Dorothy Dietrich Biography Society Of American Magicians MUM TEXT Only-No Pictures
Dorothy Dietrich - A Great Escape
by Bruce Kalver
A few years ago, I was at a party at Fantasma Magic Shop in New York City. The party was
honoring the performers and friends who were to appear at the following night's Parent
Assembly's Salute to Magic Show. I was standing in the corner (as I usually do) watching and
listening to the celebrities when I saw a magician walk over to the people next to me. Those
people were Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brooks. The magician kissed Dorothy's hand and said,
"Dorothy, you look exactly like you did on those magic magazine covers in the 70's. You are
beautiful." I remember seeing those covers too. She looked like a living Barbie Doll. It was so
unusual to see a woman on the cover that wasn't being sawed in half or floating. Dorothy was
getting out of a straitjacket. Dorothy Dietrich pioneered the idea of a female magician during the
Doug Henning era appearing on many magic and variety shows on NBC, ABC and HBO.
The first time I saw Dorothy live was at an SAM Convention at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC. I saw
Dorothy and Dick in the dealers room but was uncomfortable approaching them. I had nothing
to talk about and was not the type of person to gawk at celebrities. After all, she was a big name
in the NY magic scene.
Years later, I finally talked to them. It was at a Boston SAM Convention They had just started the
Houdini Museum and I introduced myself. We had a nice chat about seances and murder
mysteries and my grandfather's connection with Houdini. They were friendly, welcoming, and
charming. She still looked like those magazine covers.
I had written a few cover stories for M-U-M about the unusual backstories of magicians like
Steve Bargatze, Eric Jones, and Mat Franco. At Bob Little's Super Sunday, Dick Brooks (whose
real name is Johnny Bravo) suggested that I speak to Dorothy about a possible magazine story.
I mentioned that I only did stories about people who had unusual circumstances in their lives.
He told me one story. When he finished, I was interested.
On a very late night last winter, I interviewed Dorothy and Dick about their involvement in
recovering Houdini's lost film, The Grim Game. (You can hear that interview on the SAM website
in the Backstage / SAM Podcast area.) After the interview Dorothy told me a couple of other
stories about her past. On speculation, I arranged another interview for the next night. The four
hour interview was filled with shock, luck, hope and joy. I pitched the interview to editor Michael
Close and he agreed to publish it.
Dorothy and Dick are always interviewed together. Their lives are so intertwined, they have to
do it together. Dorothy tells the stories and Dick adds the footnotes. They never interrupt each
other, although they do complete each other's sentences from time to time. She was very open
with me on the lows and highs of her life. She answered every question except two: her age (to
me, timeless) and her marital status. Other than that, she told me everythingÉabsolutely
NO WAY OUT
Tell me about your childhood.
I was born in Erie, Pennsylvania. We were a family of six brothers and two sisters. I was number
three. I raised most of the kids. My mom always worked as a cook/waitress. She was an
amazing cook. She could take a cupboard of common things and make them delicious. My
father hardly worked at all. He did work in a steel factory as a crane operator moving big molten
pots of steel around the factory. He would come home with big welts on his skin. Whenever he
wasn't drunk, he would go to work. He was a bad alcoholic Mom covered the bills.
Was there any help for your dad?
Back then, they had nothing for the alcoholic. If they beat the children, the children were taken
away and put in orphanages never to see their parents again. That was my mother's biggest
fear. She would tell us not to tell anyone that your father beats you because I'll never see you
Do you want to talk about your father?
All through my childhood I was afraid, afraid, afraid. Afraid at school. Afraid when my father
came home. We were poor. Mom was a devout catholic, and asked the church if her kids could
go to school there. Since the church had to do so many charities, they accepted us.
Did it help?
