Harry Houdini (1874-1926)
Harry Houdini's Real Name
Ehrich Weiss, Houdini, King of Cards
Magician, Escapologist, Actor, Film Producer
Place of Birth
Approx: 5' 5"
Harry Houdini possessed the uncanny ability to escape from any restraints or traps known to man, ie. handcuffs, straitjackets, prison cells and other perils, often in combination.
His signature acts were the Chinese water torture cell and Metamorphosis.
Houdini's brother Leopold was New York's first X-ray specialist. Leopold would often x-ray Houdini, which is believed to have made him sterile.
Harry Houdini was born Erich Weisz on March 24, 1874, in Budapest, Hungary.
One of seven children born to Mayer Samuel Weisz, a Jewish rabbi and Cecilia Steiner, Erich immigrated with his family as a child to America - to the small town of Appleton, Wisconsin.
When he was 13, Erich moved with his father to New York City, taking on odd jobs and living in a boarding house before the rest of the family joined them. It was there that he became interested in trapeze arts and billed himself as "Ehrich, the Prince of the Air."
Soon after, Erich and his younger brother Theo, began to pursue an interest in magic.
At the age of 17, Erich launched his career as a professional magician and renamed himself Harry Houdini, the first name being a derivative of his childhood nickname, "Ehrie," and the last an homage to the great French magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin.
Young Houdini performed at sideshows, music halls and at New York's Coney Island amusement park. He also teamed up with his brother Theo performing as "The Houdini Brothers."
In 1894, he married singer, dancer Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner, aka Bess, who would serve as Houdini's lifelong stage assistant.
A year later, Harry and Bess joined the Welsh Brothers Circus for six months. There they performed the now famous "Metamorphosis" illusion. Though his magic met with little success, he soon drew attention for his feats of escape using handcuffs.
Houdini's feats would involve the local police, who would strip search him, place him in shackles, and lock him in their jails. The Houdinis toured England where they got there big break at Scotland Yard, where Houdini escaped from being wrapped around a pillar and handcuffed.
His fame spread like wild fire and performed to sold-out engagements in Germany and then throughout Europe.
By the time Houdini returned to the United States in the early 1900s, he was an international celebrity and he soon became the highest-paid performer in American vaudeville.
Houdini continued his act in the United States in the early 1900s, constantly upping the ante from handcuffs and straightjackets to locked, water-filled tanks and nailed packing crates. In 1912, his act reached its pinnacle, the Chinese Water Torture Cell, which would be the hallmark of his career.
Houdini's wealth allowed him to indulge in other passions, such as aviation and film. He purchased his first plane in 1909 and became the first person to man a controlled power flight over Australia in 1910.
He also launched a movie career, starring in a successful silent film serial called "The Master Mystery" and later, two unsuccessful feature films: "The Grim Game" and "Terror Island."
Deciding to take full creative control in the motion picture industry, he started his own production company, Houdini Picture Corporation, and a film lab called The Film Development Corporation, but neither was a success.
In 1923, Houdini became president of Martinka & Co., America's oldest magic company. He also served as president of the Society of American Magicians, and founded the Magician's Club in London.
Harry Houdini was a avid crusader against fraudulent spiritualists and lectured on the subject while debunking many in the cities he visited. This act turned him against former friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, who was a firm believer in Spiritualism.
In 1926, Houdini launched a brand new tour, featuring an action-packed 2 hour show. The performance showcased magic, a section debunking spiritualism, and grand escapes featuring his famous Chinese water torture escape.
In it, Houdini was suspended by his feet and lowered upside-down in a locked glass cabinet filled with water, requiring him to hold his breath for more than three minutes to escape.
During his tour, Harry Houdini lectured at McGill University where he met an art student; he invited the student to visit him backstage before his next show. The next day the student and two of his friends were chatting with houdini in his dressing room.
One of the students, an amateur boxer, asked if it was true that Houdini could withstand any blow to the torso area above the waist. Houdini admitted it was true. However, before Houdini would tighten his abdomen muscles , the student quickly punched him in the stomach.
Although in pain, Houdini performed his show that afternoon. The pain worsened in the evening, but Houdini refused to consult a doctor.
The next day, October 24, despite chills and sweating, Houdini performed two more shows before moving on to Detroit Michigan, where he finally sought medical help.
The surgeon discovered that Houdini's appendix had ruptured, causing peritonitis - an infection which inevitably took Houdini's life on the afternoon of Halloween, October, 31, 1926.
Thousands mourned the death of Harry Houdini as he was layed to rest at Machpelah Cemetery in Long Island, New York. A member of the Society of American Magicians broke a wand at the services, beginning a new tradition that has been used for Society members ever since.
For many years Bess tried to contact Houdini through a séance on the anniversary of his death, but died in 1943 without succeeding.
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