Harry Houdini Bio

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Magician, escape artist. Born Erich Weisz on March 24, 1874 in Budapest, Hungary. One of seven children born to a Jewish rabbi and his wife, Erich moved with his family as a child to Appleton, Wisconsin, where he later claimed he was born. When he was 13, Erich moved with his father to New York City, taking on odd jobs and living in a boarding house before the rest of the family joined them. It was there that he became interested in trapeze arts. In 1894, Erich launched his career as a professional magician and renamed himself Harry Houdini, the first name being a derivative of his childhood nickname, “Ehrie,” and the last an homage to the great French magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin. Though his magic met with little success, he soon drew attention for his feats of escape using handcuffs. In 1893, he married fellow performer Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner, who would serve as Houdini’s lifelong stage assistant. In 1899, Houdini’s act caught the attention of Martin Beck, an entertainment manager who soon got him booked at some of the best vaudeville venues in the country, followed by a tour of Europe. Houdini’s feats would involve the local police, who would strip search him, place him in shackles, and lock him in their jails. The show was a huge sensation, and he soon became the highest-paid performer in American vaudeville. Houdini continued his act in the United States in the early 1900s, constantly upping the ante from handcuffs and straightjackets to locked, water-filled tanks and nailed packing crates. In 1912, his act reached its pinnacle, the Chinese Water Torture Cell, which would be the hallmark of his career. In it, Houdini was suspended by his feet and lowered upside-down in a locked glass cabinet filled with water, requiring him to hold his breath for more than three minutes to escape. The performance was so daring and such a crowd-pleaser that it remained in his act until his death in 1926. Houdini’s wealth allowed him to indulge in other passions,...
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