It was 1953 and I was only eleven. I think I’ve mentioned that I spent most of my early childhood at the local movie theater. This particular day, the very handsome, Tony Curtis and his lovely wife, Janet Leigh, were performing in the movie, “Houdini.” This couple was labeled the most exciting young couple in Hollywood at the time. Just entering my tween years, that was most important news at the time.
The real Harry Houdini was born Erik Weisz, on this day in 1874 in Budapest, Hungary. When he was only two years old, the family emigrated to America and settled in Appleton, Wisconsin. My husband and I started raising our family in Appleton almost a hundred years later. Weisz’s father was a Jewish rabbi and Erik was one of seven children. When he was only 13, his father took him to New York City. He took odd jobs and they lived in a boarding house until the family joined them later.
Erik had an early fascination with magic. He was always displaying his talents with card tricks and vanishing acts. By the time he was 20, he started his career in show business by becoming a magician. He renamed himself Harry Houdini and performed his act along with assistant Bess Rahner. The two were married and she became his lifelong partner and business assistant. He would eventually become one of the highest paid acts in Vaudeville.
His magic wasn’t anything special, by today’s standards, but he became popular with his escape tricks. He’d demonstrate his ability to free himself from locked handcuffs, prison walls, straight jackets, milk cans and being tossed in the river with weights chained to his feet. He was able to escape, not because of his extraordinary magic, but because of his strength and ability to pick locks.
He reached the height of his career in the 1920s and one of his most amazing escapes was called the Chinese Water Torture Cell. His hands and feet would be chained and locked and he was placed upside down into a glass tank of water. He would remain in the tank for three minutes, but always escaped. This became the highlight of his performances until his death on Halloween eve, 1926. During that performance, his appendix burst and peritonitis set in and killed him.
During his short life of 52 years, he served as president of the Society of American Magicians. He fought against fraudulent psychic mediums, yet he and his wife experimented with spirituality. They decided that if either would die before the other, they would try to communicate from beyond the grave with the survivor. Before her 1943 death, Bess Houdini declared the experiment a failure.
Magic is simply illusion – a blending a sleight of hand and distraction. Often we are easily deceived, while other times we think we’re above being fooled. In any event, magic is really nothing more than entertainment, and entertainment brings excitement and joy to our every day experience.
Dreams are illusions, and we can’t let go of them because we would be dead.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HARRY HOUDINI!