The school let everyone know that we were the poor kids. The nuns abused me. The kids
abused me. We were the freebees. The classmates would pick on me all the time. I was a
skinny little kid who got pushed down all the time. I didn't have the money for a proper uniform
so we would get hand me down uniforms from the school and they would never fit me. I still
think about the time that we had a May Day event outside the school and you walk around the
school with the St Mary statue. Father Daily grabbed by the back of my jumper and yanked me
out of the line and scolded me for not wearing the proper uniform. I wasn't wearing Saddle
shoes or the proper white blouse. He yelled at me in front of the entire school. It was so
horrifying, I didn't want to go back to school. I was seven years old.
I used to walk to church at 6 AM before going to school because I thought that was the right way
to go to heaven. At that time, I wanted to be a nun until the abusive nuns made me realize that I
could never do that to a child so I can't be a nun. The only good thing about going to church at
six am was that after the service, we got hot chocolate and donuts.
It must have been a relief when you eventually went to public school.
It was so different. It was like I went to another country. There was no beating.
My father wasn't working and my mother bought a house. It was a dinkey little house but it was
ours. We were suppose to pay the taxes and my mother put away the money for that.
Unfortunately my father drank that money away and they repossessed the house. A real estate
woman bought it for the $3000 in taxes. We had to move into a disgusting rental filled with mice.
I love all nature animals but you can't live with them. We had no running water and had to use a
portable bathtub. All the kids would take their turn bathing in the same water.
Did you help with the funds?
When I was old enough to reach the kitchen sink, I started doing little jobs for the neighbors like
washing dishes, washing, ironing. I needed to raise and save money because I knew I had to
leave home as soon as I could.
Your Dad Continued to drink?
One night around three in the morning, my father came home yelling and started beating my
mother. All the kids heard the ruckus. I made the mistake of moving slightly and he caught the
movement. He yelled, "Who the f is up at this hour! I'm trying to stay as still as possible in the
top bunk of the bed. He reached under the covers and grabbed my hair and threw me across
How did you cope with that kind of behavior as a child?
I was very desperate as a little kid. I felt that I didn't deserve to live; and there was no way out.
So I was about 11 years old and waited on the sidewalk for the right moment, I ran in front of a
tractor trailer. The man screeched his brakes and he was barely able to stop.
He got out of his trailer and brought me over to the sidewalk. He said, "Whatever this is, I want
you to know something...If your life is not worth living, you can't do this to another person. How
could I live with myself if I had killed you. How can you leave this world and leave me with that
We sat down on the curb and talked. "Do you really think that it's hopeless?" I told him that I
didn't have any help. I don't know what to do and I don't want to do nothing anymore. If you
don't have anything to look forward to, and nothing to look back on, you feel hopeless.
He looked at me and said, "I want to tell you something. I used to be you. I know you can do it. I
know you can become something." We spoke some more and I went home.
Did you have any personal items?
I knew that if I wanted anything, I would have to buy it myself. Rather than buy things, I began
saving money so I could escape this house. I would see someone painting a house or raking
leaves and ask them what they would pay me to do the work for them. I would make a few
dollars here and there and save it. I did ironing, babysitting, clean houses, anything.
A SPARK OF MAFIC
Tell me how you got interested in magic?
I always wanted to be one of the guys and I was the girly girl frail. They would only let me play
with them if I would let them tie me up for cops and robbers or cowboys and indians. I thought
that was cool. I didn't mind it at all. I would escape every time. No problem. I was so scrawny I
slipped out of all the knots.
One day while I was tied up on the front yard, my Aunt was visiting and saw me. She
said, "Who do you think you are? Houdini?" I didn't know who she was talking about so I went to
the library and looked under W as in Whodini. I couldn't find anything so I asked the librarian
and she brought me the Walter Gibson Book, Houdini on Magic and Escapes. I read that and it
changed my life.
Did anything else contribute to your future love of magic?
At that time, I went to a school with a big auditorium with raked seating and a red curtain on a
stage. It was a real theater and not a lunchroom. It was truly magical.
The first time I went in there, the audience was dim and the lights were lighting the red curtain.
