Laurel magician touts influences of Houdini, David Blaine

LAUREL, Md. - Eric Henning's fascination with magic dates back more than 40 years when as a youth he accidentally came across a book on famed magician Harry Houdini.

To Henning, Houdini wasn't just a magician; he was an artist who told a story, inspired people and gave them an emotional boost.

"A great magician transports you to a place where you believe anything is possible," said Henning, a Laurel resident who has performed in various capacities for four decades and owns Eric Henning's Old-Fashioned Magic.

Henning said Houdini's impact and influence on art and magic remains strong even 87 years after his death. He added that Houdini became an inspiration for many of today's comic book super heroes and laid the foundation for magicians of today.

"Those who watched Houdini were inspired by the symbolism of his work," Henning said. "Here's a Jewish guy who came to America and was able to break out of chains under the toughest of circumstances. Those were the same early visions of Superman.

"He was also the first multi-media superstar. He knew how to utilize newspapers and motion picture and later radio to attract an audience. He was one of the few people that could knock World War I off the front pages. Even today, his name is synonymous with magic. Just think, kids 5, 6, 7 years old know who Houdini was."

Henning said modern-day magician/illusionist David Blaine has the ability to reach a similar audience. Blaine's latest primetime special, "David Blaine: Real or Magic" airs at 9:30 a.m. on ABC2.

"David Blaine has just figured it out," Henning said. "He designs tricks and illusions that takes people to a different and higher level."

Henning said the key to being a great magician is making people think about more than just how someone did a trick.

"If people are only thinking about how I did a trick, then I failed at my job," said Henning, who has performed in front of presidents, corporate executives and military gatherings among others in his career.

"Magic isn't just about fooling you. Someone should watch an act and come away thinking they saw something beautiful and it gave them an emotional boost much like watching a great movie or listening to a great song. It's art."

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