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Denny Haney: Remembering “The Yoda of Magic”

The Cast of Armed Forces Entertainment's "Operation Magic All-Stars" visits Denny Haney at the Denny & Lee Magic Studio

The Cast of Armed Forces Entertainment’s “Operation Magic All-Stars” visits Denny Haney at the Denny & Lee Magic Studio

Remembering Denny Haney

December 26, 1946 – January 23, 2019

“The Yoda of Magic” — Christian Painter

I am one of many performers who owe my career to Denny Haney.

I went to college in Annapolis, Maryland; but my actual professional education came by making a three hour round trip on public transit (at least in the first year when freshmen were not allowed to have cars on campus) to the industrial neighborhood of Essex where one of the the best magicians in the world — from a pure entertainment standpoint — had retired to set up a shop in a nondescript building that was dedicated to elevating the level of magic.

What separated Denny from other magic shop owners wasn’t just his vast real world experience, deep well of knowledge, and killer instinct and talent; but his genuine love for magic which came before almost everything else.

He cared far more about magic being done well than he did about making a buck. He would not sell you a trick you weren’t ready for, and regularly steered customers away from slickly marketed tricks that were easy to sell. He was there to provide a real education, not to appease curiosity.

Watch Denny in Action
A performance from mid-90’s at the Wells Theatre in Virginia:

He cared deeply about maintaining high ethical standards. He was vocal about calling out ripped off material and refused to stock it, although the high margins from outfits like “Magic Makers” meant virtually every other dealer was.

But more than that, he was incredibly generous with his expertise and time. The shop supposedly closed at 10pm, but each week I’d come by around 6 or 7 and would sit across the counter listening to him until he felt like heading up to his apartment above the shop to turn in for the night.

Those conversations were wide-ranging. From microphone technique, to how to work with agents, to what made the acts of long dead greats so good. Once, Denny found out that I had never seen the stage act of legendary magician Del Ray. Denny, a gifted actor and mimic, became Del Ray. The voice, the mannerisms. He performed Del’s stage act, in pantomime and pausing to describe what was happening, in the middle of his shop.

Beyond the practical advice, beyond the love for the roots of our work and devotion to studying the books written by and about old masters, beyond the willingness to patiently critique the performance of whatever I was working on at the time, those conversations led me to understand that — with hard work — I could also making a living doing what I love. It became a real possibility with real, concrete steps to follow. I can never know for sure, but there is a universe somewhere where I didn’t meet Denny and I’m joylessly plugging away as an attorney or teacher.

It is rare that someone trying to sell us something changes our life, but I don’t think that’s an overstatement of the impact Denny had on me.

Denny took the thing he loved, and he left it better than he found it.

Thank you for being here.

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