The principal came out and introduced the show...a magician. It was so memorable. I was
amazed and impressed. The magician made the impossible possible right in the school
auditorium. While the show went on I thought, "I wonder if the magician gets paid to do this?" "If
I could do that, I'd be happy forever!"
I poured through Walter Gibson's book and decided to put together an act. I am definitely going to be a
magician...or Marilyn Monroe.
Did you ever take part in plays or play a musical instrument?
To do that, you had to stay after school. I had to go home and take care of the kids and make
supper. There was. no one else to do it. My big sister was a bully. Everyone was afraid of her. I
had to do it.
I did start to get together an act that I thought I could do when I got to NY. it was mostly puppets
with a little magic. I was not comfortable in front of people. I found a magic shop in Erie and
bought some props like the Devils Hank and a vanishing candle. I put a Punch and Judy act
together (it reminded me of my life with all the hitting and yelling). I tried out the act a couple of
times for kids and the teenagers heckled me. I then realized that I needed to be in front so I
could handle any situations that came up. I spent a lot of time at the library, learning my craft
from books. It was a safe place.
Did it take you long to save enough money to leave?
My father would find my kitty and steal it. I'd start again. By the time I was 13, I had $3000
saved up and I thought that this could finally work. I also thought that God would guide me
somehow. I found out that my girlfriend's older brother was driving a little red sports car to New
York City to sell to a car dealership. I asked my girlfriend to see if I could go with him and get a
ride to NY. She said "what are you talking about? I explained that I couldn't live here anymore.
This isn't living. I was tired of my dad's actions.
He agreed. I didn't tell my mother that I was leaving. It would have been too hard.
When I got to NY, I called my mom. My dad said that I was not allowed to ever come home.
The guy that drove me never asked me until we arrived, where I was going to stay in the
city. I didn't know anyone. He dropped me off at a newsstand and a grabbed a copy of a
magazine called Show Business. It was like a sign. I was looking in the classified ads to see if
anyone was renting an apartment. I saw an ad from three gals looking for someone to share the
$150 rent. I couldn't believe my luck. I saved up enough money to last a long time.
I answered the ad 444 West 43rd Street (which was in Hell's Kitchen) and turns out that my
roommates were singers, actresses, and dancers. They understood the entertainment business.
I was only 13 but I looked 18 and that was the legal age. Since I had the money for the rent,
they never bothered to ask me my age. I took my one footlocker of all my belongings and
Did they help you get started?
I learned from them how to put on makeup and get a resume together. I looked through the
phone book for places I could have worked and wrote my resume which was totally made up.
They taught me that you have to look as if you worked in places before places will hire you.
Usually, no one checks. They also told me to get headshots. To better myself and be more graceful on stage, I also took classes with Phil Black and The Broadway School of Dance.
When I started making the rounds to see the agants, it was the first time I felt free. The city is so democratic.
Everyone is doing their own thing. No one cares about what you're doing. I had no fear because
I didn't know what to fear. Nothing was worse than getting beat up every day. I learned very
quickly that there were a lot of people that you couldn't trust.
My upbringing made me very thrifty. The corner store sold four packs of frozen waffles for a
dollar and that was my breakfast every day. All my roommates were in shows so I would spend
the day figuring out how to get some work and began walking the streets looking for
I lived where there were a lot of agents nearby and I began doing Go-Sees (visiting agents
every day to see if they had any work.)
Did you get immediate work?
In the beginning, they were pretty ugly. They just couldn't see a girl doing magic. One agent
said, "you know, I've got to tell you the truth...you're a great looking gal, just look at you . I could
have you working day and night but you got to take your clothes off. If you could take your
clothes off, people would pay to see that." I would say "thanks" and just go home and cry. This
went on for a while.
I was fortunite to meet an agent named Joe Carroll I handed him my envelope with my picture and resume.
