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Harry Houdini Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (5)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Spouse (1)  | Trivia (18)  | Personal Quotes (17)

Overview (5)

Born in Budapest, Austria-Hungary [now Hungary]
Died in Detroit, Michigan, USA  (peritonitis)
Birth NameErich Weiss
Nickname The Great Houdini
Height 5' 7" (1.7 m)

Mini Bio (1)

The great American escape artist and magician Houdini (immortalized by a memorable performance by Tony Curtis in the eponymous 1953 film) was born Erich Weiss on March 24, 1874 in Budapest, Hungary, though he often gave his birthplace as Appleton, Wisconsin, where he was raised. One of five brothers and one daughter born to rabbi Samuel Weiss and his wife Cecilia, the future Houdini was four years old when his parents emigrated to the U.S., where Weiss, as "Harry Houdini", became one of the major celebrities of the first age dominated by the mass media.

His boyhood was spent in poverty and, when he was 17, he conjured up a magic act with his friend Jack Hayman, in order to escape the poverty and anonymity of manual labor which would likely have been his lot in life. Young Erich had been fascinated with magic since he was a young lad, when he was in the audience of a magic show put on by a traveling magician named Dr. Lynch. Billing themselves as the "Houdini Bros." in tribute to French magician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, Erich Weiss became an entertainer, though it took him some seven years to catch on.

Weiss and Hayman specialized in the Crate Escape (eventually known as Metamorphosis or The Substitution Trunk), and Houdini's brother Theodore replaced Hayman when he became uninterested in the act. Eventually, Theodore -- billed as Hardeen -- was replaced by Wilhemina Rahner (known as Bess), the woman "Harry Houdini" would eventually marry. The marriage on June 22, 1894 caused a conflict with his Jewish family as Bess was a Roman Catholic. They married in secret, then again at a synagogue and in a Catholic church to please both of their families.

While developing his act, Houdini was not above the old carny trick of posing as a spirit medium, making the rounds of the town clerk's office and nearby cemeteries in order to provide "messages from beyond". In 1896, while visiting a doctor friend in Nova Scotia, he saw his first strait jacket, which gave him the idea of developing an act in which he would escape from it.

Houdini finally hit the big-time when he was 24 years old with his Challenge Act in 1898, while he was making the rounds of vaudeville. Houdini's Challenge Act consisted of him escaping from a pair of handcuffs produced by an audience member. Eventually, this evolved into escapes from strait jackets, boxes, crates, safes, and other instruments and devices (such as his Water Torture Cell), as well as from jail cells. Houdini was also adept at escaping from being "buried alive". Hand-cuffed and strait-jacketed, he could escape while being hung upside down from a crane, or while lowered from a bridge, or even make his escape from padlocked crates lowered into a river.

Houdini also became famous as a debunker of mediums and "experts" of the paranormal, but this was done in hope he could find an actual medium that could communicate with the dead so that he could communicate with his beloved mother Cecilia after she passed away. He became quite famous in the ragtime age of the first quarter of the last century, even appearing in motion pictures produced by his own company.

Harry Houdini, the greatest magician ever produced by America, died in Detroit, Michigan during a national tour. The cause of death officially was peritonitis from a ruptured appendix. His death came nine days after having been punched in the stomach during the Canadian leg of the tour by J. Gordon Whitehead, a McGill University student who was testing Houdini's famed ability to take body blows. Always the trouper, Houdini had soldiered on despite stomach pains. (Early during the tour, he had broken an ankle but did not let it stop him or the tour.) His wife Bess, to whom Houdini left his half-million dollar estate, collected a double indemnity on his life insurance policy, as the blow was considered to have shortened the great magician's life and contributed to his premature death at the age of 52.

The date of his death was October 31, 1926 -- Halloween, one of three days (October 31-November 2) of Samhain, the Celtic New Year, when the veil between the living and the dead allegedly is at its thinnest and the living can make contact with the dead. Annually on Halloween from 1927 to 1937, Bess held a séance to try to contact her departed husband. She did not succeed, though she helped keep the memory of her husband alive in the American consciousness. Even today, magicians worldwide conduct séances on Halloween in an effort to contact the late escapologist.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood

Spouse (1)

Mrs. Harry Houdini (22 June 1894 - 31 October 1926) ( his death)

Trivia (18)

