Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Life of Harry Houdini: Part 1

Harry Houdini is, without a doubt, the most famous magician in history. His illustrious career as a performer, producer and actor spanned almost three decades and he inspired millions with his illusions and feats of strength. From humble beginnings in a first generation American family Houdini launched himself into the world and became an entertainment mogul the likes of which have scarcely been seen before or since.

Houdini was born in Budapest, Hungary on March 24, 1874. His given name was Erik Weisz and at the age of four his family immigrated to America on the S.S. Fresia. The Weisz family settled in Appleton, Wisconsin. Houdini would claim it as his birthplace throughout his life. Houdini’s family changed their name during the process of immigration, as many do. His surname became Weiss and Erik became Ehrick.
In 1882 Harry became an American citizen and in 1887 he moved to New York. He began his performing career as a trapeze artist. He became a magician in 1891 under the name Harry Houdini. The surname was a tribute to the famous French magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, who was one of the most famous magicians of his time and one of those to blaze the trail that nearly all modern magicians would one day follow.

Houdini was only 5’5” and had a high pitched voice. He once listed Hollywood, California as his favorite city and Auld Lang Syne as his favorite song. His brother was New York’s first X-ray technician and Harry would let his brother practice on him quite often. He was possibly sterilized by this habit as he never had any children. Houdini was also extremely athletic and a successful cross country runner in his youth.

Houdini started with card magic but soon found his true calling with escapism. In 1898 Houdini created the “Challenge Act”, whereby he would escape from any set of handcuffs produced by the audience. He then met a man named Martin Beck who was impressed with his handcuff act and became Houdini’s manager. In 1900 Beck arranged a European tour for Houdini. In Europe he traveled to major cities across the continent and asked to be arrested by the local police force. He would then be shackled and placed in their jails, only to escape. In Moscow Houdini escaped from a prison transport van that could only be unlocked in Siberia.
Houdini returned to America in 1904 a rich and happy man. At this point in his career he was famous as a vaudeville performer in America and an escape artist throughout Europe. He had come a long way from the struggling magician who once offered to sell all his secrets through a newspaper ad for $20. Once back in America, Harry would continue his path to becoming the greatest magician ever known.

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