It looked to me like he was going to file it and then he said, "you know what...whenever you are
doing a show, I want to go and see it." I said, "you know what I would really like? I would like to
do something for you. I'm sure you have a job that you want somebody special. I am special.
Thy will love me. He gave me a job and said that I was to do ONLY six minutes.
He loved it. He really loved it. My luck was back. He was a great agent. He had places like the
Waldorf Hotel. He would always try to get us more money than we asked. I really loved working
Show Business magazine had an ad for Westchester Parks and recreation looking for
talent to perform in 40 shows for the summer. You traveled all over upstate New York. I decided
There was a long six foot table in an empty room with three people with clipboards. I set myself
up and took a deep breath and they just stared at me. I said, "Please forgive me but I am a
performer who works for audiences. What I am looking at now looks like a tribunal. It would be
so great if you could put your pencils down and sit back and enjoy the show. Then you can write
your notes." They look at each other like I was crazy. They put their pencils down and pushed
their clipboards away. They watched my show and actually applauded like an audience. After
the show they asked me to wait in the hall. I thought I blew it but they called me back in and
asked, What's your availability for the summer? I worked the entire summer sometimes doing
two or three shows a day. They even gave me extra jobs on the weekend.
After the summer I put together a show for schools called Believe in Yourself which tells my
story. And they were so kind. They recommended me to the school department. I wasn't just
lucky. I worked REALLY HARD to survive. Not bad for a fourteen year old. These were the best
times of my life.
STEP RIGHT UP
After the school shows, what kept you going next?
There was a guy named Tommy Laird. He used to hang out at the NY magic shops and find acts
for this place he put together (I think it was Theater of Illusion) on 47th and Broadway. It was just
a doorway on the street and you went downstairs into the basement of the building. He had it
set up with different stages around the perimeter. It was a sleazy place but that is what it was
suppose to be. I got to work with some great people that taught me the ropes.
I remember Tisha Booty was the human pincushion. There was also Congo the jungle creep. He
wore a leopard loincloth. He'd have buckets of water and start yelling at the ceiling, "Bruha
come down from there! He'd reach into the buckets and pull out these wet rubber snakes
scaring the whole crowd. Then there was lady Estelene who was a sword swallower. I loved
Were you doing escapes?
Oh no! I was just doing magic. The other magician was this skinny kid named Chris Capehart.
Lou Lancaster worked there too. The mind reader was a guy I had seen in agents offices while I
was doing the go sees. His name was Dick Brooks.
I remember the place. It was across from Tannen's. To be honest I never went in there because
it looked a little unsafe.
I thought it was beautiful. Everyone did great acts and Tommy would pitch the Magic Mouse. It
was a perfect reproduction of a sideshow. It has to be dirty, dank, and sleazy. I worked there to
learn how to work the crowds. I needed those chops to be able to handle any problem.
At this point, you started to make friends with other magicians?
Yes there was a gang that used to hang out at all the magic spots. If you needed something,
you'd go to Russ Delmars. If he didn't have it, you'd go to Mike Tannen's. If he didn't have it,
you'd go to Lou Tannen's. On Friday if you weren't working, you'd go to Tannen's. Whoever was
there, you'd go to dinner with them. Usually it was Frank Garcia, or Jeff McBride, or Presto.
All the fancy hotels would have happy hour between 4 and 7 where they would have cheap
drinks and a free food buffet. On Monday you would go to the St Regis, on Tuesday, the
Waldorf. We knew the whole schedule.
Is this around the time you got involved with the S.A.M?
I learned about the SAM from the guys in the magic shops. I went to the meetings and wanted
to become a member but they wouldn't let me.
You were too young?
No. I was female. They just didn't accept the idea of a female magician. After the Friday
lunches, we would all go as a gang to the meeting. After a while they just accepted the idea that
someone brought me along as a guest. The Parent Assembly was doing a public show and
someone approached me and asked if I would perform in it. I was happy to.
You were still just doing magic?
