(Close Window)
Topic: Houdini = best ever???
Message: Posted by: filmyak (Aug 21, 2005 09:21PM)
We all know that Houdini successfully marketed himself as the best escape artist ever. He may have even been correct, and if he was wrong, well, I think most of us can agree he was at least in the top 3 or 4 escape artists that had lived up until that point in time.

But why on earth are so many people around today upset when someone claims he is better than Houdini? It seems that trying to top "the master" is like baseball players beating Babe Ruth's records -- people just get angry about it.

Are we, as magicians, really hoping that no one comes along in the future who can top Houdini? Because I sure as heck hope the "best ever" doesn't stay on top forever, because that means that the art form has stopped evolving and that new magicians have no ability to move the art forward.

I don't want this to become a thread on any particular magician around nowadays, but as a general concept instead. Because there have been many claims from people saying they are better than Houdini, and the resulting backlash from magicians is always the same: It can't get better, so you are wrong. Which I find, personally, ludicrous.

Keep in mind that, just like many escape artists today, Houdini did what LOOKED like impossible stunts while they really relied on ingenious gimmicks and contraptions. He hyped up the danger of everything he did. He milked it all for drama. Were his crowds huge? Of course. He had no TV to compete with, and spectacles like his were incredibly rare and hard to see in his day.

So why on earth is the magic community so angry at anyone who tries to use the same tactics Houdini did to move the art forward?
Message: Posted by: Dr_Stephen_Midnight (Aug 22, 2005 05:00PM)
They shouldn't.

Granted, Houdini is a legend, and therefore still the most CELEBRATED and BEST KNOWN escape artist, but benchmarks are made to be exceeded.
For any escape artist (or anything else) to be called "The best there ever will be" is ludicrous, as we have no idea of what the future may bring.

Message: Posted by: ChristianR (Aug 22, 2005 05:27PM)
Remember, Houdini was a great escape artist, not a magician, in fact he "was a terrible magician"
Message: Posted by: Dr_Stephen_Midnight (Aug 22, 2005 09:24PM)
Oh...you saw him then. :)

Message: Posted by: mormonyoyoman (Aug 22, 2005 11:24PM)
On 2005-08-22 18:27, Mad Duck wrote:
Remember, Houdini was a great escape artist, not a magician, in fact he "was a terrible magician"

But he gets better every year since his death, doesn't he?

Message: Posted by: irossall (Aug 23, 2005 07:39AM)
On 2005-08-22 18:27, Mad Duck wrote:
Remember, Houdini was a great escape artist, not a magician, in fact he "was a terrible magician"

I think it takes great skill to hide "things" on your person while being examined nude or partially nude.
How did he get the name "King Of Kards"?
Houdini was doing Magic long before he was known as an Escape Artist.

I would like to know your references for that "Terrible Magician" statement.
Iven :patty:
Message: Posted by: Dr_Stephen_Midnight (Aug 23, 2005 05:48PM)
Houdini, like all other magicians, had his strengths and weaknesses.
He was no Dai Vernon at sleights; yet he was better than some.
He did little in the way of innovation outside of escapes and some areas of spirit effects, but his ability to present an illusion to best advantage cannot be understated (look at the walking through a wall illusion).
He was also a master at misdirection and spectator control (hey, he manipulated police and news reporters in police stations and prisons; doing it onstage was child's play by comparasin).
Add to that that he was constantly studying and was a scholar and collector of magical history...
He was far from a terrible magician.
Some critics liked his full evening show better than Thurston's.

Message: Posted by: Wizzard (Aug 24, 2005 09:18PM)
Houdini, was, to say the least, a genius. When it came to promotion and salesmanship, his techniques are as valid today as they were when he was on top. His secret was very simple, he told the audience what he was going to do, then he did it! The drama and suspense was all a part of his act. In his day he was 'Extereme'. His constant promotion and tireless travel kept his name in the Limelight. His boundless energy and creative mental prowess could lead to only one result, being the greatest.
In the beginning of his career, Houdini sought out newspaper reporters and literally snared them into assisting him in his act. The reporter now befriended was able to introduce Houdini to just about everyone who was worth knowing.
The Houdini name to this day is synomymous with Magic!
Ask one hundred people on the street to name a famous Magician, I think you would be surprised how many would name Houdini!
Message: Posted by: David Charvet (Aug 25, 2005 04:08AM)
Read William Rauscher's book: "The Houdini Code Mystery" (published by Mike Caveney's Magic Words) for what contemporary magicians and friends thought of Houdini as a magician. Most of it is not very flattering and will make you re-think the Houdini myth that has grown over the last 79 years since his death.

