The Illusionist. The Prestige. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. This sudden flood of “magician” movies and books would lead one to think that magicians only existed before our modern times. Sure, there were hack magicians back in the time of Houdini, but what about the glorious 1970s and 1980s—a time when magic was a man’s sport. We didn’t stand around in artsy-fartsy suits and use flimsy mirrors to do our tricks. No, we used real tigers and really huge tanks of water. We had the cojones to walk around in skintight rainbow-colored bodysuits. We had long manes of hippie hair and huge manly moustaches that barely hid our buck-teeth. Those old-fogey 19th-century magicians had tiny stages to do their parlor tricks on. I had television, baby! Bright lights and multiple cameras. I was in people’s friggin’ homes—by the millions. Try that, Mr. Strange-Norrell. You’d probably cry and wet your pants knowing that half of America was watching you risk your life. Late-century magicians—we had game. You know, I may have been told that I looked like a reject from H.R. Pufnstuf, but at least I had the balls to chain myself up and nearly drown in a tank of water in prime time. The beauty of it all was that Mr. and Mrs. Middle America were hoping the freakin’ hippy would drown on television. And, you know what? I didn’t. I was a testimony to the fact that the open-hearted, bleeding-liberal, love-children were the real tough guys. O.K., O.K, in retrospect I may have lost a bit of street cred when I decided to run for Canadian parliament as a candidate of the Natural Law Party and lost (I certainly thought my campaign slogan was brilliant: “If I can make an elephant disappear, I can make the deficit disappear.”). Can I help it if the rest of you were so far behind my forward thinking?
Anyway, I digress. The Prestige? Does that sound anywhere near as captivating as Doug Henning’s Amazing Hour of Incredible Magic? Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell? It sounds like a creepy law firm. And The Illusionist? What a wimpy name for a magician. Is Edward Norton afraid to go by his real name? I didn’t. I was DOUG HENNING. Everyone knew my name—DOUG HENNING! DOUG: a man’s man’s name. “Hey, DOUG, what’s up?” “Yo, DOUG, wanna go skydiving or wrestle some alligators?” “DOUG, do you want go find that Paul Skane from junior high school and give HIM a wedgie for calling you a buck-toothed pansy!” You bet I do—and then I’ll dunk him in a tank full of tigers and see if he can disappear before being mauled to death. Go, DOUG!