Yes. It was a wonderful show. It was in a hotel ballroom on a stage. After the show, an elderly
gentleman was backstage and came over to me to say that he absolutely adored what I did. He
went on to say that he had not seen anyone with the kind of command of the audience that you
have. The last time I saw that was when I saw Houdini. I thought was this guy pitching me or
what. This guy must be nuts. After he left, someone asked me if I knew who that was? I said no.
It was Walter Gibson. I ran after him and talked to him like a groupie. "I've read all your books. I
can't believe I'm meeting you. I was star struck. He gave me his number and we spoke for
years. Then, Russell Swan came over to compliment me. What a gentleman.
You and Dick Brooks are now together on a regular basis.
Well we kept showing up at the same places that we started sharing cabs. Then we decided to
share a place and save more money. Then we started looking for a place that we could work
and perform at and manage.
This is when you began the Magic Towne House.
Ed Davis in 1974 opened The Magic Towne House in New York. He was a chemical engineer
who came up with a paint that had a special quality. An artist ended up using his paint and he
became world famous. He had a lot of money and loved magic but would never perform in
public. So he opened this Magic themed place. He found this townhouse above an old paint
store. The top floor was living quarters.
After a year, Ed had lost all the money he put into it. We wanted to help out. The summer was
coming up and all our shows were daytime. We offered to perform at night and do some
promotion for the place. We never charged him. We worked every Friday and Saturday night
and was able to get stories in all the major newspapers.
When the summer was over, we told him that if he ever wanted to sell the place, to please call
us first. We saw the potential.
We were living in the Village in a storefront that was a former jewelry store. We had free parking
and a pull down gate for security. It was on a main floor so it was easy to load your props into
Ed eventually called us.
Yes. First he was going to sell the place to an art dealer but that didn't work out. The guy turned
out to be a con artist. Eddie called and asked if we were really serious about our offer. We told
him he were serious. A lawyer friend worked up the deal that we would pay on installments for
seven years the $10,000 deposit he had on the place with the landlord as well as pay the
monthly bills. The first payment was deferred for a year so we could get ourselves settled. What
a sweetheart deal
We sunk all our money into the place. Every dime from our shows went into the pot. We lived
upstairs on the third floor. At first we dropped all the food because it was just too insane. We
served drinks, and coffee. Then we would buy cans of chili and serve that. People used to tell us
that it was the best chili they ever tasted and alwats asked for the recipe! We kept it a secret,
When did it turn around?
What turned the business around was an article in the New York Times by restaurant critic
Howard Thompson. It was a tiny story in the Going Out Guide. They came to us three times
without telling us. That was the rule. After the third time, they introduced themselves to us and
told us that they loved the place and would be mentioning us. They said we had consistent high
quality shows. He also said it was the best chili he ever had. We had been working for three
years already and this mention made us the "go to" spot in the city.
We were sold out for months. Originally, we were the only acts because we couldn't afford to
pay anyone. Now we let anyone that showed up to perform, a chance to get on the stage after
the three acts that we hired. There was a pecking order. The proven acts, that we thought were
good, would go on early. Then anyone else could go. We stayed open as long as there was an
audience. We paid a little money and a dinner. After everyone left, we would sit around and give
notes on what worked, and what didn't work. We did what comedy clubs do now. Our
performers included Eric DeCamps, Joe Monti, Joe Devlin, Bob Baxter, Levent, Todd Robbins,
Peter Samuelson, Rocco, Jeff McBride, Michael Chaud, Slydini, Frank Garcia, Torkova. Imam
came to perform every week.
So many people wanted to come and we couldn't
accommodate them all.
We did something called The Ultimate Solution. We raised the price. The people who did get in
payed a higher fee thus ends paying for the lost profits of the people that couldn't get in. We
were in the best part of town. We were one block from Bloomingdales.
The Townhouse became your base of operations.
