Today would have been the 141st birthday of the great Hungarian-American illusionist and stunt performer, Harry Houdini (born Erik Weisz, later Ehrich Weiss or Harry Weiss). He was one of seven children and born in Budapest, Austria-Hungary on March 24, 1874. Houdini is famously known for his unbelievable “escape acts.” His performance repertoire included straitjackets under water, ropes slug from skyscrapers, chained while bolted with padlocks, and a buried alive stunt, just to name a few.
According to Wikipedia, Harry’s family changed the Hungarian spelling of their German surname to Weiss (the German spelling) and Erik’s name was changed to Ehrich. Friends called him “Ehrie” or “Harry”. He began his magic career in 1891 but had little success. He performed in dime museums and sideshows, and even doubled as “The Wild Man” at a circus. Houdini focused initially on traditional card tricks. At one point, he billed himself as the “King of Cards”. He soon began experimenting with escape acts. Houdini’s big break came in 1899 when he met manager Martin Beck in St. Paul, Minnesota. Impressed by Houdini’s handcuffs act, Beck advised him to concentrate on escape acts and booked him on the Orpheum vaudeville circuit. Within months, he was performing at the top vaudeville houses in the country.
After giving a successful demonstration by escaping from handcuffs at Scotland Yard, Houdini was booked at the Alhambra Theatre for six months. He became widely known as “The Handcuff King” and toured England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Russia. In 1913, Houdini introduced perhaps his most famous act, the Chinese Water Torture Cell. This act required that he hold his breath for more than three minutes, while being suspended upside-down in a locked glass and steel cabinet, overflowing with water. He performed this escape act for the rest of his career.
Harry Houdini was the President of the Society of American Magicians, and upheld professional standards that would expose fraudulent artists. He made several movies, but stopped since acting failed to bring in money. He was married to Wilhelmina Beatrice “Bess” Rahner. Many did not know that he was also a keen aviator. Harry Houdini died on October 31, 1926 at the age of 52 in Detroit, Michigan.
What fascinates you about magic and the world of illusions? Who is your favorite magician or illusionist? Bring out your inner magician today, by writing something “magical” to share with your magic enthusiasts and celebrate the birthday of the sensational Harry Houdini.