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Detail of Biography - Harry Houdini
Name :
Harry Houdini
Date :
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396
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Birth Date :
24/03/1874
Birth Place :
Budapest Hungary.
Death Date :
October 31st , 1926
Biography - Harry Houdini
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[b]Harry Houdini[/b], often described as one who "danced with death, played with punishment and toyed with madness", was born on March 24, 1874 in Budapest. His real name was Ehrich Weiss. He was born to the couple Mayer Samuel Weiss and Cecilia Steiner Weiss. Mayer Weiss, his father was a Rabbi.[br /]
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From very early on, he was an excellent swimmer and a great athlete. He had incredible strength and agility and would practice for hours. All this aided him in his vanishing acts and stunts that he performed later on.[br /]
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He loved magic since childhood. He joined circus at a very young age and performed magic tricks in front of the audience.[br /]
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Driven by an insatiable curiosity, he read everything possible, about magic. Two books – "Revelation of A Spirit Medium" and "The Memoirs of Robert Houdin", influenced him to a great extent and proved to be the turning point in his life and career.[br /]
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He was specially influenced by Robert Houdin and considered him as his ideal. He was so much obsessed by Houdin that he adopted his name by adding an ‘i’ to it and called himself Houdini; and imagined the day he would become as great as him.[br /]
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Ehrich had a very humble begining. Being born in a not very well to do family, he and his siblings had to work at a very early age. He initiated his career with selling newspapers, and went on to work as a shoe-polish boy. At the age of 12, the master of escaping made his first escape as he left home to pave his own way in the world and reached America.[br /]
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In his own words, "the greatest escape I made was when I left Appleton, Wisconsin."[br /]
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Upon reaching America, he called his brother, Theo, to perform little magic tricks with him. The two brothers performed at several places like restaurants, beer bars, etc. but failed to make a name for themselves.[br /]
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Initially, his shows consisted of plain card tricks and other simple magic where a rabbit would pop out of the hat and several silk handkerchiefs of various colors would turn into a long black silken cloth. These shows failed to evoke interest and were rejected by the public. [br /]
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Meanwhile, Houdini got married and his wife, Bess, started assisting him in his shows. Success was still a fleeting entity and they had to continue working at beer halls and circuses. Then they ventured into a burlesque traveling troupe called ‘ The American Gaiety Girls’, which led to bankruptcy after some months. He was in such a state of penury that at one point they had to sleep in a hallway. Their meals were irregular, that too at the generosity of others.[br /]
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Soon this contortionist and trapeze artist contemplated innovating something that was totally unheard and unseen of. He dwelt upon the idea and came up with escapism.[br /]
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An incident, otherwise insignificant, paved the way for this great act.[br /]
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One day, a person approached Houdini to have his handcuffs cut. Houdini was, at that time, working with a locksmith. Houdini tried to cut-off the cuffs but the steel was very hard. Failing to cut with all the available resources, he tried opening it by working on the keyholes. He was surprised himself when he succeeded. The idea of unshackling handcuffs was born. [br /]
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Later in life, he worked on the same principle each time he freed himself from handcuffs.[br /]
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His release, at this stage, included freeing himself from handcuffs and ropes; all of which were simple. [br /]
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Another major turning point in life was his meeting with Martin Beck, one of the biggest tycoons in American entertainment then. Martin was intrigued by Houdini and challenged him to break free from several pairs of handcuffs. Houdini easily accomplished this and his fortune changed by becoming a player in the rapidly expanding world of Vaudeville Theater.[br /]
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The alliance with Beck exposed Houdini to lavish theatre with the best props and costumes, which was a far cry from his previous medicine shows and dime museums. It also meant better travel, fewer performances and moremoney. But, most importantly, beyond the tangible benefits it also meant that the ‘artist’ in him was viewed, recognized and applauded by the ever-increasing masses. His career boomed to the top notch.[br /]
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Unsatiated by success in America, toured Europe and Russia, where he got an overwhelming response.[br /]
