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The Interesting Life of Erik Weisz, Famously Known as the 'The Great Harry Houdini'

1800s | May 5, 2017

Erik Weisz, famoulsy known as The Great Harry Houdini is one the most famous illusionists and stunt performers that ever lived. He is celebrated for his sensational escape acts that earned him the title “Harry Handcuffs Houdini”. As an illusionist, Houdini first attracted public attention while touring through Europe and performing as an exquisite escape artist, challenging police officers to detain him as overtures to his escapes.

He upheld strict professional standards, always ready to expose fraudulent artists and quick to sue anyone who imitated his acts and stunts. Later in life, he became President of the Society of American Magicians.

Houdini started his magic career at the age of 17, in 1891, but with little to no success. He was barely scraping by in various jobs at various infamous museums and shady circuses. But even at times when his job was unsatisfying and disrespectful of his aspirations, his desire to master the world of magic kept growing.

He started focusing on traditional card tricks and was intent on becoming the “King of Cards”. He was convinced that the mastering card tricks would be his stepping stone to a successful career in magic. And as is turned out, they were.

In 1899, while practicing his escape acts, he was spotted by manager Martin Beck in St. Paul, Minnesota who was impressed by one of his handcuff acts. Beck then met Houdini and encouraged him to focus on the escapology acts. The two came to an agreement, Beck became Houdini's manager and he booked Houdini for the Orpheum vaudeville circuit. Within months, Houdini found himself performing for the elite, at the top vaudeville houses in the country.

In 1900, His manager Beck booked him a tour in Europe  in order to try his luck there. First destination, London.

After one or two unsuccessful interviews in the city, his British agent, Harry Day, arranged an interview with C. Dundas Slater, who at the time was managing the Alhambra Theatre.

He introduced Houdini to the chief of the British Secret Service Bureau, William Melville, delivering to him one stunning demonstration of escape from Scotland Yard, while handcuffed.

He baffled them so much, that he ended up with a six months contract for the Alhambra. His shows became an instant hit, and Houdini immediately got a raise up to a whooping $300 a week.

He became known worldwide in no time so he started performing in other countries including Scotland, the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Russia.

In every country and each city in which he performed, Houdini challenged the local police to search him, stripped nude at first, restrain him afterward with shackles, and lock him up in their jails. Every single time, he miraculously managed to escape, thus becoming widely recognized as the “The Handcuff King.”

Throughout the 1910s, he was a phenomenon, successfully performing in the United States and around the globe, escaping from jails, chains, ropes, handcuffs, and straitjackets. All that while hanging from a rope in front of street audiences. The possibility of his failure and death thrilled them.

One time, while he was performing in Moscow, Houdini staged an escape from a Siberian prison transport van, claiming that, if he failed to free himself, he would have to travel to Siberia, where the only key was being kept. And when he visited Germany, after one of his performances in Cologne he sued Werner Graff, the police officer who was part of the act, who made an accusation against him, suggesting that the magician makes his escapes through bribery. Houdini won the case easily. He just opened the judge’s safe at the hearing, although later in life confessed that the safe was already unlocked.

 

Inspired by his fame, others illusionists began to copy his stunts and acts, so Houdini stopped doing his famous “handcuff act” on January 25, 1908. Rising to the challenge, he began to escape from locked, water-filled milk cans.

During his illustrious career, Houdini revealed some of his tricks in various books he wrote for the magic brotherhood. For example, In “Handcuff Secrets” (1909), he revealed how some locks and handcuffs could be opened by applying the right amount of force on the right location, while others could be opened with shoestrings. On some occasions, he admitted that he had with him concealed lockpicks.

h/t thevintagenews

 

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