Famous magicians - Harry Houdini
Harry Houdini is still regarded as one of the greatest magicians and escape artists of all time. Born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest, Hungary, he and his family emigrated to the United States, where he was soon to be called "Harry" by his friends.
After his father took him to see a travelling magician, Harry Houdini's interest in magic and performing soon appeared at the forefront of his mind.
At 15, he read an autobiography by Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin, who was, at the time, the father of modern magic. This was the inspiration behind his name change to Houdini - one of his friends said that by adding an "i" to Houdin, it meant "like Houdin". So, Harry Houdini was born.
He initially persisted with traditional card and coin magic, where he called himself the "King of Cards". One trick was the "card on the ceiling". This consists of a card selected by a spectator, signed and returned to the deck. Harry Houdini would then throw the shuffled pack at the ceiling and the spectator's card would stick to the ceiling.
Card tricks were easy for him, so he soon began trying escape acts. Harry Houdini's major breakthrough came when he met another showman, Martin Beck, who was so impressed with Houdini's handcuffs act, advised him to concentrate on escape acts.
Early on in his career, Harry Houdini met another performer where he was working who was to become his wife, Wilhelmina Beatrice Houdini. They performed together as The Houdinis where they often performed the Metamorphosis illusion. In this illusion, Houdini would be locked inside a large chest, usually with handcuffs and ropes. His wife is atop the trunk, briefly holding a curtain concealing her body. The curtain is lowered and Houdini is now on top of the chest with his wife, restrained as Houdini had been, inside the chest.
He travelled to Europe where he became a star. Harry Houdini would free himself from strait-jackets, chains, ropes, handcuffs and even jails.
When he returned to the States, he introduced ever more dangerous acts. One of which was the Giant Milk Can Escape. This is where Harry Houdini escaped from inside a water-filled milk can which was padlocked.
Harry Houdini's star was rising even further, perhaps to his most famous trick of all - the Upside Down Water Torture Cell. He was bound in ropes and his ankles were clamped and locked in stocks and he was submerged into a metal and glass tank of water. After was seems an eternity to the audience, he escapes to tumultuous applause and wonderment.
Harry Houdini also began to star in the, then, up-and-coming "moving" pictures. The earliest was The Master Mystery, followed by The Grim Game. He then founded The Houdini Picture Corporation which produced The Man From Beyond.
Harry Houdini was also a firm disbeliever of spiritualists whom he thought were preying on people's needs to contact deceased loved ones. Such was his scepticism, he often attended séances in disguise with a reporter and police officer and he went on to write a book about it in A Magician Among The Spirits.
Sadly, Harry Houdini died at the age of 52, from a ruptured appendix.
He had also left his wife a secret code that would be used by him, to contact her, after his death, should he have been wrong about spiritualists. For ten years, his wife held a séance once a year. Harry Houdini never made contact.
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