Let’s divulge into the secrets of Doug Henning walking through a brick wall illusion in front of a live studio audience way back in the Seventies.
The late Canadian illusionist performed this penetration illusion in his third live “World of Magic” television special on December 15, 1977.
Doug Henning walking through brick wall act is not as popular as Houdini or even David Copperfield going through the Great wall of China.
He placed a screen at each side of the brick wall.
Houdini waved his hands above the screen and then his hands vanished.
Instantly Houdini apparently had penetrated through the solid wall.
Both screens were pulled away to reveal that Houdini had magically went over to the other side of the wall.
Walking Through A Brick Wall Illusion Controversy
It was reported that Sydney Josolyne sold the American rights of his version of walking through a brick wall to Harry Houdini.
You can find out the secret of walking through a wall in Sydney Josolyne’s book “Weird Wonders For Wizards” on pages 16 to 18.
But the English magician P. T. Selbit claimed the trick is his.
He also had performed it at the Egyptian Hall in London on June 15, 1914.
P. T. Selbit or Percy Tibbles used a girl to do the penetration act.
In 1915, Houdini’s brother Theodore Hardeen also did the same trick in Boston.
Doug Henning Walking Through Brick Wall Revealed
After watching the old blurry video clip, I think I know Doug Henning walking through brick wall trick is done.
All my assumption and explanation are based on what I can make out from Doug Henning’s performance as seen from the TV show.
I am not going to the wall to defend my postulation is concrete.
Watch Doug Henning walking through the brick wall in this video:
Now let’s walk through my opinion about how this quick walking-through-wall illusion is done.
What Doug Henning did on the TV show is similar to how Harry Houdini performed at the Hammerstein’s in New York on July 13, 1914.
Both used a trapdoor to go through to the other side of the wall, as explained in Sydney Josolyne’s book “Weird Wonders For Wizards“.
Below is the illustration taken from the book.
Similarly, in J. C. Cannell’s 1930 book “The Secrets Of Houdini“, chapter two “Through A Brick Wall“.
Houdini used a trapdoor is also exposed and explained in the 1953 book “Houdini On Magic” on pages 221 and 222.
In William Lindsay Gresham’s 1959 book “Houdini The Man Who Walked Through Walls“, he also wrote that a trapdoor was used.
It is on page 198.
If you want to know how Houdini did it, watch how Adrien Brody does it with the help of a trapdoor in the episode 2 of the mini-series “Houdini“.
However, according to R. D. Adams who wrote “Exposing Houdini’s Tricks Of Magic” in the November 1929 issue of “Modern Mechanix And Inventions“, Houdini used a different method.
Houdini disguised as one of the bricklayer, and with also with the help of mechanical arms and hands, operated by a hidden rope leading to the wings.
Anyway, I think magician Henning sneaked through a trapdoor under the wall on the stage floor.
Doug Henning Walk Through Wall Three Secrets
Doug Henning’s version uses these three secrets to do the trick: mirrors, switch and trapdoor.
As usual, I would study the prop or apparatus and the magician’s routine.
First let’s look at the apparatus or prop.
The brick wall is definitely solid and impenetrable.
It is set on top of a low stage and not directly on the studio floor.
Tony-norminated Doug Henning says in the video, there are only three possible ways he could get to the other side of the concrete wall.
To go under it, around it, or over it.
In fact, he exposes the trick himself to me when he says he wants to prove he can’t go under the wall.
That is when I started focusing my probing on that option; go under the wall.
The most possible option for illusionist Henning is to go through the wall so quickly, is to sneak underneath it via a trapdoor, just like Houdini did back then.
Doug Henning Walking Through The wall Sequence
Basically this is what I think happens behind the scene of his performance:
Hennings walks behind the panel, the assistant (already hidden there) raises his hands to simulate as Henning’s hands.
Henning goes straight into the trap door and comes out to the other side of the wall.
Just before Henning show his hands over the panel on the other side of the wall, the assistant has to lower his hands and quickly hides inside the trapdoor.
This part I caught him in the act, as he rushes down from the low table.
The perfect timing of switching the hand movements between Henning and his assistant is crucial.
That’s why Henning keeps shouting throughout the moment he walks behind the panel until he appears on the other side of the wall.
The purpose of the yelling is not to dramatize the penetration effect, but to cue his assistant.
I will explain and elaborate more at the end of the post.
Two Low Tables
Why does Doug Henning need the two low tables to do his trick?
After all, he is already shielded by two two panels.
In other words, unless these two unassuming tables are there to collude with the illusion.
The next suspicion is the way these two table are positioned against the wall.
They are placed diagonally, and not the side of the table facing the wall.
Hidden Mirrors Below Low Tables
Now, let’s get to the bottom of the secrets.
Let me give you the low-down of these two low tables.
The two tables are there to hold up the hidden mirrors.
There is a piece of mirror hidden underneath the stage, right below the two diagonal table legs.
The mirrors are there to hide or block both Doug Henning and his assistant.
Black Lines Table Legs
Now take a closer look at table legs.
You can see a black line running in the middle of the table legs.
The black lines of the two diagonal legs are actually narrow slits to hold the mirror, when it slides up and down during the act
To complete the whole camouflage, the other two table legs also need to have black lines in the middle as well.
Now, let’s take a good look at the stage.
