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UP FRONT

Magic: The annual Balticon science-fiction convention adds a sleight-of-hand master for the 'Star Trek' and 'X-Files' crowd.

April 01, 1999|By LISA WISEMAN | LISA WISEMAN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's two weeks before his performance, and magician Denny Haney of the magical duo Denny & Lee still isn't sure what he'll do for his big show this weekend at Balticon.

Baltimore's annual science fiction convention is sponsored by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. More than just a place to wear your Klingon warrior costume, buy and sell "Star Wars" action figures or discuss the latest conspiracy theory revealed in "The X-files," Balticon is considered by many to be the premiere local show for true and passionate science-fiction fans.

It's also a perfect showcase for Haney, who practices a magic that fantasy authors can only write about.

Perched on top of a stool in his Essex magic shop/rehearsal studio, Haney says: "This is the first time we've done a show like this -- a science-fiction show. We're still reading and trying to put things together. I'm sure we'll figure out something to do two days before the show."

He's kidding, of course. Haney is no unprepared amateur in a rented tux, doing cheap card tricks and trying to pull a rabbit out of a top hat. In fact, except for a brief three months selling cars, Haney has worked as nothing but a professional magician.

With more than 25 years of show-business experience, Haney has opened for such performers as Joey Bishop, the Pointer Sisters and Air Supply. He's also appeared with big-name magicians, including Doug Henning and David Copperfield (who's also performing in Baltimore this weekend; see accompanying story).

Haney has toured the world and is a regular sight in Las Vegas. He's done USO tours in Vietnam, college tours in America and, for a very profitable time during the 1980s, worked the convention circuit for Fortune 500 companies like IBM and General Motors, "making cars appear out of thin air and CEOs come on stage in a puff of smoke," Haney says.

These days, Haney says, he picks and chooses where and when he performs.

"If there is a show in Palm Springs, I'll do that, but the days of 200 shows a year are over," he says.

At Balticon, Haney will be performing with his assistant, Minh Sheridan. Sheridan took the stage name Lee after Haney's wife, the original Lee, left the act in the early 1980s after the couple divorced.

Fellow magician Steve Myers, who helps out at Haney's magic store, will also be performing at Balticon. "Steve is into science fiction," Haney said. "He's taken classes in movie makeup and costuming, so we'll follow his lead. . . . We'll probably do some fire tricks and special-effects work. It won't be a magic show, per se, but a chance for us to show people some things that they might be able to do," Haney says.

Showing others new tricks is something that Haney is accustomed to. Now in semi-retirement at the age of 53, Haney spends most of his time running his store on Marlyn Avenue. The place is open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. The studio is a store for serious, working magicians and magicians in training, Haney says. "No gag gifts . . . just magic."

Most of his customers are scattered across the country, phoning or faxing in their orders or checking out his Web site, http://www.dennymagic.com. "We do very little walk-in business. And if we do, I usually send them to another shop for beginners. . . . I tell them, 'If you really are serious, read, study, practice, and then if you make a decision to be serious about magic, come back to us in a year.' "

The magic studio is cluttered with books and supplies. Rare posters, photos and magic memorabilia decorate the walls. The room smells of cigarette smoke and the barnyard -- smoke from the ever-present, overflowing ashtray and the barnyard smell from Baby, Denny's pet pot-bellied pig, who roams free behind the front counter.

Baby is actually a well-behaved and well-groomed pet, spending most of her time on her little pig bed in the corner, rising occasionally to grunt and bang her snout against the door, asking to be let out like a puppy. She's barely noticed by the magicians who are hanging around the shop, looking through shelves and display cases. One shouts, "Aha!", snatches a book from a shelf and starts turning pages.

It wasn't Haney's intention to open the shop. "It just sort of happened," he said. "Guys would always stop by my house for advice." Soon they started asking Haney where he got some of his supplies. Haney was spending so much time on the phone ordering supplies for fellow magicians that it made sense to open a magic shop. "We could add expertise to the inventory," Haney says.

But is there that much of a demand for magic in Baltimore? "Oh yes," Haney says excitedly. "There are at least 300 working magicians in Maryland." Not all do major shows and tours; some are just starting out or are working in restaurants or clubs, doing card tricks.

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