Here's a sample. Regarding his sleight of hand prowess:
"Houdini couldn't put his hands in Central Park without rustling the leaves." Harry Blackstone Sr.

And I don't think these comments are a case of "sour grapes" from jealous performers. There's just too many of them. I have also known people who knew Houdini and they have said the same thing: great showman, lousy magician.

Al Jolson (a contemporary of Houdini's) was called "The World's Greatest Entertainer" (not "singer.") Listen to his records today. Bing Crosby, Russ Columbo and many, many others had better voices, hands down. But Jolson was a SHOWMAN. So it was with Houdini. Nothing wrong with that.
Message: Posted by: Dr_Stephen_Midnight (Aug 25, 2005 06:27PM)
Actually, I think there was more 'sour grapes' to this than most modern detractors want to believe. Look at how many people attack the 'current great' in magic. If you're the 'big one,' you get tons of negative comments from others in the profession. Just check put the current threads on David Blaine and Chriss Angel. No, sheer numbers of negative barbs from rivals are not an accurate mirror of a performer's worth. If Houdini was even remotely as bad as other magicians had pegged him, the public would probably have shunned him.
Obviously they didn't.

Message: Posted by: Professor Piper (Aug 26, 2005 02:09PM)
To address the general 'feel' of this topic/question a statement comes to mind:

...."To stand on the shoulders of giants to reach new heights..."

I think the problem comes with the territory...In other fields (Medicine, Astrology, Physics, Literature, Art, etc) we sometimes forget that, without the innovator's of old, we would not be were we are today.

Simply put: To the average audience, when they see a sub-trunk act, they, on the whole, have no idea where this came from or how it became popular (I do not know if Houdini invented it, so I won't state that)...He did, however, popularize it to the extent that it is still performed today.

Without Einstein we would not have the advances in Aero-Space engineering we have today (No Hubble, shuttle, etc)...

But, how many average citizens would equate the images of the Hubble Space Telescope to concepts either derieved or perfected by Einstein? Precious few.

So, it's in relativity (no pun intented) that the anger or jealousy comes to bear when someone states that they are "The next Houdini" or "Greater than Houdini"...

It isn't about talent to those magicians who get 'bent out of shape' over these comments...

It's about giving respect where respect is due.

Just my worthless two pence worth.

Prof. Piper

Message: Posted by: daffydoug (Sep 4, 2005 03:01PM)
Houdini will always be at the top of my list...if only for his great showmanship that has people still talking abou him (and trying to top him!) to this day!
Message: Posted by: magicarisimon (Sep 5, 2005 04:08AM)
Although Houdini didn't perform many sleight-of-hand illusions, he was probably one of the most knowledgable people in regards to the sleights of the age. He used to expose psychics that used some complicated sleights. In regards to people not wanting to top Houdini, a lot of magicians don't want a legend to be dethroned because it is a constant thing for them, and psychology states that people don't like change.
Message: Posted by: daffydoug (Sep 5, 2005 09:26AM)
That is true. I most definitely don't care to ever see Houdini dethroned. He has earned his place in magic history over many extended years of fame even after he has passed.

Besides, we are talking about the early roots of magic history here. Houdini is an inseparable part of our proud heritage/legacy. (As was blackstone, and others.)
Message: Posted by: irossall (Sep 6, 2005 07:43AM)
Houdini could never be "Dethroned" simply because he was the best at what he did in his time.
Today we live in a much different world than Houdini lived in and who knows what marvels Houdini would be performing today given the new technologies and material's we have to work with that were not even invented yet when Houdini was king.
Iven :patty:
Message: Posted by: magic123454321 (Oct 16, 2005 09:28PM)
He was the best influence ever
Message: Posted by: mormonyoyoman (Oct 16, 2005 10:09PM)
It's this simple:

There may be a better magician, now or in the future. But as long as people are comparing themselves (or are compared) to Houdini, then Houdini is the yardstick by which all magicians are measured.

