Happy Birthday Harry!!!
This great Google Banner celebrates the masters birthday.
Ehrich Weizs was born on March 24th, 1874 in Budapest BUT he would later claim is birthday as April 6th 1874. This second date represents his adoption of the USA as his home.
The Weiss family came to the United States on July 3, 1878, sailing on the SS Fresia. With his pregnant mother and his father there were his four brothers. The family changed the Hungarian spelling of their German surname into Weiss (the German spelling) and the spelling of their son’s name into Ehrich. Friends called him “Ehrie” or “Harry
Harry’s show biz career wasn’t an immediate success and he worked in small side shows and carnival booths presenting himself as the King of Cards.
He is remembered for his highly publicized, dramatic and provocative escapes. This phase of his career started when he changed his billing from King of Cards, to King of Handcuffs.
His act evolved to include the ‘challenge escapes’ which for the most part were promotional stunts for his full evening shows.
The Myth of Houdini is, in reality, less interesting than Houdini the Man.
A master showman, entrepreneur, adventurer and self-publicist who captured the spirit of the time. His shaking off of chains a shackles could be seen a as a metaphor for the triumph of the individual over the bonds of the Great Depression.
His stance on aspects of the paranormal, his invitation to comment on aspects of mediumship to the scientific community and membership of the Society of American Magicians committee for the investigation of claims of the paranormal show not only his acute awareness of there being a ‘market’ for his evenings of fraudulent medium demonstrations but also his desire to take a skeptical approach to all claims of ‘real magic’.
But all of this is perhaps a topic for future posts…
For now it’s a Houdini Day and I’ll be talking about Houdini as an inspiration, as an entertainer and a skeptic on Penwith Radio later today (4pm -6pm GMT)
On a related note, Dorothy Young, the last surviving stage assistant of illusionist Harry Houdini and an accomplished dancer, has died. She was 103.
Young’s death was announced Wednesday by Drew University, where she was a prominent donor and patron of the arts. Spokesman Dave Muha said she died Sunday at her home in a Tinton Falls, N.J., retirement community.
Young joined Houdini’s company as a 17-year-old after attending an open casting call during a family trip to New York. She initially sat in the back because she was too shy to step forward, but Houdini and his manager soon noticed her and asked her to dance the Charleston. They signed her to a contract, and she eventually persuaded her parents to let her join the stage show.
During her year with Houdini in the mid-1920s, she gained recognition for playing the role of Radio Girl of 1950, emerging from a large mock-up of a radio and performing a dance routine. She also performed other roles during the tour, which proved to be Houdini’s last in the United States before he died in October 1926, two months after she had left the show .
Young then formed a dance act with Gilbert Kiamie, a New York businessman and the son of a wealthy silk lingerie magnate, and they gained international prominence for a Latin dance they created known as the rumbalero. They later married and remained together until Kiamie died in 1992.
Young went on to perform in several movies and also published a novel inspired by her career. She later became a benefactor of Drew University, endowing it with a $13 million arts center that bears her name. Several of her paintings hang in buildings on its campus in Madison.
She also attended numerous events at the school over the years. One of her last appearances there was in October 2008 for a commemoration of the 82nd anniversary of Houdini’s death that featured an inner circle of Houdini enthusiasts and historians.
Young had a son with her first husband, Robert Perkins, who died after 13 years of marriage.