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Biography, Entertainment: Harry Houdini Magician-Escape Artist

Harry Houdini: Famous magician. Master of escapes. Houdini Metamorphosis

Harry Houdini's actual name.

Harry Houdini's actual name was Ehrich Weiss.

Harry Houdini moves to New York City at the age of 13.

Young Ehrich traveled for about a year, sending money home when he could. He joined up with his father in New York. His father died five years later,October 5, 1892, The move would change his life and introduce him to the world of big time magic. The family moved to New York in the the hope of finding a better life. Harry Houdini worked as a messenger and as a cutter in a garment center sweat shop, Richter & Sons, a tie factory to help support his family. Harry Houdini was very athletic and won awards in swimming and track. Harry Houdini would use this athletic and swimming talent to great use in his escapes in Harry Houdini's future as an escape artist.

How Harry Houdini gets his name.

Harry Houdini began performing magic as a teenager calling himself Eric the Great. Always a reader, two books would change his life. Harry Houdini read, as a teen ager in New York, "Revelations of a Spirit Meduim" by A. Medium, which exposed the tricks of phony psychics, who after being tied up would secretly release themselves to make ghostly things happen in darkened rooms. The second book was "The Memoirs of Robert-Houdin," the autobiography of one of the greatest magicians of the day. Influenced by what Harry Houdini read and learned about the internationally known magician Robert Houdin, young Ehrich changed his name to Houdini, hoping to be in some way like his new found mentor.

Harry Houdini's early shows.

Harry Houdini's first magic shows consisted of card tricks and other magic. Harry Houdini early on called himself "The King Of Cards."
Harry Houdini
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Large Harry Houdini repro available from souvenir page
Soon Harry Houdini began experimenting with hand cuffs and using them for escapes in his acts. Harry Houdini performed with another young man who worked in the tie factory in New York. They did the Metamorphosis.They called themselves the Houdini Brothers. Soon Harry Houdini's younger brother Theo took the place of the boy from the factory and they did the Metamorphosis. Together with his brother Theo (Later called Hardeen), they tried to succeed as the Houdini Brothers featuring the Metamorphosis.. Their first performances included shows at amusement parks, beer halls, "dime museums," and at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. They did the Metamorphosis.
harry Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini meets his life long love.

In 1894, Harry Houdini met Wilhelmina Beatrice (Bess) Rahner, who was singing and dancing as part of the Floral Sisters. They were working Coney Island at the time.
Harry Houdini
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Harry Houdini
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After knowing each other two weeks they were married in the month of July. Bess, as she was called, worked and traveled with Harry Houdini and helped by singing, dancing, and performing the Metamorphosis exchange and other escapes which Harry Houdini invented and had done with his brother Hardeen.
Harry Houdini
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Large Harry Houdini repro available from souvenir page
Bess took brother Theo's place in the act that would now be called "The Houdini's". They did the Metamorphosis. Harry Houdini then travels throughout the United States and then the world for the next thirty three years. Needless to say Harry Houdini leaves mom behind again proving his independence from his mother, though Harry Houdini did love her greatly. Harry Houdini's early travels take him to North East Pennsylvania where the Harry Houdini Museum is now located, for 2 seasons with the Welch Brothers Circus which traveled throughout Northeast Pennsylvania doing the Metamorphosis as well as many other jobs for the circus. Harry Houdini would return in later years to the Scranton area as a major star, and present several unique challenges. Harry Houdini's brother Hardeen would also appear in the area doing escapes as well.

Harry Houdini invents the challenge escape act. The concept of the escape artist is born.

Harry Houdini began offering rewards to anyone who could successfully restrain him, first in handcuffs and later in all manner of objects. Harry Houdini did escapes from handcuffs, escapes from leg irons, escapes from straightjackets, escapes from jails and escapes frin prison cells, escapes from mail pouchs, escapes from packing crates, escapes from giant paper bags (without tearing the paper), escapes from a giant football, escapes from iron boilers, escapes from milk cans, escapes from coffins, and escapes from the famous Water Torture Cell. In most of these escapes, upon later examination, there was never a sign of how Harry Houdini accomplished the release, that added to the escapes miracle. Some of Harry Houdini escapes, such as Straight Jacket escapes (on the suggestion of brother Hardeen) or being tied with a hundred feet of rope, Harry Houdini would do the escapes in full view of the audience. To help draw crowds and sell tickets. Harry Houdini would do escape challenges, often at police stations with newspaper reporters present, assuring a headline story.

Harry Houdini is discovered.

Martin Beck, Vaudeville's most important booking agent caught Harry Houdini's act in 1899 and was impressed with his dynamic personality and booked him as a "challenge escape artist," a new form of entertainment, ending with the Metamorphosis. Though the Metamorphosis was not an escape trick the Metamorphosis made for an exciting finish to the act. Martin Beck booked the Orpheum circuit, the largest chain of vaudeville theaters in the country and booked all of the stars of vaudeville. He had a trained eye for talent. He immediately placed Harry Houdini in big time vaudeville as a supporting act. Harry Houdini soon began to headline in several theaters throughout the country. Harry Houdini having invented a new form of entertainment, "The Challenge Escape" soon would become an international star.

Harry Houdini as "King of Handcuffs" goes to Europe at the age of 26 doing his escapes.

Harry Houdini
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Large Harry Houdini repro available from souvenir page
After some success in the United States Harry Houdini went to Europe in 1900, on the advice of a friend, the greatest coin magician of all time, T. Nelson Downs. Harry Houdini created a sensation in London, England and went on to travel throughout Europe for five years as a headliner doing his escapes. Harry Houdini had so much work in Europe that he summoned his brother Theo to work there doing escapes under the name Hardeen.

Harry Houdini 1874 -1887
Harry Houdini 1887 - 1900
Harry Houdini 1900 - 1913
Harry Houdini 1913 - 1926 and beyond.


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