|Born||in Budapest, Austria-Hungary [now Hungary]|
|Died||in Detroit, Michigan, USA (peritonitis)|
|Birth Name||Erich 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
|Mrs. Harry Houdini||(22 June 1894 - 31 October 1926) ( his death)|