We lived and worked here. We promoted like crazy. Ads in The Village Voice, NY Magazine, Cue
Magazine, and then sent out a barrage of publicity. It was a constant effort. Thurston, Houdini,
Copperfield, Henning all wanted a magic venue in New York. We were the first to make it
So who dropped in.
Doug Henning, David Copperfield, Penn and Teller, Blackstone, Jr anyone in magic would drop by. Blacksone, Jr. was wonderful and gave us a four hour lecture, he didn't leave until everyone's question was answeed. He was wonderful.
Tell me about the night Johnny Carson showed up.
He just showed up unannounced with a date.
When we saw him on the stairs, we announced to the audience that Johnny was here and we
need to respect his space. We knew that if he ever wanted to come back, he needed to be
comfortable here. We greeted him and gave him a front row seat. WEveryone loved that he was theere
I didn't perform that night. I felt that it would have an insult to the performerss as well as being unethical.They were scheduled to appear, and it eas the professional thing to do. Peter Kougasian was the featured pwrformer that night. He was thankful
Johnny stayed until the show ended. He had a great time and
came up to us to thank us for the wonderful evening. He said it was great fun. With the gorgeous blond on his arm, he
left. He lived right across the street in the Trump Plaza.
Is it my imagination or do I remember pseudo celebrity Brother Theodore on Tom Snyder's
Tomorrow Show plugging that he was performing at The Magic Townhouse?
It's true. Dick knew him. As a kid Dick used to see him around the village and they would be
lined up around the block to see him.
Describe his act.
The stage was black with a pin spot on a desk which was raked towards the audience. The light
comes on and there he is with a big shadow behind him. He just stares at the audience for an
excruciatingly long time. Then he says, "Einstein is dead. Schopenhauer is dead... and I'm not
feeling so well myself!" He was the king of dark humor. He performed as a wacko. Truthfully, he
was always depressed in real life and people thought it was his stage character.
He was from a rich family in Europe and then his whole family went to concentration camps and
lost it all. When he came to the States, he quickly became a huge celebrity in the Village. Then
he totally disappeared and became a has been.
Dick remembered him and tracked him down. We asked him to perform at the Townhouse and
he turned us down saying that his life was over and he couldn't perform anymore. We insisted
that he try to perform again in our place.
He didn't make it easy for us. He had all these provisions that he tried to use on us to not perform. We put him
on at midnight and he insisted on cutting the price in half so he would be assured an audience.
He ended up doing the Saturday night midnight show for three years. We revived his career and
it helped promote us. He was on Tom Snider, Letterman, and appeared in films.
Were there any other non magic shows in your space?
We did Equity Showcase Theater for out of work actors to display their talents. We had famous
directors trying out their shows. One time an audition for a two person show brought in 2000
actors vying for the parts. The line went all around the block.
So you were going out doing shows during the day, and running the Townhouse at night.
Sometimes, if we had a show at night, we would leave the place with the doorman, who was an
old friend of Dick's, Bob Porter.
As if running this club wasn't enough work for you, you decided to start a magazine. Why?
All of the magic magazines were not telling magic news from here. Genii was in California and
Tops was Midwest in Michigan. We wanted an East coast magic resource. It would also help
promote the Club. We bought the most primitive typesetting machine you could have. It was a
Linotype and and a Headliner machine. You had to type everything twice and use these giant
discs to make the headlines. It was all cut and paste with waxing the pieces. The east coast
magicians rarely got in the west coast magazine. We gave the East coast guys the publicity
We never lost money. We never made any money from it either. If a store bought a $100 ad,
they got $100 worth of free issues to sell and get their money back.
It was as much work as the Town House but we had some great people who contributed. Phil
Goldstein would send us piles of material relentlessly. He would do that with every magic
magazine. It made him famous. The magazine also got us into magic conventions. The
magazine lasted only three years but it left its mark.
When did you cross over into television spots?
