Harry Houdini was a an American stunt performer and illusionist. He was born in Hungary to Samuel Weisz and Cecilia Steiner, a Jewish family. The Weisz family later moved to America on July 3, 1878 where the his family changed their named to Weiss.
Houdini’s Early life
As a child, Houdini’s first debut was when he was nine years old as an old trapeze artist. As a youth, Houdini was also a cross country runner champion. After becoming a professional magician, Weiss hanged his name to ‘’Harry Houdini’’ in 1890 after learning about Jean Eugene Robert Houdin who was a French magician. The addition of the ”I” was that he believed that an ”I” in any name’s ending in French meant like. He also stated that his first name was homage to Harry Keller, someone that he also had admiration for.
In 1891, he began his career in magic and appeared in an act in a tent with Emil Jarrow, a strongman. Although this came with very little success, he continued to perform in sideshows and museums focusing mainly on the traditional card tricks. He even referred to himself as ‘’King of cards.’’
While performing together with Dash, his brother, as ‘’The Brothers Houdini’’ in 1893 at the Coney Islands, Houdini met Wilhelmina Beatrice ”Bess’’ Rahner. Bess married got married to Houdini in 1894 and took the part of Dash. The act then became known as ‘’The Houdini’s’’ with Bess as his assistant on stage.
In 1898, Houdini came up with the Challenge Act which was well received. He would escape from any pair of handcuffs that were produced by the audience. In 1899, Houdini met Martin Beck in Minnesota. Beck was impressed by Houdini’s handcuffs act and advised him to only focus in the escape acts. He was later helped by his Harry Day, his British agent to reach to C. Dundas Slater who was the manager of Alhambra Theater. Houdini successfully baffled the police so well that he was even booked in Alhambra for about six months. Soon, Houdini’s Challenging Act was a hit leading to him becoming widely known as ‘’The Handcuff King.’’
With the success of the Challenging Act came the development of his spectacular escapes which would make him a legend. On his first visit to a psychiatrist friend in 1896, Houdini saw his first straight jacket. This inspired him to create an act around escaping from it. He succeeded in this and even went on to hanging upside down from his ankles which were suspended several feet from the ground. This inspired him to expand his Challenging Act to not only handcuffs, but also from any location suggested. He escaped from handcuff bridge jumps, jail cells, padlocked crates thrown into rivers, and even a giant paper bag without a sweat.
While in a U.S tour in 1926, Houdini began experiencing severe stomach discomfort. However, he was afraid of missing some shows and, therefore, refused medical treatment. He was tired and was possibly suffering from the onset of appendicitis. While in Canada, he was allegedly punched by a student in the stomach to test Houdini’s well known ability to withstand blows. Houdini collapsed onstage in Detroit, was admitted to Grace Hospital and was diagnosed with peritonitis. On October 31, Houdini passed away and his last words were ‘’I’m tired of fighting.’’
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