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When he returned to the United States, his determination to soar higher, continued. Other magicians followed his footsteps. They too undid handcuffs and performed other similar feats like Houdini, that too at a cheaper rate. To stand out, Houdini constantly improved his act and incorporated new tricks.[br /]
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Unlike other magicians, he began performing his escapes in full view of the audience and increased the drama. He made optimum use of media, which drew larger crowd.[br /]
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The jeopardy element increased with each new venture of escapism. He started devising more difficult escapes and contemplating new escapes, which at times risked his own life.[br /]
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His popularity increased by leaps and bounds in subsequent appearances and he broke all existing attendance records; becoming the most outstanding, sought after and highest paid vaudeville entertainer.[br /]
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His unsurpassed ability as a performer and his unparalleled verbosity, were used effectively to publicize himself.[br /]
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The most breathtaking escape of Houdini was to free himself from the coffin after being buried alive! This is one of those act, which he performed only after he was sure of his art. He performed it only few times in his lifetime. This is also one of the most dangerous events performed in history.[br /]
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Houdini had himself tied and then lowered into the coffin. The coffin was then securely nailed and buried into the ground. He amazed the audience by releasing himself from the ropes and then coming out of the nailed and buried coffin instantly.[br /]
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[b]Film Career[/b][br /]
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Houdini did not confine himself to stage shows. He wanted a larger crowd to witness his performances. He is, perhaps, the only magician in history to have starred in movies. [br /]
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He wanted a new and powerful way to reach people and the motion pictures served his purpose. Although his acting was wooden and screen magic held none of the mystery of live magic, Houdini became one of Hollywood’s first action heroes, and his movies delighted audiences all over the world. By this time he was in his mid forties and physically worn out; he was thrilled by the fact that his escapes were preserved forever.[br /]
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He made five major silent movies and also wrote several of them. His films include The Master mystery, The Grim Game, Terror Island and The Man From Beyond. He wished to make talking movies and perhaps would have succeeded had he liveda little longer.[br /]
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[b]Books and Articles[/b][br /]
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He wrote several books and articles during his career as a magician. Several of his books received great reviews from public including – The Right Way to Do Wrong, exposing swindlers, A Magician Among the Sprits, exposing psychic frauds, and The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, which is one of the finest book ever written on the history of magic.[br /]
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[b]Houdini: An Insight[/b][br /]
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His exceptional idiosyncrasies were conspicuous right from his childhood. He was a very determined child and would never waver from achieving his goals no matter what came his way. He stuck to magic and escapes regardless of opinions of his parents or people. The lack of money or the rejection could not deter him. There were times when all his efforts seemed futile and he left as if the game for him was over, but his obsession and commitment kept him going. He believed in trying and failing rather than not trying at all. [br /]
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His commitment to work was exemplary. His spare time also was devoted to work. Because of his never-say-die attitude he was able to achieve and reach the pinnacle, where very few have reached.[br /]
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He shared a strong bond of affection with his mother. He strongly disliked the fact that he had to leave her to earn a livelihood.[br /]
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He was very magnanimous by nature; he left his library of magic, one of the most valuable in the world, to the library of congress.[br /]
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He was of an egotistic nature. His audacity crossed limits when he spent a lot of his time attacking and publicly ridiculing the ones who either criticized him or even tried to imitate his acts.[br /]
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Houdini attributed his magic to physical effects and stamina, but he was adverse to spiritualistic mediums. The interest in mediums began during his bereavement after the death of his mother. He tried talking to his mother through mediums but was not satisfied with the ‘contact’ established through the mediums. He figured that they were trying to cheat people. [br /]
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He dedicated himself to expose con artists, who would use sorcery and witchcraft to exploit the innocent and gullible. Houdini became a crusader against these charlatans who milked grieving families of their money.[br /]