My agent was getting me big company parties at all the fancy hotels in NY. You never know who
was in the audience. Eventually television producers would happen to be in the audience and
see that you might be good for whatever show they were working on. Once you get the first tv
show, you are on the "list" as an entertainer who can work on other shows.
The first show was Good Morning New York and then immediately Good Morning America.
One day we got a call from Bill Cosby's variety show Coz looking for Dorothy Dietrich to hire the
bird lady act. We brushed it off thinking it was a joke. Then an agent called telling us that Bill
Cosby was trying to contact us. We did five rehearsals. He was a gentleman to me. Each
rehearsal had five different bits of comedy. He never did the same thing twice. Why even have a
rehearsal. The show went great. About a month later, we got a call from American Program
Bureau saying that Bill Cosby recommended me for colleges and speaking engagements. Then
Dick Gregory called to say that Cosby told him to call me for an event he was having.
What caught their eye from your act?
I started closing my show with the straitjacket escape which horrified people during this time. A
woman being restrained! Magicians told me that I was crazy to do this. I always loved Houdini. I
loved the dramatics of the straight jacket escape and wondered how a woman could present it. I
bought the jacket and played with it. Back then, magicians would have their assistants strap
them in. I decided to let the two biggest guys in the room to strap me in, I'd be like the damsel in
But don't think they were kind when they strapped me in. I was doing a show at the St. Regis Hotel. A twelve-person orchestra was playing loudy. Dick was MCing saying, "Now don't
feel that you have to be gentle just because she is a woman. I want you to be sure that she
cannot get out." I am cringing because this guy has me so tight, it feels like he is breaking my
arm. He is not just buckling the jacket, he is twisting my arm backwards and his goal is to break
my arm. I'm yelling to Dick to do something and he finally noticed my dilemma. He excused the
men from the stage and got two more to complete the task.
The agents loved it but after a while they said, "What else do you have?" So you have
to do it upside down. Then you have to add fire. We practiced in the townhouse. Lou Lancaster
was a master rigger. He even made the rope for me to use. I trusted him with my life. We rigged
a rope from the skylight down two floors. I got used to the height there. Then we would get
booked to do it on a crane. To this day, I look at building cranes and think "that would be fun!"
ESCAPE FROM NY
Your life is good owning a successful Magic Nightclub in a great part of Manhattan. Why did it
Donald Trump was buying up the neighborhood filled with small shops, apartments, restaurants.
Then he tore down the stores and buildings and built Trump Plaza. Now our landlady decided to
raise our rent from $4800 a month to $30,000 a month. After all Johnny Carson lived across the
street. This was now a rich neighborhood. There was no way this could happen. She was
forcing us out of business. We went to court to get our deposit back and the judge granted us
four months of free rent to find another place to live. We bought a motor home thinking that we
would travel the country to find our next big adventure.
Did you travel?
Actually, as soon as we bought the motor home, our friend Eddie (who sold us the Townhouse)
said, "You don't want to travel. You are working here. Move into my house. We have lots of
room." We lived there for a year. When we found a place to live, they begged us to stay. They
were wonderful to us. They were business people, we were show business. We complimented
Were people getting used to a female magician by now?
You know, I would still show up to shows carrying my cases and when they opened the door,
they would say, "Hi! Are they going to saw you in half?"
What made you decide to move out of NY?
Show business was changing in NY. The performers union, American Guild of Variety Artists,
wasn't as powerful as it used to be and agents were fading away to become producers who
were taking larger percentages. We felt it was time to leave. It was getting too expensive to live
We got a map and started drawing circles around NYC to see where to move. All of our
connections were in NY so we didn't want to be too far away. Then we bought out of town
newspapers. We weren't going to rent again. We wanted to buy something. One problem, we
had no credit. All those years of renting and we had no documentation of our credit. There was
no way we could get a mortgage. We had to buy something with our savings. The circles got
bigger. When we found a possibility, we would call a realtor and visit the town. We would hang
out in McDonalds and see what the people were like in that neighborhood. Some
neighborhoods changed at night to scary, seedy places.
