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Harry Houdini: Biography

VO: David
Born in Hungary and moving to the United States as a boy, Harry Houdini did not start out as a successful magician. His first performance job was as a trapeze artist, and he soon moved on to card tricks. These first efforts proved unproductive, so he added escapes to his act. This is when Houdini's career really began to take off. Not long after, he was one of the highest paid performers on the vaudeville circuit, and he was constantly defying death with his daring escapes. In this video, learns more about the life and accomplishments of magician Harry Houdini.

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The Life and Accomplishments of Harry Houdini

He was the most famous magician in history. Learn more about the life and accomplishments of Harry Houdini.

Early Days

Emigrating from his home country of Hungary as a child in the late 1800s, Houdini settled in the United States. After an unsuccessful early career, Houdini eventually started experimenting with escape acts. This is when his career really started to take off.

Handcuff Escapes

By the end of the nineteenth century, Houdini was touring the top vaudeville theatres in America on the strength of his handcuff escapes. In fact, he even became known as “the Handcuff King.” In this particular act he used technical expertise, physical dexterity and – of course – a bit of trickery to wow his audiences. He increased the difficulty of this trick by performing it underwater or by leaping off a bridge before his escape.

Houdini the Celebrity

By 1907, his wealth and fame were growing, and he continued to add new escape acts to his shows. The next year, he retired his handcuff trick, though he continued to place himself in increasingly difficult, unique and dangerous scenarios.

The Straitjacket Escape

One of his most popular acts was the suspended straitjacket escape. The magician used this as a promotional tool, as thousands of people were able to see him at work. Houdini was fitted into a straitjacket, and then hung upside down from a crane or a tall building. Onlookers were shocked to see him struggle to escape, but finally he would work his way free of the constraints and be victoriously lowered to the ground.

Revealing His Secrets

He revealed some of the simpler secrets of his acts to fellow magicians in books and articles to spur interest in and the success of the field. Books like “Handcuff Secrets,” “Miracle Mongers and their Methods,” and “Magical Rope Ties and Escapes” explained to readers the tips and tricks of the trade, and helped prove that Houdini’s talent was in his showmanship.

A Career in Film

Houdini also began showing an interest in filmmaking in the early years of the twentieth century. He appeared in a number of films that showcased his magic, however by 1923 he had abandoned this.

Death and Legacy

The magician continued his successful career until his death in Detroit, Michigan on Halloween 1926 from a burst appendix. Houdini’s memory has lived on ever since, as a motivated worker, skilled self-promoter, unparalleled showman, and one of the finest magicians the world has ever seen.

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