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In order to debunk spiritualism and expose psychic frauds, he arranged a test for spiritualism. Before his death he devised a ten-word code and gave to his wife. He challenged the mediums to find out that code when they would contact him after his death. Though various mediums maintain that they were able to establish contact with him none was able to transmit to his wife the prearranged code.[br /]
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[b]Death: Final Escape[/b][br /]
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There are several unfounded stories about his death mainly talking about a failure during an escape show. The fact is that he had collapsed during one of his performances at Detroit. He was rushed to the hospital where the greatest performer of all times made his final escape, an escape from this world, on October 31, 1926. He suffered from Halloween of peritonitis (an inflammation of the peritoneum, the lining of the abdominal cavity), a kind of internal gangrene. This was caused by blows to his mid-section by a young athlete at McGill University where he had gone for a lecture exposing spiritualism.[br /]
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He was resting in his dressing room when a student came and asked him if he could actually take punches to his stomach as he had heard. Houdini agreed to this but before he could tighten his stomach muscles to accept the blow, the student hit his mid-section repeatedly. He seemed to recover and went ahead with the performance on stage. The entire show went on with so much ease that the audience had no inkling about his suffering. He soon fell ill and succumbed to his injuries.[br /]
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Though the master showman departed from the Earth almost 75 years ago, he stays immortalized as the greatest artist of a unique art. [br /]
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He was the first one to know how it felt like to be a couple of meters below the ground, inside the grave, nailed tightly in a coffin. And amazingly, he enjoyed being there, he loved to be hanged up side down in a can full of water with his arms bounded in a straight jacket, his hands cuffed and legs ironed.[br /]
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Hold your breath, a bigger surprise is waiting to astonish you. This man who got himself in dangerous situations where it would be difficult for him even to take a couple of breaths, would appear from behind you. And he was so fast that he managed to escape in time less than it took to nail him in a coffin. He was none other but the unparalleled Harry Houdini.[br /]
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Magic escapades, fame and fortune : this is what comes to mind when one things of Harry Houdini. He was master artist and a superb escapist.[br /]
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Of all the magicians known the world over, Houdini's name would stand the tallest. His life’s story has been subject to countless books and numerous films, videos, television specials, and theatrical stage performances. The mere sound of his name is often enough to conjure up thoughts of magical meanderings.[br /]
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He was known as master show man with a knack for publicity. He knew how to interest his audiences through self confidence and a flair for exaggeration – often making things bigger then life. He always kept himself in spot light and all though he is dead for over 70 years, his name is still instantly recognized throughout the world.
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• March 24, 1874 Ehrich Weiss, who later came to be known as Harry Houdini was is born in Budapest Hungary.[br /]
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• 1888 Weiss Family established in New York.
Ehrich became interested in magic and adopted name HOUDINI.[br /]
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• 1891 Harry Houdini became professional magician.[br /]
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• 1892 Houdini and his brother Theo, put on a "Double Act" as the Houdini Brothers.[br /]
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• 1894 Harry met Beatrice Rahner and married her on June 22.[br /]
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• 1896 Harry and Bess joined Marco the magician. [br /]
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• 1898 Houdini developed the "Challenge" Handcuff Act.[br /]
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• 1900 Houdini went to London and became the sensation of English Vaudeville and later the rage of Germany and Russia.[br /]
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• 1904 Houdini escaped from a pair of "supercuffs" as a part of challenge from the London Mirror.[br /]
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• 1905 Houdini returned to America.[br /]
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• 1906 Escaped from death cell in Washington jail. [br /]
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• 1908 Houdini introduced the escape from a Giant Milk Can filled with water.[br /]
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• 1910 Escaped from the mouth of a cannon before the fuse burned out.[br /]
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• 1914 Houdini was elected president of Magician's Club.[br /]
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• 1917 Nearly suffocated while escaping from a "Living Burial" in California.
