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Essay/Term paper: The great houdini

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Cliff Notes

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The performer known world wide as Harry

Houdini was born on March 24, 1874 in Budapest.

Although Houdini often claimed to be born in Appleton,

Wisconsin, Houdini actually came to the United States when

he was four years old. To this day many connected with the

small town of Appleton still claim the untruth that Houdini

was born there strictly to attract tourists. Houdini's father

was Mayer Samuel Weiss. Houdini's father was a Rabbi.

His mother's name was Cecilia Steiner Weiss. His parents

spoke little English, and the family was quite poor so most of

the children began to work at an early age. From the age of

eight young Ehrich Weiss sold newspapers and worked as a

shoe shine boy. At the age of 12, young Ehrich left home to

make his way in the world in an attempt to help support his

family. Young Ehrich traveled the country for about a year,

always sending money home when he could. Finally he

joined up with his father in New York City. The family

moved to New York in the hope of finding a better life

there. In New York, Houdini worked as a messenger and as

a cutter in a garment center sweat shop, to help support his

family. Houdini began performing magic as a teenager first

calling himself Eric the Great. Ehrich acquired the name

Houdini from a book he read, "The Memoirs of

Robert-Houdin," the autobiography of one of the greatest

magicians of the day. Influenced by what he 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. Houdini's first

magic shows consisted of card tricks and other simple

magic. Soon Houdini began experimenting with hand cuffs

and using them in his acts. Houdini performed with another

young man who worked with him in the factory in New

York. They called themselves the Houdini Brothers. Soon

Houdini's younger brother Theo took the place of the boy

from the factory. Together with his brother Theo, they tried

to succeed as the Houdini Brothers. Their first performances

included shows at amusement parks, beer halls, "dime

museums," and at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. In

1894, Houdini met Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner, who was

singing and dancing as part of the Floral Sisters. They were

working Coney Island at the time. After knowing each other

only two weeks they were married in the month of July.

Bess, as she was called, worked and traveled with Houdini.

Bess took Theo's place in the act that would now be called

"The Houdini's". Houdini began offering rewards to anyone

who could successfully restrain him, first in handcuffs and

later in all manner of objects. Houdini escaped from

handcuffs, leg irons, straight jackets, jails and prison cells, a

mail pouch, packing crates, a giant paper bag (without

tearing the paper), a giant football, an iron boiler, milk cans,

coffins, and the famous Water Torture Cell. Some of

Houdini's escapes, such as the Straight Jacket or being tied

with a hundred feet of rope, Houdini would do in full view of

the audience. Houdini spent many hours studying, practicing

and conditioning. For Houdini's underwater stunts, Houdini

would practice holding his breath in the bathtub for up to

four minutes. To help draw crowds and sell tickets, Houdini

would do escape challenges, often at police stations with

newspaper reporters present, assuring a headline story.

Martin Beck, Vaudeville's most important booking agent

caught Houdini's act in 1899 and was impressed with his

dynamic personality and booked him as a "challenge escape

artist." 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 Houdini in big time vaudeville as a

supporting act. Houdini soon began to headline in several

theaters throughout the country. After some success in the

United States Houdini decided to go to Europe in the year

1900. Houdini created a sensation in London, England and

went on to travel throughout Europe for five years as a

headliner. Houdini had so much work in Europe that he

summoned his brother Theo to work there under the name

Hardeen. Houdini returned to the United States, determined

to become an even bigger star in the country he loved. He

would cris-cross between Europe and the United States

going where he could get the biggest offers. As escape artist

imitators popped up to take advantage of Houdini's

tremendous success, Houdini began to originate new and

more difficult and dangerous escapes. Houdini invented the

underwater packing box escape as a fabulous publicity stunt

that was copied by many others. He was the first person to

do the Straight Jacket Escape as well. He introduced the

sensational Milk Can Escape in St. Louis on January 27,

1908. In 1913 he introduced his legendary Chinese Water

Torture Cell. This was the same year his mother died which

was a great shock to Houdini. He was in Europe at them

time and his family had not told of his mother's illness. He

was also the first to do the largest stage illusion to that day,

making the largest object known at the time - an elephant

disappear. This was done in 1918 at the Hippodrome in

New York City. In 1916 Houdini began a film career. This

gave people all over the world a chance to see the great

artist. Houdini made five major silent films up until 1923. He

also wrote several of them. His films include "The Master

Mystery," "The Grim Game," "Terror Island" and "The Man

From Beyond." Houdini was given one of the first stars on

the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contribution to the film

industry. The star is in a prominent spot out side of

Hollywood's famous Chinese Theater. Houdini wrote and

even directed several of his movies. Houdini hated cheats

and frauds. Throughout his career Houdini exposed cheats

and frauds in the areas of gambling, spiritualism, and psychic

frauds. Houdini never believed in spiritualism, but would

often pretend to in order to gain entry to seances. Houdini

would write many books and articles throughout his life.

They included "The Right Way To Do Wrong," an expose of

swindlers, "A Magician Among The Spirits," an expose of

psychic frauds, and "The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin,"

which was up until that time the greatest book on the history

of magic. On October 22, 1926, Houdini was in Montreal

performing at the Princess Theater. In his dressing room at

the theater, while lying on a couch backstage, an young

athlete from McGill University, asked if Houdini could

actually withstand punches to the stomach as he had heard.

Before Houdini could prepare himself by tightening his

stomach muscles, the student began to punch the legendary

magician in the midsection. Houdini did not know it, but his

appendix was ruptured. Houdini did several more shows in

Montreal and then headed for Detroit. Houdini did one

performance there and then collapsed and was rushed to the

hospital. Houdini did not die in an escape or fail in some final

escape as many believe. The greatest "ghost buster" of all

time died on October 31, 1926, Halloween. No other

famous magician worked as hard as Houdini to promote his

craft and those around him. Houdini today is one of the best

know performers and promoters in theatrical and film history

and Houidni's name has come to mean the ability to escape

from any restraint or difficult situation. Houdini not only

earned a place in history but in the dictionary as well.  

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