For Denny Haney magic is not an illusion

October 23, 1992|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Staff Writer

Walk into Denny Haney's house in Essex and be greeted by a 100-pound pig named Baby. Notice the giant poster of Houdini gracing the living room wall. Glance at a white dove named Bird fluttering prettily in a cage. Seeing all this, you might think this guy probably doesn't lead a traditional 9-to-5 lifestyle.

You would be right.

Dennis Haney, 46, is a magician, an illusionist. He makes trucks disappear, floats his assistant on points of swords and escapes from locked trunks.

He has, though not lately, performed "the Bullet Catch" illusion. That is when a randomly selected audience member fires a gun aimed directly at the magician, who is behind a sheet of glass. The bullet passes through the glass and is caught by the magician's teeth.

"I first tried it when I was going through my divorce. I was like, I didn't care about anything then," says Mr. Haney, who works humor into his acts. "But a lot of guys have been killed during this, and I have had some close calls. No, I won't be doing it here," says the Baltimore native who will be performing this weekend at the second annual Fox 45 Family Funfest at the Timonium Fairgrounds.

Mr. Haney flips through pages of a scrapbook that document his career as the warm-up act for such stars as Joan Rivers, Dionne Warwick, Liberace, Jerry Lee Lewis, David Copperfield and others.

"I've been fascinated with magic since I was a kid," he says, when he happened across a catalog of magic. He started going to magic shows and spending as much time as possible immersed in learning about the art.

"I used to be a very quiet guy. I would spend a lot of my time in my room reading magic books," he says.

During those days, sleight-of-hand card tricks were all the rage and he became a master at them.

Quickly, he grabs a deck of cards from a kitchen shelf, fans them out in one hand, then does a quick flick of the wrist, making them disappear.

He is wearing a short sleeve shirt, and there are no cards in sight. He smiles. Flicks the cards back in his hands then sets them back on the counter top.

Mr. Haney began performing tricks like these at schools, church socials and anywhere he could find an audience. Magic, no longer a childhood diversion, is his life's work as half of the Denny & Lee team.

(Lee, his ex-wife, was his first assistant from 1973 to 1982. When the couple divorced, he took a new assistant, Minh-Dang, but kept the stage name Denny & Lee.)

In the beginning, being a career magician was not an endearing idea to his father (now deceased) and his mother.

"They were not surprised, but they sure were against it," he says. "Now my mom is like, 'Meet my son, the professional magician.' "

Although Denny & Lee have performed all over the United States, they are not quite a household name. It's because Mr. Lee prefers not to perform on TV -- a medium that could expose him to millions of people.

"Oh sure, I would love to be a star," he says. "But it's not worth it."

He explains that some of his illusions take up to three years to perfect, then, on TV, it could be performed only once. "I don't like sound bites either," he says, "where I would have four minutes to say something."

Also, the Kenwood High School graduate prefers to keep his home base here, where he returns between shows.

So, Denny & Lee have found their niche by performing at corporate events, usually doing conventions for Fortune 500 companies. "We like to customize shows," he says. "For example, a corporation might like something unusual, like making their old tractor trailer disappear and their new one appear."

He won't make a tractor trailer disappear this weekend, but he will float Minh-Dang on points of swords and do other illusions.

Minh-Dang, whose family left Vietnam in 1975 and eventually settled in Edgewood, remembers having a big case of the jitters when she first started. "I was so nervous. I had to keep on my mind that I couldn't goof the show up," says Minh-Dang, who joined Mr. Haney about 10 years ago.

Now, she's an old pro at appearing, disappearing and schoomzing with the crowd. "I love it. I am totally comfortable on the stage . . . now," she says.

For Denny Haney, magic is not an illusion



What: Fox 45 Family Funfest

When: Tomorrow and Sunday

Where: Timonium Fairgrounds, exhibition hall

Admission: Free

7+ Call: (410) 467-4545 or (410) 561-9374


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