The circles become even wider. Now Scranton, Pa hits the circle. We look at the Scranton
newspaper and the front page crime was that somebody stole Joey's bike from his porch. The
society page showed all the ladies that got engaged along with a half page photo of a new
Eagle Scout. We wondered if this town was for real?
We knew that Thanksgiving weekend we had no shows so we decided to spend the four days in
A Scranton hotel. We called realtors to see if they would meet us and no one was working
because it was the start of hunting season! We found someone who would meet with us the day
before Thanksgiving. He gave us the MLS books and told us to stop by the office on Friday and
he would take us around.
Scranton had a great vaudeville history and it was only two hours from Manhattan. We bought a
building which was a closed synagogue which included the rabbi's house.
We moved all the leftover stuff from the Townhouse to the building. We drove back and forth
For our shows. Then driving back one night during a blinding snowstorm, we decided to only do
shows in Manhattan during the non snow months. We also instituted our Ultimate Solution- we
raised our price.
HOUDINI MOVES IN
One night we decided to open some sort of venue in town. We knew a lot about Houdini. We
collected Houdini. It was a natural progression to open a venue dedicated to Houdini.
Eleven minutes away was another building that at one time was an ice cream parlor, then a grocery store, a bar, and a disco. Then it was going
to be torn down. We bought it.
The house needed 23 windows replaced and a new roof. The Houdini museum building was a
wreck. When it rained outside, it rained inside. It was right off the highway and a perfect location
on Main St. The ceilings were very high so a stage was possible. Party rooms and exhibit rooms
were also here. We poured our show money into it and after a year, we opened it up for tourist
season. We've now been open for 26 years.
Who visits the museum?
Everyone! Tourists, magicians, families, parties. We keep very busy. We have been written up in
multiple magazines and books like Museums you've near heard of. We've won Trip Advisor
awards and have become a very successful business.
Visitors hear a quality story about Houdini. The visit is typically 2 1/2 -3 hours long. They see
rare film footage and then we take them through a guided tour of the collection. Then they watch
a magic show ending with a pitch for items in the gift shop. We also host parties and Haunted
How long are you going to continue?
We are not going to live forever. We would like to pass this on to the next generation. For you to work a place like
this, you need to be passionate about magic and Houdini. You also need to be a family of performers who don't mind working day and night. We are not opposed to relocating to another city. If a
community has a dead building to donate, and a historical society that can help put displays
behind glass, that would be a start. Get a 100 year lease and support from the community and
you would have your own Ultimate Solution. The museum is not a typical museum but rather an
entertainment event. It should be treated that way.
Dorothy is extremely grateful for everything that has helped her navigate through life. She
admitted to me that she has many projects to do but doesn't have enough time to get to them
Recently, Dorothy and Dick donated their own money and time to fix up the Houdini Grave. Like
Ninjas in the night, they, along with friend Steve Moore, went to the cemetery and replaced the
bust along with other repairs and cleaning. They friended the cemetery manager and negotiated
the agreement for the S.A.M. Endowment Fund to continue the repairs and maintain the
gravesite. As Dorothy said, "We are not going to be around forever but the SAM will be around
Their current project is a Houdini themed Houdini Opoly Game due out this Summer which meticulously pays tribute to the great showman. (Contact the Houdini Museum for details.)
Whatever their next project, rest assured it will be important and we will be grateful. If you see
Dorothy at a magic convention, go up to her and say hello. She loves to talk to everyone.
And for our current generation of magicians, thanks to this article, we were able to put Dorothy
once again, on a magic magazine cover.
Click here to the beginning of the story with pictures and cover
Page 1 with pictures.
Page 2 with pictures.
Page 3 with pictures,
Page 4 with pictures,
Page 5 with pictures,
Page 6 with pictures,
Page 7 with pictures,
You can listen to the SAM podcast with Dorothy Dietrich by clicking right here
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