souvenir book, a poster and a T-shirt bearing the official "eye" logo of the production.

    Not long afterwards, I sat down and wrote Mr. Henning a letter. I congratulated him on the show, and told him how much I enjoyed it. I wrote of my interest in magic, and of my performing at local Cub Scout dinners and birthday parties. I explained how I had recently produced a show with seven of my friends to raise money for Muscular Dystrophy, complete with a live band providing music, and how I was planning on writing a book about magic for school kids.

    I also asked for an autographed photo of the cast from the show. I mailed it him c/o the Cort Theater, where The Magic Show was playing. That was in 1974.

    I never received a response.

    Not that I actually noticed. I continued performing, but high school, dating, college and marriage occupied most of the next two decades.

    By 1990, magic had pretty much taken a back seat for me. A surprise request from close college friends to perform at their daughter's sixth birthday party, and the fun I had performing again,  rekindled the flame and I began contemplating a return to regular bookings.

    Around my thirty-first birthday, during a visit to my parents' house, my mother handed me an envelope that had been sent to me at her address. The envelope bore a recent NYC postmark - January 29, 1990 - and an unfamiliar return address: Apt 11J, 322 West 57th St. It also had thick black tread-like ink marks across the back, apparently from one of the post office sorting machines.

    Inside the envelope were two pieces of correspondence that to this day I still regard with amazement.


 


    The first was a black and white 8x10 of Doug Henning, autographed in bright blue marker.

    The second was a typewritten letter (remember, this was from a  pre-computer era), addressed to me using my nickname "Skip", which read:

Dear Skip,
      Wow! You certainly have been active in magical areas. I think that's wonderful and I'm glad you wrote to me.
      Thanks for your compliments on "The Magic Show." I'm rather proud of my performance in it. Right now, I don't have any pictures of the entire cast, but I hope you'll find this one of me sufficient.
Wishing you all of life's wonders . . . 
       Magically,
      Doug Henning

   
    The letter was dated November 18, 1974.

    My initial impulse was to consider it a prank by one of my friends (perhaps in long-overdue retaliation for persuading him to have spent $35 on tickets for The Magic Show nearly twenty years earlier). But after re-reading the letter and comparing the signature to printed Henning autographs, I became convinced of its authenticity.

    The mystery that still surrounds the letter is where it had been for over sixteen years. Did some postal employee find it stuck in a routing machine and toss it back into the mainstream mail? Was it found in some dressing room at the Cort theatre and posted with no clue of how old it was? Or did someone cleaning out the W 57th St. apartment building come across it and mail it? Did Doug Henning, in fact, reside in that address during the run of the show?

    I had hoped to meet him someday and ask him. Now, I may never know.

    And while most of the articles on Doug Henning's passing have associated him with Anderson's Newspaper Tear, The Zig-Zag Lady, the Mismade Girl, or the Houdini Water Torture Cell,  it's Henning's Sixteen-year Vanishing US Mail Trick that will always remain, for me, his greatest feat.


 

-Pat Darienzo

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