Married to his wife three times; first in secret, and then once in each of their respective religions' churches.
Based his stage name on that of the French magician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, whom he would later denounce as charlatan!
In addition to his career as a stage magician and an escape artist, he also had a part time career as a debunker of mediums and other so called experts of the paranormal. However, his reasons for this campaign included a hope he could find an actual medium that could communicate with the dead.
His cousin was the wife of Stooge Moe Howard
Pictured on a USA 37¢ commemorative postage stamp issued in his honor 3 July 2002.
Although born in Budapest, Hungary, he often gave his birthplace as Appleton, Wisconsin, where he was raised. Today, his boyhood home there is maintained as a museum.
A common misconception is that his death was caused by a student who tried to test his famously strong stomach muscles by punching him. Although it is true that Houdini was not given sufficient time to prepare himself for the blows, landing him in a hospital, this is not what he died of. He died of diffuse peritonitis, nine days later, despite his appendix being ruptured by the unprovoked assault.
Was one of five children of a penniless rabbi who died when Houdini was 18 years old.
Was fanatically devoted to his mother, Cecilia. When he died, his casket was adorned with a wreath that spelled, "Mother Love," and his head lay on a pillow of Cecilia's letters.
He is mentioned in the song "Ghost Town" by Cat Stevens.
His will stated that a bronze bust of himself be placed on his tomb to guide his spirit back from "the other side".
Willed his collection of books on magic to the American Society for Psychical Research, on the condition that J. Malcolm Bird, an ASPR official whom he hated, resign. Bird refused, so the books went to the Library of Congress.
His original stage name was Eric the Great.
Co-founded (with Arthur B. Reeve, John Grey and Louis Grossman) Supreme Pictures Corp. (1919-20), a film production company.
The image of Houdini dying while attempting to escape from a water tank in the popular movies has overshadowed the real cause of death: a fan testing his body-strength when he was unprepared for the blow, as he would have been doing his act, which resulted in peritonitis. Some water-tank escapologist showmen even introduce their trick as "The one that killed Houdini".
He was posthumously awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7001 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California on October 31, 1975.
Houdini traveled in the same same show with The Three Keatons, and after a particularly hard fall down the stairs by the (at the time) youngest Keaton, Houdini supposedly said to Joe Keaton, "That's quite a Buster your kid took", which is how Buster Keaton got his name.
Has been portrayed in films by Tony Curtis and Adrien Brody--both, like Houdini, of Hungarian ancestry.

Personal Quotes (17)

Only one man ever betrayed my confidence, and that only in a minor matter.
How the early priests came into possession of these secrets does not appear, and if there were ever any records of this kind the Church would hardly allow them to become public.
My professional life has been a constant record of disillusion, and many things that seem wonderful to most men are the everyday commonplaces of my business.
No performer should attempt to bite off red-hot iron unless he has a good set of teeth.
I think that in a year I may retire. I cannot take my money with me when I die and I wish to enjoy it, with my family, while I live. I should prefer living in Germany to any other country, though I am an American, and am loyal to my country.
It is still an open question, however, as to what extent exposure really injures a performer.
Flames from the lips may be produced by holding in the mouth a sponge saturated with the purest gasoline.
But then, so far as I know, I am the only performer who ever pledged his assistants to secrecy, honor and allegiance under a notarial oath.
Another method of eating burning coals employs small balls of burned cotton in a dish of burning alcohol.
Fire has always been and, seemingly, will always remain, the most terrible of the elements.
But it must not be thought that I say this out of personal experience: for in the many years that I have been before the public my secret methods have been steadily shielded by the strict integrity of my assistants, most of whom have been with me for years.
To cause the face to appear in a mass of flame make use of the following: mix together thoroughly petroleum, lard, mutton tallow and quick lime. Distill this over a charcoal fire, and the liquid which results can be burned on the face without harm.
Eating coals of fire has always been one of the sensational feats of the Fire Kings, as it is quite generally known that charcoal burns with an extremely intense heat.
The great day of the Fire-eater--or, should I say, the day of the great Fire-eater--has passed.
The eating of burning brimstone is an entirely fake performance.
In all feats of fire-eating it should be noted that the head is thrown well back, so that the flame may pass out of the open mouth instead of up into the roof, as it would if the head were held naturally.
I make the most money, I think, in Russia and Paris, for the people of those countries are so willing to be amused, so eager to see something new and out of the ordinary.

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