June 3, 2009

Houdini

When I first started this blog I didn't get much traffic. I posted stories that I had originally written for my son when he was a 9-year-old. Since many of you haven't read them, I thought maybe I could return to some of these stories on days when my mind's a blank. Like today. I hope you enjoy them. I'll be republishing more as the days go by.





Houdini Keeps his Secrets - Tricks go to Grave with Magician


October 31, 1926. Newspaper headlines declared that Harry Houdini, the most celebrated magician and escape artist of the 20th century, had died.

Born Erich Weiss in Hungary in 1874, Houdini immigrated to America with his family. Houdini held various jobs to help his family avoid the tax-collector. Young Erich was 8 years old when he sold newspapers and worked as a shoe-shine boy.

After seeing a traveling magician with his father, his interest in performing took over. Demonstrating a natural acrobatic ability, he first appeared in front of an audience at the age of 9, as a trapeze performer and contortionist.

The young Houdini ran away from home when he was 12 and tried making money following circuses and side shows. A year later he rejoined his family in New York City. There he worked at many jobs and apprenticed as a locksmith. At the age of 15, while spending his free time competing in various athletic events and studying magic, he came across the autobiography of the French magician Jean Robert-Houdin. The book changed his life. Houdini added an "i" to his new hero's name and the rest is history.

After his father died when he was 18, Houdini became a full-time entertainer. He formed a “double act” with his brother Theo who called himself "Hardeen". They performed spectacular illusions as the Houdini Brothers. Their first performances were at Coney Island, dime- museums and the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.

While working at Coney Island, 20-year-old Houdini met a girl called Bess and married her 2 weeks later. She immediately replaced Theo in the act, which then became known as the Houdinis. They worked at fairs, Indian reservations, circuses and P.T. Barnum’s museum. Houdini performed card tricks and was known as the "King of Cards”.

A great showman, Houdini went on to make a name for himself. In 1900, he went on his first international tour performing all over Europe to great acclaim.
Houdini was constantly improving his act and incorporating new tricks. He specialized in escape acts and gained fame for his reported ability to escape from any manacle. He had perfected a handcuff escape and featured it in his show. Although Houdini offered one hundred dollars to anyone who could successfully handcuff him, he never had to pay.

Houdini was soon escaping from numerous devices, including leg irons, coffins, straitjackets, and prison cells. Unlike other magicians, Houdini began to make his escapes in full view of the audience, increasing the drama. He became a headliner. His act interested the owner of a chain of vaudeville theatres. He hired Houdini, resulting in great success for the theatres and for Houdini himself.

In 1905, determined to become an even bigger star, Houdini increased the difficulty and originality of his stunts. In one of Houdini's most famous stunts he was chained, handcuffed and locked in an ironbound chest that was dropped into a glass-walled water tank or thrown off a boat. Although Houdini had specially rigged the chest, he stayed underwater as long as possible to increase the suspense.

Houdini had incredible strength and agility that aided him in his stunts. He spent hours practicing and conditioning. More dangerous and dramatic escapes were performed. Acts featured Houdini hanging from a skyscraper in a straitjacket, or bound and buried, without a coffin, under six feet of dirt.

In 1918, Harry Houdini presented Jenny the "Vanishing Elephant", the world's largest illusion onstage at the Hippodrome in New York City. The elephant lumbered on stage and walked into a large cabinet. Immediately the cabinet's walls were pulled back and the elephant had disappeared. Houdini said "Even the elephant does not know how it is done."

For more than two decades, Houdini remained in the limelight. From 1916 to 1923, Houdini demonstrated his skills in motion pictures. In later years, he spent much of his time debunking spiritualism and exposing psychic frauds.


Houdini's final days proved a tragic ending to such a spectacular life. On October 22, 1926, Houdini was in Montreal giving a lecture. While sitting in his dressing room with several students from McGill University, Houdini commented on the strength of his stomach muscles and their ability to withstand hard blows. Suddenly, before he could prepare himself, one of the students punched Houdini twice hard in the stomach. Although Houdini seemed to recover, even performing shortly after, he soon fell ill. By the time he was diagnosed by a doctor, it was too late.
On Halloween 1926, Houdini died from a ruptured appendix.

Many books are available on the subject of Harry Houdini. One such book is The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America's First Superhero by William Kalush and Larry Sloman. Check out the link below.


http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Life-Houdini-Americas-Superhero/dp/0743272080/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1225921944&sr=1-1

7 comments:

sallymandy said...

I love that you made this book for your son. Thanks for the comment on my blog. Much appreciated. You have a fascinating variety of material here and I especially enjoyed the photos of your travels in Europe. Thanks! I'll post your link on my blog.

sallymandy (thebluekimono.blogspot.com)

Brian Miller said...

great idea, what you did for your son. interested to see the stories you chose to include. houdini is fascinating to me. enjoyed the trip through his life. intriguing that his boast killed him as much as the blow.

Poetikat said...

When I was 15 I read a biography of Houdini - it was absolutely fascinating.
Of course, you must know the Kate song, "Houdini" ("With a kiss, I'd pass the key.")

I look forward to your republished posts, CP.

Kat

Diane said...

hey, remember the movie about Houdini with Tony Curtis? I remember a lot of these facts from the film. Is Poetikat talking about Kate Bush? Love the lyrics.

Ms. Lucy said...

How fascinating! And- being from Montreal, I was so interested to learn about the McGill mention. Thaks:)

☆sapphire said...

Hi!

How interesting! I like to see magic shows. I've read something about him in the books related to American spiritualism, but I don't remember what it was.....

The Clever Pup said...

*Sapphire,
Houdini tried to debunk spiritualism. He had lost his mother and was offended when mediums tried to talk to her. Arthur Conan Doyle was a friend and a big believer in spiritualism.