He didn't have to be the best. He only had to convince enough people that he was the best. And that, he - and Bess - did.

Message: Posted by: eyeslie (Oct 20, 2005 12:23AM)
I really enjoy reading about houdini in "Jarret Magic", there is also some great info in "hiding the elephant"...both of which lead me to believe Houdini as not only selfish and cruel but also a rather bad magician.
Message: Posted by: Tony S (Oct 27, 2005 02:10PM)
On 2005-10-20 01:23, eyeslie wrote:
I really enjoy reading about houdini in "Jarret Magic", there is also some great info in "hiding the elephant"...both of which lead me to believe Houdini as not only selfish and cruel but also a rather bad magician.

Yes, Jim Steinmeyer's descriptions of Houdini were certainly not the most flattering ever written. As a respected historian of magic, I believe you need to give some weight to his words.

Houdini, in my opinion, was the greatest escape artist of his time. He was also probably the best in history at promoting himself. This, of course, helped to build his legend. Was he the best magician ever? I never saw him so I couldn't tell you, but based on numerous descriptions I've read I doubt that he was. I'll bet he was *** good though.

I completely agree with the earlier post about how we, as magicians, tend to bash the people who are most popular in our field. I've never understood this. I've seen numerous posts out here about how Blaine is not a great magician. My guess is that most of these are from people who couldn't figure out how to make magic their full time business if their lives depended on it. You don't have to like any of the top magician's performance styles, or even the effects they do, but you've got to give them a whole lot of credit for rising to the top of their field and becoming as well known as they are.

Read Jim Sisti's article in last months MAGIC magazine. He addresses this very issue quite thoughtfully.

Message: Posted by: Todd Robbins (Oct 29, 2005 01:05AM)
Houdini was great...but his was no Michael Ammar.
Message: Posted by: Police Magician (Dec 16, 2005 05:35AM)
My interest in Houdini stems from his debunking fraudulent mediums of his time. I have a picture of him teaching a class of NYC Detectives the mediums tricks of the trade. Regardless of his talent, Houdini made a name for himself and his name is associated with magic by many non magicians.

Another famous name debunking frauds nowadays is Todd Robbins. Wish I could get a video of your Dark Deceptions and Carnival Knowledge.

Message: Posted by: silverking (Dec 17, 2005 08:52PM)
Some of the best writers on magic history have described Houdini as a poor magician.

His magic and sleights are never spoken of as being of a high calibre, in fact they are routinely spoken about as being poor to passable.

He's never spoken poorly about in regards to his escapes, and this is really what people today remember him for.

Very few people outside magic will say anything other than escape artist if you ask them about Houdini.
I'm not sure why the documentation which speaks to Houdini being a poor magician causes distress, it's really just part of who he was......it doesn't take anything away from his place in history.
Message: Posted by: ChristianR (Jan 20, 2006 04:53PM)
Houdini was a great escape artist. By the way, he started his success in Minnesota! Woo!

Houdini at least had the courage to perform a magic show.
Message: Posted by: Father Photius (Jan 20, 2006 05:03PM)
What's the old saying, "When the legend is bigger than the truth, print the legend and when the truth is bigger than the legend, print the legend"? Something like that. Houdini knew how to get press, and in showbusiness keeping your name in front of the public is what it is all about. A lot of hype goes into most showbusiness "legends" I know Uncle Harry (not houdini) was not above a bit of Hype and probably played he rivalries with both Thurston and Houdini for all he could get out of them publicity wise.
Let's face it, the people who kept the Houdini legend alive the most have been magicians. Why? because the legend and name still sells tickets to magic shows today. Claiming to beat Houdini's record, or to do his escape is a sure crowd attractor. The real difference between a top earning professional and an also ran pro is how well they market themselves. So if we can't copy Houdini's marketing technique, we can sure market ourselves using his name.
Message: Posted by: silverking (Jan 22, 2006 12:12PM)
Houdini has been dead for decades and his name is still the first one laymen think of when they think of magicians and escape artists.

There's a lot more at play here than "magicians keeping Houdini's legend alive"

He's embeded in the public mind so deeply that nobody has to work to keep him there.

Until Doug Henning came along, Houdini was the only magician most of America could actually name. Although we here on the Café are wise to many names, most of America to this day still can't name any other name than Houdini if asked to name a magician.