Camouflage Black Lines On stage
Why does the stage with the brick wall have multiple black lines drawn on it?
Obviously these black lines are not for design purpose.
They are there to camouflage or conceal the trapdoor opening on the stage and also for the mirrors.
The trapdoor is near the wall, next to the the low table.
The mirror is hidden below the stage before and after the trick.
The black lines drawn diagonally between the two table legs of both tables are actually narrow gaps.
These gaps or openings are for the mirrors to slide up and down from the bottom of the stage.
I hope you can follow my line of reasoning.
White Boxy Translucent Curtain/Screen
Once again, I asked myself the similar question as I did with the two low tables:
Why does Henning need the white gauzy curtain or screen to do his act?
After all Henning is already shielded by the panels on top of the tables.
To me, with the use of the white gauze-like fabric to screen his act actually clearly reveals to me how the trick is done.
When it draws up the massive white translucent curtain around the stage, it draws my attention and suspicion.
It’s time to get behind the scenes and see how Doug Henning instantaneously appears on the other side of the brick wall.
Switch Place With Stage Assistant
Remember illusionist Doug Henning doesn’t walk straight behind the panel, with both his hands up.
He walks in with both his arms stretched out straight in front of him.
It is only after he has hidden behind the panel for a second, then only the audience can see two hands come up waving.
That pair of waving hands above the panel are not from Doug Henning.
They are from his stage assistant who is already hiding behind the panel.
I know you would say the video shows the side view of the stage where Henning is alone talking to the audience.
Yes, at that moment, Henning is alone talking to the audience.
The live studio audience don’t see that side view shot.
It is specially meant for TV viewers.
It is a deceptive move, specially to mislead both the TV and video viewers.
Similarly, this is what David Copperfield does in his wall-prediction or premonition trick in his 1992 “The Magic of David Copperfield XIV: Flying – Live The Dream“.
At 5:37-5:40, the TV show purposely shows the back-view of the graffiti-filled wall which the live audience don’t see.
After that back-view shot, there is someone hiding behind wall to pass the so-called written predictions to David Copperfield.
One of the comments (lay kim) on this video has revealed it all.
For Henning’s act, from the start, the stage assistant hides below the trapdoor.
So when does the stage assistant sneak out from the trapdoor?
Watch the video clip carefully.
After Henning has rolled down the panel, he keeps talking from 39:06 to 39:30 to the audience through the translucent curtain.
Yes, Henning prattles on for about thirty seconds, before he walks to the panel to perform the illusion.
This gives enough time for his assistant to sneak out from the trapdoor under the table to hide behind the drawn-down panel.
Hidden Mirrors Exposed
When do the mirrors under the tables, come up from the bottom of the stage?
When the white curtain is raised, precisely at 38.40, there is a momentary pause, before it goes all the way up to the square metal frame above.
That is the moment the frame of the white curtain reaches the table top.
At 38:42, you can actually see the mirror rising up from the bottom of the stage through the small gap of the curtain.
The exposed opening near to the wall on the stage left (viewers’ right side)
In order to see it clearer, slow down YouTube playback speed to 0.25.
You can see the mirror reflection of the white fabric rising!
After he has seemingly walked though the wall, you can see the mirror again going down at 39:51 through the same gap.
You can see the mirror through the gap at both times when the white gauzy fabric is raised up (38:41 onward) and lowered down at 39:51 onward.
The truth is Doug Henning does not instantly ‘walk‘ through the wall.
You don’t instantly see his hands over the other side of the wall, as he claims just before he performs the trick.
In fact, the time Henning walks in behind the screen until he appears on the other of the wall, it takes about nine seconds.
From about 39:38 to 39:47.
He has to rush through the trapdoor beneath the stage.
Doug shouts: “Watch now, as I walk through brick wallll..” (he walks behind the panel and quickly sneaks through the trapdoor.
There is about 8-second pause before he continues to shout again, “noww…one…two…three...(at 39:47, then only his hands appears above the panel on the other side of the wall.
The is a reason why Doug Henning has to call out and do the countdown: “Watch now, as I walk through brick wallll…..noww…one…two…three..”.
The first part “Watch now, as I walk through the walll…” is to cue his assistant to raise his hands.
The second part “Nowww…one…two…three…” is to cue his assistant to put down his hands and jump down to hide inside the trapdoor.
Switch Back To Doug Henning
How do I know the assistant jump down to hide?
I manage to catch him getting down from the low table, when the panel rolls up.
Henning Walk Through Brick wall Caught In The Act
Here is a scene captured from the video.
The assistant’s head just before it disappears behind the mirror at 39:48.
Note: You can see it clearer when you set the YouTube playback speed to 0.25.
Then he has to quickly sneak into the trapdoor to hide, before the mirror comes down at 39:51.
By the way, probably the shouting cue is a prerecording.
Maybe the boom mic moving above the wall is a misdirection.
It is just to mislead that Doug Henning actually walks though the wall.
You don’t actually see the hands crossing directly from one side of the wall to the other.
What you see is the assistant’s hands come down, then only Henning’s hands comes up waving on the other side.
If you slow down the video clip, you can see Henning raised up his hands from the middle of the panel at 39:47.
But when I watched the video clip for the first time, it appears to me, Doug Henning actually walks through the brick wall.