Elected president of the Society Of American Magician's.[br /]
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• 1918 Houdini presented the "Vanishing Elephant," world's largest illusion.[br /]
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• 1919 Played the hero in a series of movie thrillers, which included "The Master Mystery," "The Grim Game," and "Terror Island." [br /]
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• 1921 Produces two films with himself as star. [br /]
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• 1924 Houdini's book, A Magician Among The Spirits, published by Harper's. Houdini began an extensive lecture tour and a weekly tabloid supplement for the New York World called "Red Magic," explaining tricks and Puzzles.[br /]
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• 1926 Lay underwater in a sealed casket to beat the record set by Rahman Bey, an Egyptian faker.[br /]
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• October 31st , 1926: Died in Detroit at the age of 52.[br /]
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The birth of escapism ushered a new era in the magic scenario. Escapism, as suggested by the word itself, is an art of freeing oneself from any secured entity in minimum time possible. The art includes freeing oneself from handcuffs, leg irons, straight-jackets, jails and prison cells, a mail pouch, packing crates, paper bags and anything and every thing that proved as a challenge and requires audacious performance of people.[br /]
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To perform this art was not a child’s play. The public’s passionate adulation grew with each increase in difficulty levels and increasing perils of escapes. The performer had to be quick and come out unscathed from the perilous situation.[br /]
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The art surpassed all the qualms that one could envisage and audacious efforts were indispensable. It could go to the extent of taking performer’s life. The unsurpassed quality of the art was such that even the close scrutinisation proved insufficient in revealing any clues of how the escape was made. One could not fathom, even in one’s wildest dreams, the secrets of the art.
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Escapism held the spectators spellbound and the popularity escalated each day. Harry Houdini not only conceived this art but also spent his entire life evolving and mastering it further. [br /]
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[b]The Prison Cell[/b][br /]
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Houdini was challenged to escape from one of the most tightly secured prisons in America. He was locked in a cell and was stripped stark naked. His clothes were kept in another cell, at a distance of 20 km from his cell. This was checked and given in writing by the jail superintendent. It went as, "This is to certify that Mr. Houdini at the United States Jail, today was stripped and thoroughly searched …".[br /]
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People had gathered in large numbers outside the prison to see Houdini. In less than two minutes he was out of his cell and than broke into another cell that had his clothes. Dressed Houdini proceeded to the ground floor and freed many other prisoners from their cells on his way. He accomplished all this in a span of 21 minutes.[br /]
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[b]Hudson River Act[/b][br /]
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Houdini was securely manacled from head to toe and then nailed inside a wooden crate. A dead weight was tied to its bottom that would make it sink the moment it was dropped in. The crate was then dropped into the Hudson River. Thousands stood holding their breath and biting their nails at the river bank. The masses were fully aware that if the escape was not accomplished within few minutes, Houdini would definitely die. In a span of 59 seconds, Houdini broke through to the water surface. The crowd went crazy, screaming and jumping with joy and the newspapers gave the event the headlines that it fully deserved.[br /]
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[b]Vanishing Elephant[/b][br /]
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Houdini performed the world’s largest illusion on a giant stage by making an elephant vanish! He would bring in an elephant, wherever his shows were conducted. Then on a dais he would take the elephant, and both, Houdini and the elephant would wave to the crowd. As in most of his performances, here too the curtains would be drawn on all four sides.[br /]
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The spectators sat waiting anxiously to witness the vanishing of something so huge as an elephant. Houdini in the midst of the beats of orchestra and the dancing of his junior artistes would accomplish the task in seconds. When the curtains were raised the audience were spellbound to witness only Houdini standing there and the elephant having vanished, as if into thin air.[br /]
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He became the president of The Society of American Magicians.[br /]
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Houdini was trumpeted by the German Police President’s official endorsement and became the only artiste in the history of Europe to whom the German Police had given the Imperial Certifications. This was achieved when he was stripped naked before a crowd of 300 policemen. He had his arms tied at the back with thumbscrews, finger locks and elbow irons. Even his mouth was bandaged. He was allowed to work under a blanket. He freed himself in about six minutes.[br /]
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Two of his films The Man From Beyond and Terror Island are on regular view at the Houdini Museum in the Scranton, Pennsylvania Pocono region.[br /]
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For his venture into the movies he was honored with one of the five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was given a prominent spot outside the famous Chinese theater in Hollywood.[br /]
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