In the case of Houdini, the legend is the truth.
Message: Posted by: Steven True (Jan 23, 2006 03:00AM)
My question is will the names of Vernon,Blackstone,Dante,Copperfield be remembered in 80 years? What really makes a legend? Long ago I saw a Blackstone Jr. show and thought I had seen one of the best there was. Same as with Copperfield. But as great as they are, or were, will we be talking about them in 80 years, I do hope so. Mr Houdini is and will always be the legend that we all know, and I am happy with that. Just my 2 cents.

Message: Posted by: silverking (Jan 23, 2006 11:58AM)
They'll be remembered by magicians, but even today there are young kids who have no idea who David Copperfield is because he's on television far less now than he was at the start of his career.
Because he'll not return to two TV specials a year before he retires, these kids probably won't ever know his name.

Houdini is learned about through osmosis in Grade 2-3-4-5 because his name "means" magic or escape, or feats of strength.....his name is embeded into the national identity.

If you were to ask folks over 45 to name two magicians, they would probably say "Houdini" and "Doug Henning". Henning was the first magician since Houdini that most of the country could actually name.
If you were to ask that same question in twenty years however, you'd probably just hear "Houdini"

What's really interesting is if the question was asked in a hundred years, "Houdini" would most likely still be the first name mentioned.
Message: Posted by: whizzomagic (Jan 29, 2006 01:15AM)
Harry Houdini was definitely the most innovative escape artist of all time given what he had to work with and the times in which he lived. Some of his effects can still be used today to wow audiences 80 years after his demise.

What I find most interesting about Houdini's legend is how he is world reknowned and revered for his escapism and yet his spectacular card work has been forgotten. He was touted as "The King of Cards" before his escape act took off.

You have to give the man credit though, he is still the worlds most famous and most recognized magician, and the man died in 1926!!!
Message: Posted by: silverking (Jan 29, 2006 05:34PM)
There are many books which point out that Houdini actually touted himself as "The King of Cards"....and that in reality, he was nothing of the sort.

Houdini's magic and card work was pretty basic by all accounts, but I say that not to take anyting away from him, just because most of the hard facts in book form indicate that to be the truth.

What he did by sheer force of will with escape, magic, and masterful PR is simply amazing......that it sort or worked all over again for DB indicates the power of combining escape and magic with publicity grabbing stunts.

But I totally agree with whizzomagic, 1926 was a long time ago, and Houdini's name always has been, still is, and will be for the forseeable future....at the very top of the list of magicians laypeople of any age can actually name.
Message: Posted by: magicusb (May 16, 2006 09:44PM)
To those in this post who call Houdini a non magician, please note, there are films of him doing split fans and other card sleights. Can all of you who disparage him do split fans as well?

Dick Brooks and Dorothy Dietrich
Houdini Museum
Scranton, PA
New show, 'HAUNTED!"
Message: Posted by: MagiClyde (Sep 3, 2006 08:50PM)
First of all, to set one thing straight, Einstein had little to do with aero-space engineering. Warner Von-Braun, on the other hand, did. He's the one who made the trip to the moon possible. Where Einstein did contribute was to the idea of splitting the atom and pushing FDR to start development on the atomic bomb.

One thing I find interesting as a tie between Einstein and Houdini is that their names are now synonymous with genius and the ability to extricate oneself from a sticky situation.

The only reason no present day magician will ever be able to be "better than Houdini" is not because their escapes aren't as good (they probably are), but because it is very nearly impossible to knock someone off their pedestal when they've achieved legend status.
Message: Posted by: magicjack1977 (Sep 18, 2006 01:47PM)
I don't believe Houdini to be the best magician ever, but I do believe him to be the best showman ever. He knew what audiences wanted to see and he knew how to hold their attention. He also knew how to get them wanting to come back for more. He raised the art of self promotion to a higher art form. He had audiences in towns all over the country anticipating his performances weeks and even months in advance which was not a common thing in those times.

This being said, for those who think that he was merely an escapist and not a true magician, then you are sadly mistaken and need to do more homework on the man. Houdini may have not been the most skilled prestidigitator of his time (I think that this honor should go to Dai Vernon), he was still a very skilled cardician, sleight of hand artist, and illusionist. His metamorphasis illusion is still being performed in some form today.